©The Japan Times

May 7, 1998

Pfaff wrong on Cambodia

William Pfaff gave the standard media version of Cambodian history when he wrote that U.S. bombing and “invasion’ of Cambodia were most responsible for the rise of Pol Pot to power (“Pol Pot rode tides of history,” April 25). As a historian I feel obliged to put forward a version closer to the truth.

1) Most Cambodians during the 1960s and early 1970s opposed both Vietnamese and local communists who were using their territory.

2) U.S. bombing of communist camps and supply routes caused fewer casualties than the communists’ killing and terrorizing of their opponents.

3) Most Cambodians initially supported the Lon Nol government, which they hoped would strengthen the Cambodian Army and bring in enough U.S. soldiers and support to free the country from both native and foreign communists.

4) The media campaign against the Vietnamese War discouraged the United States from sending soldiers into Cambodia on a permanent basis and, in the absence of sufficient money and training, prevented Lon Nol’s army from becoming a strong force.

5) In the belief that Pol Pot’s “rural patriots” were better than the insufficiently supported and sometimes corrupt city government of Lon Nol, many Cambodians gradually chose what they regarded as the lesser of two evils, only to discover too late that the “nationalist patriots” were doctrinaire communists who believed in class warfare.

6) After U.S. media opposition to the war aroused violent passions, Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon reduced U.S. involvement in Indochina, leading to North Vietnam’s victory in 1975.

7) In the same year, Pol Pot’s still-not-too numerous forces were able to block supplies coming up the Mekong, which forced city people in Phnom Penh, then more or less surrounded, to surrender. These starving people were then driven to raise crops in the fields, and apparently died like flies from starvation and maltreatment.

Who was primarily to blame for these disasters besides the communists themselves? Pfaff thinks it was U.S. intervention. I think it was U.S. failure to remain loyal to our allies, a self-deceived media, and a failure to make clear to Indochinese and Americans that even the most inefficient, corrupt government is better than communists, who while pretending to be nationalists, actually believe in class warfare against their opponents.

John T. Blackmore