Brief Contents


  Chapter 1: an introduction to Cambodia

    The creation of modern Cambodia

    The Cold War and Cambodia (1992)

      The recovery of Battambang and Siemreap

      Domestic politics

        The Geneva Conference


      After 1975

    Notes on the Political Economy of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (1989)

  Chapter 2: Tentative polemics before contact

    Cambodia’s mysterious leaders (1975)

    Crossed Lines On Cambodia (1978)

    Answer to Chanda (1978)

    On Traveler’s Tales (1979)

  Chapter 3: First experiences with post-KR Cambodia

    Shawcross 1: Ending Cambodia - Some Revisions (1981)

      A Final Comment (2010)

    Shawcross 2: The Burial of Cambodia (1984)

    Cambodia in and about 1981: assorted articles

      ANU-Monash-University of Paris joint mission to Saigon (1981)

      Phnom Penh decays behind a bustling cheerful facade (1981)

      Communists are scarce in today’s Kampuchea (1981)

      Kampuchea’s markets are totally free and thrive on smuggling (1981)

      Postscript on Gunnar Myrdal (2010)

      Supervised free elections could become a farce (1981)

      Border diplomacy lesson given by Thailand (1981)

      Kampuchea’s International Position (1981)

      Letter regarding Princeton Conference on Cambodia (1983)

    Elizabeth Becker and Nayan Chanda

      A Cycle of Journalistic Poverty (1983)

      Cambodia and the Media (2003)

      Becker and the Australian Press (1983)

      Becker and Problems of Communism (1985)

  Chapter 4: the late 1980s

    Elizabeth Becker and Nayan Chanda

      Review of When the War Was Over and Brother Enemy (1988)

      Review Essay: Brother Enemy, by Nayan Chanda (1988)

      Postscript on Chanda (2010)

    Australia, Cambodia, and the Propaganda Mill (2010)

      The Propaganda Mill (1983)

      The ‘Yellow Rain’ Conspiracy (1983)

      Postscripts (1984)

    Assorted Journalism

      Where Defence is Still the Priority (1985)

      Sihanouk to go home as an honored senior citizen? (1985)

      Cambodia’s long road to recovery (1985)

      Kremlinology and Cambodia (December, 1986)

    Violence in Democratic Kampuchea: Some Problems of Explanation (1988)

      Postscript 2010

      Kampuchean Contras (1986)

    The Human Rights Bugbear (2010)

      Amnesty International and the War Against Kampuchea (1990)

    Amnesty International Report 1986

      Kampuchea Political Imprisonment and Torture (1987)

      Amnesty Strikes Again (1988)

      Postscript (1995)

  Chapter 5: lead-up to the peace process

    Thoughts on Cambodia (1988-1989)

    Review of Le Mur de Bambou (1989)

    Cultural survival in language and literature in the State of Cambodia (1990)

    The Lion of Lucy’s Tiger (1988)

    Recent Progress in Cambodia (1989)

    Reply to Sidney Jones / Asia Watch (1990)

    Exchanges with the FEER and Tommy T.B. Koh

      Former Khmer Rouge? (1989)

      To and Fro with Rip van Koh (1989)

      Outside powers’ manipulations fascinate the Cambodia watchers (1990)

    Alan Dawson and the Bangkok Post

      Return to Lucy’s Tiger Den (1990)

      Black Propaganda (1990)

    Phnom Penh: Political turmoil and red solutions

      Still Seeing Red (1989)

      Response to Bowring (1989)

    Political arrests and Red Solutions

      Notable Changes in Phnom Penh (January 1991)

      Comment on the ‘Red Solution’ (1994)

      Chea Sim: the hardline leader (1991)

      Is Cambodia ready for liberalization? (1991)

      Vagaries in Cambodian Journalism 1988-1991

    Khmer Rouge Troop Numbers (1979-1992)

  Chapter 6: The 1993 election

    Cambodia After the Peace (1991-1993)

      Update 1992

    The Cambodian Elections, Nicaragua, Angola, or Somalia? (1993)

      Pol Pot’s plan for UNTAC

      Son Sen and all that - challenging the KR pundits (1996)

      Political Parties in 1993 (1993)

      Remarks on Cambodia (1993)

  Chapter 7: The Vietnam Syndrome after UNTAC

    Epitaph: for the Khmer Rouge, or for the New Left? (1995)

      Myths in Cambodian journalism (July 1994)

    Shawcross in the 90s

      A New Cambodia (2009)

        Postscript on Chandler

      Tragedy in Cambodia (1997)

      Shawcross Recants (1997)

    Comments on Propaganda, Politics, and Violence in Cambodia (1996)

    Cambodia Three Years After (1996)

  Chapter 8: the ‘coup’ and beyond

    Whither Cambodian democracy? (1997)

      A non-standard view of the ‘coup’ (1997)

      Cambodian Impressions (October 1997)

      The Guardian’s Stolen Objectivity (1997)

      From Info-Ed to the UN Center for Human Rights (1998)

      Upcoming Elections (1998)

    Troubling conjunctions (2001)

    Adams on the Gravy Train (2002)

    Gottesman and Hunt (2005)

    More Floorcross (2006)

  Chapter 9: The Vietnam Syndrome - Conclusion

    David Chandler, A History of Cambodia (2010)

  Works Cited


Kicking the
Vietnam Syndrome in Cambodia
Collected writings
1975 - 2010

Michael Vickery

NB: This book contains both published and contemporaneously written unpublished (but sometimes widely distributed) materials, as well as additional articles and commentary prepared especially for this collection.

On occasion, text deleted because of physical or political limitations has been restored; this is clearly marked with a † symbol, as are any new comments, clarifications, and footnote references. Minor changes in punctuation and layout, such as section or paragraph breaks, have not been marked. Some long pieces that were originally written as single works, but were published as separate articles, have been reconstituted as noted.

In general the texts follow chronological order, but sometimes, for instance, on some of the writing on William Shawcross, I have grouped them by subject. Many of the selections were written in the 1970s-1990s, as is reflected in the language, sometimes even the syntax and the details; and unless necessary for comprehension I have not tried to rewrite in accordance with the situation in 2010.

The text is followed by a complete, I believe, bibliography of work cited, not the lazy man’s so-called ‘bibliographic essay’ which now clutters some American historical work on Southeast Asia and which makes search for sources unnecessarily difficult.

Many thanks to my friend and colleague Doug Cooper for his assistance in preparing this collection. Responsibility for any remaining errors is, of course, my own.

Michael Vickery
Chiang Mai, 2010

Please cite this work as:

Vickery, Michael. “Kicking the Vietnam Syndrome in Cambodia,” 2010.

Retrieved from on (date here).

Brief Contents













Michael Vickery



The creation of modern Cambodia 1

The Cold War and Cambodia (1992) 16

Notes on the Political Economy of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (1989) 50


Cambodia’s mysterious leaders (1975) 82

Crossed Lines On Cambodia (1978) 85

Answer to Chanda (1978) 88

On Traveler’s Tales (1979) 91

Milton Osborne, Before Kampuchea: Preludes to Tragedy (1980) 91


Shawcross 1: Ending Cambodia - Some Revisions (1981) 98

A Final Comment (2010) 124

Shawcross 2: The Burial of Cambodia (1984) 126

Cambodia in and about 1981: assorted articles 133

ANU-Monash-University of Paris joint mission to Saigon (1981) 134

Phnom Penh decays behind a bustling cheerful facade (1981) 139

Communists are scarce in today’s Kampuchea (1981) 141

Kampuchea’s markets are totally free and thrive on smuggling (1981) 144

Postscript on Gunnar Myrdal (2010) 147

Supervised free elections could become a farce (1981) 149

Border diplomacy lesson given by Thailand (1981) 152

Kampuchea’s International Position (1981) 154

Letter regarding Princeton Conference on Cambodia (1983) 157

Elizabeth Becker and Nayan Chanda 166

A Cycle of Journalistic Poverty (1983) 166

Cambodia and the Media (2003) 180

Becker and the Australian Press (1983) 186

Becker and Problems of Communism (1985) 187


Elizabeth Becker and Nayan Chanda 193

Review of When the War Was Over and Brother Enemy (1988) 193

Review Essay: Brother Enemy, by Nayan Chanda (1988) 197

Postscript on Chanda (2010) 216

Australia, Cambodia, and the Propaganda Mill (2010) 219

The Propaganda Mill (1983) 220

The ‘Yellow Rain’ Conspiracy (1983) 224

Postscripts (1984) 232

Assorted Journalism 235

Where Defence is Still the Priority (1985) 235

Sihanouk to go home as an honored senior citizen? (1985) 238

Cambodia’s long road to recovery (1985) 240

Kremlinology and Cambodia (December, 1986) 244

Violence in Democratic Kampuchea: Some Problems of Explanation (1988) 249

Postscript 2010 273

Kampuchean Contras (1986) 275

The Human Rights Bugbear (2010) 277

Amnesty International and the War Against Kampuchea (1990) 279

Amnesty International “File on Torture, Kampuchea (Cambodia)” (1986) 289

Amnesty International Report 1986 290

Kampuchea Political Imprisonment and Torture (1987) 291

Amnesty Strikes Again (1988) 297

Postscript (1995) 300


Thoughts on Cambodia (1988-1989) 302

Review of Le Mur de Bambou (1989) 307

Cultural survival in language and literature in the State of Cambodia (1990) 314

The Lion of Lucy’s Tiger (1988) 323

Recent Progress in Cambodia (1989) 325

Reply to Sidney Jones / Asia Watch (1990) 332

Exchanges with the FEER and Tommy T.B. Koh 337

Former Khmer Rouge? (1989) 338

To and Fro with Rip van Koh (1989) 339

Outside powers’ manipulations fascinate the Cambodia watchers (1990) 343

Alan Dawson and the Bangkok Post 345

Return to Lucy’s Tiger Den (1990) 346

Black Propaganda (1990) 349

Phnom Penh: Political turmoil and red solutions 352

Still Seeing Red (1989) 353

Response to Bowring (1989) 355

Political arrests and Red Solutions 356

Notable Changes in Phnom Penh (January 1991) 357

Comment on the ‘Red Solution’ (1994) 360

Chea Sim: the hardline leader (1991) 363

Is Cambodia ready for liberalization? (1991) 368

Vagaries in Cambodian Journalism 1988-1991 371

Khmer Rouge Troop Numbers (1979-1992) 378


Cambodia After the Peace (1991-1993) 384

The Cambodian Elections, Nicaragua, Angola, or Somalia? (1993) 393

Pol Pot’s plan for UNTAC 401

Son Sen and all that - challenging the KR pundits (1996) 406

Political Parties in 1993 (1993) 412

Remarks on Cambodia (1993) 416


Epitaph: for the Khmer Rouge, or for the New Left? (1995) 424

Myths in Cambodian journalism (July 1994) 440

Shawcross in the 90s 443

A New Cambodia (1993) 444

Tragedy in Cambodia (1997) 447

Shawcross Recants (1997) 461

Comments on Propaganda, Politics, and Violence in Cambodia (1996) 463

Cambodia Three Years After (1996) 474


Whither Cambodian democracy? (1997) 497

A non-standard view of the ‘coup’ (1997) 501

Cambodian Impressions (October 1997) 507

The Guardian’s Stolen Objectivity (1997) 509

From Info-Ed to the UN Center for Human Rights (1998) 511

Upcoming Elections (1998) 518

Troubling conjunctions (2001) 520

Adams on the Gravy Train (2002) 522

Gottesman and Hunt (2005) 527

More Floorcross (2006) 530


David Chandler, A History of Cambodia (2010) 535




After the US had unleashed its Pearl Harbor equivalent on Iraq in 1991, and celebrating what seemed a glorious victory in the Persian Gulf War, George Bush [I], the then President of the US, jumped up and down in glee, screaming “We’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome”.[1] This was regime-speak for the supposed end of US fear to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries, especially weak ones, if it was seen to be of advantage to US regime interests.

The real Vietnam syndrome, however, was visceral hatred of the small enemy who, to secure independence, fought the US to a standstill. This hatred inspired the US to exert all efforts short of further military intervention to block Viet Nam’s recovery from the war. This included undermining the recovery of Cambodia which, both for the French in their failed war of reconquest (1946-54) and later for the US, was a secure rear base from which to stab Viet Nam in the back, but which after 1979 had become a close ally of Viet Nam.

Perhaps the US insistence to construct their new Phnom Penh embassy, a real ‘Green Zone,’ in the city center, and one of the largest US embassies in Asia, obliterating an attractive French colonial recreational area, indicates a desire to maintain the same role for Cambodia now.

The US campaign against Viet Nam and Cambodia, in contrast to similar campaigns in Nicaragua and Cuba, was accepted by nearly the totality of US journalism. If it was possible to occasionally find a critical editorial about Nicaragua in the Washington Post, everyone, including some surprising cases toward the leftward end of the political spectrum, such as it is in the US, fell into line on Viet Nam and Cambodia.

Probably for no other controversial area of the world did the press, from large mainstream organs to what had once been classified as moderate left, cooperate so obsequiously with regime profpaganda, not only in limiting their own output to support for it, but refusing to publish criticism. It seemed that the arrogant and successful defiance of the US by a small Asian state inspired patriotic, evenracial, horror, not only in traditional warmongers, but also in persons who had otherwise seemed free of such psychic aberrations.[2]

That propaganda has had continuing influence in Cambodian affairs. When the United Nations Transitional Authority for Cambodia (UNTAC) went to Cambodia in 1992 and 1993 to organize an election it brought in hordes of sincere young people from western countries, most of whom, having been exposed to years of the anti-Vietnamese, anti-Phnom Penh, press in their own countries, arrived with a missionary prejudice against the existing Cambodian government, and a conviction that the duty of UNTAC was to replace that government by its rivals.

Since the end of UNTAC some of them have gone on to form the newest generation of Cambodia pundits in the West, where they continue with their zealotry. Others stayed in Cambodia as ‘human rights’, i.e. anti-Cambodian Peoples Party (CPP), activists, and as the new generation of journalists, and they have been joined by later newcomers whose prejudices reflect the same background of biased reporting throughout the 1980s and 1990s to the present.[3]

Moreover, during these last few years when official US relations with Viet Nam have been improving, albeit much too slowly, and when, finally, as some of the old warmongers have called for a revision of US policy on Cuba, that other hate object, the intensity of anti-Cambodian emotion connected to the traditional anti-Viet Nam hysteria has increased, both within the milieu inside Cambodia which I noted above, and among a certain coterie in the US.[4]

There is a difference, however, in that the official State Department policy on Cambodia since 1993, which must have at least silent backing higher up in the executive branch, has been for collaboration with the Cambodian government, but they are at times out-shouted by the extremists, who, although without official backing in the US, have had strong support in the media, in a reactionary coterie of politicians (Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, Senator Mitch McConnell), and, very important in Cambodia, in the activity of the International Republican Institute and broadcasts of the Voice of America.[5]

They are all kicking their own Vietnam syndromes in Cambodia, the weakest object. Minefields are not the only coward’s war there.[6]

The writings in this collection are my journalistic efforts to combat those tendencies after 1979, and to kick the real Vietnam syndrome. Thus the expression in the title has a double meaning. Some of the pieces here were not published when written, and those which were published were either in obscure journals, or in a restricted regional press (Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Australia, with one in the Guardian Weekly [UK]), which, except for the last, would not have reached a public outside those places, and were not seen where most needed.

On the positive side, the purpose of this writing was to explain what was happening in Cambodia after the end of ‘Democratic Kampuchea’ (Pol Pot’s ‘Khmer Rouge’), to defend the new People’s Republic of Kampuchea, after 1989 the State of Cambodia, against unjust accusations in the Western, mainly American, press, and to take that press to task for spinelessly turning themselves into propagandists for the official US line, as happened again after 11 September 2001.[7]

My efforts were entirely marginal, as can be seen now when writers who gained fame writing anti-Viet Nam war, even anti-US, literature have switched to proclaiming that the war was justified, and when Cambodia specialist officials of UNTAC, having attacked similar analyses from the left, argue that the purpose of UNTAC and the 1993 election was not to secure democracy, but to get rid of a regime which was intolerable to some of the Great Powers, first of all the US.[8] Among the trendy post-something categories, we should include the ‘post-anti-Viet Nam war’ phenomenon, a type of Vietnam syndrome which this publication is intended to kick.

Chapter 1: an introduction to Cambodia

The creation of modern Cambodia

Among all of the countries of Southeast Asia which came under western colonial control, it was only in Cambodia that imperialism failed to perform what Marx in an early analysis accepted as its historic task - to smash the existing ‘feudal’ system and thereby open the way to the development of more progressive capitalism.[9]

In the other states of Southeast Asia the old structures were in varying degrees replaced by one or another type of European system based on capitalism, and now most of these states have taken off, as Marx supposed, on their own capitalist paths, and moreover show varying degrees of capitalist crisis.

The same process prevailed in Thailand in spite of its formal independence. In this respect Burma and Viet Nam seemed for some time to lag behind the others, but perhaps deliberately in order to test innovations, and in the end they may be the most successful. Certainly now, in 2009, there can be no doubt that Viet Nam has been successful.[10]

This process of smashing a pre-modern structure to embark on a path mimicking the West has only now, since 1991, begun in Cambodia, at a time and in a way which may prove disastrous. Under the French Protectorate not only were the royalty and the special type of bureaucracy supporting it not destroyed, they were solidified and protected under a benevolent, for them, French umbrella. Domestic opposition to the king, whether from royal pretenders or the lower orders, was successfully suppressed, and Cambodian kings, from Norodom (r. 1864-1904) to his great-grandson Sihanouk (r. 1941-1955, 1993-2005), sat more solidly on their thrones than at any time since Angkor.

No capitalist bourgeoisie, either local or French, developed, for French economic interests lay elsewhere, and merchants were mostly foreign, thus outside political life, and, like the Cambodian elite, interested in accumulation for consumption, not investment for production. The great majority of Khmer were poor peasants. In mid-19th century, when western colonialism and capitalism began to impinge on Cambodia, Cambodians had no more memory of their great past than the Greeks had of theirs as they struggled for independence.[11]

Nor were the Cambodians even fighting for independence. They were near the bottom of an ancient Asian international system in which, contrary to the modern, equality of states, even nominally, was unknown, and each polity was situated in a hierarchy, with China at the apex. Cambodia was ranked below both Thailand and Viet Nam, but above, for example, the Jarai who had for centuries maintained a traditional diplomatic relationship with the Cambodian court, and probably with the court in Viet Nam, and earlier Champa, as well.[12]

Within this structure ‘independence’ did not mean what it does in the modern world - indeed there may have been no such concept. This was particularly true for those polities near the bottom of the international hierarchy, such as Cambodia. At least the words for ‘independence’ in Southeast Asian languages are all modern creations, and traditional histories stress, not independence or its loss, but the types and degrees of dependence or obligations to other polities, which were formed, altered, broken, or renewed as power relationships changed.[13]

There had been a time when the territory now forming central Thailand, the core of the Kingdom of Ayutthaya, after 1782 centered in Bangkok, was ethnically Khmer and Mon, and probably under Angkor hegemony. No precise date for the reversal of that hegemony may be established, but the older relationship continued, terminologically, on the Thai side well into the new society.

The site of Angkor, throughout the chronicles of Ayutthaya and Bangkok, is called ‘Nakhon (nagara) Luang’, ‘the capital’ par excellence, a terminological relic of a time when it had really been such, preserved long into a time after it had become a collection of nearly deserted and forgotten temples under the authority of a minor governor dependent on Ayutthaya and then on Bangkok.

It may be inferred that the reversal of hegemony was not a sharp break, but very gradual and never apparent to those involved, for Ayutthaya probably began as a Khmer center and was still Khmer when Angkor was abandoned as their political center by the elite within Cambodia in mid-15th century.[14]

On the other side, an old Cambodian chronicle outside the canonical tradition, and probably more accurate, portrays an early 17th-century Cambodian king as manifesting from a position of strength a condescending attitude to the Vietnamese Nguyen ruler at what is a crucial moment in traditional Cambodian historiography which portrays the events as marking Viet Nam’s first occupation of Cambodian territory around 1620.

This first record of relations between them portrays the Nguyen King of Hue, when about to go to war with the rival Trinh rulers in the north, requesting war elephants from the Cambodian king, and offering a daughter in return.[15] The tone of this Cambodian chronicle suggests that not only did they not feel threatened, but considered the Vietnamese royalty as lower in rank.

In another reversal of fortunes and hegemony, without any evocation of ‘independence’, Prince Nguyen Anh, the future Gia Long, the first king of the restored Nguyen dynasty in Viet Nam, having been chased from his country by rebels, placed himself under the protection of King Rama I (r. 1782-1809) of Bangkok, and then after reconquering Viet Nam sent tribute signifying acknowledgement of hegemony until his death in 1820. This was discontinued by his successor, Minh Mang.

By the end of the 17th century Cambodia had fallen into a position of double dependency, in which it remained long enough that by the time the French arrived there was probably no conception among its ruling class of any other possibility.

During the time of competing hegemonies between Thailand and Viet Nam, which unavoidably involved Cambodia as battlefield and object of dispute, Cambodian rulers opted for the hegemony of one or another of their neighbors according to positions of relative strength, and possibly ideological preferences. At least, it is mistaken to project contemporary prejudices into the past and assert that Viet Nam was always the greater danger and the more foreign.

It is bad history, as seen in Mabbett and Chandler, to treat King Chan (r. 1806-34) and his faction, who sought support from Viet Nam, as less patriotic or less competent than those who preferred Thai patronage. To do so is to project modern chauvinism onto that time. A historian of the period must accept a priori that some Cambodians were pro-Vietnamese, some pro-Thai, for legitimate reasons of personal or class interest, or even patriotism as they saw it, and not transpose 20th-century prejudices and preconceptions.[16]

The pro-Vietnamese faction of Cambodian royalty lost in the last Thai- Vietnamese arrangement before the French, in 1846-48, which put Sihanouk’s Thai-educated and protected great-great-grandfather Ang Duang on the throne as a formally joint vassal of Thailand and Viet Nam.

Since then Cambodian tradition has been recounted and written by the descendents of the pro-Thai faction, of whom some, following the tradition of Ang Duang, were proud of their Thai education and fluent linguistic competence at least as late as the 1940s.[17]

Thus the danger from Viet Nam exclusively has been emphasized by all regimes in independent Cambodia, except the PRK/SOC from 1979 to 1993, and this emphasis has been continued by a reactionary opposition faction eager to overthrow the CPP and Hun Sen with the accusation that they are Vietnamese agents.[18]

To what extent are the chauvinists correct? Is Vietnamese expansion an inevitable threat? And is Cambodia not equally threatened by Thailand, a subject rarely evoked by either academics or media, and emphatically, if inadequately, denied by Thailand’s chief military-political propagandist, General Charan Kullavanija, then Secretary-General of the Thai National Security Council.[19]

In his A History of Cambodia David Chandler wrote that the border between Cambodia and Viet Nam is one of the greatest cultural divides of Southeast Asia.[20] This was ‘borrowed’ by Elizabeth Becker who added that “it marks the frontiers of Asia’s two great cultures, China and India ... the Cambodians would represent the artistic Latin culture, the Vietnamese the industrious northern temperament”.[21] Like most such idealistic metaphor-bashing, this is largely nonsense.

There is, however, a real materialistic divide, but it is not based on the cultures and personalities of present inhabitants; and the eventual expansion of the Vietnamese-to-be out of their Red River valley homeland between the 10th and the 18th centuries is an undoubted part of the historical record. In this process they moved down over the narrow central plains, until then occupied by the Cham, whom they absorbed and gradually transformed into Vietnamese.

The process was not steady, and the nam tien (progress southward) is a myth. There were frequent retreats from Cham attacks. The process is better explained by reference to objective geographical-economic conditions, and the reversal of fortunes against the Cham, who were at first aggressors, was not clear for over three hundred years.[22]

Viet Nam, considered within its modern boundaries, consists of two large plains in the north and south joined by an extremely narrow strip of flat land squeezed between mountains and sea, with a few small spots of fertile lowlands at river mouths along the coast.

A reasonable hypothesis about the prehistory of the region is that when societal development had progressed beyond prehistoric village level, the occupants of the narrow central coast were forced to depend on, or seek control of, one or both of the large plains in the north and south. Conversely, the societies of the large plains, in reaction against pressure from the central coast peoples, sought to dominate them.

These inevitable processes are amply documented, although too often obscured by French-colonial, and anti-Vietnamese post-colonial, treatments which emphasize the ethnic difference, and depict the process as unilateral Vietnamese aggression. In fact periods of warfare alternated with times of peace and cooperation, and in the late 14th century Cham aggression overran most of northern Viet Nam and nearly captured its capital.[23]

Until the 17th century Viet Nam was of less immediate significance for Cambodia than developments in what is now Thailand, since Champa was still a buffer between Viet Nam and Cambodia, and the Cham conflict with Viet Nam was not a menace to Cambodia, while Cambodia and Thailand were in direct and equal competition for favored status on the international sea-trade route to China.[24]

Indirectly, Vietnamese pressure on Champa may have been of benefit to Cambodia which, since the 9th century, had been in sporadic conflict with Champa over control of the rivers and ports of the Champa coast, now central Viet Nam.

Cham interest and influence in Cambodia is manifest in the Spanish and Portuguese reports from Cambodia in the 1590s and in the circumstance that a Cambodian king, no doubt seeing the benefit to Cambodia of integration into the Moslem-dominated Southeast Asian maritime network, in 1642 embraced Islam, to which the Cham in Cambodia had in majority converted during the previous 200 years.

That was the mainland high-water mark of the rapid expansion of Islam in Southeast Asia, and its repulsion, with the return of Cambodian royalty to Buddhism in 1658, coincided, although no causality may be deduced, with the beginning of Cambodia’s decline as a Southeast Asian power.[25]

It is important to recognize that tension, rivalry, and conflict between the Cambodian central plain and the southeastern coast have been constants throughout recorded history from Funan (2nd-6th centuries), when the rival groups may both have been Khmer, or related Mon-Khmer, through the Angkor period (9th-14th centuries) when the contesting groups were Khmer and Cham, to modern times when the Cham have been assimilated to and replaced by Vietnamese.

Until mid-17th century Cambodia competed as an equal with its neighbors both east and west. Thereafter Ayutthaya’s more cohesive political- administrative structure and its larger hinterland supplying desirable products resulted in greater wealth and state power, while Cambodia gradually, weakened from the end of the 17th century by factional rivalry among its elite, became an economic backwater.[26]

As the Vietnamese step-by-step completed their domination of Champa, they occupied areas which made tension between them and Cambodia inevitable; and by the 1690s (not the 1620s) the Saigon area, an ancient Khmer zone, was in their hands, with the potential to dominate Cambodia’s foreign commerce. It is important to note, however, that the first Vietnamese intervention within Cambodia, in 1658, had been at the invitation of a Cambodian royal faction, requesting help against the Cham, and to oust the Islamic king.

When the Cham danger had disappeared, the tendency to rely on outside help in internal power struggles continued, and during the end of the 18th and first half of the 19th centuries, Cambodian royalty, following traditional economic- political fault lines, were split into pro-Thai and pro-Vietnamese factions and the country was prey to invading armies supporting the Cambodian agents of Bangkok or Hue.[27]

We must not ignore, as conventional wisdom does, that to Cambodia’s west a similar process was underway. Just as the Cham were being absorbed into Viet Nam, the Mon and Khmer of central Thailand were being absorbed and transformed by the Thai, and expansion against neighbors was as much a part of Thai development as of Vietnamese. A map showing stages of Vietnamese expansionism against Champa, Cambodia and Laos is de rigueur in textbooks of Southeast Asian history and popular journalistic treatments, and this expansion of one country against its neighbors in Southeast Asia is presented as something uniquely Vietnamese.

Rarely, if ever, does one see a similar map illustrating Thai expansionism, during roughly the same time and against some of the same victims, Mon and Khmer, who, like the Cham and Khmer of Southern Viet Nam, have been reduced in the first instance (Mon) to an insignificant minority, and in the second to a somewhat larger, potentially more troublesome, minority, without recognized cultural or linguistic rights and conscious of its invidious position.[28]

This made it very easy for France to secure its foothold. The Cambodians calculated that dependency under France would be less onerous than under their neighbors, of whom Thailand at the time, the 1860s, was their major concern.[29]

The Cambodians took the Protectorate seriously, expecting protection against their neighbors, and within the country protection for the ruling family against its rivals. Indeed, the latter was the greatest threat. King Norodom, Ang Duang’s son, with whom France signed the so-called Protectorate treaty in 1863, had in 1861 nearly been dethroned by a more popular younger brother, Sivotha, and had to flee to Bangkok for protection from one of Sivotha’s assaults.[30]

This incident provides an example of hegemonistic maneuvering by Bangkok, which prefigured their support for unpopular contras, such as the Khmer Rouge, ‘Khmer Serei’, KPNLF, and FUNCINPEC, after 1979.

In the record of a meeting of Thai royalty and ministers of state in 1861 to decide which of two contending Cambodian princes, Norodom or Sivotha, should get Thai support to become the new Cambodian king, the tenor of the discussion was that “Prince Norodom is the eldest son, but the people do not like him, he is unstable ... his younger brother is steadfast, the people like and respect him very much ... if we make the younger brother king, he will not feel gratitude toward us, because he will consider that he was made king because he was popular ... if we make Prince Norodom king, he will be very grateful, because no one respects him ... and His Majesty [King Mongkut] agreed”.[31]

So, Norodom like Sihanouk in 1991 returned to Cambodia with an impressive Thai escort; French support after 1863 removed the danger of Sivotha, the Thai were forced to give up their privileged position in 1867, and Cambodia went on into the 20th century as a Protectorate within French Indochina.

The status of ‘protectorate’ rather than ‘colony’ must be understood. It meant that unlike Southern Viet Nam, Cochinchina, de jure, and all of Viet Nam de facto, a thoroughly French administration from capital to village was not set up.

The old Cambodian state structure was left in place, the prestige of king, royal family, and aristocracy was preserved, with in fact much greater security from internal disturbances, provincial administration under governors from dominant local families was maintained, and in their usual activities most Cambodian villagers rarely had to deal with a Frenchman.

French control was maintained by a parallel structure of a Resident Superieur in Phnom Penh subordinate to the Governor-General in Hanoi, and Residents at provincial level, who gave ‘advice’ to their Cambodian counterparts. Cambodia was not a very important component of French Indochina, and except for the very heavy taxation, worse than in Viet Nam or Laos, French rule did not greatly impinge on the life of ordinary people.[32]

After 1945, during a period of only 30 years, Cambodia attempted to move out of a backwater of Asiatic ‘feudalism’ through a bourgeois revolution followed immediately by a socialist revolution, without the classes which formed elsewhere to carry out either of those revolutions, indeed with a society whose structure was appropriate only to its own Mode of Production.[33]

In contrast to Viet Nam, Burma, or Indonesia, colonialism had not carried out its progressive task of destroying the old society and setting foundations for capitalism, let alone socialism.[34] A royalty already foundering and decadent was preserved in aspic in palaces which it could not have afforded on its own; the small number of newly educated, instead of becoming progressive protobourgeois, were coopted, or if hopeless rebels were exiled, and the mass of the population, peasants, remained under the hegemony of a complex of ideas in which the function of king was inextricably mixed with religion and the ceremonies necessary for social well-being.[35]

As in other colonial countries, little was done to inculcate the best values of the West. Although the French babbled on about their mission civilisatrice, and the British, under protest, went through motions of establishing some democratic forms, what Asians saw of modern western society was simply a new, and foreign, ruling class, as rapacious economically and as exclusive socially as the old. In front of the fine rhetoric were brutal officials, secret police, imprisonment without trial, partisan justice, and political pay-offs.[36]

If these negative features have been prominent in newly independent former colonies, and in formally independent Thailand, under heavy British imperial influence, it is not just ‘traditional’ society reasserting itself, but also imitation of the West as seen in its practice in Cambodia, Viet Nam, Burma, etc.

In fact, Cambodia, because of the peculiar nature of its Protectorate, may have been imbued with the worst possible mixture of the negative features of both types of society. Whereas in Burma, where colonialism had carried out what the young Marx considered its progressive role, by 1908 new barristers were returning from education in England, while in protected royalist Cambodia there was no high school until 1935.[37]

When the Pacific War ended in 1945 the royalty, like their counterparts in Malaya and East Sumatra, wanted nothing more than return of the protecting power. Like those other royals, they had neighbors where royal charisma had long been forgotten, replaced by strong movements for independence.[38]

Like the early Malay nationalist movements who desired inclusion in a Great Indonesia, there were Cambodian anti-royalist nationalist intellectuals who, while not advocating absorption of Cambodia by Viet Nam, saw Viet Nam as a more developed and progressive nation, and its language as a better vehicle for modern education than Khmer.

If by that time there was no longer royalty with equal fluency and interest in Vietnamese to counterbalance the Thai culture of the Norodoms, that interest had been taken over by members of a rising class who would play a role in elite politics for the next 40 years.[39] Among those intellectuals was one tendency whose goal was multi-party democracy and capitalism, although they probably would have rejected the latter term, and a more radical group who admired socialism.

Unlike the situation in western Europe at a comparable period of its history, neither of these intellectual tendencies represented organic intellectuals of already formed classes. There was no industrial bourgeoisie trying to take political power, nor a fortiori, was there a proletariat needing guidance forward into socialism.[40]

The new class which naturally rose out of a dissolving Asiatic Mode of Production under the impact of colonial capitalism was a petty bourgeoisie. They existed in embryo in the interstices of the old society between the ruling class of royalty and aristocrat-bureaucrats and peasantry as petty traders, monastery- educated poor men trying to climb socially as independent intellectuals, or as private clerks in the personal retinue of the elite (in old Ayutthaya-Krung Thep the tnay).[41]

Their chance as a class came when the traditional bureaucracies were opened to all comers on the basis of education and talent, either after destruction of the old regimes by colonial powers, or, as in independent Thailand, when administrative modernization was seen as necessary to preserve independence, and, incidentally, to enable the royalty to overthrow the hegemony which the bureaucratic aristocrats had held since early in the nineteenth century.[42]

The new petty bourgeoisie then develops within the new bureaucracy, the traditional locus of power, but they are blocked from becoming a ruling class like the old bureaucracy, for that slot is occupied by the colonial power, or in Thailand after 1870 by the royalty. Neither can the new petty bourgeoisie become a true entrepreneurial bourgeoisie, because that slot, if not occupied by colons, is maintained, as in Thailand, by a local foreign element originating in the agents of the state who managed trade under the old regimes (in Southeast Asia mostly Chinese).

The new petty bourgeoisie is envious of the entrepreneurial bourgeoisie, as in Europe, but is unable to compete with them, and seeks administrative redressment of complaints through seizure of political control, as occurred in Thailand in 1932. This is made easier because entrepreneurs are a different ethnic group who cannot compete in the political arena, and class conflict is disguised as ethnic rivalry, even for outside observers and western social scientists.[43]

In this situation the emerging bourgeoisie, because of its foreign origin, cannot win power via democracy, as in Europe, and must seek strategic alliances with colonial powers, or with royalty (Thailand), or with the new petty bourgeoisie. Cambodia’s Khieu Samphan with his 1959 dissertation was offering himself as an intellectual for the emerging capitalist class, but was rejected, if only because the entrepreneurial bourgeoisie was not yet constituted as a class in Cambodia, and its individuals preferred to make their own deals with Sihanouk.

As I noted briefly in Cambodia 1975-1982, Samphan’s conception of potential Cambodian development owed less to Marx than to the German ‘national economist’ Friedrich List (born 1789), whose prescriptions for development very closely resemble the statist polices followed by such modern successes as the Republic of Korea.[44]

The excesses of Democratic Kampuchea were not only peasant revenge against the city, as I emphasized in Cambodia 1975-1982, but revenge by petty- bourgeois intellectuals against capitalists and those who had rejected them in the old society.

In Cambodia, after 1945, the new intellectuals tried at first to take power through the electoral process under the postwar democratic constitution, and they enjoyed initial, but diminishing, success in the elections of 1947, 1948, and 1951. Their weakness was that they did not represent any class; the only radical demand they had, and the only intellectual justification for their existence, independence, could easily be taken over by their rivals. Republicanism, which some of them secretly desired, was not an option under the prevailing ideological hegemony, and, again, in the absence of a developing capitalist class in whose interest it might have been.

Just ‘democracy’, going to the polls every few years, meant little to the Cambodian populace, as became clear after independence was achieved. After their total defeat in 1955, bourgeois-oriented intellectuals in search of power had no choice, if they remained in Cambodia, but to seek a bureaucratic career, except for the few in the free professions, or with independent, inherited wealth. That is, they remained as a growing petty bourgeoisie.[45]

The socialist intellectuals, who in terms of family background were often indistinguishable from those with bourgeois leanings, faced similar difficulties. There was only a miniscule proletariat, and the only demand which could attract the peasantry, with whom, in the absence of a proletariat, they tried to identify, was again independence with an end to heavy French taxation.

When that was achieved in 1953-54 in a way which permitted Sihanouk to claim credit, the Cambodian radical left also collapsed. If its leaders who remained within the country did not just embark on bureaucratic careers, as many did, thus joining their more conservative comrades, but maintained radical lines within mainstream political culture, they were constrained in what they could say, and not only because of police harassment.

Since, at least until the late 1960s, there was no sufficiently large rebellious class whose demands they could articulate, they were forced to proclaim loyalty to Sihanouk while trying to push him leftward on particular issues. Thus, they proclaimed fervent support for his diplomatic openings to the socialist countries, and his denunciations of the US.[46]

On domestic issues, their opposition to corruption and oppression of the peasantry had less success, and eventually forced their withdrawal to guerrilla warfare.

Sihanouk managed to outmaneuver those rivals. By skillful manipulation of French interests he succeeded in getting formal independence for himself, and favorable treatment at the 1954 Geneva Conference.[47] Only in Malaya, among Southeast Asian countries, did the communist movement in the 1950s and 1960s fare as badly as in Cambodia. Different from Malaya was that the defeated left were Khmer, not mainly a group which could be portrayed by the ruling classes (British and Malay elite) as foreign, like the Malayan Chinese.

From the 1955 election until his deposition in 1970 Sihanouk ruled as a despot, supported by a traditional elite whose 1950s generation had begun their bureaucratic careers as loyal servants of the Protectorate, and some of whose fathers, grandfathers and more distant forebears had served in similar positions under pre-Protectorate Cambodian kings.

Few of them had been partisans of independence until it was seen as inevitable, and they never lost the traditional Cambodian elite mentality that Cambodia needed a strong protecting power. Their ideal was a Cambodia in which they would have independence to exploit the country for their own comfort, with an outside protecting power to fend off assaults from other foreign powers and to intervene if domestic opposition to the status quo became too threatening.

Cambodia was thus an ideal field of action for the United States trying to supplant the traditional colonial powers, at first for control of valuable resources, then in general for hegemony in the ‘Cold War’, and finally as a strategic rear area from which to conduct war operations in Viet Nam. Amusingly, the US thought at first that they could rely on Sihanouk as a suitable right-wing princeling, and they probably could have, if they had not been too obtuse to distinguish his occasionally leftist rhetoric from his solidly reactionary domestic policies.

This lack of subtlety resulted in the exclusion of the US from Cambodia during 1965 to 1969, when good relations with Sihanouk resumed briefly to be interrupted by the coup of March 1970. American bungling aside, the changes in Sihanouk’s attitude towards the US were closely related to events in Viet Nam. When American-Cambodian relations soured in the early 1960s it appeared that in Viet Nam the revolutionary forces were winning. In 1969 Sihanouk may have thought this was no longer true.

Although convincing evidence of US responsibility for the 1970 coup has not been discovered, it certainly opened hitherto unhoped-for possibilities for US influence. After all, Lon Nol had nowhere else to turn, and had the war ended differently in Cambodia, not an impossible hope until 1972, the US, with French influence eradicated, would have enjoyed a position of hegemony, which they were only twenty years later, after the 1992-93 UNTAC operation, in a position to contemplate, but against competition from Japan, China and the newer capitalist states of East and Southeast Asia.

As further introduction to the position taken in this book, and as a summary of Cambodia from 1945 to 1992 in the light of that position, I reproduce selections from an article which, although journalistic in style, was published in an academic journal.

The Cold War and Cambodia (1992)[48]

When Harry Truman declared Cold War on the Soviet Union in 1946 he probably didn’t know where Cambodia was; and had he known, it would not have seemed a place to worry about in the international confrontation for which he was planning.[49]

Whatever might happen to French control over Indochina, and there were significant elements in the US government who did not wish it to continue, the alacrity with which the Cambodian ruling class had welcomed French return in 1945 indicated that they would not willingly join a Communist Bloc.[50]

At the same time most of the US government probably still hoped that a safely capitalist China would remain as a guardian of international righteousness in Southeast Asia. The Soviet Union, it seems, took little interest in an independent Indochina, and expected that a Communist France would carry its Indochinese colonies safely into the socialist camp.[51]

Up to 1970 the only interest in looking at ‘the Cold War and Cambodia’ is from the Cambodian side, to see how Cambodia tried to manipulate the Cold War in its own interest, and to avoid impingement of international Cold War politics on domestic affairs. After 1970 it became clear that Cambodia had been unsuccessful in manipulation and avoidance, and the country became a casualty of the Cold War exploding into a hot one.

By 1970 Cambodia had become for an American hot-war president a key element in his strategy. Richard Nixon characterized his April 1970 invasion of Cambodia as “the Nixon Doctrine in its purest form”.[52] As late as 1991 the Cambodian situation, both internally and with respect to international maneuvers involving the country, suggested that there had been no change at all in the Cold War, in particular on the US side.

And now, in 1992, the US still continues Cold War policies toward Cambodia as part of the ongoing vendetta against Viet Nam. We might profitably look at what the long-lasting US-sponsored violence in Cambodia can tell us about a US regime doctrine, perhaps only implicit.

I use the term ‘Cold War’ to mean the US policy of rolling back communism and preserving the US domestic status quo (the two are intimately linked) by all means short of direct large-scale armed conflict with major communist powers. It is clear now that the other side of the Cold War, the progress of Communism, was less a concerted effort than responses to local conditions, repression by narrowly-based elites, usually linked to colonialist or foreign imperialist powers. Since the United States has always supported such elites, potential democratic movements had nowhere to turn except to ‘communism’.

I realize that there is still reasonable disagreement over precisely when, and by whose actions, the Cold War began. Given the reluctance of the George Bush [I] regime to acknowledge the Soviet decision that the Cold War no longer warranted the effort, the Bush refusal to switch to domestic policies of social investment suddenly made feasible by the Soviet peace decision (the linkage evoked above), and the manipulation of the Iraq affair to crank up Cold War tensions again and assert more boldly US pretensions to world hegemony, the burden of proof is now solidly with anyone who wishes to argue American benevolence with respect to Cold War origins. [Although this was written in 1992, its relevance is even greater in 2007 when the maneuvers of the first Bush regime appear in retrospect as almost leftist.]

Was the Cold War never more than a ploy in America’s search for a New World Order, the central lesson of which for weaker nations is, as Noam Chomsky says, “We are the masters, and you shine our shoes”?[53]

The Cold War, viewed from Indochina, meant something quite different from what it was considered to be in the West. Probably few Cambodians or Vietnamese ever held, or even took seriously, the Western capitalist view that the Cold War meant holding back aggressive Communism by non-military means, nor would most of them have seen it as a struggle between two vastly different ideologies about how society should be organized. Or if they did, the meaning for them of this struggle would have been quite different from the significance of the Cold War as understood by either Soviets or Americans. On the eve of the 1954 Geneva conference American analysts recognized this when they wrote that in Cambodia:

The Viet Minh is unpopular ... because its members are Vietnamese ... ; but in times of crisis their [Cambodian] political leadership is often unpredictable ... there has been a widespread tendency ... to regard the war against the Viet Minh as being ‘someone else’s business’. In addition ... there are rival cliques presently contending for political power.[54]

For politically conscious Indochinese the Cold War, even if the term was not yet coined, really began with the German defeat of France in 1940, “a great day”, as Simone Weil wrote, “for the people of Indochina”.[55] Their ‘Cold War’ meant first playing off the Japanese against the French government of Indochina, then operating among the victorious Allied powers to secure independence, gain advantages over domestic opponents, and settle irredentist questions in the most satisfactory manner.

In this Cold War it was not the international Communist side which was viewed as a threat, even by royalists with domestic capitalist support and internal leftist opposition, such as Sihanouk. Until 1950, the Chinese Nationalists, via local Chinese communities, may have been viewed as more threatening than the communists, especially in view of the US-supported ex-Kuomintang incursions into Burma and Thailand.[56]

After 1949 the most dangerous major power, whether for Vietnamese communists or Cambodian royalists, was the US, and the real issue in the Cold War for Sihanouk who dominated his country’s politics from 1945 to 1970, and again[1992-1994] tried to play a power-broker role, was, and still is, how to manipulate rival blocs to influence his struggle with domestic opponents, both of the left and right.

The Indochinese little Cold War, like the US-Soviet larger one, has some of its roots in the objective historical background. Indeed it might be argued that the big Cold War is only a special case of traditional realpolitik, the continuance of aggressive pursuit of state goals by means short of war, and that the ideological differences which have been emphasized are mere epiphenomena. This has been particularly clear since the Soviet Union opted out of the Cold War, and released its client states, with the result that the US regime has rushed into armed aggression which the US would not have dared undertake a few years earlier when there was risk of Soviet opposition.

Probably few now concerned with the Cold War take note that two of the most astute 19th-century observers of international relations, Alexis de Tocqueville, writing in the 1830s, and the first George Kennan, in the 1890s, predicted that the great struggle of the 20th century would be between the United States and the Russian Empire - thus all questions of ideology aside.[57]

For Marx as well, the Cold War would have been nothing more than a period in an objectively determined conflict, between a capitalism following its own logic, and growing socialism. Indeed the antics of the two Bush regimes, after a couple of years of hasty celebration of the death of Marxism, have demonstrated Marxism’s continuing utility.

While there can be no doubt that Marx was mistaken about some details, the US has demonstrated that Lenin was fairly right about imperialism, as were Stalin, Mao, Sukarno and all the other communist and leftist national leaders of the 1950s and 1960s about the dangers of US aggression. Thus the supposed end of the Cold War is a mirage, and does not presage an era of peace among the great powers. Indeed current events suggest the next phase of the struggle may be even more violent. [This paragraph, first written in 1992, seems even more apt now in 2007-9.][58]

Unlike the US-Russian rivalry which was predicted long before Communism was an issue, a Thai-Vietnamese rivalry with Cambodia in the middle probably would not have been predicted by anyone before the countries concerned found themselves in hot warfare in the 1830s, even though the long converging Drang nach Suden of both peoples should have made such an outcome rather clear.[59]

It was Burma, not Viet Nam, which Bangkok rulers regarded as the ‘hereditary enemy’, although the Thai king Rama III, on his deathbed in 1851, considered that the Burmese and Vietnamese problems had been settled, and that his successors should be more concerned about the advancing Europeans.[60]

The conception of a deep cultural divide between Sinitic Viet Nam and Indic Buddhist Cambodia and Thailand has become a major explanatory device, or shibboleth, of 20th-century historiography, but it seems not to have separated early 19th-century locals as much as late 20th-century westerners.[61]

When the future Vietnamese Emperor Gia Long had to flee from the Tay So’n rebels he went to Bangkok in 1784, was taken in by King Rama I in whose armies he served in battles against Indic Buddhist Burma, and to whom he gave a sister. In thanks he recognized Bangkok as his suzerain until he had destroyed the Tay So’n and declared himself emperor in 1802, and he accepted symbolic inferior status until the death of Rama I in 1809.[62] In those days, whatever the Indic Buddhist heritage of the Thai, the Sinitic aspects of Vietnamese culture and government would not have been foreign to the rulers of Bangkok.

Chinese influence was very strong there too. Both Taksin (1767-1782) and Rama I (1782-1809) were half Chinese; the former is on record as speaking not only Chinese but Vietnamese as well, they had Chinese official titles which were used in their official correspondence with the Chinese court, and until the end of the reign of Rama III (1824-1851) Chinese cultural influence dominated in

educated circles in a manner similar to that of English in the 20th century.[63] If Rama I did not also speak Vietnamese, he may have communicated with Gia Long in some form of Chinese. Gia Long and Rama I would have understood one another’s administrations and ranking systems without difficulty.[64]

In Cambodia, throughout the wars of the early 19th century there were Cambodian factions depending on Vietnamese support against others who counted on Thai intervention. Those wars ended with victory for the Thai- oriented faction, but joint vassalage under both neighbors, and the disappearance from history of a pro-Vietnamese faction among Cambodian royalty.[65]

Thus the potential for hot or cold wars among Viet Nam, Cambodia and Thailand might not have been viewed by pre-modern participants as based on cultural or ideological divides, but as depending on issues of realpolitik; and it certainly does not appear that Cambodians of the time considered that there was an immutable Vietnamese intention to swallow Cambodia.[66]

French conquest and protectorates put an end to conflict among Vietnamese, Cambodians and Thai, and to direct relations between Indochinese and Thai ruling groups; and when direct relations resumed after independence in the 1950s, each had long lost the habit of dealing with Asian neighbors, had assimilated the foreign policy attitudes of one or another colonial power, France in Indochina, England in Thailand, and they no longer spoke their neighbors’ languages.

The apparent ‘deep cultural divide’ which has mesmerized superficial modern historians is less because of ancient Hindu/Buddhist or Indian/Chinese differences than of the result of different experiences of colonialism in the 19th- 20th centuries.

Patterns of behavior which were to emerge clearly after World War II are, however, already in evidence from the first colonial contacts. In his first dealings with the French in 1856 the Cambodian king Ang Duang requested them to regain for Cambodia certain provinces in southern Viet Nam which had been lost to Viet Nam in the 18th century. He seemed to consider that the French were not different from the stronger local powers between which Cambodian elites had been forced to maneuver.

His son, King Norodom, willingly took both French and Thai help against a rebellious, and reportedly more popular, brother, while the Thai court took the side of Norodom because, as one of their council discussions records, “the people do not like him, he is unstable ... if we make [him] king, he will be very grateful, because no one respects him ... ”.[67]

Until it was achieved in 1907, Cambodians constantly pushed the French to take back the northwestern areas of Battambang and Siemreap which had been appropriated by the Thai in the 18th century. The French were willing to undertake this task, for it represented territorial aggrandizement for them as well, under the guise of obtaining justice for their Cambodian dependents, but the earlier request for territorial transfer within Indochina, from Cochinchina to Cambodia, was never heeded.

Thus a Cold War cause left in Indochina from the colonial period was irredentism, over a large and important part of Cambodia by Thailand, or over eastern Thailand by Cambodia, depending on the point of view, and over a small and less significant part of southern Viet Nam by Cambodia.

In the first instance there was reason enough for Cambodia to feel concern. The provinces of Battambang and Siemreap had come under Thai administration when the local governor sided with Bangkok in a conflict; and after the territory was returned to the French in 1907, the attitude in Thai ruling circles was that real Thai territory had been lost and should be reconquered.

This was the view of the first Phibul Songgram regime (1938-1944), and his adviser, Luang Wichit/Vichit Watthakan/Vadhakarn prepared a study, Thailand’s Case, which in fact claimed that most of Cambodia should be Thai.[68] This spirit of irredentism was a reason behind the Thai-French Indochina war of 1941, after which Battambang and Siemreap were ceded again to Thailand, only to be regained by Cambodia in 1946.[69]

On 9 March 1945, the first period of French administration in Cambodia ended when the Japanese interned the French and offered independence to the three Indochina states. King Sihanouk took up the offer, abrogated all treaties with the French, promulgated a new Basic Law, and formed a government of traditionalists who had already made administrative careers under the French.

In May, So’n Ngoc Thanh, an anti-French and anti-royalist nationalist, was brought back from Japan, whither he had fled in 1942 following the suppression of an anti-French movement in which he was involved; and he was soon appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. Then, after a group of his young followers invaded the palace on 9 August, Sihanouk was forced to make Thanh Prime Minister.[70]

The local ‘Cold War’ goals at the time, that is the Cambodian international relations and security problems, were probably (1) secure independence, (2) regain Battambang and Siemreap from Thailand and thereafter maintain territorial sovereignty against Thai irredentism, (3) try to regain some of the lost territory of Cochinchina (now called in Cambodia Kampuchea Krom / ‘lower Cambodia’).

The ardor with which the goals were conceived and pursued varied among classes and political factions. There is no indication of any disagreement on the question of Battambang and Siemreap and defense against Thai irredentism. Although few were opposed to the ideal of independence, Sihanouk and his conservative supporters, as proved by their subsequent actions, were willing to compromise, or delay independence if necessary to preserve their ruling position.[71]

There was much disagreement over Cochinchina, although the available evidence is almost entirely retrospective, and perhaps in the 1940s the question had not come to the fore. Eventually it is clear that Sihanouk did not wish to press the issue, and one interesting reason was that the Khmer of southern Viet Nam were considered dubious royalists.[72]

Those Khmer were perhaps interested in unification with Cambodia, but their desire was tempered by their own factional differences in relation to one or another Vietnamese political tendency, leftists among them being less interested if the choice were between a socialist Viet Nam and a reactionary royalist Cambodia. It is probably significant that one of the leaders, and at least two other members of the group whose coup made So’n Ngoc Thanh Prime Minister were Cochinchinese Khmer, as was Thanh.

The Thanh government showed an intention to make the most of such independence as had been granted; and some of his pronouncements, long forgotten, are worth reviewing at the present time. Already as Foreign Minister, Thanh took control of all domestic propaganda, and his ministry announced the following program in July 1945:

(1) Support the Great Asian War, which is the emancipation of the peoples of this part of the world,

(2) only complete victory will guarantee independence,

(3) reawaken the historical grandeur of ‘Kampuchea’ [in French text],

(4) create a national army,

(5) achieve the union of all peoples in Cambodia, especially the Annamites [Vietnamese] and the Khmer,

(6) concentration of all economic activities.

Some of these themes, emancipation, complete victory to guarantee independence, the historical grandeur of Kampuchea, a national army, concentration of economic activities, and even union of all peoples if it is taken to mean their Khmerization, prefigure Democratic Kampuchea[1975-1979] policies, showing the persistence of old Khmer attitudes across political factional boundaries.

There seems also to have been considerable ferment in the school system. The Thanhist group wished to eliminate French influence, and remove that language from primary schools; and among the Phnom Penh intellectuals there was a movement to introduce ‘Annamite’, that is, Vietnamese, as the first foreign language.

This was apparently not popular with the king, for suggestions emanating from the palace were for Khmerization of the schools, without Vietnamese; and while Thanh was advocating ‘close relations with the Annamite Empire’, Sihanouk spoke out against a Vietnamese government proclamation to unify all of the old Vietnamese Empire’s territory, if it included Cochinchina.

Perhaps in answer to this was a denial from Thanh’s camp, in an article about his earlier organization of a club for ‘Khmero-Annamite rapprochement’ in 1938, that the Khmer and the Vietnamese were preparing to fight one another. This was followed a week later, 23 August 1945, by a long article on the similarities of the Khmer and the ‘Annamites’. Thanh also recognized Ho Chi Minh’s independent Viet Nam on 2 September 1945 and allowed a Vietnamese mission to be established in Phnom Penh.

Here is clear evidence of differences in Cambodian Cold War aims concerning Khmer-Viet Nam relations and the question of Cochinchina. King Sihanouk was skeptical of Vietnamese intentions, inimical to emphasis on Vietnamese culture in Cambodia, and concerned about the future of Cochinchina, whereas an important group of political reformers, some of whom later made a 180 degree shift, saw close relations with Vietnam, including the Ho Chi Minh tendency, as the key to Cambodia’s progress.[73]

Two weeks later Cambodge was warning the populace of the imminent arrival of British and French troops to disarm the Japanese, and urging that there be no violence. The Vietnamese question was still an issue, for the government took the trouble to deny that all ‘Annamites’ would be expelled. Khmer and Vietnamese civil servants would get equal treatment.

By mid-October Thanh had been removed to Saigon, according to a communique signed by Brig-Gen Murray, because of ‘his activities contrary to the security of the allied troops and to the detriment of Cambodia’; and Sihanouk’s uncle, Prince Monireth, not a partisan of quick independence, took his place as President of the Council of Ministers, in a regime again under a French Protectorate.[74]

A second Cold War-type issue in Cambodia was rivalry between two political camps, the royalists, and the new non-royal urban educated represented by So’n Ngoc Thanh. The goals of the Thanh nationalists seem moderate today, but they shocked the traditionalists and may have contributed to the alacrity, even enthusiasm, with which the latter greeted British, then French, troops who began arriving in September 1945 to disarm the Japanese and restore French authority.

This was the first clear evidence of the traditional rulers’ willingness to compromise independence to preserve their position against rivals whose ardor for independence was stronger. The young rebels were imprisoned, Son Ngoc Thanh was packed off to exile in France, Sihanouk stayed on his protected throne, and among the seven members of the first Ministerial cabinet after the French return there were three from Sihanouk’s first independence cabinet from March to August and four who had been appointed by Son Ngoc Thanh. The Cambodian elite were very adaptable.[75]

The recovery of Battambang and Siemreap

This important issue, related to Cold War strategy in both Cambodia and Thailand, has not received sufficient attention. David Chandler, for instance, in his A History of Cambodia, gives it one sentence, “The Issarak armed struggle against the French ... slowed down after Battambang and Siem Reap were returned to Cambodian control in 1947 and a regime unsympathetic to Issarak aspirations assumed control in Bangkok”.[76]

The Issarak struggle was as much against Sihanouk as against the French, and the Bangkok “regime unsympathetic” to them was the resurgent military under Phibul Songgram. By 1949 he had ousted from political life both the rather leftist civilians led by Pridi Panomyang, and a more conservative group whose best- known representatives were the brothers M.R. Seni and Kukrit Pramoj of a minor branch of the Thai royalty, and Khuang Aphaivong, scion of the traditional ruling family of Battambang who had been responsible for a long period of Bangkok domination over Cambodia’s Northwest, including Angkor, from the 1790s to 1907.

The switch in Bangkok, and the Pridi government’s involvement in Indochina which preceded it, also involved the United States in perhaps its first clear manifestation in Southeast Asia of the Cold War mentality.[77]

After the end of World War II the US, and Britain even more strongly, had insisted on maintenance of a civilian government against a return to power of the Thai military who had allied with Japan during the war. This meant that even the leftist Pridi government enjoyed allied favor, no doubt because of the pro-allied Free Thai movement which he had organized, mainly in Thailand’s Northeast, during the war.[78] But by 1949 and the Communist victory in China the US found it more important to ensure the predominance of strong anti-communist regimes, no matter what their domestic policies or past records.

Whatever the virtues of Pridi Panomyang as seen by the US after 1945, a staunch anti-communist he was not. During his government Bangkok was the center of the Southeast Asian League which supported, and provided haven for, offices representing all the anti-colonialist, including communist, movements in Indochina. It also projected a leftist orientation in Thai politics, and was inimical to the traditional Thai military. Among its leaders there were probably also some who would willingly have transformed Thailand from monarchy to republic.

Had that tendency remained dominant in Thai politics, the history of Southeast Asia, particularly in its cold and hot war aspects, would have been much different. Even though the US government in the 1940s had not clearly formulated a Cold War policy for Southeast Asia, and was still inimical to the return of the Thai military to power, its lack of sympathy for the Southeast Asian League and its international policies is shown in the State Department’s refusal even to receive a letter which Lao Prince Souphannouvong delivered to Ambassador Edward Stanton in Bangkok.[79]

The Pridi government, its Southeast Asian League, and a policy of good will toward nationalist and independence movements in Indochina were terminated through joint action by the military and the conservative royalist civilian group, whose political vehicle became the Democrat Party. They were opposed to Pridi both on domestic grounds - his presumed anti-royalism and socialist economic tendencies - and with respect to his foreign policy.

They were probably as irredentist as the military - Khuang Aphaivong at least because Battambang was his hereditary appanage. Kukrit Pramoj’s irredentist attitude came through later when, commenting on the 1987-88 conflict with Laos, he said Vientiane should be burned to the ground, as was done by Bangkok armies under his ancestors in 1778 and 1828.[80]

With the overthrow of civilian government, and the reemergence of Phibul Songgram, Thai irredentism raised its head again, and the lesson for Cambodia was that its interests, including territorial integrity, could not be guaranteed by the new US-led Cold War bloc which was being formed in Southeast Asia.

From the restoration of French control in 1945 until formal independence in 1953 and the end of the First Indochina War in 1954 Cambodian politics centered on the control and operation of a new European-type constitutional parliamentary system.[81] The larger Cold War impinged via a growing rural communist movement closely linked with the Viet-Minh, which by 1952 had registered considerable success, and which was viewed with sympathy by the political party representing Thanh’s position, the ‘Democrats’.[82]

All Cambodian factions, like those caught between the Thai and Vietnamese in the 1830s, made some effort to garner foreign support, from France, the US, China, and the Soviet Union. Before 1954 they had little success in manipulation of the larger Cold War, for neither the US nor the Soviet Union, nor apparently even China, saw Cambodia as an important area or wished to meddle there.

[excision from original article]

Domestic politics

Conflict between the National Assembly, elected in 1947, 1948, and 1951, and the King marked the first eight years of postwar Cambodia, and much of it was related to Cold War issues. Because of the widespread leftist tendencies, which were anti-royalist as well as anti-French, Sihanouk, even while campaigning for independence, was forced to move toward accommodation with France and opposition to Viet Nam.

Domestically he also pursued increasingly authoritarian policies toward his enemies organized in the Democrat party, who won all elections and dominated the government. In January 1953 both houses of parliament were dissolved and the constitution suspended while the king ruled under a ‘Special Law’ declaring ‘the Nation in Danger’ with parliament transformed into an appointed National Consultative Assembly of 74 members.[83] This was a measure similar to the coup d’etat by General Sarit Thanarat in Thailand in 1958.

Sihanouk and the political right had won the first round in their domestic Cold War, partly through taking skillful advantage of the larger Cold War. There Sihanouk also won, in fact won independence, by convincing France that without independence Cambodia would certainly go communist and become a base to attack French forces in Viet Nam from the rear.[84]

The French, hard-pressed in 1953, acceded to this argument, perhaps because by then independence would be given to the Cambodian francophile elite rather than to the seemingly leftist Democrats.

The Geneva Conference

Cambodia was the only non-communist Indochina country which went to Geneva as an independent state and signed its own agreements with the French and Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The Lao and the southern Vietnamese governments were represented by France, and French representatives signed the agreements with the DRV on their behalf.

The Cambodian goals at Geneva were:

(1) to have their independence, which had not been given universal recognition, ratified in a wider international venue,

(2) to have Vietnamese forces removed from Cambodia and Cambodian communist forces disarmed without any political recognition or a special regroupment zone like those conceded to the communists in Laos and the DRV in the northern half of Vietnam,

(3) to be accorded total freedom in arranging their foreign relations, including freedom to admit US military,

(4) to maintain the type of dictatorial regime which Sihanouk had succeeded in imposing on his domestic opponents in 1953.

The Cambodians also insisted at Geneva that they did not accept the existing boundary between their country and Viet Nam, and reserved the right to contest it in the future because it had been arbitrarily established by France.[85]

They succeeded in the first three aims; indeed, Sihanouk’s representative Sam Sary nearly derailed the conference on its next-to-last day with a long list of demands, the most important of which were granted by the Great Powers. Although they were unsuccessful in the fourth, within little more than a year they managed to circumvent the provisions of the Geneva Accords while ostensibly observing them.[86]

At that time the Cambodian position was strongly anti-communist and pro- ’Free World’, and the US could regard Sihanouk as a potential ally of themselves and of a government of South Viet Nam against the DRV. The US experts of the time, however, realized some of Cambodia’s inherent weaknesses, “vulnerable to Communist pressures chiefly because of their military weakness ... unpredictable leadership [emphasis added], the rivalry of cliques, and ... the existence of armed, non-Communist dissidence”.[87]

The dissidence to which they referred was that of So’n Ngoc Thanh, whom they saw as an independent nationalist. Interestingly, in view of Thanh’s reputation in later years as an ally, even agent, of the US, in 1954 the authors of the above memorandum opined that “his future behavior cannot be predicted and it is conceivable that he might join forces with the Viet Minh”. Clearly the US position at that time was more favorable to Sihanouk than to Thanh.

Independence and its confirmation by the Geneva Conference of July 1954 represented a defeat for all progressive currents of Cambodian politics from the communist Khmer People’s Revolutionary Party (KPRP) through the Thanhist guerrillas to the urban Democrats. In contrast to Viet Nam and Laos, the Cambodian revolutionary forces were allowed no regroupment zone, and were left with no choice but to lay down their arms and reintegrate with Cambodian society under Sihanouk and his conservative supporters.

About one thousand of the leading KPRP cadre withdrew to North Viet Nam, while the rest who remained active changed from armed to political struggle in order to contest the coming elections as Krom Pracheachon (‘Citizens’ Group), in fact the new political form of the KPRP.[88]

In recent years there have been attempts to attribute the defeat of the Cambodian left at Geneva to deliberate betrayal by one or another larger power, China or Vietnam, in the interest of their alleged hegemonic goals in Southeast Asia, thus an intra-Communist Bloc Cold War issue within the larger Cold War.

The official line in the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) - that is, the government in Phnom Penh from 1979 to 1989, when the name was changed to State of Cambodia (SOC) - and also that of the Vietnamese government, was then that the course of the Cambodian revolution under Pol Pot was determined by China’s desire for hegemony over Southeast Asia, and that the Pol Pot clique was carrying out Chinese policy.

This line was adopted uncritically by some foreign friends of the PRK, such as Wilfred Burchett, and it is also reflected in the most thorough treatment to date of the history of the Cambodian revolution, Kiernan’s How Pol Pot Came to Power, in spite of his recording of evidence to the contrary.

This tale of Chinese perfidy starts with the Geneva negotiations of 1954, and the failure to secure representation of the revolutionary side or a regroupment zone for the revolutionary forces as was done in Laos and Vietnam. According to the SRV and PRK, they were betrayed by China who sold out to the western powers, and then in Cambodia supported Sihanouk.[89]

Democratic Kampuchea, on the other hand, has blamed Vietnamese treachery for the same result, and western writers have chosen one or the other line, more or less, depending on their relative Chinese or Vietnamese sympathies.[90]

Let us return, however, to the events of 1954 when both the Vietnamese and the Cambodian revolutionaries were forced at the negotiating table to withdraw from gains they had made on the battlefield. Both the Chinese and Russians urged this retreat, and the main reason was fear of military intervention by the US, including the use of nuclear weapons.

This very real threat, which the Chinese and Russians would have understood much better than the Cambodian Issarak and KPRP forces, sufficiently explains the Chinese and Russian positions; and there are no grounds to postulate at that date an intention by them to sabotage Vietnamese unification or to utilize Cambodia against Viet Nam.[91]

The Vietnamese, for their part, were persuaded that the retreat was temporary, and that their goal would be achieved in 1956 following the elections which the Geneva Accords called for.

Within Cambodia, not only had formal independence been granted to Sihanouk’s government before Geneva, which thus entitled that government to a place at the conference, but a fundamental weakness of the Cambodian revolution had been revealed by that independence. Much of the revolutionary ardor in the countryside disappeared, for independence was what it had been about, and there was insufficient popular support for further struggle in the interest of political or social revolution.

Quite apart from the danger of US intervention, clear assessment of the real balance of forces would have indicated to the Vietnamese, Chinese, and Russians that insistence on support for the KPRP against Sihanouk was premature.

If Geneva disappointed the Cambodian left, it also added an unexpected difficulty to the plans of the right. The latter, under Sihanouk, had hoped to continue the dictatorial regime instituted with Sihanouk’s January 1953 coup, but the Geneva accords required all three Indochina countries to hold elections, in Cambodia before the end of 1955, under existing constitutions and with freedom for all factions, including former guerrillas, to participate.

This made possible the open organization of the Krom Pracheachon under Keo Meas, Non Suon and Pen Yuth, while the old Democrat Party was revitalized and pushed leftward by former students of the Paris Marxist Circle, such as Keng Vannsak and Thiounn Mum, perhaps with organizational work by Saloth Sar. Because of the Democrats’ previous successes, and the popularity which both groups had gained during the anti-French struggle, it was expected that in an honest election the parties of the left would at least win a strong minority in the new National Assembly.[92]

In the election of 1955 Sihanouk confounded the objective of Geneva, just as Ngo Dinh Diem, with US support, betrayed the Geneva Accords in Viet Nam by refusing to allow the nation-wide election scheduled for 1956 to take place. Faced by a clear electoral threat from the left Sihanouk first attempted to amend the existing constitution in ways which would permit him to continue to rule unhindered whatever the election result.[93] This was vetoed by the International Control Commission as contrary to the Geneva Accords, which called for elections under the existing constitution.

Then Sihanouk succeeded in getting the election postponed from April to September 1955, and in those months the Cambodian right, which had been divided among several parties, managed to unify in a single party loyal to Sihanouk. The election campaign was characterized by arrest, occasionally murder, of opposition politicians, the silencing of their press organs, intimidation of voters, and allegedly even ballot-box fraud on election day. The result was total victory for Sihanouk’s Sangkum which took all seats in the National Assembly.[94]

The US attitude was shown by a military aid agreement signed with Cambodia on 16 May 1955, in the middle of the election campaign. The newspapers of the opposition, both Democrats and former communist guerrillas, denounced this agreement, and warned of the dangerous situation developing in Viet Nam and imperialist, i.e. American, responsibility for it. In the light of what happened later their 1955 analyses seem extremely prescient.

At Geneva, and throughout 1955, it appeared that the Cambodian ruling group under Sihanouk intended to ruthlessly suppress communism at home and rely on alliances with western capitalist powers, especially the US, for international security. In Washington, Sihanouk may have appeared as a Cambodian Ngo Dinh Diem, or, had he been on the political horizon, Sarit Thanarat, both of whom by 1960 were the most bitter enemies of Sihanouk’s state.[95]


This period saw gradual disillusionment with US protection, as the US, in its support of Ngo Dinh Diem, favored Viet Nam in its disputes with Cambodia. When South Viet Nam invaded an area of northeastern Cambodia, the US said its military aid to Cambodia must not be used against the Saigon forces.[96]

Sihanouk, who had earlier sought protection by the US and the capitalist world, began to diversify his international relations. He traveled to the Soviet Union in 1956, and relations were established with China in 1958.

Sihanouk’s enemies were twofold, Thailand and Viet Nam, especially with respect to irredentist problems, and internal opposition. During 1955-1960 Sihanouk seems to have considered the foreign threats the more dangerous, and his opening to the international left was intended to block them.

The internal opposition appeared defeated after 1955, and vigorous measures were maintained to keep them under control. Such measures, however, provoked recrudescence of communist movements, which gained increasing popular support as ordinary Cambodians, particularly peasants, realized that independence had not brought an end to their problems, and that their life had hardly improved from the French period.[97]

Sihanouk tried to play the Cold War game to the advantage of his country and his class; and for several years he seemed remarkably successful. The success depended on what happened in Viet Nam, where the US-sponsored war gathered intensity after the refusal to hold elections in 1956. Sihanouk’s left-leaning neutrality brought economic aid from the Socialist Bloc and some degree of assurance that they would not support his leftist opposition.

He also garnered economic and military aid from the West, particularly the US, by not moving so far left in foreign policy that they could not hope to keep Cambodia within the ‘Free World’ by means of such aid. It seems also that Sihanouk, in the early 1960s, believed that the US effort in Viet Nam would fail, that the communists would win, and that Cambodia must insure its future by developing better relations with them than with the Diem government in the South.

Several things happened to disrupt Sihanouk’s nicely balanced policy. His repression of domestic opposition, and worsening conditions for the rural population, caused a new development of an active communist movement, particularly in rural areas. In 1960 the communist party was reorganized; throughout the 1960s many old fighters who had laid down their arms in 1954 reactivated a maquis, sometimes in order to save their lives from Sihanouk’s police. In Phnom Penh there was increasing leftist opposition among the newly educated youth.

A second disruptive factor was that the US believed Sihanouk’s Red Prince rhetoric, and obtusely refused to recognize that his domestic policy was firmly, even brutally, anti-communist. Or perhaps, for the US, Cambodian domestic policy was irrelevant (something which seems apparent since the 1970s), and it was only Sihanouk’s stance in the Cold War, and with respect to the hot war in Viet Nam, that mattered.

US official criticism of Sihanouk and Cambodia’s policy increased, and it seems that there were US-backed plots to overthrow the Cambodian government. This so exasperated Sihanouk that by 1964 he announced the rejection of all forms of US aid, and all US personnel in Cambodia involved in aid programs had to leave. The following year diplomatic relations were broken.[98]

Ironically, the end of Sihanouk’s close connection with the US, and his officially increasing reliance on the Socialist Bloc, did not bring relief from domestic dissidence. Obviously the communist movement in Cambodia developed out of local conditions, popular dissatisfaction with the regime, not from external subversion, and it was independent of Cold War considerations.

In fact, by the mid-1960s it was certain that China, the Soviet Union, and the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam all supported the existence of Sihanouk’s right-wing regime even to the point of sacrificing, at least temporarily, the communist movement, because of the value of a formally neutral, peaceful Cambodia whose border areas could be used as sanctuaries for Vietnamese communist forces, and through which arms could be supplied to them.

A major arms supply route ran from the port of Kompong Som/Sihanoukville in Cambodia’s southwest to the Vietnamese border, with arms transported courtesy of the Cambodian army under Lon Nol, an activity which generated great profit for the Cambodians involved, just as the transit of arms through Thailand to the Khmer Rouge today[1979-1991] cannot be stopped because of the wealth it brings to well-placed Thai generals.[99]

By 1967, and even more clearly 1968, Sihanouk’s policy had failed. The rural communists had initiated revolutionary civil war, and the army was powerless to suppress them.[100]

Besides this, it seems that Sihanouk began to believe that the US would win in Viet Nam through sheer weight of numbers and arms, and contacts between Phnom Penh and Washington gradually improved until diplomatic relations were restored in 1969. This did not help Sihanouk very much, though, for in March 1970 he was overthrown by his own close supporters, who also in general favored close relations with the US, both for help against the communist dissidence, and for aid in economic reorganization and development.

The suspicion, nurtured by Sihanouk himself, that the US engineered his overthrow, is probably unfounded.[101] Sihanouk was already moving back toward a pro-US position, and with his solid record of domestic anti-communism, and increasingly overt hostility to the DRV, he was in fact the perfect picture of a US Third World client. Probably Sihanouk’s enemies on the right, who included both old-fashioned conservatives like Lon Nol, and a group of young, well- educated technocrats and lawyers who wanted a modern capitalist economy and a functioning pluralist parliament, saw that if Sihanouk regained US favor, their projects, whether reactionary or modernizing, were doomed.[102]

It is probable too that the old Cochinchina irredentism was a factor in Lon Nol’s move. During his period of friendship with the DRV and the NLF in southern Viet Nam in 1967, Sihanouk had agreed to the fixing of Cambodia’s borders as they were, that is recognition of Cambodia’s territorial integrity “inside its existing borders”, which meant giving up the old claim to the traditionally Khmer provinces in southern Vietnam.[103]

Lon Nol was notably expansionist with respect to traditional Khmer territory, and among the most ardent military supporters of the Lon Nol regime were Khmer troops from southern Viet Nam under the political leadership of the old nationalist and Sihanouk enemy, So’n Ngoc Thanh.[104] This did not, however, make for a close relationship. Lon Nol needed the military skills of Thanh’s American-trained soldiers, but, like his old patron Sihanouk, he distrusted Thanh politically, and when Thanh’s term as Prime Minister (March-October 1972) ended with no success, he renounced Cambodian politics, returned to Vietnam, and probably died in prison after the Communist victory there.

The details of the disastrous five-year war which ensued are well known. Each American initiative - the April 1970 invasion, the massive bombing of 1972 and 1973, the attempt to secure Khmer communist agreement to a ceasefire in 1973 via Vietnamese influence, acquiescence in Lon Nol’s crooked elections, and the insistence on maintaining him to the end even when many among his closest associates wanted him removed - led to ever greater political and military fiascoes.

With respect to the Cold War, the Cambodian hot war revealed some interesting modifications in the international lineup. China, with whom the US was seeking good relations, supported the Cambodian revolutionaries, while the Soviet Union, and the Eastern European bloc, maintained correct relations with the Khmer Republic, and embassies in Phnom Penh.

Possibly unknown at the time was that the relationship between the Vietnamese and the Cambodian communists, both of whom were fighting against the US as well as against their domestic opposition, was souring, until there was no way the Vietnamese could prevail on the Cambodians to respect the 1973 Paris agreements.[105] When the war ended in April 1975, the victorious Khmer Rouge assaulted the Soviet Embassy and expelled its diplomats as ignominiously as those from capitalist countries.

After 1975

The end of the wars in Cambodia and Viet Nam in 1975 which left all of Indochina under Communist states, was the nadir of US cold and hot war policies in Asia. Not only had they lost those wars, but Thailand, in its new democratic euphoria after October 1973, had overthrown the military who had made Thailand a virtual satellite of the US since the 1950s, and had unceremoniously told the US to remove its numerous military personnel from their Thai bases.

The new Thai government also refused to exhibit the traditional fear of communist expansion, and hastened to establish normal diplomatic relations with their neighbors to the east. More than that, in the Thai parliamentary elections of 1975 the government and military did not exert pressure to prevent the formation and campaigning of socialist parties, which operated in freedom for the first time since 1946, and won an impressive number of seats in the lower house of parliament.[106]

It must have appeared to Cold Warriors that not only had they lost Indochina, but the leading candidate for domino status was cooperating in its own knockdown. Fortunately the new Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia provided reason for hope. The rough policies which were instituted there were bound to alienate their own population, and, if utilized properly, dampen the socialist ardor of Thais or other Southeast Asians who might have otherwise been attracted to an Indochina-type solution to their own domestic problems.

A propaganda campaign was set in motion to assimilate socialism to Pol Potism, and there was no lack of journalist helpers who did all they could to search out the worst incidents and treat them as what happened every day, everywhere, in Democratic Kampuchea. Most of them were not organized, but simply searching for what would make the most saleable stories; even when some US government experts, when questioned formally in public, tried to provide objective information.[107]

As Edward Herman wrote later in a letter to the editor of The Progressive criticizing that publication’s treatment of Cambodia, media “focus on KR violence in the late 1970s ... was clearly not to help Cambodians ... it was to discredit revolution, retrospectively justify our Indochina interventions, and help slough off the ‘Vietnam syndrome’ freeing us for more interventions (as in Angola, El Salvador, and Nicaragua)”.

It was what I called, in the new introduction to the second edition of my Cambodia 1975-1982, “reverse intellectual history, less an explanation of sources contributing to DK ideology than an attempt to discredit the precursors via the disasters attributed to DK”.[108]

The Standard Total View, as I called it in Cambodia 1975-1982, got wide coverage in Thai publications, and this no doubt contributed to increasing tolerance for right-wing extremism, showing itself in violence against activist students, leftist party members, and organized farmers.

As a result of the propaganda and violence, the socialist parties lost most of their seats in parliament after the election of 1976; and, in October of that year, in the bloodiest Thai coup ever, Thai democracy was overthrown and a new militarist and fanatically anti-communist regime set in place.

The Cambodians then surprised everyone again by turning on their erstwhile allies and wartime backers, breaking the supposed Indochinese socialist unity.

Armed conflict on a large scale between Cambodia and Viet Nam began in 1977 and ended in December 1978 when Viet Nam invaded, overthrew the Democratic Kampuchea government and established in its place the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea with a leadership drawn from former DK personnel who had broken with that regime, Cambodian communists who had lived in Viet Nam since the 1954 Geneva settlement, and a few people of non-communist background.

This posed a problem for the Cold Warriors. The Pol Pot regime, “worse than Hitler”, whose overthrow by an international force had been demanded, not just by the usual claque of Washington warmongers, but even by decent and reasonable people like George McGovern, had really been overthrown.

The Vietnamese record in their own country was such that a repetition of DK brutality could be ruled out; and in justification of their move the Vietnamese pulled out all the western anti-Pol Pot publications, including known fakes.

The US reaction proved that Washington had never cared about what was happening in Cambodia, but had only desired to use the DK example to discredit ‘socialism’. Not only was no joy in the end of DK expressed, but Viet Nam was condemned, and by the end of 1979 a save-DK program, with clear US participation and support, was organized along the Thai-Cambodian border.

Under the guise of a humanitarian program to help refugees fleeing disaster, DK forces were helped to rebuild; and non-communist anti-Phnom Penh groups, with their own armed forces, were developed from scratch. As an International Committee of the Red Cross representative described it 12 years later:

“[t]he Cambodian border population has always been used for political purposes in the past. In the eighties the people escaping from Cambodia were kept at the border and used as a buffer as long as Vietnamese troops were in Cambodia. The camps became the most effective places to recruit fighters. At the same time they were a very convenient shield against attacks from the other side, with their civilian appearances and the presence of large numbers of foreign aid workers”.[109]

As a result of this international, but largely US and Thai, initiative, the DK regime and military which were thoroughly defeated in 1979, were rebuilt until they again threatened the existence of Cambodia. And to give them a thin fig leaf of political respectability a Sihanoukist group and another non-communist group, the KPNLF, were in 1982 forced by US, Chinese, and ASEAN pressure to unite in the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK), which preserved the name of the hated Pol Pot regime.

This Coalition was henceforth recognized diplomatically by all ASEAN states, China, and most of the capitalist West. The Peoples Republic in Phnom Penh was recognized by Viet Nam, the Soviet Union, most of the former Soviet Bloc countries of Eastern Europe, India, Nicaragua, Cuba, and a few African countries.

Occasionally the ongoing conflict over Cambodia has been portrayed as a proxy war between China and the USSR, since China has indeed backed the DK group as a legitimate government which was overthrown by foreign intervention, while the Soviets gave economic and military support to Viet Nam and to the new PRK government in Cambodia.

This made the Cambodia problem a kind of Cold War issue, and provided the US, which favored China at the end of the 1970s, with a realpolitik excuse to justify its position as following the Chinese lead on Cambodia.

This has been the official US answer to critics of its stance on post-1979 Cambodia: the US is following the lead of its friends among the front-line states, ASEAN and China, and in spite of alleged revulsion at the result - rehabilitation of DK until it has the potential to regain power - the US must follow the lead of its friends who are directly involved.

This argument is disingenuous. There have been too many instances of the US following from in front, insuring that ASEAN, perhaps even China, maintain the pressure against Cambodia and Viet Nam.

Right after the defeat of DK in January 1979, Prince Sihanouk, who had been held in seclusion in Phnom Penh, was taken away by the fleeing DK government and the Chinese, first to China. Then he was allowed to go to New York to plead the case of Cambodia against Vietnamese intervention at the UN.

While in New York he tried to defect from his DK minders. He made contact with US State Department officials, saying he wished to escape and live in the US or France. This would have been a near fatal blow for DK; but the US State Department, rather than welcoming Sihanouk, persuaded him to remain with DK.[110]

At about the same time National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski “concocted the idea of persuading Thailand to cooperate fully with China in its efforts to rebuild the Khmer Rouge”. He “encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot [and] ... encouraged the Thai to help the DK”. The United States ‘“winked semipublicly’ ... while encouraging China and Thailand to give the Khmer Rouge direct aid to fight against the Vietnamese occupation”.[111]

In this light, the secret meeting discovered by Nayan Chanda between Thai Prime Minister Kriangsak Chomanand and representatives from China, which secured Thai support for Chinese aid to the DK forces regrouped on the Thai border, loses some of its significance.[112]

Nearly all Western powers and ASEAN condemned the Vietnamese action, without heed for the improvement it brought to the lives of most Cambodians. Indeed many Western and ASEAN officials, and a pack of sycophantic journalists, tried to blame the parlous state of Cambodian society and economy in 1979, not on the policies of Democratic Kampuchea, but on its overthrow.

There were even suggestions, including a CIA report on Kampuchean demography, that the largest death toll had not occurred under Pol Pot but during the period of Vietnamese intervention which led to his removal.[113]

In February 1979 China invaded northern Viet Nam as punishment, to teach Viet Nam a lesson, as they said. This caused immense destruction in Vietnam’s northern border provinces, but turned into a military defeat for China, and had no effect on the situation in Cambodia.

Later in 1979 Thailand allowed remnants of the defeated Democratic Kampuchea army to cross Thai territory carrying their weapons to find sanctuary in another part of Cambodia near the Thai border. This is a violation of international law, according to which belligerents entering non-belligerent territory are to be disarmed and interned pending resolution of the conflict.[114]

International cooperation against the new Cambodian government during 1979-1980 was concentrated in the development of huge refugee centers near and along the border between Cambodia and Thailand. Indeed there were tens of thousand of Cambodians who had fled to the border in the perilous early months of 1979, when no one knew how the war would end and which party would emerge victorious.

In the Western press this was usually portrayed as rejection, by up to a quarter of the surviving population, of the new People’s Republic as well as of the old Democratic Kampuchea. The refugee centers, however, were created for the purpose of drawing the maximum number of people, particularly the better educated, out of Cambodia into the refugee camps where they could be used for propaganda against the new government and as a recruitment base for armed forces who would eventually cooperate in its overthrow.[115]

These anti-Phnom Penh armed forces were first of all the Democratic Kampuchea remnants, who were given rest and rehabilitation facilities both within Thailand and in the ill-defined border zone. Food, medicine, money and arms were transmitted to them through a variety of open, semi-clandestine, and clandestine arrangements which within a couple of years had revived their fighting qualities.

Two other non-communist armed groups were developed, with more overt Western and ASEAN aid in the form of food, medicine, shelter, money, and arms. They were the Khmer Peoples National Liberation Front (KPNLF) under an old politician named Son Sann, and another group loyal to Prince Sihanouk (FUNCINPEC).

Within the United Nations Cambodia’s seat continued to be occupied by the representative of Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea, and annually the UN, in one form or another, voted against the replacement of Democratic Kampuchea by the Peoples Republic.

In spite of political isolation by most of the developed world, and a virtual economic blockade initiated, and enforced, by the United States, the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea (after 1989 State of Cambodia), made rapid progress in restoring normal, and steadily improving, conditions of life for its people. Substantial foreign aid came from the Soviet Union and from Viet Nam, even though the latter was hardly in a better position than Cambodia following the destruction wrought by the US during the war of 1960-1975.

If Cambodia since 1979 had had normal international political and economic relations, instead of facing blockade and subversion by the world’s largest (China) and most powerful (US) countries, it would probably by now[1991] have at least returned to the level of its best prewar years.[116]

The progress under the new Peoples Republic in Phnom Penh has not been denied by its enemies. Neither do they deny that the Pol Pot group does not deserve to return to power. Nevertheless, allegedly because Pol Pot was overthrown by an illegitimate foreign intervention, the state which resulted, the Peoples Republic/State Of Cambodia (PRK/SOC) may not be allowed to survive, but must be replaced by some other entity which more certainly ‘represents the will of the Cambodian people’.

For the West this should be a non-communist government based on the KPNLF and the Sihanoukists. These two groups, however, have shown such incompetence, disunity, corruption, and brutality towards civilians within their small enclaves on the Thai border, that they cannot be taken seriously as the nucleus of a state apparatus.[117]

Simultaneously, a propaganda campaign, in which well-known professional humanitarian organizations collaborated, was cranked up, its objective to convince the world that the Phnom Penh government violated human rights. This campaign ignored the great improvement in that area consequent on the enforced change of regime in 1979, and the subsequent steady enhancements, despite lack of trained officials and the wartime conditions which the US, China and ASEAN imposed on Cambodia.[118]

Until 1989 PRK legitimacy was also denied because of the alleged presence of 100-200,000 Vietnamese soldiers and Vietnamese advisers to the administration who supposedly ran the country, demonstrating that it was not independent. The first demand of Phnom Penh’s enemies was that the Vietnamese must withdraw, after which, it was implied, occasionally even stated explicitly, there would be no problem in reestablishing normal relations with Cambodia.

At that time the US, China, and ASEAN believed that Viet Nam had no intention of withdrawing, but intended to transform Cambodia into some kind of Vietnamese colony or province. It was also believed that without the large Vietnamese presence the PRK could not survive, but would be defeated by the three-party Coalition within a few months.[119] Then, against all predictions, Vietnam, after several partial withdrawals beginning in 1983, withdrew all their troops in September 1989, and not only did the PRK not collapse, but defended itself very well, even making impressive gains against the Coalition forces.[120]

This is why what is called the ‘Peace Process’ had to be initiated. The ‘Peace Process’ has been a process of trying to take away from the PRK at the negotiating table what could not be won from it on the battlefield or through blockade, embargo, and subversion.

Whether ‘Jakarta Informal Meeting’, ‘Australia Plan’, the August 1990 UNendorsed ‘Framework’ proposal, the Big Five November 1990 ‘Proposed Structure for a Comprehensive Political Settlement’, the 1991 US ‘Road Map’ for normalization of relations with Viet Nam and Cambodia, and finally the Paris agreement of October 1991, they have all had as their goal the dissolution of the present Cambodian government and its replacement by its enemies, or at least by a coalition of Phnom Penh with its enemies, even at the risk of return to power of the blood-stained Pol Pot group.[121]

Ironically, after years of pressure on Viet Nam to remove its troops from Cambodia, the US Road Map requires them to intervene again to force the Cambodians to accede to the Big Five ‘Proposed Structure’ of political suicide.[122]

The US and ASEAN were quite cynical. While pretending to abhor Pol Pot, they created and supported all initiatives to weaken his most effective opponents, although knowing that their envisaged coalition was unviable because of the deadly enmity among the three, or if the PRK were included, four, parties.

Earlier chances for peace were energetically blocked, with the US taking the lead. There could have been peace as early as 1979, after the defeat of the internationally-condemned DK regime. Probably the Vietnamese would have withdrawn more quickly if they had been assured that the Pol Pot group would not be rebuilt on the Thai border, and if the ASEAN draft declaration for the July 1981 International Conference on Kampuchea, calling for the disarming of all Kampuchean factions, had been adopted, rather than rejected under Chinese and US pressure.

All that would have been necessary was not to construct the refugee camp system, to keep the then small guerrilla groups on the Thai border isolated and deprived of new arms, and to channel needed aid to the interior of Cambodia rather than to the border. That this was not done, that the opposite policy was carried out, was a deliberate choice, chiefly by the US, China, and Thailand, to try to destroy the new Cambodian state at all costs.

The Cold War was still alive, and Viet Nam and the PRK were seen as Soviet proxies. On the part of the US, it was also to punish Viet Nam, not only for deposing Pol Pot, but for defeating the US in the earlier war. The US was kicking at its ‘syndrome’.

In 1985 there seemed to be interest within ASEAN for a negotiating process with Viet Nam in regard to Cambodia. The US, which until then had claimed to be following the ASEAN lead, came forward in the person of then Secretary of State George Shultz to warn ASEAN against making proposals which Viet Nam might accept.[123]

Perhaps the most dramatic moves toward peace were the declaration of new (1988) Thai Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan that he intended to transform Indochina from a battlefield to a market place, and his invitation to PRK Prime Minister Hun Sen to visit Bangkok in early 1989 even before all the Vietnamese military had left Cambodia. Until Chatichai’s democratically elected government was overthrown by a military coup in February 1991, Thailand broke with traditional ASEAN and US policy on Cambodia, and was clearly headed toward recognition of Phnom Penh instead of the DK Coalition, something which might have brought instant peace.

The Phnom Penh government and Viet Nam did their part to meet the West half way, short of total surrender and dismantling of the PRK government. Not only did Viet Nam withdraw its troops, demonstrating that the PRK was an independent, viable state, but both countries began to follow World Bank and IMF suggestions to liberalize their economies, after which, implicitly, they should have been eligible for normal economic relations with those international institutions.

In spite of glowing reports about Vietnamese progress from the World Bank and IMF, the US blocked all proposals to remove the economic blockade of Viet Nam and Cambodia, and in 1990 even made private contact with those countries by American citizens more difficult.[124]

Those peace moves by Viet Nam and the Phnom Penh government could not be tolerated because they offered some promise for real peace and recognition of the PRK/SOC, which the US was determined to destroy. Those peace moves were to be supplanted by the ‘Peace Process’, which was intended to remove the existing Cambodian government, whatever hardships were involved for the Cambodian people, and even if the discredited Pol Pot group were enabled to return to power.

As happened in the 1960s during the Viet Nam War, opposition to US Cambodia policy began to appear in influential American circles, including several active Senators. The George Bush [I] regime in 1989-1990 was also discomfited by Thailand’s opening to Phnom Penh, and probably feared that China, which announced the end of its aid to the Coalition (though they later reneged) at a time when Washington was not contemplating any such move, might change its Cambodia policy, leaving the US as the only major power supporting, however covertly, the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge.

Thus the unexpected announcement in July 1990 that Washington would no longer support the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea in the UN, and would begin a process of negotiated normalization with Viet Nam, should not be seen as a real shift in policy, but as a cynical finesse of domestic political opposition to Bush and his policies.

On the ground in Southeast Asia, US policy hardly changed; and combined with the sympathy for the anti-Phnom Penh Coalition shown by the Thai military-dominated regime after the coup in February 1991, the US ‘Road Map’ formulated in 1991 was a harder anti-Phnom Penh line than was being pushed a year earlier.

The increasing pressure during 1991 succeeded in the ‘Peace Process’ objective: to take away from Phnom Penh at the conference table a large part of what they had been able to preserve on the battlefield, even after Viet Nam had withdrawn.[125]

In the final Paris agreement in October 1991 the SOC managed to preserve its formal existence and avoid the dissolution which earlier drafts had envisaged. They also managed to secure Phnom Penh as the venue for the Supreme National Council (SNC), the supra-state body consisting of six representatives from Phnom Penh and two each from the three opposing factions, FUNCINPEC, originally led by Prince Sihanouk, the KPNLF nominally under Son Sann, and the Partie of Democratic Kampuchea, usually termed the ‘Khmer Rouge’, the group of Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, and Khieu Samphan.[126]

Under the new agreement the elections, scheduled for 1993, were stacked, as far as possible, against the SOC. After much protest they signed for proportional representation by province, contrary to former Cambodian practice, a formula which would give the maximum chance to their existing enemies, in particular the Khmer Rouge, and to any other parties which might be formed.

And there could be many. Another provision of the agreement said that any group of 5000 persons may be registered as a political party, and some cynics might argue that given local political propensities, the likely number of parties will be the adult population divided by 5000. The multi-party system which was accepted, both in the agreements and in the new People’s Party programme, could produce an incompetent legislature and an impotent government.[127]

Read carefully, the new peace agreements seemed designed to ensure further destabilization, rather than lasting peace. They incorporated most of the anti- SOC provisions of the draft agreements devised by western states, which were designed to effect the dissolution of the Phnom Penh government.

As was obvious in advance, the implementation of the peace agreement undermined the SOC, gave the Sihanouk and Son Sann groups an entry into Cambodian politics which they could not achieve by their own efforts, and enhanced the position of the Khmer Rouge. As in the 1950s-1960s, these Cambodian groups took advantage of the international Cold War pressure of the Peace Agreement to engage in local Cold War maneuvers.

Of the older Cambodian Cold War issues independence had been removed from the agenda, for no power is now committed to keep Cambodia as a colony or protectorate. Jockeying for foreign support in domestic politics, and irredentism, however, have emerged as still vital relics of the old Cold War.

Sihanouk had no sooner returned to Phnom Penh when he gave the United States the green light to subvert the Phnom Penh government, as he once accused them of trying to subvert him.[128] While on the one hand blaming the Khmer Rouge for their intransigence, Sihanouk both criticized UNTAC for doing too little and warned them against using military force against the Khmer Rouge, and he smuggled Khieu Samphan into the non-aligned nations’ conference where he was not expected, nor, apparently, desired.[129]

Sihanouk, as in earlier days, was trying to play all sides against one another to strengthen his personal position, without regard for the needs of his country. Bursts of affection for the Khmer Rouge are staged to attract UNTAC and SOC support for himself. If the Khmer Rouge were eliminated from the political scene, either through UNTAC military action, or via diplomacy, Sihanouk’s own position would suffer, while the SOC would gain.[130]

As for irredentism, the old Cambodian demand for return of part of Cochinchina would seem to have been permanently shelved, but there was a clear and present danger on the Thai border, which was being ignored, while alarms were being sounded about a mythical danger from the Vietnamese side. Sihanouk cut the Gordian Knot of the Cochinchina issue in the 1960s by insisting only on recognition of Cambodia’s existing borders, and no one except DK extremists have overtly pressed to go beyond that.

There is, however, room for honest disagreement about precisely where that ‘existing’ border should be traced on the ground, a problem which has existed ever since the first French cartographic surveys, but which did not matter so long as both countries were within French Indochina, and which neither side has been willing to face honestly since independence from France.

A little known detail of Indochinese history - an error in the original French Indochina map survey and emplacement of triangulation points - resulted in objective errors in all maps, and the greatest errors were in the southern Cambodia-Viet Nam border region.[131]

During its period of friendship with Viet Nam, the PRK signed a new treaty designed to settle some of the inconsistencies. This treaty was then denounced by anti-SOC Cambodians as a sell-out to Viet Nam, and the Cambodian extremist side of the argument was supported by Sihanouk and received widespread sympathetic attention in the international press, even though at worst, the Vietnamese, it seems, may have gained a mere 55 square kilometers.[132]

The Cambodian extremists may have seen implicit UNTAC support for their anti-Vietnamese irredentism in the appointment of two Americans, US government officer Timothy Carney and his deputy Stephen Heder, who have long reputations of anti-PRK/SOC activism, even pro-DK activities, to head one of the important UNTAC components, the Information and Education Component, which is in charge of monitoring news and propaganda within Cambodia. Cambodians in leadership positions, whether of the SOC or its enemies, were aware of this background, and it was inevitable that they saw Carney and Heder as a kind of great power support for the anti-Phnom Penh position.[133]

The Cambodian-Thai border, relatively speaking, was being ignored, for Thai pressure there is part of the new Cold War vendetta against Viet Nam via Cambodia, and Thai interest there, including support for the Khmer Rouge, was being treated as solely economic, a scramble for quick wealth by Thai businessmen. The old Thai claims on northwest Cambodia were forgotten.

Interestingly, it was also Heder who was responsible for a good academic study of the question. Under the pseudonym ‘Larry Palmer’, Heder in 1987 published “Thailand’s Kampuchea Incidents, Territorial disputes and Armed confrontation Along the Thai-Kampuchean Frontier”.[134] This traced the history of Thai land-grabbing along the Cambodian border, including the way in which new settlements and anti-communist activities were being utilized for that purpose.

We may hope that now Heder, with his academic record of concern for the sanctity of Cambodia’s borders, will, in his new capacity as deputy chief of propaganda for UNTAC[1992-93], revive his old study and call as much attention to the Thai danger - which he so brilliantly analyzed anonymously some years ago - as his subsequent writing in his own name, and presence in his new job in itself, calls to the Cambodia-Viet Nam border.

What was the reason for the US obstinacy, in which ASEAN cravenly acquiesced? Was it merely irrational, a continuing ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ by a handful of sick old men in Washington (VWRs, Viet Nam warmonger retreads) still nurturing the wounds of defeat by what they considered a fourth-rate power?

I think we would be fortunate if it were mere irrationality, for those afflicted with such irrationality are probably few and their numbers dwindling. Rather, they are pursuing a rational goal, and one which links the recent destruction of Iraq with the earlier destruction of Cambodia, and the continuing persecution of that country [as of 1991, and with respect to Iraq even more obvious in 2007].

The rationality is summed up in the ‘New World Order’ of George Bush [I]. This New World Order means that since the Soviet Union has withdrawn from the Cold War and from confrontation with the US, the latter is now free to pursue hegemonistic goals worldwide. The goals are political and military submission, and submission to crude predatory capitalism.

No nation, however small, is to be allowed to challenge such US supremacy by opting for another political-economic structure, by trying to form a regional trade bloc, by protecting its infant industries, or even by fairly winning a share of the US market, or some other market to which the US wishes to export. The message in 1991 was Cambodia now (as earlier), and tomorrow any small weak country which does not voluntarily submit.

The foregoing introductory material may be supplemented with an article written a year earlier, and refered to several times, above. It emphasized PRK Cambodia’s economic progress, which was in line with the positive World Bank reports about Viet Nam noted above.

Notes on the Political Economy of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (1989)[135]

The theme of this conference, “Asia: Capitalist Development and the Future of Socialism” may seem so remote from Cambodian conditions that bringing Cambodia into the discussions is irrelevant. Cambodia is nowhere near even the beginnings of industrialization, and on its own will never become a ‘Little Dragon,’ nor an NIC; and unless linked to a regional bloc must make its way by efficient development of agriculture, something which all Cambodian regimes have been unwilling to face, or have failed to achieve.

A look at Cambodia, however, which no conference on the Asia-Pacific Region should try to avoid, may provide some insights on not only the social, but political and international dimensions of industrialization, and economic development in general, in countries which are still small and economically weak.

In the 1970s Richard Nixon characterized his April 1970 invasion of Cambodia as “the Nixon Doctrine in its purest form”;[136] and in 1989 we might profitably look at what the continuing U.S.-sponsored violence in Cambodia can tell us about a U.S. regime doctrine, perhaps only implicit.

Most discussions of Indochina are forced into the straightjacket of not just an orthodoxy, which implies some continuing discussion, but a doxa, “that which is beyond question and which each agent tacitly accords by the mere fact of acting in accord with social convention”.[137]

This is the doxa of unchanging Vietnamese aggressivity and expansionism which has been used since the early French colonial period to explain everything from the disappearance of Champa and the disintegration of pre-modern Cambodia, through the beneficence of French control over Cambodia, to the Cambodian rejection of French goodwill, the victory of Pol Pot, as well as his overthrow, and the PRK.

As an example note the map in page 50 of Nayan Chanda’s Brother Enemy showing “The Stages of Vietnamese Expansionism”.[138] A map like this is deemed essential in every basic textbook of Southeast Asian History, and the expansion of one country against its neighbors in Southeast Asia is presented as uniquely Vietnamese.

No similar map has ever been prepared to illustrate Thai expansionism, during roughly the same period, and against some of the same victims, Mon and Khmer, who like the Cham and Khmer of southern Viet Nam, have been reduced in the first case to an insignificant minority, and in the second to a somewhat larger potentially more troublesome minority, without recognized cultural or linguistic rights and conscious of its invidious position.[139]

The search for Vietnamese iniquity, and disinclination to find any fault with the Thai goes back to the first western contacts with both. Vietnamese kings persecuted Christian missionaries, and moreover in the only Southeast Asian country where they had any success, while Thai kings accepted and even encouraged their educational activities, apparently secure in the knowledge that few of their people would convert.[140]

Later the Vietnamese energetically opposed French efforts to ‘civilize’ them, while Thai kings assiduously made deals which gave Europeans most of what they wanted, at the same time expanding royal power domestically. At the end of the 19th-century enthusiastic American missionaries were even predicting a brilliant future for Thailand, as compared to the stagnant Japanese, doomed to underdevelopment by their rigid culture, and of course by their resistance to Christianity.

Even later the Vietnamese had the effrontery, not only to fight for independence, but to win it, and then to win a continuation war against the world’s most powerful country whose leaders wished to deprive Viet Nam of the fruits of its independence struggle. In the Second Indochina War, we should not forget, Thai leaders were renting their soldiers to the U.S. to help defeat Viet Nam.[141]

The doxa shows even in what are presented as cultural-philosophical discussions of old literary texts. In his deconstruction of an early 19th-century chronicle in verse, David Chandler sometimes forces activities and reflections of its characters into an anti-Vietnamese mode, not giving sufficient heed to what he knows as historical fact: that between 1800 and 1846 the Cambodian elites were split into pro-Thai and pro-Vietnamese factions, each, so far as we can know at this remove, acting according to their conception of patriotism.[142]

Chandler has found it difficult to go beyond the modern doxa that no true Cambodian could ever be pro-Vietnamese, and thus he has skewed his interpretation of the very interesting text he was studying.

The doxa has been most powerful within the period of direct interest to this conference. Since 1979 journalists, academics, and politicians have seemingly been unable to write or pronounce ‘Cambodia’ or ‘Kampuchea’, not to mention ‘Peoples Republic of’, or even the acronym ‘PRK’. It is always the ‘Vietnamese-

backed Heng Samrin Regime’, of which the only objectively accurate element is that the PRK indeed has had Vietnamese support. Otherwise it is less a propos than, say, ‘U.S.-backed Bob Hawke regime’, for no personality cult around Heng Samrin has ever been attempted, and he enjoys far less personal authority than Bob Hawke.

A more dangerously irresponsible example, dangerous in that its widespread currency impedes the peace process, is the doxa that Viet Nam committed a gross violation of international law in its invasion of December 1978 and overthrow of Democratic Kampuchea. On 8 July 1988 Michael Leifer, generally considered a responsible academic, in a seminar at the Institute for Strategic and International Studies in Kuala Lumpur, referred to “... the invasion of Kampuchea, which violated the principle of sanctity of sovereignty and distribution of power in the region”.[143]

But the following day when I challenged his repetition of the doxa at Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang, he agreed with my objections, apparently indicating that he did not even believe what he felt he was obliged to say in public gatherings.

He did not hesitate to admit that the international legal aspects of the Vietnamese intervention were anything but clear, that there were indeed international legal precedents for what they did, and that the Thai authorities may have been in even greater violation of international law when later that year they allowed the Pol Pot remnants to cross Thai territory fully armed in order to seek a safe zone in another part of Cambodia.

The same claque has followed the doxa that Viet Nam, always and forever expansionistic, would never willingly withdraw its troops from Cambodia, in spite of abundant evidence since at least 1983 that such was in fact their intention. And now that it is being realized, they feel obliged to punctuate every headline with a question mark.

As I have written in another context, there has been a rare dialectical reinforcement between official U.S. and ASEAN disinformation and housebroken journalists who with witless reverence have repeated whatever their favorite ‘western diplomats’ said until they have apparently come to believe their own propaganda.[144]

And in the academic milieu, a Cambodia scholar attending a conference in Canberra in 1987 was told by an analyst of the Office of National Assessments (with a delightful attempt at quantitative precision reminiscent of American warmongers in the 1960s trying to prove statistically that victory was imminent), that there was only a 1 in 300 chance Viet Nam would withdraw from Cambodia by 1991, if they did the PRK would not last 7 months (mind you, not ‘half a year’, or ‘less than a year’, but seven months), that there was only a 50% chance that Sihanouk would meet Hun Sen that year (1987), and that the PRK army was suffering desertions of 50% in some units.[145]

One might have wondered on which side of the information relationship that analyst stood - disinformer, or misinformed. There were already so many signals that Viet Nam intended to withdraw that 1/300 odds against it was quite unrealistic, and Hun Sen’s first meeting with Sihanouk not long after showed that bet to be off also.

Although Cambodian youth have been reluctant to serve in the army, the numbers of PRK defectors reaching the border indicates that the rate was much lower, about what might be expected under the circumstances; and even if the maximum numbers of reported arrests of regime opponents according to quite prejudiced sources were added in as ‘deserters’ the total would be unimpressive in terms of total PRK armed forces.[146]

Was the ONA trying to disinform Cambodia specialists in Australia, or was this what ONA believed and the advice they were giving the Australian government (in the latter case perhaps contributing to Australian slowness in changing policy)? On one point an answer will appear. The Vietnamese have withdrawn, and there are only 6 months to go until the ONA deadline for collapse of the Phnom Penh government.

Whatever ONA believed then, or believes now, certainly the United States and ASEAN do not believe collapse is imminent, for they would not be searching frantically for new measures to force collapse, and the Thai government would not be trying so hard to build a new relationship with Phnom Penh - they could just wait for the collapse and then deal with the new leaders, with whom the Thai military at least, have been dealing profitably for 10 years.

Among the frantic measures intended to effect destruction of the PRK is a continuation of the economic blockade which the U.S. has so far successfully railroaded through international financial institutions, against the views of their experts.[147] Although no one thinks Cambodia will immediately fall apart economically, or be defeated militarily, there is a possibility of exhaustion in the long-term if U.S. policy to arm their enemies and block their economy continues.

The permeation of media, academia, and international political milieus by the doxa now threatens the very existence of Cambodia, for it has numbed resistance to specious arguments by enemies of Cambodia and Viet Nam who are trying to renege on implicit agreements offered between 1979 and 1988, and who seem intent on preventing Cambodian recovery from the destruction inflicted successively by incompetent royalty, corrupt bourgeoisie and officials, civil war, U.S. invasion and bombing, a disastrous revolution, and continuing factional conflict.

When the PRK was established in January 1979 all institutions, all political, economic, and social structures had to be rebuilt from zero. Besides the damage from several years of war and revolutionary transformation, during 1975-1979 the DK regime had attempted to forcibly return the country to poor peasant level with only a minimum of essential industry, primitive education, and wilful neglect of such trained personnel as existed.

Although they had intended to construct a new Cambodian society, the result compounded with the effects of the 1970-75 war was to leave Cambodia with a level of human destruction and social dislocation comparable to parts of Eastern Europe, such as Poland and Yugoslavia in 1945.

Cambodia’s revolutionary experience had been unique. Military victory was achieved in 1975 by encircling the city from the countryside, but the Cambodian communist leadership then overturned all previous notions of how a socialist society should be built. In spite of ostensible allegiance to Marxism-Leninism, they followed policies contrary to all previous Marxist theory and practice.

They held neither to Marx’s view that communism would come through proletarian revolution and working class rule after capitalism had reached its highest level of development, nor Lenin’s programme of vanguard intellectualproletarian leadership in a largely peasant society, nor even Mao’s of the peasantry as the leading revolutionary class, but supported by industrial development and a large, skilled urban working class. Nor did they adopt a Stalinist programme of forced primitive socialist accumulation from the peasantry to build an industrialized urban sector.

Their Democratic Kampuchea (DK), to the contrary, evacuated the population from towns, denied the revolutionary importance of the proletariat, who were even treated as class enemies, and turned almost the entire nation into poor peasants, who in the DK scheme were the only revolutionary and progressive class.[148]

Money, markets, even barter trade, were abolished, and a command economy was instituted with centrally-directed requisition of goods from points of production to supply the needs of other localities or state foreign trade. People were tied to their workplaces, kept there by threat of violence, and towns were empty except for small numbers of administrators, military, and the few factories which were considered essential.

The ability to impose this system in 1975 was in part because of the near total economic, social, and moral breakdown of the 1970-75 war period, but also because destruction of the towns was welcomed by the peasant army in Cambodian conditions, in which the class enemy of the peasantry was not rural landlords, but usury networks emanating from the towns.[149] Total mobilization and an end to urban waste also made some sense in the emergency of the first few months after April 1975.

Once the DK administrative center had fled in January 1979, a true classless, and structure-less, society was left. No one owned any property beyond the simplest personal articles. They had been dispossessed of land, real estate, means of production and instruments of wealth since 1975, and the records on which claims to previous ownership of land and buildings might have been reestablished had long since been dispersed and destroyed.

In fact, there had hardly been a clearly-defined administration since 1975; by 1979 there had been no currency or markets for 4 years, no taxes had been collected for at least nine and in many parts of the country for longer, and such manufacture as had not been deliberately neglected or destroyed after 1975 had been run down. Skilled manpower had been dispersed in agricultural communes, decimated by illness and execution, and many of the survivors had chosen to flee abroad as soon as the displacement of DK authorities permitted freedom of movement.

The announced economic intentions of the PRK were to ‘carry out a sovereign independent economic policy moving toward prosperous and authentic socialism ... this new economy will serve the interests of the people on the basis of the development of agriculture and industry ... it will be a planned and market economy answering the needs of progress of the society’.

The DK obligations to work and eat in common would be abolished, as would the confiscation of rice and personal property. Mutual assistance and cooperation on the basis of free consent would be aided and encouraged, in order to boost production and raise the living standard. Currency, banking, and commercial transactions would be restored.[150]

To an inhabitant of the more or less developed societies, whether capitalist or socialist, the PRK declarations at first seem no more than the expression of an intent to reestablish normal socioeconomic life; and it may be difficult to realize that in the conditions prevailing in Cambodia in 1979 the change could be as problematic as the changes forced on the country in April 1975.

Such ‘normal’ life means the existence of a sector which does not immediately produce its own conditions of existence, and depends for such on appropriations from the other, in underdeveloped societies much larger, sector of food and commodity producers, the modern justification for such appropriation being that the activities of the non-productive sector in the long run promote greater productivity, redistribution and well-being for all. Such appropriation inevitably results in some tension between the sectors, and the seriousness of the tension, and ultimately the stability and successful development of the society depend on the modalities of appropriation.

In the best-run advanced industrial societies the appropriation takes the form of more or less fair exchange in which the primary producers receive desirable commodities and additional means of production. At the other extreme, in modern pre-capitalist societies, the primary products are more or less forcibly extracted with minimal remuneration via traditional dues and forced labor, excessive taxation imposed with the backing of state power, or as in prerevolutionary Cambodia via networks of debt and usury.

The latter systems are loaded with revolutionary potential; they were one cause of the anti-urban violence of DK, and the new PRK authorities were in no position to reestablish such modes of extraction even had they been so inclined.

The problem faced by the PRK was thus to recreate from scratch a nonproductive administrative and service sector, reactivate and restore a small essential industrial sector, and persuade the majority food-producing sector to support administration and industry with minimal return for the immediate future. That is, the PRK inherited a truly classless society, yet in order to move toward socialism they had to recreate social classes.

Such social reconstruction involved potential risks. Even at the highest level of prewar development around 80% of the population were engaged in agriculture. If the Cambodian peasantry, even the poorest who had at first been enthusiastic about the DK brand of revolution,[151] were eventually disillusioned, they at least could cope with primitive agricultural life, many of them in fact having known little else since long before 1975.

Cambodia’s agricultural sector could have continued to live on its own at basic subsistence level without cities, industries, or officials. What in normal times had held them all, like members of other similar societies, together in an organic whole was an ideological superstructure culminating in monarch and church, and which legitimized the non- productive sectors and their claims on a living supplied by the peasantry.

That superstructure had been damaged by the Khmer Republic, totally destroyed by DK, and the PRK intended not to restore it, but replace it by a different one. There was no state for them to take over. They had to create it anew. There must have been many peasants who, although welcoming the freedom of movement and to organize their own lives which destruction of DK had brought, would see no reason to welcome the reconstruction of a type of class structure which had in the past been inimical to them.

In general, the survivors of the prewar non-agricultural sectors, the former administrators, technicians, teachers, medical personnel, artisans, and traders preferred to resume such occupations after their enforced and decidedly unwilling sojourn in the fields; and factory workers likewise needed little urging to leave the plough for the loom or press so long as they were fed adequately in return. In prewar society, however, positions not involving any kind of manual labor were not just a livelihood, but a status, which in some cases was more important than the material reward.

In general the new PRK did not intend to restore the old status differentials; and the poverty of the country would have made full restoration in any case impossible. There was in addition no intention to restore old property relations.

All land, real estate, and heavy equipment, including automobiles, were taken as state property; and it was not certain in 1979 to what extent the former urban sector would return to work without the status and possibilities for wealth accumulation to which they had been accustomed.

Many, in fact, returned to Phnom Penh, but refused to resume work in their specialties, preferring to take up petty trade or simply live by their wits. Still larger numbers, damaging for the new regime, preferred to flee abroad rather than return to places in their old areas of expertise. This was usually due to realization that their old jobs no longer held the same status and extra-economic privileges as before.[152]

The PRK project to restore familiar sectoral divisions of Cambodian society, but with modified inter-sectoral relationships, was not something to be easily achieved by fiat. The necessary personnel had to be persuaded to resume the recreated positions and to work in them loyally without former privileges.

The procedure adopted to achieve the new mass internal migration of 1979 was at first nearly complete laissez-faire. The population was informed that they were free to return to old homes, resume old work, take up former places in the traditional urban sectors which would be recreated. Former doctors were encouraged to return to hospitals, teachers to schools, administrators to the new administration, trained personnel of all categories to appropriate tasks.

In Phnom Penh, and no doubt in other towns, this meant a total reappropriation of real estate by migrants who rushed in from the countryside. No former titles of ownership were recognized. All land and buildings were treated as state property to in fact be appropriated by whoever arrived first, except for buildings taken for use by the new state apparatus.

In Phnom Penh there has been a virtually total transfer of possession to new settlers. By 1984 the city’s population was roughly what it had been before 1970; not in majority, however, old residents, but inhabitants of small towns and rural areas who took the opportunity to become urbanized. Even former residents who returned have rarely occupied their former dwellings, usually because someone else had reached them first in 1979. For many this has meant better housing than before, because most of the former upper classes have not returned, and their houses have been appropriated by the state for offices, guest houses, and residences for the highest cadres.[153]

In origin almost all who entered the new administration - except for the small nucleus of revolutionary veterans - and who, as members of the state apparatus, constitute the new ruling class, were members of pre-revolutionary urban privileged groups, although not of dominant fractions of the ruling class.

They are not of the royalty (with one exception), nor of courtier or high official families, nor from the old business elite. In most identifiable cases they were employed in education or technical services, or still undergoing secondary or tertiary education before 1975. Few of them were active in left-wing politics, and had there been no war and revolution they could have expected middle-level administrative or bureaucratic careers under Sihanouk or Lon Nol.

If they had fled abroad in 1979, most of them could have found secure lives in exile, but instead because of ideology, idealism, or inertia they have chosen to remain and work for the new state. At least, even if the wealth and status of the old ruling class will not be theirs, they may reach higher administrative rank than they could have expected in prewar society, and they now dominate numerically the Party Central Committee and hold significant ministerial posts.

They also run technical services and industrial plant, which in this respect may be under more competent management than ever before within the state sector.[154]

PRK-SOC Economy

At first three types of economic organization were recognized, state, cooperative, and family; and after the 5th Party Congress in 1985 a fourth, private sector was established.

Under the first are all industry, finance, transport, official foreign commerce, some large scale agriculture, especially industrial crops, such as rubber. The family sector includes most retail marketing, individual artisan, handicraft, and repair work, some agriculture, and de facto much commodity import trade. The cooperative sector is best described as semi-private/semi-state, and includes most agriculture, the two highest types of Solidarity Group, and certain urban enterprises like the larger restaurants.

The private sector which was formally approved in 1985 was obviously intended to channel profits made in the family sector into productive investment. It includes manufacturing with a limited hired labor force and income to the owner from profit. The state-private joint sector is to handle larger-scale investment, such as those by Khmer from overseas.

The markets quickly became a favorite area of work for people fleeing the fields, even for many who had not previously worked as traders, since Cambodia after DK was starved of commodities, and anything could turn over a quick profit. Buying and selling were freely allowed and, until 1983, were not even taxed.

This policy gained popular support, and it also achieved a mobilization of concealed capital remaining within the country for what at the time was a productive purpose, the acquisition of essential commodities which the state could not have purchased, confiscated, or obtained through foreign aid.

It represented a sort of primitive accumulation of capital via free trade; and state recognition of free market utility, in spite of its violation of old socialist ideals, was clear in an April 1980 order relative to cross-border private trade with Thailand and signed by then Vice-President and Party leader Pen Sovann, which forbade checking, searching, or obstructing transactions and flow of consumer goods; ordered the closure of all unnecessary checkpoints; and stated that no one, not even military or security forces, had the authority to stop trains except in emergencies due to danger.

After the experiences of 1975-1979, it might seem that no capital would be available for such a sudden spurt of trading. Democratic Kampuchea had not only abolished currency, but as an aspect of the millenarian peasantist trait in its revolution had held all wealth in contempt, and thus there had been little attempt to search out and confiscate cash, jewels, or precious metals held by the population before 1975.

Many people buried such possessions as soon as apprised of the coming evacuation to the countryside. Others concealed them on their persons, were rarely searched carefully and in an astonishing number of cases retained their valuables at the liberation in 1979.[155]

When released from the DK constraints in 1979 the first concern of all survivors was to retrieve valuables which they had concealed, which they knew others had concealed, or which had been left by the deceased; and those who did not try to carry them into flight across the Thai border immediately set about investing them in goods for resale within the country.

The more enterprising went themselves to the border to purchase goods from Thailand which they carried back to the markets of Battambang, Phnom Penh and other towns. Others established themselves in those markets, buying for resale the goods brought from the border and financing further trading ventures.

This should not be termed ‘blackmarket’, for it was not at all clandestine and there was no attempt to impede it. It was normal free trade, but carried over unusual routes - border woodlands and semi-battlefields - because Cambodia’s normal routes westward were closed. The ultimate purchasers in the towns used their own prewar hoards, where they existed, or the products which they made at home for sale, or even, where it could be spared, their government rice rations.

Thus in the beginning the market revival was almost entirely financed by private liquid capital which had been hoarded for several years. Ultimately this capital was exported abroad, principally to Thailand, but in the meantime it had financed a necessary part of the country’s reconstruction which the state alone could not have achieved.[156]

Moreover, used in this way it did not generate severe inflationary pressure, and did not contribute to the reemergence of wide class differentiation. One danger, had this type of trade been allowed to continue without control or restriction, would have been to integrate the economy of the entire western half of the country with Thailand.

Another method of primitively accumulating business capital was pillage. As the population flowed back into Phnom Penh in 1979 everything still intact was fair game. Surviving libraries were looted and their contents put on sale or, in the case of dossiers or newspapers, used for wrapping parcels.

Many other articles for use or resale were available from both former government offices and private dwellings left untouched since 1975; and a more exotic method of appropriating old wealth was the collection of gold dental work from the mass graves of DK victims.[157]

The urban market sector was left to feed itself; only state employees received government rations from international food aid supplies. The market personnel, which included large numbers of spouses, relatives and friends of state employees, using hoarded valuables, loot, or commodities purchased with such, could offer adequate prices to entice surplus food from the rural areas; and some of this food also reached state employees either via their family members in the markets, or because they had their own hoards of prewar valuables.

The existence of different economic and political sectors and their intersectoral relationships are so much a part of ‘normal’ life, whether in capitalist or socialist societies, that the circumstances of their re-creation from zero may be difficult to grasp.

In Cambodia in 1979 a state administrative and small industrial sector was created, but paid at a level which precluded purchase of anything but basic necessities; a market and service sector was given freedom, but outside its own circle there were few with funds to buy the products it supplied; the agricultural sector comprising eight-tenths or so of the population was given virtual freedom to produce what it would and dispose of it as it liked, which meant channeling much of the produce across international borders to Thailand and Viet Nam in exchange for consumer goods not supplied within Cambodia.

If the state just allowed total laissez-faire to prevail, given the ground rules of state ownership of land, major buildings and equipment, the farmers could in principle produce for the market and buy goods they required or desired, but for agricultural products to be negotiated at prices attractive to the farmers, and permitting them to buy from the market, the new state industries would have to provide all that they needed, or the market would have to be able to channel agricultural products, the country’s natural wealth, abroad to the sources of manufactured commodities, or the state salaried sector would have to be able to buy from the market both foreign manufactured products and local agricultural products at prices corresponding to those prevailing in neighboring countries, Thailand and Vietnam, impossible at present salary levels.

None of those conditions prevails. Until 1989 at least local industry produced only a fraction of what the country required, even with respect to basic household commodities and agricultural implements. Salaries have been quite inadequate. There has not been an incentive for traders to make long-range plans, since profits could not be invested in land, real estate, or until 1985 manufacture. The market is free, but limited to petty trade; and the state sector might seem to exist for itself unable either to support market and agriculture or to benefit from them.

Anti-socialists might say: give complete economic freedom; why support a parasitical state structure which can neither pay its fonctionnaires nor buy its own people’s produce? Let everyone buy and sell where he can without bureaucratic intervention.

Whatever economic sense such an argument contains, it would have meant in 1979 the reorientation of Cambodian producers toward foreign centers, first Bangkok, later Ho Chi Minh City, and ultimately, with half the country tied economically to one foreign country, half to another, the loss of Cambodian independence, a danger which the anti-socialists profess to view with particular concern.

Cambodia in the early PRK years could have laissez-faire or independence, not both. The latter depends on the recreation of a state center, which at first may be parasitical, but which must gather the country’s economic and political forces and reunite them in order to hold the nation together.

Had Vietnam, as some have charged, desired to incorporate Cambodia, or at least a large part of it, nothing more would have been required than to remove the DK political apparatus without creating a new one, rather than to exert monumental efforts to establish a new state apparatus in Phnom Penh.

Currency, prices, and wages

During 1979 there was no Cambodian currency, and market prices were established by supply and demand in Vietnamese dong, Thai baht, gold, and rice, with rates of exchange determined strictly according to market forces. State employees were paid in rice and allowances in kind, at minimum sufficiency levels, plus free housing.

In March 1980 a new Cambodian riel was placed in circulation, at rates of 1 riel to 3 dong, and 4 riel to the US dollar. In domestic terms the riel was at first fixed as the price of 1 kg of milled rice. State salaries, which include wages of workers in state-owned factories, began to be paid in riel, and varied from 65 per month for an ordinary worker to 260 for the top three men in the state apparatus.

Between 1980 and 1984 salaries more than doubled, and in the latter year ranged between 140-500 riel. In 1987 there was another general increase in salaries of about 70%, and dramatic rises in a few key occupations.

Thus I was informed in November 1988 that rubber tappers may earn 10002000 riel per month, based on piece work rate, while since April 1988 workers in the rubber processing plant at Chup receive 1500-2000, against only 300 for administrative staff. The higher pay probably represents a living wage in that rural area.

Teachers were also said (November 1988) to have been given large increases, although there was conflicting information as to whether they had been implemented. Nevertheless, state salaries have barely kept up with increases in the free market prices of basic commodities.[158]

It has recently been reported that the “monthly salary for government workers is about 2500-3000 riels”, which seems unlikely since such a five-six fold increase in less than a year (since November 1988) would far outstrip the annual 13.5% inflation rate cited by the same source, and which is in line with other information.[159]

It is clear that state salaries have been set for the most spartan subsistance level, and they offer no possibility for state employees to become a privileged stratum via salaries and legal perks. In comparison with the situation in the best prewar years, the early 1960s, when prices in riel were roughly the same as in 1984, but salaries 10 times the 1984 level, the PRK has initiated a reversal in the relations between rural agriculturalists and urban wage earners, including functionaries, who must now spend much more of their income on rural produce than before.

Besides the sectoral prices which favored agriculturalists relatively in comparison to the pre-1975 situation, workers, in comparison to administrators, were also to be treated as a relatively favored class, in line with socialist principle, and in contrast to both pre-war regimes and the DK system. PRK practice has instituted worker-management egalitarianism, both in terms of remuneration, and in interpersonal relationships.

Even more favored, however, and increasingly, have been those in the private sector. This included from the beginning those living by the market, and many of whom, through family membership or association also contribute to the support of state employees.

It also included home producers of artisanal or handicraft products, such as home weaving, cement Buddha images, mechanics, repairmen, etc., whose products easily brought them several times a state salary; and since 1985 it includes private industrial and commercial companies operating for profit on capital invested by owners and paying market wages which put their recipients also in a favorable economic position.

PRK-SOC Agriculture

Market capital from hoards and loot is obviously a temporary expedient. The PRK, like its predecessor, recognized that the country’s economy must ultimately depend on its agricultural sector, which is potentially capable of producing some food surpluses for export as well as certain industrial products such as rubber, timber, cotton, and jute, either for export or for local processing in the few industries for which the country is suited.

The key then, to both Cambodia’s economic recovery, and its cohesion as an independent state, is agricultural recovery and development. The initial policy for agriculture was recovery through nearly complete laissez-faire, without taxation, compulsory deliveries or any large measure of state control; likewise, if only because of insufficient resources, without significant state aid either.

This is the first time an ostensibly socialist country has tried to encourage recovery from near zero without resorting to high taxation, compulsory deliveries, or state management of labor; and it should be contrasted with Eastern Europe in 1945, or Viet Nam in 1945 and 1954. It is in line, however, with the changes begun in Viet Nam in 1979, and in China in 1980.[160]

Basic state control and guidance was from the beginning exercised through state appropriation of all land and real estate; and the state was able from the beginning to influence the reorganization of agriculture, and guide it toward a form of socialization. In contrast to Phnom Penh, it seems that most of the rural population resettled in former home villages, perhaps because they had always remained there during the DK period; and even though disputes occurred, former possession of land could be established by common notoriety.

In 1979 the government announced that in line with the policy of moving toward socialism agricultural producers should be organized in ‘solidarity groups’ of ideally 10-15 families in order to cooperatively produce and share in the rewards. At harvest time at the end of that year no taxes on agricultural produce were collected, and there were no obligatory contributions to the state. Food could be either consumed, or sold on the free market, after sufficient seed had been set aside for the next year’s crop.

State plans for agriculture envisaged a three-tier structure of increasingly collectivized groups, ranging from hardly more than traditional family farming to almost totally collectivized groups at the highest level.

Although the ideal in 1979 was apparently to move toward increasingly collectivized farming, statistics released periodically have revealed the opposite trend with, in 1987, 12%, 68%, and 20% of farmers respectively in the highest to lowest groups; and since the middle category in fact represents little more than family farming with the minimum cooperation imposed by the objective situation (lack of animals, tools, manpower, etc), Cambodian farming has been dominated by the individual peasant producer.[161]

The latest reports indicate that the PRK has not tried to resist this trend, but has acknowledged it, and that farmers may be given more secure occupation rights, perhaps even some degree of formal ownership, of their land.

The significant difference between the real conditions of the PRK peasant economy and the same under a capitalist regime is that land ownership is nationalized. Land thus cannot be bought and sold, pawned, or otherwise used as security for debt with the risk of capitalist expropriation by usurers if the debt is unpaid. There is thus some security for the rural poor who in prewar days would have first tried to obtain loans for their land, then either lose it, and usually be forced to move to the towns to find work in petty, or undesirable service work, or else remain on the mortgaged land with the obligation to deliver ever increasing amounts of produce to their creditors at below market prices.

A consequence of this is that in the absence of other constraints there is no way to force peasants to supply food to the non-agricultural sector of the society, and Cambodian peasants since 1979 may have had a greater freedom of choice in the consumption and disposition of their produce than ever before.

Freed from debt obligations enforced by state power - the present situation of Cambodian agriculture - there has been a possibility that peasants might not find it in their interest to supply the market with large surpluses. In the Cambodian case the new peasant freedom, combined with state-owned land which cannot be sold or pawned for debt, might well inhibit expansion of the market once present cash resources run out.

This, however, represents only a potential future problem, for there have been objective constraints on what Cambodian farmers could produce at any price; and thus merely raising urban salaries and wages, which at first would seem reasonable, would not lead to correspondingly greater agricultural production, but only to inflation.

Not until 1986 did Cambodia become nearly self-sufficient in rice. This was partly due to several seasons of particularly poor weather, but most important was the lack of draft animals used in preparing the fields.

No increase of investment or urban purchasing power could have overcome this limit on agricultural production, and only gradual build-up of herds through natural reproduction could restore prewar rice production levels. By 1988 normal herd levels had been reached, and the latest predictions are that there will be an exportable surplus of rice by 1990.[162]

It should also be remembered that in southeast Asian societies where the free market controls agricultural production and sale, as in prewar Cambodia, farmers are forced to sell at prices outside their control, and often insufficient for their maintenance, in order to keep up payments on debt.

The low-priced agricultural produce thus extracted by the market sector secures profit for the market, and cheap food for urban workers, some of whom produce goods which may be sold profitably by their employers; but this type of trade in rice, for example, does not secure much industrial produce for the farmer. Laissez-faire is thus not really laissez-faire, but depends on a type of subsidy, state enforcement of commercial squeeze in favor of the non foodproducing classes.

The situation of PRK agriculture seems to satisfy the demands of critics of collectivization as carried out in the major socialist countries. James Scott, for instance, in his defense of the Petty Bourgeoisie and argument “Why socialism and small property are compatible”, argues that in rice production small farms are more productive, and that if one of the goals is egalitarianism, “dividing up the land equitably, thus creating small private farms, could serve the same purpose so long as the sale of land were prevented”.

The PRK as so far constituted has been a victory for the aspirations of the petty bourgeoisie as cheered on by Scott, and further steps in that direction are the lower taxes on agriculture and increased rights of possession of land by individual farmers which have been reported in the press during the past year.[163]

Petty-bourgeois predominance is also seen in the rapidly growing state administrative and bureaucratic sector and in the upper echelons of the party. These bodies are not being filled by personnel drawn from the proletariat or peasantry, but by persons firmly situated in the prewar urban petty bourgeoisie, and who, while paying lip service to Marxism-Leninism, still bear petty bourgeois attitudes, which the circumstances of PRK economic organization can only reinforce.

It has long been recognized that most new Third World revolutionary movements are based on alliances between peasants and petty bourgeoisie, and the Pol Pot movement was also such an alliance. In that case, however, the alliance came to be dominated by poor-peasant extremism and petty bourgeois chauvinism, while the PRK is based on the middle peasant and industrious urban trader and artisan.

So long as their existence is enshrined in the constitution and accepted by the state, ownership of land by the latter protects the petty bourgeoisie from the displacement and absorption by the large bourgeoisie which occurs in capitalist regimes, and answers one of the traditional petty bourgeois demands.

If the Cambodian revolution indeed represents a class victory for the petty bourgeoisie, both in small-scale family production as the dominant form in agriculture and in the free markets and artisanal production which have dominated the urban economy, how will such a social formation - unforeseen in any theory of revolution - develop? A petty bourgeois formation based on small peasantry and without exceptionally valuable raw materials for export or specialized high-technology manufacture has little available surplus for development beyond basic self-sufficiency.

While the new economic policies in China and the Soviet Union might be called a tactical retreat to Menshevism, with the possibility for a later shift again in the direction of more complete socialism, their imitation by Cambodia cannot result in either capitalist or socialist accumulation. What accumulation might occur in the market sector, true to petty bourgeois form, is most likely to go into consumption and speculation, as happened in the 1960s. Some hint of what is to come may perhaps be drawn from developments in industry and large-scale trade.


Beginning in 1979 the PRK reopened existing factories to the extent possible. Many of them had operated during 1975-1979, although without maintenance or replacement of equipment, and considerable damage had occurred in the confused early months of 1979.

In 1984 I obtained a list of over 50 such state-owned plants with over 15,000 employees, not including the rubber industry, which, if everything from planting and tapping to processing is included, represents by far the largest industrial sector. Probably there has been little quantitative increase since then, except in rubber, where major development has occurred.

The most successful industries are the least essential: cigarettes and soft drinks. The major factories supplying essential goods, such as textiles and tires, both based on raw materials which may be produced locally, operate well below capacity, and for reasons which are the same throughout the country - obsolete machinery, lack of spare parts, lack of finance to import parts and supplies, such as secondary raw materials, chemicals, etc.

Not mentioned, perhaps not realized, is that in most cases the needed spare parts could not be purchased at any price, for they no longer exist. The machinery in question has long gone out of production and is not used anywhere else.

A typical textile plant, such as one I visited in Phnom Penh, may have a mixture of Belgian, Czech, Chinese, German, etc., machines, all manufactured in the 1950s-1960s; and the only way to bring the factory up to capacity is by complete re-equipment.

Until 1985-1986 all state industries were centrally controlled as to plan and financing, and, as they willingly acknowledged, plans were rarely fulfilled, if only for the objective reasons noted above - poor machinery and lack of materials. Beginning in 1986 or 1987 a certain degree of decentralization was instituted, both in planning and finance.

A Ministry of Plan official said in November 1988 that all enterprises were independent financially, but the staff of the large textile plant in Kompong Cham claimed they were not, although they did have planning autonomy. On the other hand the Chup rubber plant staff said they had had both financial and planning autonomy since 1986.

Industrial wages are in the same range as state administrative salaries, and the spread between remuneration for manual workers, administrative staff, and directors is small. The technically qualified and specialists are favored, and may earn more that factory administrators. This is particularly true in the rubberproducing plants, located in dangerous areas and with onerous working conditions.

A majority of the workers in most factories are women. A Phnom Penh textile factory in 1984 employed over 400 women in a work force of 700, the pharmaceutical factory 250 out of 400, the Kompong Cham textile plant 423 women and 393 men in 1988, and of the 12,000 employees of the Chup rubber plant a large proportion were said to be women.

This is not just an effect of war and revolution. Female workers predominated in textiles and pharmaceutical plants before 1975 as well.

The difference now is that they are not young single village women expecting marriage and return to domesticity after a short time, but independent women, often widows with children to support, who must earn their living without family help; or if married, they may be earning more than husbands working somewhere in an office.

Noteworthy also is the post-1979 movement of former workers into management positions, partly of course, because pre-1975 owners and managers have either perished or fled abroad.

In 1984 two of the three-person management committee of Textile Factory No. 3 in Phnom Penh were women, former workers; one of whom having obtained a high school diploma in 1964 could find neither white collar work nor afford further education, and began work in the same factory, then privately owned, in 1966, and remained there throughout the DK period.[164]

Similar situations of management in the hands of old experienced workers were observed in the Kompong Cham textile plant, and the Chup rubber plantation and factory. In the latter, two of the three-man directorate worked there under the French from the 1950s.

Since 1985 a certain amount of private industry has also been acknowledged, and incorporated into the constitution as a new economic sector. According to the Ministry of Plan in 1988 there were 2-3000 private enterprises in Phnom Penh and a few thousand more in other locations, generally with up to 50-60 workers, while some construction enterprises had 70-80.

Apparently no legal limit has been established. If accurate, the totals implied - plus the number of workers registered in state industries - mean that about 20% of the population is supported by the industrial sector.

Visits to two of these enterprises in Phnom Penh which produce utensils from scrap metal showed that their volume, pricing, and wages are entirely determined by the market. Skilled workers, in those plants all men, based on piece work, may earn up to 5000 riel per month, 10 times the highest state salary, and a decent living wage.

Interestingly, although this type of enterprise was not legalized until 1985, one owner said he had set up shop in 1979, and he proudly showed me certificates of achievement awarded to his factory by the state since 1982. The owners of these two plants said they had been established by joint investment of several individuals, although they refused to divulge details of capital invested, profits, or taxes.

Another such factory was reported in the press as having been established by 7 shareholders with a capital of 550,000 riel, to produce 5 and 10 liter tin containers. It had a workforce of 20 women, and its 1986 production was 60,000 cans, of which 1600 were sold to the state at a price 2 riel less than market price.[165]

The four ‘spearheads’ of economic development announced in the 5-year plan (1986-1990), besides food, represent some of the few areas in which Cambodia has some potential for industrial development - rubber, timber, and fish. The immediate goal is simply to increase raw material production, most of which, beyond local consumption requirements, is destined for export.

The tire factory, established before 1970, uses local rubber, although most rubber is exported by the state to the Soviet Union; and industrial production of rubber goods could be increased. Probably the potential for wood products industry is even greater, and there was a pre-war beginning in a plywood factory, which has not yet been renovated.

At the moment it is probably timber and fish, together with precious stones, which are fueling the current import boom and its illusion of prosperity. In contrast to rubber, they are not under unified state control. Timber cutting and trade seems to be under at least three different administrations, the national Department of Forestry, provincial agricultural departments, and local solidarity groups.[166]

Monetary and fiscal policies

The total laissez-faire which was tolerated in the beginning to encourage spontaneous economic renewal, especially in agriculture, has been modified since 1983 by the introduction of taxation, both on agriculture and market activities, and by increasing exhortation to farmers to sell their surplus to the state rather than for higher prices on the free market. The incentive is in principle sale in exchange for cheap commodities supplied from state industry, but the latter have so far been unable to satisfy demand.

The first taxes in 1983-84 were nominal, but have by now become a real source of state income, reaching, by 1986, approximately 8-10% on agricultural produce. Press reports in 1989, however, indicate that taxes on agriculture have recently been lowered.

The anti-inflationary efforts which these figures reflect has had a favorable effect on the exchange rate. The free market rate for the riel in 1981 was around 50=1$US; and by early 1986 it was 155-160=1$US; but early in 1987 it had improved to 120=1$, a better performance than many more favored poor countries and far better than Vietnam.

By late 1988 it had declined again to 150-155=1$US; but by then the state had lowered the official rate to 149, which probably undercut any new inflationary tendencies. Even if the riel has in 1989 gone down to 180-190 to the dollar, it is not out of line with the reported economic growth in the same period, and still a far better record than the Vietnamese experience.[167]

This relatively favorable situation, particularly in comparison to Vietnam, not only shows that the Cambodian economy and currency have not been linked to its neighbor, but indicates a certain amount of intelligent planning. It cannot have been fortuitous. To introduce a new currency in 1980 after 5 years of no money, and 3-4 years of disastrous inflation before that, and to have it work so well, implies very careful control of currency emission and state salary levels in order to avoid either extreme inflation or rejection of the new currency by the population.

This is a subject, however, on which until very recently no information was forthcoming from the Cambodian authorities. They have refused to say whether there has been Vietnamese or Soviet advice, or how the amount of currency to be put into circulation was decided.

Since some of the PRK policies prefigure measures which began to be taken later in Viet Nam and the Soviet Union, it is not impossible that innovative economists from those countries saw Cambodia as a tabula rasa on which to try out policies which they could not yet implement at home.

Perhaps Kavi Chongkittavorn’s recent interview with the director of the national bank represents the beginning of publication of economic statistics for the use of people outside the system. Revealed for the first time were the amount of debt to the Soviet Union (750 million rubles), and that repayment is indeed scheduled starting in 1991; the local interest rates for bank credits to private investors (between 10% and 24%); and inflation rates (5% in 1988, 13.5% in 1989). At about the same time Defense Minister Tea Banh told another Thai Journalist that the military takes over 10% of the entire budget, which is over 3000 million riel.[168]

The liberalization of the economy, which was always there in embryo, and which was given an official boost in 1985 with formal recognition of a private manufacturing sector, has gone rapidly ahead in 1989, with results which may have unpleasant consequences.

In the first four months of 1990 there has been a reversal of the tendencies noted above, with Viet Nam keeping control of its currency, while the Cambodian riel has declined to 345 to the dollar, nearly double what it was less than a year ago.[169] Liberalism plus war, as has been demonstrated in other cases, not least of all in Cambodia itself in 1970-1975, may be a recipe for collapse.

With respect to private property, the increasing dominance of family farming is no more than an extension of what was already clear several years ago, and possession of land, though not ownership, was already guaranteed by the constitution. A real innovation, however, is the offering of ownership of urban houses to present occupants, and it is clearly related to loyalty of the new urban official, trading, and business sectors now that competition from the noncommunist elements of the DK coalition may become more intense.

Thus, hardly anyone in Phnom Penh occupies a house which he or she owned or occupied before 1975, and the former owners, if still alive, are mostly in exile or with the Son Sann and Sihanouk groups, hoping that victory will mean return of their property. Even if a victory by that side did not lead to massacre, it would mean massive dispossession of most of the present Phnom Penh population, and in fact a turnover nearly as traumatic as 1975.

Phnom Penh residents, of whom many, including cadres, may have only superficially supported PRK socialism, now have an added incentive, not just to tolerate, but to work hard in support of the state under which they have lived since 1979.

More far-reaching changes are the openings to overseas investment, at first by Khmer residing abroad; and the increasing cross-border trade from Thailand, mostly in luxuries, but increasingly expensive ones, such as automobiles. Hoarded pre-1975 valuables will no longer suffice, and the imports must be paid for ultimately with Cambodian produce, either squeezed out of the countryside as before 1975, or in valuable raw materials such as rubber, timber, and precious stones.

Rubber seems firmly under state control, and doing well in state trade with the Soviet Union, but the first Cambodian logs have already begun to flow into Thailand, apparently via informal arrangements, and that represents one of the most obvious objectives of the new Thai orientation.[170] Will they be sold by carefully controlled state agencies, corrupt officials, or private entrepreneurs? In

either of the last two cases, the new commerce may lead to rapid class differentiation, which it seems is already causing concern in Phnom Penh.[171]

It may moreover mean that the state, having lost control of its valuable resources, will not be able to increase wages of its already underpaid employees, who, in spite of owning houses, will be increasingly disfavored in comparison to business and manufacturing sectors, and perhaps even with peasants who, if they have only possession but not ownership of their land (and on this information is not clear), may be able to prosper with increasingly high prices for their produce from the urban market sector and foreign markets, and without the ability to alienate their land, are in no danger of falling under control of those sectors.[172]

Will the high earnings in private craft production and industries put pressure on the state to increase salaries which cannot be sustained on state income, or will the state be able to accumulate enough in taxation and state trading to provide fonctionnaires with at least the same standard of living as private factory workers?

Even if the most favorable circumstances prevailed, however, it must be remembered that no Cambodian regime since independence in 1954 lived on its own resources. Foreign aid, increasing from year to year, supported the budgets of both Sihanouk’s monarchy (1954-1970) and Lon Nol’s Republic (1970-1975).

One of the reasons was the addiction of the entire urban sector to foreign luxury commodities and lifestyle, a problem which the PRK once seemed intent on preventing through a policy of very low incomes, but which now seems to be emerging again as a result of the increasingly free market. Nevertheless, to escape a situation which, except for food, would be shared poverty, Cambodia probably requires integration into some larger economic entity.

Even simple petty bourgeois recovery requires more aid from outside than Cambodia is receiving. The international situation has seriously hampered Cambodian recovery. Normal international aid and financing have been blocked, and considerable resources must be expended on defense, both in the creation of an army, and in conscription of civilians for war-related construction along the Thai border.

It is noteworthy that PRK economic performance - holding down wages, deflationary policies, and relatively free market practices except in major industries - would under normal international conditions qualify it for favored treatment by the World Bank and IMF, and it is clear that such aid is withheld to exert political pressure rather than for any objective economic reason.

In this connection it is amusing to note the remarks of Jose Maria Sison in Bangkok three years ago, that “Aquino cannot solve the basic problems without help of the CPP”. Her government is under US orders, through the World Bank and IMF, to stick to agriculture, shun industrialization, liberalize importation, attract foreign investments, comply with debt obligations, increase the domestic tax burden, freeze wages, depreciate the currency and so on.[173]

The PRK has been doing all of this on its own.

The inability of Cambodia to access normal international economic channels is not an aberration of a few bank officials, nor can it any longer be called punishment for 1979. As was recently reported in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Viet Nam is now facing the same hard line, in spite of having done what until last year was believed to be the requirement for normalization: withdrawal of its armed forces from Cambodia.

In June the U.S. blocked “a plan by the UN Development Programme to send a six-man team to Cambodia ... to assess the economic needs of the country during the post-settlement period”[174]; and the U.S. and Japan “have blocked Vietnam’s reentry into the international economic community, despite what is considered an exemplary Vietnamese effort at economic stabilization and structural adjustment”.

They “are now insisting Viet Nam must not only withdraw ... but also contribute towards a comprehensive political settlement”, even though the World Bank and IMF think Viet Nam deserves help on the basis of what they are doing with the economy.[175]

This happened at an IMF executive board meeting on 13 Sept, where the “fund’s specialist staff submitted a glowing report on Hanoi’s economic management from its visit to Viet Nam in July Viet Nam began unilaterally

implementing an adjustment programme in March 1989 based on consultations with the fund”.

“The IMF report was full of praise for Viet Nam’s recent economic reforms, which got under was in mid-1988 and accelerated in March this year. The IMF staff ... were particularly impressed with the Vietnamese understanding of the need for compatibility and consistency between domestic and external reforms”, devaluation of dong, decreasing discrepancy of official and free rates, rise in interest rates and reserve requirements, prices raised from controlled to market levels on most staples, except power, transport, post, fuel; dismantling domestic monopolies advanced; collectivized production in agriculture also effectively ended.

Cambodia, it must be emphasized, has been in advance of Viet Nam on almost every point.

One economist said Viet Nam has accomplished since mid-1988 all that China had implemented since 1979, and more, but urgently needs help; a top official said, “I would be happy if all the other countries [in arrears] behaved in the way Viet Nam has done”.

This U.S. action is not just pique by a handful of sick old men in Washington nursing Viet Nam War wounds to national pride. It follows consistently from U.S. policy.

One of the few really interesting bits of new information in Nayan Chanda’s Brother Enemy is that in spite of economic measures against Viet Nam taken in 1975, by September 1976 Viet Nam was admitted to the International Monetary Fund, and after a World Bank team visited Viet Nam in February 1977 their confidential report “praised the Vietnamese government’s efforts to mobilize its resources and tap its vast potential”.[176]

The World Bank urged donors to give substantial assistance on concessional terms. This moreover was at a time when Thailand, even after overthrowing its experiment in democracy in October 1976 and getting back into the U.S.- preferred type of dictatorial regime, was doing very badly, as the World Bank revealed a year later.[177]

For Washington this was disastrous. Communist Viet Nam was being praised by international capitalist institutions, while U.S.-favored capitalist Thailand was wallowing in economic incompetence and unjustifiable exploitation of the poor by the rich. If Viet Nam was allowed to take off as the IMF and World Bank thought possible, its example could not fail to attract the peoples of Thailand, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Viet Nam was moreover trying to make a good impression on the capitalist world. Hanoi had refused to join COMECOM, and was reducing the level of relations with the USSR, which complained about losing Viet Nam to the capitalist world. But Viet Nam was trying to insist that the U.S. honor Nixon’s promise to give aid for reconstruction, and their development plans depended on this.[178]

This then, is part of the setting for the U.S. actions against Viet Nam in 19771978, described by Chanda, and the necessary background to study of negotiations over ‘normalization’ both then and now. It has never been just the question of Chinese relations being more important, or ‘amnesia’ about Indochina. The real problem was the danger that Viet Nam might make an economic success of socialism, and this had to be stopped.

Now again Viet Nam, in its relatively successful responses to new challenges in its own way, poses an ideological threat, and the continued efforts to destroy Cambodia are because that country has been perceived as Viet Nam’s Achilles Heel, ‘Vietnam’s Vietnam’, as one of the extremist hacks once put it.[179]

The difference is that the US entered a Viet Nam which was merely in political disorder and destroyed it, including the sector the US most desired to protect, while Viet Nam entered a Cambodia which had been destroyed, in no small part by US actions, and oversaw a remarkable reconstruction in the most unfavorable circumstances.

Some concluding generalizations

The lessons from Cambodia for the Asia-Pacific, and other, regions is that the U.S. will try to prevent economic progress under any regime that is not subordinate or closely allied. Particularly disliked are states which maintain some semblance of socialism while gaining popular support, perhaps even prosperity through economic liberalism and personal freedom. The Sonnenfeldt doctrine seems to have become ever more firmly rooted in Washington; and the real enemy is not Stalinism, but ‘Communism with a human face’.[180]

The ideal outcome of a Prague Spring, for Washington, is a Soviet invasion, but now the Soviets no longer oblige, and the Vietnamese are obviously intending to let presumed clients go their own ways.

Since Viet Nam cannot be counted on to keep Cambodia subjugated, thus dissatisfied and a threat to Indochina stability, both countries must be starved into collapse. Otherwise there is still the danger that they might become moderate socialist success stories, as it appeared in 1975.

In the consternation over the reality of Vietnamese withdrawal the U.S.- ASEAN position has in fact been “don’t leave yet”, and this has been masked by assertions that it is Vietnamese intransigence which prevents setting up an International Control Mechanism. In fact, even with cooperation of all concerned, it would literally take months to prepare for International Control.

In a report which the fact-finding team submitted after their visit to Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand during 5-16 August, they said “international peacekeeping force would need to be self-sufficient in all aspects of its day-to-day operations, due to scarcity of resources and facilities”; Cambodia “lacks the sufficient infrastructure, supply sources, and services to accommodate an ‘international control mechanism’ (ICM)”.

The report recommends that an “engineering team first be dispatched ... to improve the overall condition of road networks and airfields”; also calls for “‘comprehensive and self-sufficient communications network’ ... for contacts with the outside world and within the country”; because of bad roads, “peacekeeping forces would have to move around mainly by air”; the engineering corps would need to construct long-term accommodations at various locations; ICM would need to be self-sufficient in food and other supplies for 60-90 days, also self-sufficient in water and electricity; field hospital facilities would need to be set up throughout Cambodia.

Because of all this “‘a significant lead time’ would be needed before the peace forces are stationed”.[181]

Lest these considerations of the background to U.S. harassment of Viet Nam and Cambodia be dismissed in the current indecent haste to celebrate the collapse of socialism, it must not be forgotten that it is ‘Stalinist’ Romania which has been able to repay its foreign debt, that Poland got into its precarious state by trying to play capitalist games - large foreign loans to fuel a consumerist type of development which was unsuccessful, while a move usually advocated by international capitalist institutions, slackening price control of food, precipitated Solidarity;[182] and that much of what Chinese students were protesting was capitalist-type inequalities resulting from business freedom initiated by Deng.

For once Derek Davies, in his usually rather silly “Travelers’ Tales”, hinted at something of more than casual interest: that the protesters were comparing Deng’s cadres unfavorably with Mao’s.[183]

It has been in communist Poland, not in a developing capitalist state, where a working class was nurtured and educated to the point where it could effectively challenge state power in its own interests and those of the economy as a whole, and where even at its worst, state efforts to repress the movement were far less violent, certainly less effective, than corresponding regime measures in capitalist Chile, Argentina, Turkey and the ROK during the same time.

Solidarity could not have occurred in a developing capitalist state where the working class is held in tight control through economic and administrative means in favor of growth of the state and capitalist class.

In 1945 most of Eastern Europe belonged to what would now be called the poor, underdeveloped Third World, and it has been socialism which has dragged them up to a level from which their expressed wishes to ‘rejoin Europe’ are not mere empty rhetoric. After the first euphoria we already see tacit admissions of some of the benefits and popularity of socialist measures.

Thus, “agricultural land, nationalized in Hungary from 1947 on, is unlikely to be returned to those from whom it was confiscated because of fear that such a move could cause a disastrous fall in food production. Nor will such acreage be given back in Czechoslovakia or Romania, at least for the moment”.

“In Bulgaria, by contrast, all the major parties including the former Communists, support an immediate return of farm land to private ownership. The revival of this country is not possible without the revival of agriculture says Viktor Vulkov, leader of the Agrarian Party, and that means private ownership”.[184]

What Time failed to mention was that Hungarian peasants (until land confiscation by the Communists) had lived under oppressive conditions rarely matched in modern times, while Bulgaria had been a nation of small owneroperated farms since the 1920s. Return of land to former owners in the three first-named countries would not only hurt production, but would spark a peasant- led revolution.

Worldwide, outside of the western European industrial democracies, the capitalist states hardly look better than those socialist states supposedly in disarray. The U.S. is wallowing in debt which is sustained by enticing wealth, including drug money, from already impoverished third-world capitalist regimes;[185] and a huge section of its populace lacks the rudiments of a decent life.[186]

Country for country during the last ten years [written in 1989] it is hard to find a third-world capitalist state which, in comparison to a relevant socialist example, looks better in terms of economic development, quality of life, human rights, or democracy. If DK be excluded the comparison could go back over 20 years, perhaps even to the death of Stalin. In particular, capitalism, except for the most advanced western countries, does not show the symbiosis of a free market economy and liberal democracy which is supposed to be its most attractive selling point.

One of the usually cited good examples of a developing capitalist country, ROK, has been characterized both by lack of democracy and quite non-free enterprise state direction of the economy; until September 1987 “most South Koreans under 50 years old were forbidden to travel abroad”, and only in June 1988 did the government take “the first of a four-step programme to make the won a fully convertible currency”, and, like Romania, by means of rigid state authority over production, may also pay off its foreign debt this year, showing that by these economic indicators we might be justified in calling ROK a type of Stalinist capitalism.[187]

Whereas failed consumerism in Poland could lead to a powerful workers movement that could virtually take over state power, failed consumerism in the capitalist third world only results in increased squeeze on workers and peasants to continue financing luxury consumption by the privileged classes.

It should not be forgotten either that an important component of Solidarity’s demands have been egalitarian, against the capitalist-type inequalities which emerged with the foreign-loan fed consumerism of the 1970s.[188]

The Bush reaction to Solidarity’s takeover of the Polish state is characteristic - far less money than requested after years of U.S. encouragement for antiregime movements in Poland. Of course it was assumed that such movements would ultimately be crushed by a bloody Soviet intervention, not that they would take power via free elections permitted by the communist regime. Solidarity is now an embarrassment to Washington.

Likewise in Cambodia, it was assumed that Viet Nam would never willingly leave and would attempt to crush moves toward independence and a liberalized economy, which would continue to weaken both countries while maintaining ‘socialism’s’ bad name;[189] but now that Viet Nam can no longer be trusted to repress Cambodian economic independence and incipient capitalism, the Cambodian contras must be given the means to do it, even if this means bringing back the DK leadership which the U.S. has claimed to abhor, although their utility to Washington’s Indochina policy has been apparent since at least 1980.[190]

Even if the DK group were excluded, the end of the PRK would open up Cambodia to rapacious carpet-bagging by the KPNLF and Sihanoukists, whose capacity for mismanagement has been demonstrated in the border camps they control. Not only would their claims to ownership of housing mean another traumatic evacuation of Phnom Penh, as I indicated above, but some of them are previous owners of industrial plant, and the scramble to reassert ownership would disrupt production and result in dramatic deterioration of conditions for workers.

The deterioration, depending on the foreign aid available, might be more social than economic, for the returning exiles were used to a wide social gap between owners or officials and workers, whereas, to return finally to the subject of this conference, PRK-SOC policies have nearly wiped out such distinctions between workers and management, and between men and women.

They are more cohesive as a class, and more self-confident than before 1975. It seems they are also more numerous, if state and private industry are totaled, and they might well react to KPNLF carpet-baggers in a manner reminiscent of Solidarity.

On the other hand, the new economic policies, or lack of clear policy, of the Phnom Penh government, seem to represent competition with the Son Sann and Sihanouk groups on the latter’s terms. The new economic freedoms, with concomitant income and class disparities, may so alienate the population that, as in the 1970s, they would support an extremist solution, such as offered by Democratic Kampuchea.[191]

We would then be witness to a case of economic liberalism destroying a country which had made notable progress in the most difficult conditions under socialism.

Chapter 2: Tentative polemics before contact

My first published comments on contemporary Cambodian politics were in letters to the Far Eastern Economic Review in the 1970s, based on study of the Cambodian press from the 1940s to the early 1970s and the published work which then existed.

Just a month after the revolutionary victory in Cambodia (17 April 1975), Spencer Davis wrote an article, “The men most likely to ... ”, which I considered in error on several points, and to which I wrote an answer which FEER published.[192] Already a Vietnam syndrome was apparent in the exaggerated attribution of a Vietnamese background to the leaders of the new regime.

Cambodia’s mysterious leaders (1975)[193]

By now the whole question may be purely academic, but I nevertheless feel some remarks are in order concerning Spencer Davis’s “The men most likely to ...” Much of Davis’s article looks like it might have been copied from raw files of the American Embassy in Phnom Penh, or perhaps when classified material was being burned, a couple of sheets blew away and found their way into his hands. Thus, we read of Khieu Thirith, “a well-known anti-American communist.” (Are there any well-known pro-American communists?)[194]

The remark about Keat Chhon defecting due to a “debt owed from his student days” and Poc Does Komar [sic] disappearing “after irregularities were found in the bank for which he was working” also smell of the Embassy, perhaps lifted originally from speeches of Sihanouk in the days when he was against anyone who seemed, however remotely, to belong to the Cambodian Left.[195]

To start at the beginning and the elements which are said to make up the insurgents, the existence of the “Hanoi 6,000” as a cohesive group is due more to speculation and a desire to make the liberation forces appear as North Vietnamese puppets than to any solid information. The total given has varied over the years and what they represent is not at all certain. In any case, it is inaccurate to characterize Saloth Sar as one of those who “have now filtered back”.

Whether he ever went then to Hanoi I do not know, but early in 1963, at least, he appeared on a list of leading leftists present in Cambodia drawn up by Sihanouk, and, in the summer of that year, figured in the first major disappearance of leftist intellectuals, along with Ieng Sary and Son Sen, the last- mentioned individual in your article.[196] Ieng Sary, at that time, taught in a private school in Phnom Penh, and Son Sen was a teacher employed by the Ministry of Education (indeed; he was not a military man).

Their disappearance caused consternation among Cambodian teachers, who, as a group, were suspect in Sangkum days as ‘leftists’ and ‘anti-royalist’, and the general belief was that they had been murdered. As for their present position, which one, Son Sen or Saloth Sar, is supposed to be chief-of-staff? Or are we to suppose that “army chief-of-staff” (Saloth Sar) and “chief-of-staff of the liberation army” (Son Sen) are different positions?

The mood in 1963 was intensified when other lesser figures, such as Tiv Ol, whom your article mentioned, also disappeared (Davis does not seem to distinguish in this case between Kompong Cham Lycee and the Pedagogical Institute). The disappearances would have gone unnoticed had it not been that Son Sen had worked at the Pedagogical Institute, where he was known to many American and French teachers and had just been appointed headmaster in the Takeo Lycee, where there were several French teachers on the staff. The notice thus given to his disappearance caused Sihanouk to announce that Son Sen had run off to South Viet Nam to work for So’n Ngoc Thanh and the CIA.

Ieng Sary’s wife, Khieu Thirith, who had a Licence in English from the University of Paris, was at the time teaching in Lycee Sisowath, one of Phnom Penh’s more important schools. She disappeared a year or so after her husband.

Another group just as shadowy as the “Hanoi 6,000” is the “Khmer Communist Party (KCP), established in 1951”. If it exists as such, it must certainly include an organization which needs mention, the Pracheachon (‘Citizen’) Group, formed in late 1954 by Cambodians who had fought the French alongside the Vietminh.

It contested elections as a political party in 1955 and 1958, but when the time came for the election of 1962, most of its members were arrested. The best known of them, Non Suon, was released from prison by Lon Nol’s coup in 1970,

and promptly went off to join the guerrillas. In 1971-72, he was reported operating south of Phnom Penh.[197]

Also in 1954 the Democrat Party, which had been a thorn in the sides of both the French and Sihanouk since 1946, was reorganized with a younger and more leftist group of leaders, including Thiounn Mum.[198]

Among the ‘leftist’ demands of the Democrats in 1954-55, as well as of the Pracheachon and the remnants of So’n Ngoc Thanh’s guerrillas, was strict application of the Geneva Accords, while one of the aims of Sihanouk and his newly-formed (March 1955) alliance of the far right, the Sangkum, was to sabotage those agreements insofar as they affected Cambodia’s internal affairs.

Of course the best-known of the new Cambodian leaders, the ones who disappeared in 1967 causing extreme public concern, are Hou Yuon, Khieu Samphan and Hu Nim, the first two having disappeared in the spring of that year and the last in the autumn. As National Assembly members (among the few who had won seats by clear majorities in 1966) and critics of Sihanouk, they were well-known even before their disappearance. The consensus of opinion at the time was that they had been murdered, although Sihanouk always denied any knowledge of it.

Although by 1974 people in Phnom Penh were generally convinced that these men were alive and among the leaders of FUNK, their cause was hurt during the first two or three years of the war by their failure to provide convincing evidence of their existence and position, thus giving the Lon Nol Government an opportunity to portray the “Khmer Rouge” as leaderless puppets of the Vietnamese.

It should also be pointed out that until early 1972, GRUNK information made no mention of Ieng Sary, Saloth Sar and Son Sen, and they were unfamiliar even to a Western friend of GRUNK who appeared in Phnom Penh in 1971 with material intended to prove the continuing existence of the men then considered as the three principal ‘ghosts’, Hou Yuon, Khieu Samphan, and Hu Nim.

Thus, reporting on the “men most likely to ... ” has always been made difficult by the mystery which they themselves (probably for good reason) seemed to cultivate.

An Editor’s note at the end of my letter quaintly affirmed, “Spencer Davis was writing from Washington. It would have been impossible for him to see files from the US Embassy in Phnom Penh before they were destroyed”.

Three years later Nayan Chanda offered more information about the DK leadership, and I offered corrections, which FEER published, with a significant cut, as follows.[199]

Crossed Lines On Cambodia (1978)[200]

The “insider account of an obscure period of communist struggle in Indochina” which Nayan Chanda picked up in Hanoi shows that Pol Pot is not the only one who is trying to rewrite Cambodian communist history.

Chanda, based on interviews in Hanoi, wrote that after the Paris-educated intellectuals, like Pol Pot, returned to Cambodia in 1953, there were two political lines in Cambodian revolutionary thinking.

One was “to unite the forces in the country to fight the colonial enemy and cooperate with Vietnamese and Lao resistance fighters”, while “the other proposal was simply to overthrow the then King Norodom Sihanouk”, who “held high the banner of national independence”. “While the first line favored promoting Sihanouk, the other line, led by Pol Pot, opposed this. The Pol Pot line triumphed in 1963” after the murder of then party Secretary Tou Samouth.

By early 1953 Sihanouk had succeeded in destroying the system of parliamentary democracy set up after World War II in order to run the country personally with the support of the extreme Right, including Lon Nol who had been prominent in politics since at least 1948. In November 1953 the French granted Cambodia the independence which they had refused to all elected Cambodian governments, obviously feeling their interests would be more secure in the hands of the Cambodian Right.

Any opposition, or communist, policy which at that time proposed “to unite the forces in the country with Vietnamese and Lao resistance fighters” would have inevitably meant the overthrow of Sihanouk as well, and the “two party ‘lines’“ simply could not have existed as described. There may well have been a group who “simply wanted to overthrow ... Sihanouk”, but that sounds more like the non-communist nationalist guerrillas, of whom the most important was So’n Ngoc Thanh, but it is doubtful that they would have supported what the Vietnamese now call the correct line.[201]

Again after 1954 - that is, after Geneva - there was no opposition faction, at least through the elections of 1955, which favored “promoting Sihanouk”, and none of them, judging from the newspapers they published at the time, considered that “Sihanouk held high the banner of national independence”. The two most important opposition groups were the Pracheachon (the communists) and the Democrats, among whose leaders were Norodom Phurissara and Thiounn Mum; both groups considered that Sihanouk and his Sangkum were trying to destroy democracy and would endanger Cambodian Independence.[202]

‘Saloth Sar’ does not appear in the published material from that time, and it is not clear what he was doing. The editor of Solidarity (Khmer title Samakki), who was arrested in 1955 [FEER, 21 Oct., 1977] was not Saloth Sar but his brother, Saloth Chhay. Or more precisely, the name on the masthead of Samakki was ‘Saloth Chhay’, who was indeed arrested, and later released, in 1955; and in the 1970s ‘Saloth Chhay’ also appeared as editor of the Lon Nol government newspaper and was accepted in Phnom Penh at that time as Saloth Sar’s brother.

It was only when the Sangkum destroyed all other parties between 1955 and 1962 that some of the Left decided to cooperate with it, probably in hopes of guiding Sihanouk’s apparently anti-imperialist sentiments along genuinely socialist lines.

It was probably only during this period, after Sihanouk’s coup of 1955, that a genuine policy split, as described by the Vietnamese, may have developed, with the group of Saloth Sar, Ieng Sary and Son Sen really holding the line attributed to them. In any case, when Sihanouk announced that he would lead the Left in 1970 it is clear that he made a distinction between the two groups and much preferred to work with Khieu Samphan.[203]

It is probably premature to accept that the “Pol Pot line triumphed in 1963”, and as for the death of “Touch Samut” (error for Tou Samouth, also written Toussamouth), Jean-Claude Pomonti and Serge Thion wrote in their Des courtisans aux partisans that he was still “president du parti communiste”, and was commanding Khmer Rouge troops around Kompong Cham and Prey Veng in 1970.[204]

In this connection it is worth noting that Saloth Sar, Ieng Sary and Son Sen did not appear to have any connection with the Pracheachon in the 1950s and 1960s, and the men who were active in the Pracheachon then have not surfaced among the leaders of Cambodia since 1975.[205]

Finally, the anti-Vietnamese line attributed to Pol Pot was also a constant of Sihanouk’s policy. Whatever his attitudes towards “imperialists”, Sihanouk, at least in his Khmer-language speeches and writings, always emphasized that the Vietnamese, whether communist or not, were Cambodia’s long-term enemy, and he would have been delighted to serve as “an accomplice in a Chinese and Western plan of containing and weakening Vietnam”.[206]

In an answer published along with my letter, Chanda said he was aware of inconsistencies in the two-line struggle theory, but was unable “to go into detail for space reasons”. He referred Saloth Sar’s editorship of Solidarity/Samakki, to a “Monash University research paper by Ben Kiernan”, and Pol Pot’s takeover of the party in 1963 to Pol Pot’s interview with Yugoslav journalists; and he correctly pointed out that Pomonti’s and Thion’s information about Tou Samouth was not from a very good source.

I responded with an unpublished letter dated 13 July 1978 and reproduced below.

Answer to Chanda (1978)

I was hasty, I admit, in citing the paragraph in Pomonti’s and Thion’s book concerning Tou Samouth as coming from good leftist sources; but Pomonti and Thion, who did claim to have leftist sources, did not entirely wish to discount that information.[207]

I suppose part of the difference in point of view between Chanda and myself is the perennial conflict between the tasks of the journalist and the academic. The former prefers, or in any case is usually forced, to take his information in face- to-face contact with individuals who are deeply involved in the activity being investigated and he must generally get it quickly into a more or less entertaining form for his readers, while the latter, if historian or social scientist, tends to distrust what people say about long-past events and wishes to search for what was recorded as close to the event as possible.[208]

Whatever Hanoi is now saying about Cambodia is indeed News, but it may not be History.

As to the case in question, you probably realize that all parties to the Cambodian conflict are to some extent trying to rewrite history. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, before Sihanouk’s Sangkum harassed its opponents into extreme caution, there was a period of very active parliamentary politics in which all parties rather freely campaigned in elections and produced newspapers exposing their points of view and criticizing their opponents without hesitation. Nearly all the important factions and individuals of the 1970s began their political careers in that earlier period and it is often possible to check what they have claimed since 1970 with what they were really doing and saying 20-30 years earlier.

Thus those of us who have done documentary (as opposed to oral) research on the politics of prewar Cambodia know who was overtly working for what party or newspaper and what political line they were promoting to the public; and we know that “Saloth Sar” was never mentioned as editor of Samakki.

Admittedly we cannot know anything from such sources about clandestine operators whose names were never mentioned publicly, and it may well be true that Saloth Sar/Pol Pot “was active in underground operations in Phnom Penh between 1954 and 1963” (Chanda’s answer 2 June 1978), which is not the same thing as being editor of a newspaper.[209]

In this connection I understand that editors may find it necessary to cut letters for various reasons, but it seems to me that when an answer to the letter is planned to coincide with the letter’s publication it is incumbent on the editor to avoid cuts which load the argument on either side.

Thus you cut from my letter a sentence remarking that no one who has written about Saloth Sar has ever checked Samakki, while Chanda was able to justify his statement about Saloth Sar’s editorship with reference to Ben Kiernan’s research report (presumably “Working Paper No. 4, The Samlaut Rebellion ... ”, Centre of Southeast Asian Studies, Monash University, p. 15). Kiernan, I believe, relied for that detail on Milton Osborne who, I also believe, obtained such information in the 1960s from Cambodians claiming to be close to the dissident milieu.

This would seemingly lend credibility to the report, except for the fact that the editor of Samakki was ‘Saloth Chhay’, not ‘Saloth Sar’. Osborne and Kiernan could of course argue that Saloth Sar in 1955 used the pseudonym ‘Saloth Chhay’, which may have been the name of a brother, and that in the 1970s the brother, or someone else, again made use of the same name. They have not argued in this way, first of all because they have not, as I wrote, and indeed could not have, read [the Khmer-language] Samakki, and thus had no way of knowing that a controversy could arise.

The credibility of Osborne’s informants is also damaged by the circumstance that they were even more in error in telling him about “the killing in 1960 of an editor of the left-wing newspaper L’Observateur ... ”.[210]

The sole editor of L’Observateur was Khieu Samphan, who in its number 6 of 13 October 1959, and in later issues, reported and commented on the murder of Nop Bophann, editor of the Pracheachon Group’s newspaper [in Khmer, entitled Pracheachon]. Khieu Samphan was later, in 1960, attacked by police thugs, probably on Sihanouk’s orders, but did not suffer severe injury.

I think it should be clear why some of us maintain a certain amount of skepticism about what is being said now, in the heat of inter- and intra-party conflict, about opposition activities in Cambodia two or three decades ago, particularly by someone who has nurtured as much mystery about himself as Pol Pot.

My next effort with FEER was in part academic and in part a spoof, although both involved matters which I still think worthy of attention. The first part of this unpublished letter concerned the history and etymology of the word ‘yuon’, used in Cambodia to mean Vietnamese, and still a matter of controversy, and use of which may mark one’s chauvinism, if Cambodian, or inimical feelings toward Vietnamese. Since 1979 it has been considered polite, in Khmer, to say ‘Viet Nam’ rather than ‘Yuon’.[211]

At the time of writing, I had not yet had any post-revolutionary contact with Cambodia or with persons who had spent the revolutionary years within the country, and I expressed doubt about Chanda’s reference to “the pejorative appellation youn [yuon, which Chanda, April 21, 1978 wrote as xuan] (savage)” used for Vietnamese; and I added that “it is in no way pejorative, but is simply, in colloquial Cambodian, the ordinary term for Vietnamese, just as in English we say ‘Dutch’ for Hollander. Furthermore, yuon is the standard Central Thai term for Vietnamese, and is also used in Mon in the form yon.[212]

My remarks were based on my experiences in Cambodia between 1960 and 1972, and they were true for that time. What I did not yet realize was that the Khmer Rouge, continuing in this matter from Lon Nol, had succeeded in transforming the word into an insult, and in inculcating an anti-Vietnamese chauvinism much worse than what had prevailed before 1970. Indeed, by 1993 ‘yuon’ was considered so offensive that the radio of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), not notably sympathetic to Vietnam, censored election campaign speeches which used it.[213] I continued my 2 September 1979 letter with comment on the “Traveler’s Tales” column of FEER.

On Traveler’s Tales (1979)[214]

While on the subject of linguistics, I would like to compliment you on your amusing examples of fractured English which are now and then inserted at the end of “Traveler’s Tales”. Although some of my unduly Asia-centric friends consider them arrogant and even culturally imperialistic, I find them quite harmlessly humorous.[215] I do wonder, however, if we westerners who try to use Asian languages do not commit similar errors, and if it would not be both fair and stimulating to find such examples for “Traveler’s Tales”.

As an example, I would like to call your attention to the FEER of 8 December 1978, p. 36, where your writer [Nayan Chanda] reported from Thong Hi Nhay [Laos] (‘Plain of Big Cunt’), presumably an error for Thong Hin Nhay (‘Plain of Big Stone’), an error very easy for one ignorant of Lao. Of course, given the Lao sense of humor, the name reported by your correspondent could conceivably be the right one, and in such case I apologize for any hint of criticism (I have been unable to find either name in the gazetteer of Laos to which I have access).

In the autumn of 1979 the Australian historian of French Indochina, Milton Osborne, published a volume of reminiscences from his time as a diplomat in Phnom Penh in the 1960s, and finding in it similar errors to those noted above, I wrote a review, of which a modified and somewhat bowdlerized version was published in Australia. I offer here the original version.

Milton Osborne, Before Kampuchea: Preludes to Tragedy (1980)[216]

When a friend of some prewar experience in Cambodia asked me if I had learned anything new from reading Osborne’s book, I answered, yes, now I know who was driving the British Racing Green TR-2 sports car that nearly ran me down in Bung Snao one night in 1965. Bung Snao was a famous social and educational quarter on the southeast edge of Phnom Penh. Contrary to the opinion of most western analysts, it was not the fall of Neak Luong, a river port some 30 miles farther down the road, but the realization that Bung Snao could no longer be held, that caused the final collapse of the Lon Nol army in 1975.

The above is not quite true. Not only am I certain that Osborne would never have gone to Bung Snao, but there are in fact several details throughout the book which are new to me (for instance, the rumour, p. 56, that one of Sihanouk’s sons swung on the wrong side of the bed). The purpose of this frivolous introduction is to emphasize that the book contains too much frivolous gossip when there were a good many more serious things to write about the year 1966.

Gossip about the royal family did make up a good bit of the conversation at the parties of foreign diplomats and businessmen in Cambodia, but then, as now, it was usually third-hand name dropping in the manner of small-town American housewives retailing fan-magazine gossip about film stars. It is surely legitimate to ask whether a book on Cambodia could not have dispensed with speculation about how many nights a week Sihanouk spent with whom; or about which niece, cousin, or aunt he variously tried to bed, matters about which Osborne could not possibly have had any good information, even if his “pedicab riders seemed particularly knowledgeable” (p. 45).

For although he is quite right in asserting that Cambodians cared little about the sexual adventures of their elite, and perhaps even admired them for it, it was an area from which that elite generally excluded foreigners, due to their proven hypocrisy, whom they met in other realms of social intercourse.

I also think it is in bad taste, unless it is really of some historical importance, to devote space to stories about alleged perversities of a certain prince (p. 56), or the tendencies of poor old Jean Barre (pp. 145 - 46). Particularly, again, since it is all, in Osborne’s case, I hope, second or third hand gossip.

It would be another matter if a writer, say a diplomat, writing of his personal experiences in Cambodian elite circles, would report that on April 1, 1966, in the higher national interest and for the gravest reasons of state, he had been buggered by prince so-and-so. (However, since the subject has come up, I cannot resist noting that one of Jean Barre’s more literate proteges used to write a column for Realites cambodgiennes [a French-language weekly magazine in Phnom Penh] which he signed “Thvear”, Khmer for “doorway, orifice, etc.”)

In any case it is essential that a writer who buttresses his claims to expertise by dropping names and retailing court gossip insure that the names, at least, are accurate.

Thus, Osborne’s stories about his friend Prince Entaravong, whose long-lived family stretched back through only three generations to the pre-colonial period, and who could therefore relate choice anecdotes of 19th-century court life heard from his father, are spoiled when we come to the father’s name, “Prince Yubhiphan”, since Princess Yubhiphan was Entaravong’s mother and was still alive when Osborne was in Phnom Penh visiting with her son (her death, at age 89, was reported by the Agence khmere de presse news bulletin on January 5, 1967).

The father, whose name was Chamroeunvong, had died about fifty years earlier. Other names that should be rectified are Kantol, not Kanthal (p.45), and Chhean Vam, not Cheam Vann (pp.121-22).

Whether or not name-dropping, as such, is of historical value, Entaravong’s family was interesting, and there was another aspect of their history which might have had political importance, and which Osborne, with his research in 19th century archives, might have been aware. Sihanouk had always shown conspicuous asperity towards Entaravong’s younger brother Youtevong, which seemed excessive, even considering the latter’s leadership of the Democrat Party in the 1940’s.

A possible reason may have been dynastic. When the French put Sihanouk on the throne, one of the justifications was that he united the two main branches of the royal family, the Norodoms and the Sisowaths. Such a consideration had never been important in Cambodian tradition, but once introduced by the French, it was immediately clear that the family of Entaravong and Youtevong, otherwise of relatively low royal rank, might have an even greater claim to the throne through uniting Norodoms, Sisowaths, and other branches of royalty going back to the early 19th century before the Norodom-Sisowath split.

It is a pity that Osborne felt compelled to fill out his book with the type of padding cited above (and other padding, such as Charles Meyer’s Binh Xuyen background, irrelevant for Cambodia of 1966; excessive detail about Sihanouk’s films; and even the entire chapter 11, on Vietnam).

Even his contention that 1966 was a “turning point in Cambodia’s modern history” (p.13) may be questioned (I would say 1962-63 and 1967-68 were both more crucial periods), although 1966 did not lack in matters of political and historical importance which Osborne could have better emphasized had he been less concerned to demonstrate that he “had access to members of some of the great families ... both to sections of the royal family and to descendants of the semi-hereditary officials” (p.67).

As a whole all of Osborne’s vignettes make an important point about pre- 1970 Cambodia which has usually been neglected, or made in the wrong way. This is that a major reason for the tragedy since 1970 was the breakdown of the system which Sihanouk tried to develop from the 1950’s and to which breakdown Sihanouk himself contributed.

Although there was no lack of anti-Sihanouk critique among foreign writers, it was usually made by the wrong people and for the wrong reasons. In western countries both the right and the left, the latter of whom, at least, should have been able to distinguish rhetoric from substance, looked on Sihanouk as a ‘Red Prince’ and never saw that within the context of Cambodian politics he was conservative, if not an outright reactionary, and in every important political confrontation threw his weight behind the most reactionary elements of Cambodian society.

Thus he gradually alienated everyone from the far left to the moderate right, while at the same time inculcating an ideology which would insure Cambodian inability to meet the dangers of the 1970’s.

Facets of this process are shown with particular clarity in Osborne’s chapter 8, “The Revolutionary,” chapter 12, “Business is Business,” and in the remarks on Cambodian journalism on pp. 149-50. The first shows the transformation of a young man of the aristocracy into a revolutionary who spent the war years among the guerilla leadership, and includes, p.82, some very pertinent conclusions about the nature of the revolutionary organization before 1970.

I would add, though, that the difference between the two stories about Poc Deuskomar ‘s disappearance (p. 81) may not be just “academic,” but could cast doubt on the reliability of Ith Sarin’s book, which has been used as an authoritative source for Khmer Communist organization in the 1970’s but which is in fact a second version published with the blessings of the Lon Nol government.

The discrepancy also points up the perils of writing about Cambodian politics on the basis of oral history, something which Osborne knows well from misinformation given him by Poc Deuskomar himself and which he has correct- ed in the present book.[217]

“Business is Business” is devoted to the pervasive corruption which was eating away Sihanouk’s economy, and Osborne’s general point could have been strengthened by giving less attention to Chou Kong, who was only doing what traders are supposed to do, and more to Mau Say, Minister of Finance and also heavily involved in the great garlic scandal of 1966, who was thereby forced to resign his ministerial post only to be promoted by Sihanouk to the Haut Conseil du Throne, one of the most prestigious honorific bodies of the realm.

Another valuable chapter is “The Priest,” which given the recent publicity on the destruction of the Phnom Penh cathedral as an act of Khmer Rouge vandalism, provides a more nuanced insight into the role of the Catholic Church in Cambodia as an element of French neo-colonialism which may have given offense even to an ethnic Khmer bishop. The destruction of the cathedral, as a symbol of this role, may well have been viewed sympathetically by other than Khmer Rouge fanatics.

More of neo-colonial Sihanoukism is revealed in chapters 14 and 15, “Scribes and Sycophants” and “A Colonial Connection”, and here Osborne accurately describes the more influential Frenchmen as unreconstructed colonialists with little sympathy for Cambodia or Cambodians (saying this, I must emphasize that there were also dozens, if not scores, of other French men and women, mostly in the educational services, of a quite different type who made valuable contributions both to Cambodia and to scholarship about Cambodia).

One more positive contribution is the attention given to life on the fringes of Cambodian society (pp.132-35), and to how the inhabitants of those fringes, perhaps even the central rice peasants, were so ground down by their life that they could have accepted any kind of revolution. This is extremely important, and the fringes, many more than Osborne saw or heard of, often began five miles or so from the center of major towns (See Vickery, Cambodia 1975-1982. chapter 1).

As a final criticism I would take issue with the conclusions of chapter 16 about “the hereditary enemy,” the Vietnamese. It is much too simplistic to regard what has happened in 1979 as “the ultimate proof of the validity of … traditional fears” that Viet Nam wished to annex Cambodia.

Osborne also knows very well that Pol Pot’s “Black Book” is full of historical distortions, if not outright lies, and it can in no way be taken as evidence that “the nature of Viet Nam and of the Vietnamese ... is that of ‘an aggressor, an annexationist, and a devourer of the territory of other countries’” (p. 174).

It is a particularly strange conclusion for Osborne, who has been arguing for derecognition of Pol Pot in favor, inevitably, if not expressly, of the new Cambodian regime supported by Viet Nam. If the Vietnamese were simply expansionist aggressors and nothing more, as Pol Pot would have it, then Osborne and all the rest of us should be exerting ourselves in support of the latter.

Chapter 3: First experiences with post-KR Cambodia

An interesting case in the pathology of market journalism is that of William Shawcross, who became famous and gained credit as an anti-Viet Nam War activist, implicitly an opponent of American imperialism, with his book Sideshow.

This approach was also evident in a report in the 2 January 1976 issue of FEER, reporting from the Thai-Cambodian border that refugee accounts “suggest [emphasis added] that the Khmer Rouge is finding it hard to govern the country except by coercion” and “even suggest that terror is being employed as a system of government”. The refugees themselves, however, in spite of complaints about “young and old ... dying of starvation”, “did not appear to be in a sorry condition”.[218]

Shawcross concluded that life in Cambodia was “appalling”, but he recognized that “it is impossible ... talking to some refugees and reading the radio monitoring, to say how a country is being run”; and he emphasized that if an atrocity was being perpetrated, it “did not begin in April[1975] - it simply entered its sixth year”. Here Shawcross showed the same critical analysis as Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman, and he continued to blame the US and Henry Kissinger for the Cambodian tragedy.[219]

Then, in his second book on Cambodia, The Quality of Mercy, published in 1984, he shifted ground and, in what was presented as a study of the aid organizations on the Thai-Cambodian border, reproduced all the criticisms of the government in Phnom Penh then trendy in US regime and allied circles.

I did not write anything about Quality of Mercy. For good treatments of it see the review article by Grant Evans, “William Shawcross’s Cambodia Crusade”, New Left Review, 152, July/August 1985, pp. 120-28, and Ben Kiernan, “Review Essay: William Shawcross, Declining Cambodia”, Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars” 18/1 (Jan-March 1986), pp. 56-63.

Evans’s treatment is the most subtle. In contrast to most critical comparisons of The Quality of Mercy with Sideshow, Evans concludes that “there is not a radical discontinuity” from one to the other. In the former Shawcross took the position that “the use of American power and violence in Cambodia was an aberration from the US’s ‘naturally’ pacific role in world affairs”, and he “showed little sympathy for the communist cause in Indochina”. The US was on the right side, but in the wrong way.

But “in The Quality of Mercy the main actors are the communist states”, and “in this context Shawcross reaches for the home-truths of Cold War liberalism”, in the event, that the goal of Viet Nam “was to conquer Indochina”. Evans himself later switched to that same position in his A Short History of Laos, Chiang Mai, Silkworm Books, 2002.

The shift in Shawcross’ position was first revealed clearly, I believe, in “The End of Cambodia?” (The New York Review of Books [NYRB] 24 January 1980) and, with some modifications following a trip to Cambodia, in “Kampuchea Revives on Food, Aid, and Capitalism”, (The Bulletin [Australia] 24 March 1981).

At that time I had had my first post-revolutionary contact with the Cambodian situation, working for four months in the summer of 1980 in the Cambodian refugee camps on the Thai border, mainly in Khao-I-Dang, the largest, with a population of over 150,000 in July 1980. It was information from these refugees which permitted me to resume active research on current Cambodian affairs, and eventually, after my first post-revolutionary visit to Phnom Penh, Battambang and Siemreap in 1981, to write Cambodia 1975-1982.

This refugee information also enabled me to discern errors in Shawcross’ treatment of Cambodia in its first year after the replacement of Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea by the People’s Republic of Kampuchea.

I wrote an answer (“Ending Cambodia - Some Revisions”) covering both of those Shawcross articles and sent it to NYRB on 15 June 1981. I very quickly received a rejection notice dated 15 July 1981. Then in August 1981 I met Shawcross in Chiang Mai at a small conference on Cambodia organized by the Social Science Research Council, and found that NYRB had sent him a copy of my piece, apparently as soon as they had received it from me.

This appears to have started the tradition, which they have maintained, of allowing Shawcross to exercise prior censorship of material submitted critical of his work or presenting other information about Cambodia. The Bulletin (Australia) also refused to print a very short critique which I offered. Its main points are included in “Ending Cambodia”.[220]

Below I reproduce my 1981 article, with a few points marked, as indicated, added later.

Shawcross 1: Ending Cambodia - Some Revisions (1981)

The writing on Cambodia since early 1975 has well-illustrated the point made so often and so eloquently by Noam Chomsky that western media treatment of the third world, and in particular Cambodia, is generally of more interest as ‘work of art’ than for the information it conveys about the countries concerned.[221]

There is no clearer illustration of that, and of what I would call the new revisionism on Cambodia, than a comparison of William Shawcross’ “The End of Cambodia?” in NYRB and “Kampuchea Revives on Food, Aid, and Capitalism” in The Bulletin.

“The End of Cambodia?” was full of errors of both fact and interpretation, and represented little more than the propaganda line, now known to have been largely untrue, which the US government hardliners were pushing. The old Indochina hands in the back rooms of the Embassy establishment in Bangkok must have taken great glee in conning Shawcross, whose Sideshow would have infuriated them, into the role of PR man for their policies toward Cambodia.[222]

Since an important theme of Sideshow was deception practiced by American agencies in, or concerned with, Southeast Asia, particularly Cambodia, it may seem strange that Shawcross was taken in, for he must have known with whom he was dealing.[223]

Of course, in mitigation, we must remember that the internal situation of Cambodia was much less clear in 1979 than two years later, the evidence for an important change in American inner-circle policy toward Cambodia had not yet appeared, and Shawcross was misled by confidence in the integrity of Francois Ponchaud, whose work since 1979 reflects back negatively on his famous book, Cambodia Year Zero and shows that those who viewed it with a critical eye were correct.[224]

In “The End of Cambodia?” the tenor of Shawcross’s critique was directed more against the new regime and its Vietnamese protectors than against the Pol Pot system they replaced; and he even seemed to doubt that Democratic Kampuchea had been as bad as portrayed. Thus he wrote “some of the international relief agencies have accepted without question all the details of the anti-Khmer Rouge propaganda issued by the Vietnamese client government”; and “whether there was an ‘Asian Auschwitz’ in this particular place [Tuol Sleng] and with these precise methods remains uncertain.”

Close investigation of the evidence, some of which is described below, proves that doubt about certain details of the anti-Democratic Kampuchea picture was quite reasonable, and even John Pilger, who hews much more closely to the Vietnamese line, has acknowledged that “the Vietnamese case has always been better than their propaganda”.[225]

[Shawcross’s remark implying that the Vietnamese had set up a Potemkin Tuol Sleng in 1979 foreshadowed Jean-Marie Le Pen who “is, after all, the man who ... said that ‘it was the Americans who built the gas chambers in Buchenwald after the war’“.[226]

Doubt about the specifics of anti-Democratic Kampuchea accusations is one thing, suggestions that the new regime might be as bad or worse is something else. Shawcross seemed to accept “reports that the [Vietnamese] are treating the Cambodians with almost as much contempt as the previous regime did”, as well as Ponchaud’s “charge that the Vietnamese are now conducting a subtle ‘genocide’ in Cambodia” (pp. 28-9).

As support for this we find a number of Ponchaud stories which charge the Vietnamese with preventing peasants - by violence if necessary - from harvesting their own rice, giving aid rice during the day and stealing it back at gunpoint at night, withholding medicine, and forcing Cambodian men to go to fight the Chinese in northern Vietnam. Those stories are retailed seriously, with no warning that if true they might have been isolated exceptions rather than a general pattern; and as a result of that information, Cambodia was depicted as a country threatened by a general, serious famine.

While providing those stories Ponchaud did cover his rear by noting that the sources were the Khmer Serei organizations along the border who are not overburdened by objectivity in reporting events within the country.[227]

But Shawcross chose to accept them because “then[1975-76] as now his [Ponchaud] information was at first decried, and it is well to remember that his early accounts ... proved largely correct.” Ponchaud’s earlier work was of course Cambodia Year Zero. If indeed there is a relationship between what Ponchaud has been producing in 1979-80 and his earlier work, it is clear now that a critical eye must be turned again on the latter.

Allegedly because of the famine, which, reading Shawcross, we would believe to be largely a result of Vietnamese perfidy, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians were fleeing as refugees towards the Thai border.

“About half a million, in terrible condition, are camped along the Thai border and may soon break into Thailand.” “Very soon the Thais will have 25 per cent of surviving Cambodians under their control,” and since “it is widely feared that the worst famine will come in the spring ... the Thais may be host to over a million Cambodians by early next year[1980]” (p. 29).

In spite of the urgency, said Shawcross, few people were paying sufficient attention. Only the American Embassy in Bangkok was strongly “arguing the cause of the Cambodian people” against a ‘lackadaisical’ State Department, who “assured me that talk of starvation was alarmist ... based only on refugee accounts from a limited area” (p. 25).

Reading Shawcross now (1981), or even towards the end of 1980 when I first saw the article, one is astonished at how totally mistaken even a competent, honest, conscientious journalist could be [writing in 1981 I gave full benefit of the doubt], and at how talents manifested in researching and writing a book about foreign involvement in Cambodia and based on foreign sources may be unequal to the task of dealing with the internal situation of the country through the medium of indigenous oral testimony.

In fairness to Shawcross, it must be emphasized again that the situation then was confused and that he was dependent on interpreters - not only Ponchaud - whom he believed he could trust. The only aspect for which there is no excuse is his strange faith, even after the experience of researching and writing Sideshow, in the Bangkok American Embassy.

Shawcross apparently now realizes how wrong he was in 1979, although I think he is still mistaken about where the fault lies. In his March 1981 article in The Bulletin he acknowledged that “the threat of famine was exaggerated”, and that “there was never a danger of ‘two million dead by Christmas’ in 1979”; but he blames the exaggeration on what “the Vietnamese had originally told the aid agencies”, rather than on the US Embassy or Ponchaud who provided him with such information for his article of January 1980.

He is still captive of the US Embassy-Ponchaud line to the extent of complaining about ‘diversion’ of aid “to officials of the Vietnamese-backed government in Phnom Penh” (Bulletin, p. 81).[228]

The major points of Shawcross 1981 show a nearly complete revision of Shawcross 1979, which itself represented an important revision in attitude toward the demonology of Sideshow. Those revisions, which are symptomatic of media treatment of Cambodia over the past six years, are a good preface for a discussion of the way in which that country’s recent history has been used as an international political football.

In what follows I wish to treat three main themes of that history, both to provide a more accurate picture for 1975-81 and to show how certain revisions of it have been used for peculiar purposes. The three themes are (1) the damage inflicted on the country during 1975-79, (2) life in the PRK, (3) the refugee question.

1. 1975-1979

Shawcross probably didn’t know that the conclusions in his article of January 1980 were the same as those to be presented in a report which the CIA were slapping together at about the same time and which reached the public in May 1980 with the title, “Kampuchea: a Demographic Catastrophe”.[229]

In spite of the devastation which it chronicled for the early Democratic Kampuchea period, it claimed that 1979 was a worse disaster than any DK year but the first, and it concluded, like Ponchaud, that it was only then (1979-80) that the end of the Cambodian people might be near.

When carefully read, the report shows a shift in the treatment of Pol Pot’s regime from about 1977, a shift both in the presentation of ‘facts’ and in the CIA evaluation of them. There had already been a couple of hints of such a revision in earlier work on Cambodia.

In his Survive le peuple cambodgien, completed in June 1978, Jean Lacouture remarked that “up to 1977 ... the CIA considered the [Cambodia Communist Party] as a simple appendage of the Vietnamese party”. If that is really what the CIA thought, they were far behind all other serious observers of Cambodian affairs, including some in the employ of the US Government.[230]

But in any case, why a change of views in 1977? Although adding that the CIA opinion might in fact still be the same, Lacouture must have had some contact which suggested a change at that time.

Someone with even better CIA contacts than Lacouture, Guy J. Pauker, in a book devoted to predictions and policies for Southeast Asia in the 1980’s and published in 1977, revealed a very interesting nuance in the conventional wisdom about Democratic Kampuchea.[231]

One of Pauker’s topics in the chapters he wrote was “population and development”; and he evoked the problems of growing populations, need for more food, increasing scarcity of land, and insufficient urban employment for the hordes of peasants moving into the cities. He showed some concern that voluntary migrations within Southeast Asia were “not from overpopulated villages into the wilderness” (as they should be, in order to develop new land) “but from the countryside to the cities”, and that “the noncommunist countries use only mild administrative measures to slow down the flow”.

In this connection one would expect some reference to Cambodia, and Pauker wrote, “the forced migration inflicted on the Cambodians after April 1975 ... is certainly not a desirable model” (Pauker, p. 33). And that was all - not that the Cambodians were doing the wrong thing, or that Cambodia was being destroyed by inhuman murderers, but only that they were not taking apparently necessary steps in the best way.

Thus in a serious work on policy the lurid accusations put out in propaganda tracts for the general public were ignored, and the Pol Pot regime was treated as on the right path, if somewhat too radical.

This point of view was also shared by U.S. Foreign Service Officer Peter Poole, who, in testimony in congressional hearings said, “the general thrust of moving people out of the city was something that practically any regime would have contemplated and done at some stage in that year, getting the people back on the land and producing rice”.[232]

The clinching evidence for an evolution of the CIA view toward a revisionist position on Cambodia is “Kampuchea: A Demographic Catastrophe”. I had first heard of it in early 1980 when press speculation before it appeared indicated that it might show an unexpectedly, even embarrassingly, large number of surviving Cambodians; and when I finally obtained a copy in October 1980, after about four months working with and interviewing Cambodian refugees in Thailand, I opened it with no little interest.

The rumor of its revelation of a large surviving population proved to be false, for it claims that by January 1979 the population had fallen to 5.8 million, which of course was better than the 4.5 million and 3 million dead first put forward by the Vietnamese on the basis, apparently, of earlier western press accounts.

The report contains a long ‘methodology’ section in which the reader finds impressively ‘scientific’ descriptions of how things like ‘birth rates’ ‘death rates’ and ‘vital rates’ were calculated and applied year by year to the remainder from the 1970 population estimates to reach the estimate for 1979.

In spite of this ritual devotion to the statistician’s art, when I got to the paragraphs concerning the number of estimated deaths resulting from executions or forced evacuation, or attempting to escape to Thailand, I experienced a troubling sense of deja vu.

And sure enough, as I checked back over the literature on Cambodia published since 1975 I found that John Barron’s and Anthony Paul’s Murder of a Gentle Land, published in December 1976, had virtually the same figures for the first two years of Democratic Kampuchea as the CIA report: 400,000 dead on the first exodus from the towns; 430,000 more of the new people dead during the rest of 1976 (CIA 400,000), largely as a result of the ‘second great migration’; 250,000 of the survivors dying during 1976; plus 100,000 former military, civil servants, and teachers executed in 1975-76; and for Barron and Paul at least one dead for every surviving escapee, or in all about 20,000.

On this last point there is no longer correspondence between the two estimates since Barron and Paul were dealing with refugee figures in November 1976 while the CIA included the total through 1978.[233]

Now if the CIA figures are supposed to be the results of demographic calculations, it is strange that they conform so closely to Barron’s and Paul’s estimates which were crude guesses extrapolated from refugee stories, unless there was an embarrassing coordination of effort between Barron and Paul and CIA from the beginning.

For 1975 the CIA admittedly relied “largely on refugee reports and other eyewitness accounts” and if they mean by that the work of Barron and Paul, it would appear that the latter colluded with the CIA on figures which the CIA could take up later as “the expert interpretation of events” by analysts of Kampuchean affairs.[234]

Whatever degree of collusion or wild guesswork went into the figures, we now know, from more careful and larger-scale refugee interviews, that some of the historical events on which both Barron and Paul and the CIA based their estimates were quite different.

(1) The initial urban evacuation from Phnom Penh was much less violent than depicted, proceeding in most sectors at a leisurely pace, with few killings, and the resultant immediate death toll, although impossible to establish, would have been much less, perhaps, as Kiernan has since acknowledged, only a fifth or a tenth of the CIA estimate.[235]

(2) The communist forces did not methodically hunt down all former Lon Nol military and civil servants - only those of high rank, and that not everywhere nor all the time; and the ‘targets of execution’ in 1975-76 may have been no more than one-tenth of the Barron/Paul-CIA figures.

(3) The ‘second great migration’ at the end of 1975 was not a country-wide exercise, but was of major importance only from parts of the Southwest Zone into the Northwest, affecting perhaps one-fourth to one-third of the urban evacuees, and thus the number of deaths would have been proportionately less, even accepting the other CIA assumptions about the death rate.

(4) There were very important differences in living conditions among the administrative zones into which Democratic Kampuchea was divided, and the terrible conditions depicted by Barron/Paul and the CIA prevailed, before 1978, in probably no more than one-third of the country.

The number of deaths occurring after the migrations to the countryside would thus have been proportionately lower, and the birth and survival rates for the better two-thirds of the country would have been at least as good as the CIA estimates for more favored category of ‘old people’ - their number was maintained after 1975.[236]

Thus even accepting the other CIA assumptions about ‘rates’, but allowing for the modifications introduced above, one can figure a 1979 surviving population of over 6 million, which approximates the latest independent estimates. If, moreover, as American specialists in Phnom Penh near the end of the Khmer Republic were predicting, a million deaths would occur in the coming year even in Khmer Republic conditions, then the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh may have saved up to half a million lives.[237]

But that is not the aspect of the CIA report which I wish to treat here. The precise number of people who perished in various ways between 1975 and 1979 is beyond knowing, and was too large, even in the best hypothetical scenario. What I wish to emphasize, in connection with Shawcross’ articles, is the evidence in the CIA report for an important revision in American policy which has been carried through to the present in the treatment of the rump Democratic Kampuchea government and the refugee operations.

After the horrific picture of 1975-76, already found in Barron’s and Paul’s Murder of a Gentle Land, the CIA report places the “final executions” at the end of the July 1976-January 1977 period, and for January 1977 to January 1979 merely says, “living conditions most likely did not vary during these two years from the conditions during 1976.” That meant an assumption of slightly better food supply and marginally more stable living conditions which contributed to a higher survivor rate than in previous periods.[238]

That assessment of 1977-79 is grossly erroneous, and was known to be erroneous when the CIA were compiling their report. Nearly all refugees from all over the country testify that large-scale executions, in particular of party cadres, and usually related to intra-party factional struggles, began in 1977, gradually spread, in some areas, to the ‘new people’, and that the absolutely worst year was 1978.

In May of that year the long-simmering conflict between the two main tendencies within the Communist Party - the hyper-chauvinist, anti-Vietnamese Pol Pot group and the more internationalist and orthodox faction descending from the old Indochina Communist Party - exploded into open warfare between the central government and the Eastern Zone where the second faction had been dominant.

The central forces won and first massacred all of the East Zone cadres they could lay hands on, with the survivors fleeing to Viet Nam whence they emerged later as the nucleus of the PRK government.

Then, assuming that nearly the entire population of the East had been permeated by pro-Vietnamese sentiments, the Phnom Penh authorities began large-scale executions on the spot and drove other tens of thousands, perhaps even a couple of hundred thousand people out of the East into the North, and in particular the Northwest, Zones where they were the objects of further indiscriminate massacres.

Those events, in-mid-1978, were in the nearly unanimous opinion of all refugees, the absolutely worst spate of killing in the entire Pol Pot period; and most of the mass graves and piles of bones probably date from that time.

Thus the CIA, who in 1975-76 had set out to exaggerate derogatory information about Cambodia in order to discredit what appeared to be a new and threatening socialist regime, finally moved to the position of tacitly abetting the Pol Pot clique in their worst crimes. The reason is clear. By 1978 it was apparent that Democratic Kampuchea was not going to be a Marxist success which would attract the peasantry of neighboring countries.

In fact, it had lost any Marxist coloring it may once have had, and had become a vehicle for hyper-chauvinist, poor peasant, populism, and considered its most important task to be a life and death struggle with the ‘hereditary enemy’, Viet Nam. Pol Pot’s worst massacres were for traditionalist, racist, antiVietnamese reasons. At last his regime was becoming bloody enough to attract the American support which continued until the 1990s in the hope of making use of him to roll back revolution in Indochina.[239]

Pol Pot and his comrades have responded in kind. Renouncing socialism, they call American diplomats ‘comrade’, and offer their aid in what they conceive as American plans to restore reactionary regimes in Laos and Viet Nam. Never did the old ‘running dog’ epithet fit any group better than these remnants of Angkar.[240]

2. 1979-1981

Because of the internal evolution of Democratic Kampuchea described above, their displacement, following a war largely provoked by their own actions, and by a polity whose record on human rights was much better, not only failed to elicit great rejoicing in official American quarters, but Pol Pot remnants along the Thai border began receiving material aid and diplomatic support in the United Nations.

Although no one was willing to suddenly declare Pol Pot a bulwark of the Free World against Godless Communism, it was conveniently forgotten that for two-three years previously even usually responsible public figures had been calling for international intervention to remove his government.

It would have been too much to deny the Pol Pot record, and the ideological preparation, or agitprop work, required to justify the sudden swing in overt American policy on Cambodia, took the form of increasingly negative assessments of Viet Nam and the PRK government, rather than any direct effort to rehabilitate Democratic Kampuchea; and Shawcross was used as a vehicle for the new propaganda campaign.[241]

The refugees themselves, generally former middle-class urban people, being both anti-DK and anti-PRK, spontaneously provided unending stories to discredit both regimes, but as I was able to listen to them in their own language, without benefit of the ‘interpreters’ who set Shawcross up, I soon realized that many of those stories were contrived in order to justify their flight from the regime which had delivered them from Pol Pot’s goon squads, given them virtually complete freedom of movement, and offered them work in their former professions or elsewhere in the newly evolving administration.

A fairly typical case was that of a former Lon Nol official, sent to France before the end of the war, and who with his wife returned to Cambodia in 1976 in hopes of being reunited with his family. Instead, he had been kept in various detention camps until January 1979. At the Khao I Dang refugee center he prepared a written report of his experience which concluded that “for the future of Cambodia I can conceive of nothing but a political settlement supported by the great powers,” refugee code for a US-led enforced re-establishment of the status quo ante bellum 1970.

Yet from April 1979, when he had been able to get away from the retreating Pol Pot forces, until November of the same year when he finally crossed the Thai border to become a refugee, his experiences at the hands of the new regime were almost totally benign. He was able to move all over the country at will, apparently had no trouble with food supplies, met many old friends in the new administration, found that his entire family had survived and were in good health, received medical care when needed, including two months in the country’s best facilities, and finally obtained free transport from the Vietnamese for his last flight toward the border.

The only unpleasant experience was at the hands of the Thai military when he first tried to cross the border earlier in the year. He found himself among the 40,000 or more people pushed back over the mountains of northern Cambodia with no concern for their safety. The principle fault of the new Cambodian government, which was sufficient for him to reject it, was its socialism and proVietnamese stance.[242]

Other reports were in the same vein. Although they often started out with remarks to the effect that the Vietnamese were harassing, or even exterminating, intellectuals and former officials, when examined closely it was impossible to pin down any case of extermination and only a handful of prominent people arrested for anti-regime political activity or corruption in their new responsibilities. Even some of the latter had by September 1980 been released, showing that in the new Cambodia prison sentences were not equivalent to death, and were often very light.

Some of the stories were entirely untrue, the product of wild rumor, and the facts behind which would tend to prove the opposite of what their authors desired. In June 1980 a man who had for several months worked in the PRK Ministry of Education gave me, as an example of persecution of intellectuals, the name of X., a well-known prewar figure who held a high position in the new government.

“You mean he has been arrested?”, I asked. “No”, he replied, “but he will be”. The reason? He had opposed a certain project proposed by the Vietnamese advisers.

Whether that is true or not, the man was never arrested, and still held the same office, which means, if the report of his opposition to certain policies is true, that the regime is in fact tolerant of diversity [Later, in 1990, this person did refuse to return to Cambodia from a mission in France, but the stories surrounding his defection are too confused to permit any conclusion].

Such tolerance is also illustrated by the experience of a hydraulics engineer put to work after January 1979 in a responsible position concerned with the survey and rehabilitation of irrigation works. At one point, he told me, he had strenuously opposed some of the plans of the Vietnamese irrigation experts. The result? He was allowed to put his plans into effect, while the Vietnamese carried out theirs in another area; and he knew right up until he left that he was respected and trusted. His departure, he said, was simply a refusal to cooperate in a socialist, pro-Vietnamese regime, however benign.

What became clear from persistent questioning was that the people spreading most of the derogatory information had left the country for personal or ideological reasons, not to escape economic or political oppression, and that they wished to capitalize on western, first of all American, antipathy to the new regime in order to justify their refugee status and to open channels for emigration to the western countries about which they had always dreamed. They would only have been willing to remain in Cambodia if the overthrow of Pol Pot had led to restoration of the pre-war Sihanouk-Lon Nol status quo.

Of course, the propensity of that class of people to repeat rumor, distort, and even lie about conditions in 1979-80 inevitably gives cause to reflect on their stories about 1975-79 as well, and retrospectively justifies the efforts of those who since 1975, and continuing until the present (1980), have insisted on the necessity of subjecting all such stories to close analysis.

When the corpus of those stories was examined carefully, and their authors’ experiences in 1979-80 studied in detail, the picture of that latter period which emerged was very nearly the opposite of what had been intended.

It became clear that in spite of the very bad conditions left over from the Pol Pot years and the war of 1979, the new government was showing good progress in the restoration of a normal civil society. There was much personal freedom of movement and activity, political discipline was at a minimum, the Vietnamese kept a low profile, people were encouraged to return to work for which they were trained, schools and religious centers were being restored as rapidly as possible.

Of course the intention was still to construct a socialist society, and redevelopment of the same inequalities and special privileges as prevailed before 1975 was not envisaged. That was what irked many of the middle-class refugees.

One of them, a former schoolteacher who had returned to work in 1979, proclaimed that the culmination of his disgust with the new government came with observing the new Minister of Education, an old acquaintance, preparing fertilizer for his personal vegetable garden, a task in which ministers, in his view, just should not be engaged. Of course it is a policy, and in the circumstances quite reasonable, that all officials should contribute something to the food supply, and perhaps also keep in touch with some of the basic realities of life, by maintaining gardens.[243]

The peasants, who rarely deserted to the refugee camps in 1979-80, but who regularly came to the border distribution point at Nong Chan for seed and food rice, also confirmed the generally benign picture of the new regime. According to their statements, little or no oppression was felt at village level at all. Vietnamese had never been prominent so far down in the administration, and they were gradually being withdrawn from all levels.

The peasants also said freedom of movement was very broad, except in border areas, and even there it was easy to get around the impediments in order to reach the international aid at Nong Chan. In fact, they had no serious complaints about the new government as such. To be sure, rice supplies were short, but that was generally blamed, not on government incompetence or perfidy, but on the warfare of the previous year and on lack of rain.

Most important, the peasants themselves appeared healthy and adequately fed, in fact little different from prewar peasants, no doubt because of “the land’s extraordinary abundance” of fruits, “frogs with legs the size of chickens’ drumsticks ... fish, shrimp, crab,” etc., which so impressed Shawcross on his visit in 1980 ( Shawcross, Bulletin, p. 84).

Indeed, there are few places in Cambodia where people, least of all experienced peasants, should go hungry if simply left to themselves; but Cambodians will complain about lack of good quality rice no matter how well they are supplied with other, perhaps to them less tasty, sources of food. The testimony of the bourgeois refugees, then, when analyzed, and the peasant testimony directly, were quite different from the stories transmitted to Shawcross by Ponchaud.

They were also in striking contrast to a publication by State Department researcher Stephen Heder, which I first saw in July 1980, and which is much more serious because of Heder’s high qualifications as a Cambodia scholar.

On reading it I was astounded to find stories similar to those of Ponchaud - induced starvation, restriction on movement - as well as an assertion that in May there had been an attempt to re-evacuate the cities, and a lurid picture of “[Vietnamese] mortar shells scream[ing] down on refugees trekking ... toward the tantalizingly close border,” which proved that the Vietnamese, finally revealed to be as murderous as Pol Pot, were “capable of killing innocent civilians whose only desire was to find enough rice to stave off starvation”.[244]

I then rechecked among the refugees at Khao I Dang, this time asking specifically about the incidents described by Heder, and found no confirmation for them. The restrictions on harvesting in certain places had been an effort to conserve seed, but in general, in 1979, people had been given considerable freedom to harvest and eat the large supplies of rice left in fields and warehouses, which in most places meant enough for several months.

In particular, there was no evidence of any Vietnamese plan to carry off rice to Vietnam, as alleged by both Ponchaud and Heder, although it cannot be excluded that a few troops did that clandestinely. Furthermore, there had never been an attempt to re-evacuate the towns, although in the planting seasons of early 1980 people had been taken out temporarily to help plant the new crop, and that was what had provided grist for the rumor mill.

As for violence at the border, that had apparently been restricted to a very few minor incidents, rather than a Vietnamese policy, not at all unexpected in an area where three or four Khmer Serei groups, the PRK Khmer troops, Vietnamese, and the Pol Pot remnants were all struggling for advantage.[245]

The Ponchaud-Shawcross and Heder stories, then, were just what Ponchaud had hinted - but which Shawcross ignored - products of Khmer Serei propaganda.

I had seen their methods in action myself at the Nong Chan land bridge when a camp leader told visitors that the rice taken away by the peasants would immediately be stolen by the Vietnamese, although 200 yards away the peasants would tell anyone capable of asking them that, on the contrary, the Vietnamese made no difficulties on their way home.

In another case, later on in September, when it was apparent that a fairly good rice crop could be expected in Cambodia, a Khmer Serei leader at the Nong Samet border camp acknowledged the fact, but claimed that the Vietnamese would of course steal it, “just like they did last year.” Again, testimony by peasants showed that the Vietnamese had not stolen the previous year’s crop. All locally-grown rice was left in peasant hands to be consumed or sold as they saw fit.

This brings us to the question of rice, and other food, brought into the country under various foreign aid programs and placed in government hands. Throughout 1979-80 hardly any journalistic treatment of Cambodia failed to criticize the new government for first feeding its officials and employees while leaving the villagers for last. Heder also gave disapproving attention to the point, and Shawcross, even after he had realized that many of his earlier opinions about PRK Cambodia were mistaken, still complained of ‘diversion’ of aid “to officials of the Vietnamese-backed government in Phnom Penh” (Shawcross, Bulletin, p. 81).

Such criticism is dishonest. Throughout the world the Pol Pot regime was blamed for unnecessarily destroying the towns. Its successors righted that ‘wrong’. Phnom Penh and other towns were reopened, a normal administration was set up, schools were reestablished. How were all the people involved in those activities expected to feed themselves?

With short supplies and at first no money, food had to be given them by the state, and it was quite reasonable that such employees be first on the official distribution lists. A cabinet minister, a hydraulics engineer, a doctor, a school teacher, or a factory worker could not be expected to grow his own rice, catch his own fish, etc., and still perform his daily tasks.

As for the peasants, even if 1979-80 were bad years for rice, they were out where all the food was produced. They had first crack at whatever rice was grown, they could forage for other foods, they could fish and hunt; and as Shawcross saw, they did feed themselves from this natural abundance of the land. The government food distribution priorities can in no way be called ‘diversion’; and it is nothing but perverse to insist that city life must be reestablished, but that food distribution should go first to the food producers.[246]

By mid-1980 the true picture of PRK Cambodia was beginning to appear clearly in spite of Khmer Serei rumors, their propagation by certain Bangkokbased journalists, and the efforts of the US Embassy. It was seen to be a moderate regime pragmatically applying first aid to a severely injured social body, eschewing ideological rigidity, and achieving rather impressive results.

This is clear even when the country is viewed through the optics of an unsympathetic observer such as Stephen Heder, whose first published report was in such violent contrast to direct refugee information. Two further reports compiled at later dates in 1980, and based on more intensive research than undertaken at the border by anyone else, also present gloomy conclusions about the prospects for Cambodia, yet when all three are read in series they show a clearly improving situation in nearly every respect, and which contradicts both their author’s preconceptions and his assertions about any particular instance.[247]

Movement within the country continued throughout 1980 to be relatively free, notwithstanding the special passes which were formally required. Even the technically out-of-bounds Thai border was easy to reach, according to Heder, because “villagers have the right to engage in extra-village travel and activities in order to augment and supplement their collectively produced income and their private plot production, so their trips to the Thai border, although technically illegal, are compatible with the rights generally accorded to villagers” (Heder, “From Pol Pot”, p. 58).

Another kind of freedom, possibly contrary to the long-term policies to the government, was also developing. Although the countryside was supposed to be organized in various types of cooperative structures, the lack of trained cadres and sufficient equipment meant that most peasant villages and households carried out their work with very little regimentation; and the retreat from collectivization continued all through 1980, a development generally welcomed by the peasants.[248]

From April to August Heder was forced to change his prediction about the coming (1980-81) rice crop. In the earlier report he wrote that “1980 was going to be a year of shortages and that in many areas the shortages would be more severe than ... in 1979,” but by August the situation, on the contrary, had improved, and Heder felt that the new crop could well be more than twice that of 1979, with peasants in parts of Battambang, a traditional rice-surplus area, even predicting a normal crop.

More encouraging still, and indicative of the general rehabilitation of the country, the peasants gradually raised their expectations as the season progressed.[249]

Along with the material improvement the Vietnamese, contrary to predictions, were clearly trying to withdraw their personnel from administrative and advisory positions, and, also contrary to predictions, they had not only refrained from exploiting the Cambodian peasants, but had even ignored their own ideological preferences in an apparently pragmatic realization that the best way to effect the stabilization of the countryside and increase food production was to leave the peasants as much as possible to themselves.[250]

Within the first months of 1981, the results of the rice harvest and the general improvement in other fields showed a continuity from the positive evolution apparent in Heder’s work and definitely gave the lie to the gloomier predictions current in early 1980.

Some reports even spoke of the “miracle of Cambodia recovery” and a possibility of the country achieving food self sufficiency by 1982. International aid is still needed of course, particularly in the provision of seed, if the country is to be rice sufficient by 1982.[251]

Typically, certain Bangkok-based ‘western diplomats’, in all probability the US Embassy, and their local news outlets, have chosen to emphasize the lack of complete recovery rather than the impressive progress, and as in the previous two years have begun to predict another famine (ignoring that neither of the previously predicted famines occurred), and have blamed the ‘critical’ situation on UN bungling.[252]

The tenor and timing of that news release suggest that the people at its source are unhappy with Cambodian progress and are anxious, as ever, to denigrate the regime, whatever the truth.

This year, however, the position of the PRK government is less vulnerable than in 1979 or 1980, and the thrust of the attack is directed at the UN, coinciding with the recent prominence given another issue on which UN policy may prove embarrassing to the anti-Phnom Penh Coalition: the resolution of the refugee problems.

3. The Cambodian refugees

The term ‘refugee’ conjures up an image of people fleeing some kind of natural or political catastrophe, and the expression ‘refugee camp’ a temporary emergency shelter to receive them. Such images are not inappropriate for Cambodian refugees and the camps set up to house them in Thailand, but they do not convey the whole story. The refugees who have left Cambodia since January 1979 are not just people fleeing a catastrophe, and the camp system is much more than temporary shelter.

Refugees first began leaving Cambodia the day after the communist victory of April 17, 1975, but up to January 1979 no more than 30-40,000 had crossed into Thailand. In contrast, by May 1979, there were already over 40,000 more massed on the Thai- Cambodian border at points 30-40 km. north of the town of Aranyaprathet, and many tens of thousands more were reported on the way. By the crude calculus of people voting with their feet, it might have seemed that the new regime was alienating more of its population, and was therefore worse, than the old.

Such a conclusion, however, was not yet being drawn. The Thai had announced that no more refugees would be accepted after January 7, 1979, obviously considering the once the Pol Pot regime had been destroyed there were no longer reasonable grounds for people to flee the country.

They also took decisive action to emphasize their position. In June about 42,000 of the potential refugees on the border were enticed onto buses, supposedly to be taken to a safer place, transported around to a point on Cambodia’s northern border and forced down steep, mine-strewn trails back into their own country. Hundreds, or thousands, are said to have died, and the international outrage concentrated attention on the burgeoning refugee problems and Thailand’s refusal to face it alone.[253]

This was also at a time when developments within Cambodia were of increasing concern to Thailand, the United Sates, China, and the ASEAN countries. No one had really mourned the passing of the Pol Pot regime for itself, but within a few months of its overthrow it was clear that Viet Nam had no intention of permitting another unfriendly group to take power in Phnom Penh, and that they would keep their troops in Cambodia as long as was necessary to secure the kind of relationship they desired.

Vietnamese hegemony over Cambodia, however, was directly contrary to Thai, American, Chinese, and ASEAN desires, and measures had to be taken to block or to mitigate its effects. Thus, the removal of Vietnamese influence from Cambodia and the replacement of the PRK government by one more likely to serve as a client of Thai and US interests has been a constant objective in all refugee and aid policies since formulated.

Even though the reaction to the Thai move in June was based first on humanitarian considerations, it must soon have been realized that more sympathetic treatment of people who were anti-PRK and anti-Vietnamese could serve the long-term goals of Thai and US policy. First of all, their desire to leave the country put the new Cambodian authorities in a bad light, and their stories, selectively used, could serve as direct anti-Phnom Penh propaganda.

Just three months later the political importance of refugees was again underscored by events at the border. If it had been supposed earlier in the year that the Pol Pot forces, operating as guerrillas, could keep the Vietnamese/PRK government off balance and ultimately impose a compromise solution less inimical to the anti-Vietnamese bloc, the appearance in September of the miserable wrecks of those forces along the Thai border south of Aranyaprathet after a seven-month trek through the mountains and forests of western Cambodia showed conclusively that a military solution based on domestic forces was out of the question.[254]

The emergence of those Pol Pot remnants was the occasion for the first large- scale manipulation of the refugee issue for political purposes, and it provided a catalyst for the more purposeful refugee policy which was to develop.

The world’s press was flooded with pictures and descriptions of ill and starving ‘Cambodian refugees’ presented in a way to imply that they represented the effects of conditions prevalent within Cambodia. Only a very careful reader with some background knowledge would have realized that they were a special case - remnants of the Pol Pot armed forces or administration, together with mainly base peasant villagers who had retreated with them into the hills in January and who were therefore completely cut off from conditions prevailing in the lowland agricultural and urban areas.

In contrast to what had happened in June, emergency aid was taken to the border, and asylum in Thailand, which had by then been assured of international support, was offered as a humanitarian gesture. Interestingly, over half of those Cambodians refused to become refugees, preferring to slip back into the forest and set up fortified bases close to the border on the Cambodian side, where aid could still be given to them by various international and private aid agencies with the cooperation of the Thai government.

A group of 25-30,000, including those in the worst physical condition, were taken to a camp near Sakeo, about 50 km. west of the border, which was to become an R & R center for the 7,000 hard-core cadre and troops among them. It should be emphasized that the creation of those refugees was a result of joint Thai-international aid policy, rather than a response to the desires of those people themselves.

The medical and food aid they required could have been sent to the border, as it was for those who insisted on staying there, and at Sakeo the ‘camp’ had not yet been constructed. Sick and hungry people had to be dumped on the bare ground and covered with makeshift shelters. It is arguable that fewer would have died if treatment had been taken to them right at the border.[255]

The viewpoint of the Thai government had obviously undergone a change, and the change was made even more explicit in October when Prime Minister Kriangsak announced an open door policy “allowing all Khmer refugees who wished to come to Thailand to do so”.[256]

Once the picture of Cambodia as a country of mass starvation under an incompetent and alien administration had been stamped on the public mind, and the door opened, attention was turned again to the entirely different group of refugees who had followed the trail of those deported by the Thais in June.

They were still, like those of May and June, some of whom were making a second try, in majority former town dwellers forced into peasant life under Pol Pot; and now, uncertain of what was in store for Cambodia, they were coming to the border, some in hopes of going abroad, others to trade, still others to join the Khmer Serei anti-communist guerilla groups which had begun to form in early 1979, perhaps in some cases even during 1975-79.

At the border they settled into the Khmer Serei camps of Nong Samet, Nong Chan, or Non Mak Mun which are located, in part at least, on the Cambodian side.[257]

Since January or February 1979 they had been released from the work sites to which they had been assigned, accorded freedom to move about, and had generally fed well on rice left in fields and granaries and on the land’s natural produce. Starvation, in 1979, was not a widespread threat, particularly for those who stayed in place, but was in general a problem only for those people who set off cross-country to search for old homes or who tried to crowd into Phnom Penh where there were insufficient stocks of food.

Thus the people proceeding to the border north of Aranyaprathet in the last half of 1979 were not in the parlous state of the Pol Pot refugees, nor, pace Shawcross, “in terrible condition” waiting to “break into Thailand”. The more astute observers noted the difference, and reported from the border that “most people (were) in relatively good health,” and were even attempting to conceal the amount of food available in the border camps. But for the world at large, and even for many aid organization personnel on the spot, ‘Cambodian refugee’ meant someone close to death from hunger and disease.[258]

If the anomaly was ever carefully considered it was offset by a belief that conditions inside Cambodia were rapidly changing for the worse. There were the stories, noted above, of Vietnamese brutality, and the reports, carefully fostered by the US Embassy, that famine was imminent.

All through the last three months of 1979 the estimates of miserable Cambodians on the border waiting to “break into Thailand” to become refugees rose dramatically, from 80,000 in October to 180,000, then 600,000 with 750,000 more predicted, and finally to one million or possibly up to one-quarter of the Cambodian population which would find itself under Thai control.

Thus the Thai, who would not consider accepting 40,000 in June, had, with their new open door policy, agreed by October to take several hundred thousand; and the political advantages which might thereby accrue to Bangkok could not fail to be noticed.[259]

With the door open and massive exodus expected, some place had to be prepared to receive them, and the Thai Supreme Command chose Khao I Dang, 15 km. from the border, as site for the principal ‘holding center’. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) was given the task of setting it up in the expectation that 300,000 or so miserable Khmer would immediately rush across to settle there, and on November 21, 1979, after only four days preparation, the first small team of UNHCR officials waited on the bleak landscape for the buses and trucks sent out to bring the people in.

To their astonishment, in the first week after the opening of Khao I Dang, only 28,000 people took the opportunity to come over, and they were in fairly good condition. Many of them had cash or gold and hoped to set up business in the new campsite.

In the next two weeks similar numbers arrived, but then, except for one week in January when Khmer Serei factional struggles caused over 20,000 to flee the border, the weekly totals plummeted to under 4,000, then 2-3,000, and finally less than a thousand. On January 24, 1980, when the total population of Khao I Dang was about 111,000, just over a third of what had been expected, the Thai authorities ordered it closed to further entry.[260]

It appeared that the UNHCR might have been conned. The numbers of people prepared to become refugees were only a fraction of the estimates, and most of them were hardly in circumstances justifying emergency refugee treatment. Indeed some of those who did come required persuasion, or they came to Khao I Dang, like the mountain climber, “because it was there”. Otherwise they would have continued to trade between the border and the interior, and as conditions at home improved, gradually return.

That was in fact the choice made by most of the people congregated at the border, who did not even want to become refugees. Moreover, by the end of December it was clear that conditions within Cambodia were not so bad as had been imagined, indicating that the US State Department had been correct months earlier in resisting the ‘data’ from the Bangkok embassy, and that nothing like one million, or even half a million, Khmer were going to rush across the border and put themselves under Thai control.[261]

What the latter got was not one-quarter of the Cambodian population which could perhaps be used politically, but 100,000 or so of those Khmer who wanted nothing more to do with their country’s politics, and whose only goal was resettlement in the West, pending which they were quite willing to remain indefinitely as welfare refugees in Khao I Dang.

Although it did not come up to initial expectations, and the people who wished to take advantage of refugee status could not in general be used for direct political intervention in Cambodia, the refugee system, centered on Khao I Dang, could still serve the anti-PRK cause, which required new efforts, since the early predictions of administrative collapse and famine had proven illusory.

First, the number of people who came to Khao I Dang, although far fewer than expected, was large enough to be misrepresented as inferential evidence that the regime was nearly as onerous as its predecessor.

Their number was also large enough to represent a serious destabilizing element in the economy through the gold and other valuables which they brought out. The amount was probably more than doubled by the purchases of the other tens or hundreds of thousands of Cambodians who gathered at the border but did not come over as refugees. In September 1980 a Thai official estimated that 3040 million baht entered the Aranyaprathet banks daily as profits from the refugee trade.[262]

Khao I Dang also served as a magnet which continued to draw off the classes of people most needed to rebuild the administration and social services within the country. Many of them had refused to cooperate with the PRK government from the beginning, and had been among the first refugee arrivals. Others, unhappy working for communists or for Vietnamese, gradually deserted their posts as news filtered in from Khao I Dang about the possibilities for resettlement abroad.

The Voice of America also contributed with its broadcasts about “Cambodians choosing freedom and crossing the border to Thai holding centers”; and of course the US and Thai-led support for the rump Pol Pot forces panicked many who might otherwise have chosen to help rebuild their country. If Pol Pot had such impressive international support, they thought, his chances of returning were quite good, in which case former bourgeoisie who had cooperated with the PRK would be first on new extermination lists.[263]

Although formally closed, the venality of the Thai guards meant that new arrivals could always get in at night, and once inside they were accepted without discrimination by the camp staff. Thus from January to July 1980 the population rose from 111,000 to 136,000 with the increase consisting almost entirely of urban folk with a useful level of education. In that way Khao I Dang drained off about half of the doctors found alive in Cambodia in 1979, perhaps a thousand schoolteachers, plus assorted engineers and others with needed skills.

(Before the war there were around 500 doctors in Cambodia. In 1980 Khmer medical staff in Khao-I-Dang had compiled a list of over 250 survivors in various countries who had left Cambodia before its fall to the KR in April 1975, and they knew their list was not yet complete. There may have been no more than 100+ doctors still in Cambodia in April 1975, and approximately half of them died or were killed before the end of the DK regime.)

[(added 2007) Thus, David Chandler’s accusation that the DK leadership deliberately neglected health care (“Survivors’ memories teem with grisly accounts of arrogant, untrained medical practitioners in the countryside”) should be viewed against the lack of health personnel. Most people could not have received adequate care no matter what course the authorities followed, nor, because of lack of doctors and facilities, were most rural people able to receive adequate medical care before 1975.

A surprising testimony (surprising both as to fact and source) about DK efforts to palliate the deficiency by training new doctors is in the otherwise extremely anti-DK memoir by Ong Thong Hoeung whose wife and child were saved through an emergency caesarian performed in a rural labor camp by a 20- year old peasant woman trained in the maquis by Dr. Thiounn Thioeun.[264]

Once established, of course, Khao I Dang could not simply be closed down and the people forcibly sent back. Phnom Penh probably would not have accepted them en masse, given the evidence of their disloyalty and the presumption of their indoctrination by Thai and American military or intelligence services; and even though they were not escaping from starvation or from a cruel regime, they were adamantly opposed to life in Cambodia under any other conditions than what they had known before the war.

Any attempt to push them back once they had reached Khao I Dang would have involved an unacceptable degree of brutality, and UNHCR policy has always been that repatriation must be voluntary. Given the preferences of the refugees, UN policy, and the narrow criteria established for resettlement abroad, there were over 100,000 people in Khao I Dang who had no foreseeable future but years in refugee camps.

If that sounds like a tragedy, it is even more tragic in that it could have been avoided. The extra medical and food aid which some of the people needed when they arrived at the border could have been provided on the spot, as was done at Nong Samet and Nong Chan when it was discovered that over half the Cambodians massed there did not want to become refugees. Hospitals and special supplementary feeding programs and eventually some schools, like those at Khao I Dang, were set up.

The major difference between the border camps and Khao I Dang was lack of security and inferior sanitary conditions in the former. Had there been no Khao I Dang as an attraction, however, as conditions within Cambodia improved in 1979-80, the lack of certain amenities at the border would have persuaded larger numbers to gradually return to their homes and work productively, leaving only the most ardent ‘politicals’ at the border plotting the reconquest of their country.

Whether the refugee apparatus as established was necessary or not, official UNHCR policy had always held that most of the refugees, except for the few who qualified for settlement abroad, would eventually return to Cambodia once conditions within the country had improved. The Thai government also maintained that the refugees represent a nearly intolerable burden on the economy of Thailand and a risk to its security, and thus the sooner they could be returned home the better.

Had such been the whole story we should have expected Khao I Dang to be maintained at the minimum level of comfort consonant with basic human needs, no encouragement or aid in developing special programs to make camp life attractive, and full information to be provided about developments within Cambodia, all destined to persuade refugees that return was preferable to stagnation in miserable holding centers. Voluntary return of individuals or small groups, because of the porous quality of the border, could have been effected without objections from Phnom Penh, probably even without its knowledge. In fact, there always was a constant traffic into, as well as out of, Cambodia.

Instead of that, Khao I Dang, within a few months of its establishment, had all the accouterments of a permanent settlement - schools, some adult education, special nutritional programs for mothers and children, even a Montessori kindergarten project - much of it, together with the high standard of medical care, superior not only to what is available in Cambodia now, but to what most of the camp’s residents could have expected before 1975.

The only aspects of camp life definitely inferior to prewar Cambodian circumstances, abstracting from the lack of freedom to leave the camp, were the schools, which could not yet, in 1980, offer a full syllabus or school day for all children, and the housing, very primitive at first, but steadily improving, with the newest units being built in late 1980 suitable for long term, if not permanent, residence.[265]

Interesting to those informed of developments within Cambodia was that the steady improvement there was paralleled by the equally steady improvement in camp life, almost as though the purpose were to make certain that refugee life remained more attractive.

Moreover, instead of disseminating accurate information on progress within Cambodia, the Thai authorities, whose lead the UNHCR had to follow, insisted on blocking news which might have given a positive view of the PRK government. Short-wave radios were confiscated, and there were even attempts, sporadically, to prevent international news magazines, and the Bangkok English- language press, from reaching the refugees.

Why did the UNHCR allow these developments contrary to announced policy? It was certainly not deliberate obfuscation on their part. They had no independent Cambodia experts of their own, and in the beginning were as much the victims as the general public of the horrendous impression made by the Pol Pot refugees.

Furthermore, the actual operation of the camp programs was turned over to, mainly western, voluntary agencies, which as bureaucracies, however laudable their intent, wished to expand their areas of responsibility and test their own theories and projects. Their goals were generally to provide programs and services approximating as closely as possible normal conditions of middle-class existence, and they were not at all concerned about the policy of eventual voluntary return of the refugees.

In fact, most of the personnel were ideologically opposed to the new Cambodian government as much as to Pol Pot, an attitude congruent with that of the refugees, and they were quite willing to encourage the latter in their insistence on resettlement. Thus, founded on a misapprehension, to which the anti-PRK policies of Thailand and the US contributed, and allowed to grow without any overall policy control, Khao I Dang by late 1980 showed a very real potential for the Palestine-type situation which had been foreseen by some observers in the beginning.

It might be thought that the obvious answer to the refugee problem would be to grant what most of them wanted - resettlement abroad - and airlift them out to the United States, Australia, France, etc., en masse. After all, some of the western countries, in particular the United States, bear a large part of the responsibility for the destruction of the society those people knew at home.

A difficulty, aside from the fact that the United States, France, or Australia, just don’t want to absorb so many people, would be that an open door to resettlement in the western ‘paradise’ might attract many thousands more out of the country. Resettlement of those already in the camps would have to be accompanied by withdrawal of all support from the Pol Pot remnants and Khmer Serei along the border, termination of all border aid, re-establishment of normal relations with the present Cambodian government, and delivery of all further aid through Phnom Penh. In other words it would require a complete reversal of the policies now pursued by the United States, China, and Thailand.

A less ambitious alternative is to convince increasing numbers of the refugees that they should go home. This is the long-standing UNHCR policy, and the rapidly improving conditions within Cambodia have encouraged new initiatives to implement it. In March 1981 a survey was conducted in the camps to determine refugee attitudes toward repatriation.[266]

Among the interesting discoveries of the survey were abysmal lack of information about recent developments in Cambodia, especially among the refugees most likely to choose repatriation, those of lower-class background, and the large number of people, over 40% of the survey, who would be willing to return “if the UNHCR said it was safe to do so”. Another 24% would also like to return, but wanted additional guarantees.

Obviously the UNHCR should start providing information about Cambodia and organizing the return of those most eager to go; but the obvious course is not so easy as it might seem. Both an information program and organized return of people directly to PRK territory run against the wishes of the Thai authorities.

The report of the UNHCR survey caused great consternation in Bangkok. A direct return of refugees from Thai to Cambodian territory would imply recognition of the Phnom Penh government, and it would be embarrassing to suddenly disseminate favorable news about a regime which Thailand and its allies are at pains to denounce. The political motives which could be imputed to the refugee operation since its beginning are revealed as still operative.

Of course, since the Thai authorities, for public consumption, have all along called the refugees an unwanted burden, it is difficult to openly block repatriation and admit that they would prefer to keep them around a while longer. Instead of that, they argue the danger of cross-border movement, or the non-recognition of the PRK, and suggest repatriation via a third country, such as Burma, patently ridiculous if only because of the logistics.[267]

Here is where the diplomatic warning of ‘another famine’, cited above, fits into the picture. The ‘western diplomats’ are weighing in on the side of Bangkok with information designed to discourage any efforts to return people to Cambodia.

The Phnom Penh government and the Vietnamese are also suspicious of repatriation moves, and reasonably so, since in June 1980 the Thai sent back about 7,000 Pol Pot cadres and military after R & R in the Sakeo camp; and Phnom Penh no doubt suspects that any large-scale movement cleared by Bangkok would involve people sent to work against the PRK.

The refugee problem is thus not amenable to any quick solution, but like most other aspects of Cambodian history since 1975 a close look at it imposes certain revisions on the conventional wisdom. Just as the refugees in 1979 were not simply people fleeing a catastrophe, their continued presence in Thailand in 1981 is not only because there is nowhere for them to go.

Their treatment in both instances has been determined by their perceived utility to the international maneuvers of certain powers, first of all Thailand and the United States, in the same way that Pol Pot’s worst year was disguised by the CIA, and a disinformation campaign mounted against the PRK, in cynical disregard for the havoc played with Cambodia since 1970 and the needs of its suffering population.

A Final Comment (2010)

In this critique of Shawcross I noted some evidence of changes in the sympathies of some official and semi-official Americans toward a relatively favorable view of the Khmer Rouge and Democratic Kampuchea, apparently because of their fierce enmity toward Viet Nam.

There is still more in this vein. In his book, The Tragedy of Cambodian History, David Chandler wrote that in March 1975, Lon Nol had offered to talk to the other side. They were not interested. “Having failed ... Lon Nol came under pressure from Ambassador Dean to leave the country, so that someone else could open negotiations that took Sihanouk into account ... he [Dean] assumed ‘we would prefer that the successor regime in Cambodia be oriented toward Peking rather than toward Hanoi ... can [anything] be done to strengthen Sihanouk’s hand ... so that he can return to Phnom Penh with some power, rather than abandon Cambodia to the Hanoi-leaning Khmer Rouge’“.

Chandler added that this document, which he found “extraordinary”, released only under FOIA in 1990, “foreshadows the U.S. ‘tilt’ toward China and the pro-Chinese Red Khmers over the next decade and a half”.[268]

Put in another way, it not only ‘foreshadows’, but confirms the US detestation of Viet Nam, which already by 1975 was fighting the US to a standstill, ‘foreshadowing’ the Vietnam syndrome as I define it in this book, and which is still not dead.

When I met Shawcross in Chiang Mai in August 1981, he was very upset with my treatment of his “Ending”, although it was difficult to discuss the subject because neither of us had copies to check the details. I made some notes after our conversation, and it seemed that he was particularly troubled by my suggestion that he had taken his information from the US Embassy in Bangkok. He said that was not true, that he had not even been in Bangkok at the relevant time, and had received the information about refugees, famine, etc., from Francois Ponchaud, apparently by post, since Ponchaud had spent most of the period in Thailand.

Of course if Shawcross had been sure of himself, and that I was wrong, he would have insisted on publication of my answer in order to demolish my position. Obviously, he was more comfortable with ‘killing the story’.

Nevertheless, on that one point, I accept the correction but note the following.

In his “End of Cambodia”, Shawcross started with inferentially on-the-spot reports of refugees and foreign aid workers. Then, on p. 25, still near the beginning of the article, he inserted himself explicitly, “in February [1979] I talked in Thailand to refugees from ... western Cambodia”. Following that he referred to the activities of the US Embassy, and then indicated a move “when I spoke to State Department experts in June”.

It was thus quite legitimate to infer that Shawcross had been in Bangkok and had obtained his US Embassy information from the Embassy itself. Certainly it seems that is what he wished the reader to believe - that he had been out on the front lines of journalism, rather than laid back in London being spoon-fed propaganda by Ponchaud.

Shawcross has continued his revisionism on Cambodia right up to the present. The next important installment was entitled “The Burial of Cambodia”, also published in NYRB, 11 May 1984, I also tried to place a response, dated 29 May 1984, but like its predecessor it was not published by NYRB.

Shawcross 2: The Burial of Cambodia (1984)[269]

In my book, Cambodia 1975-1982, I devoted some discussion to the differing roles of journalist and historian, in particular with respect to the news out of Cambodia after 1975.

I had harsh words there for the journos (chapter 2), which led some of my fellow historians to criticize my tone, and I was indeed beginning to feel that my attention to the journalist as propagandist might have been slightly overdone. Then I read William Shawcross’ “The Burial of Cambodia” and faith in my judgment was restored. It would be difficult to find anything in the post-1979 literature on Cambodia so loaded with mis-and disinformation.

Shawcross, it appears, has just discovered Tuol Sleng, as though it had not been prominently featured by the western press, including Shawcross’ own writings, over the past 5 years. There is absolutely nothing new in this, major, part of “Burial”, except the propaganda slant.

Emphasizing his coming charges of Vietnamese and PRK (Peoples Republic of Kampuchea - ‘Heng Samrin regime’) cover-ups, Shawcross starts off with the necessity to seek Foreign Ministry approval for his 1980 visit to Tuol Sleng, whereas in his 24 January 1980 NYRB “The End of Cambodia?” he wrote that Tuol Sleng, which he there implied might have been a Vietnamese-organized Potemkin Auschwitz, was “an obligatory stop for visitors” something which was still true during my visit in September 1981.

My remark on journalists in Cambodia 1975-1982 treated them as propagandists, but not as intellectual pilferers, which I now see as a serious omission. Shawcross’ description of the workings of Tuol Sleng, including the details of Hu Nim’s confession, comes directly from the work of Ben Kiernan, Chantou Boua, and Anthony Barnett in New Statesman 2 May 1980.

That is the first example of the most glaring deficiency of this most peculiar article - Shawcross’ deliberate neglect of current scholarship on Cambodia, of which there is now a rather wide variety, and the concomitant insinuation that only he, perhaps together with Elizabeth Becker and David Hawk, is interested in the present state of Cambodian affairs.

Shawcross does not even have the excuse of innocent ignorance. He has been in contact with all the serious students of Cambodian affairs ever since he was researching Sideshow, and he is well aware of all they have written. One of them, Ben Kiernan, accompanied Shawcross on travels within Cambodia in 1980, and Shawcross became acquainted with most of the others at two conferences on Cambodia, in Chiang Mai in August 1981 and at Princeton in November 1982. He has also met, at least as early as 1981, another important scholar of revolutionary Cambodia, Stephen Heder, who was not present at either of the conferences.

Shawcross may disagree with what Cambodia specialists write, and indeed they disagree among themselves on certain points, but he must argue his disagreements, not pretend that “there has been little investigation of the Khmer Rouge regime” (p. 18), or that it is “difficult to arouse much Western interest in a detailed study of the Khmer Rouge” (p. 19). David Hawk, whom Shawcross mentions in connection with those statements is also cognizant of work done on Cambodia, having participated in the Princeton conference.

Shawcross’ problem is that he has a propaganda goal which would not be well served by most of the recent research on Cambodia. Probably none of the serious students of Cambodia would agree with Shawcross’ allegations about suppression of documents by the PRK and Vietnamese in order to conceal the present leaders’ previous activity or the nature of the ‘Khmer Rouge’ regime.

He complains that the files above the Tuol Sleng prison “were almost the only Khmer Rouge documents to which the Vietnamese had allowed foreigners access; nothing from the party leadership was available”. There is no reason why ‘party leadership’ documents should be at Tuol Sleng, if that is what Shawcross’ complaint is about. Tuol Sleng contains only dossiers (confessions) of political prisoners, plus a few personal notebooks, school texts, etc. There are over 4,000 confessions.

Furthermore, as Shawcross well knows, in 1980 when he and Ben Kiernan were there, in 1981 when Ben Kiernan and I were there, and in 1983, judging from material which Elizabeth Becker obtained, the PRK authorities were extremely generous in allowing foreign scholars and journalists access to browse, read, take notes, photograph, and even carry entire dossiers off to one or another foreign aid agency to photocopy.

Those of us who know Khmer, and who thus did not need the help of the librarian, had complete freedom to paw through the collections, take dossiers off the shelves for examination, check the catalogues being compiled, etc. There did not appear to be any secret documents, nor were there any Vietnamese there to check on what we did.

Whatever the truth about the PRK authorities’ refusal to allow microfiches to be made of the entire Tuol Sleng collection (and why should they? would Shawcross expect, say, Thailand to allow similar access to central government documents on all coup attempts since 1975?), the students of Cambodia capable of using such documents - they are all in Khmer - now have more in their hands than they have yet been able to study.

Shawcross’ sallies on the subject of documentation reveal a new twist in the anti-PRK line. Just over a year ago Elizabeth Becker alleged that the Tuol Sleng files were closed to Cambodians and of very restricted access to foreigners in the interest of keeping a lid on the regime’s secrets (Washington Post 28 Feb, 1 March 1983); and I countered with a statement similar to what I have written above and circulated among a number of people I deemed interested in Cambodia.[270]

Now Shawcross has modified the charge - Tuol Sleng is open, but it doesn’t contain the real stuff. I think those who know about such matters would agree that Shawcross is wrong on both points.

The Tuol Sleng material is extremely valuable, as Elizabeth Becker wrote, and central government documents have not been systematically hidden. Ben Kiernan has several which he obtained from PRK officials, and David Chandler discussed one at the 1982 Princeton conference. If Shawcross is ignorant of the material really available for study, it can only result from a pretension that he alone is qualified to write about Cambodia.

Within the Tuol Sleng exhibit Shawcross writes of an “order of unreality” allegedly devised by the Vietnamese and a “new sanitized history of the Cambodian revolution” which is displayed there. It is not clear what he considers unreal, nor why.

The picture of Mao and Pol Pot? China was Pol Pot’s most important foreign ally. “Obscure Cambodian communist cadres whose roles were now being exaggerated ... to demonstrate ... a tradition of true Marxism-Leninism and of international solidarity with Vietnam”? Nothing Shawcross has ever written reveals detailed acquaintance with the history of the Cambodian revolution.

If he is referring to Son Ngoc Minh, Keo Meas and Tou Samouth, their roles are not at all exaggerated. They were leaders of the first Cambodian revolutionary and independence struggle in the early 1950s when Pol Pot was still a student and when Sihanouk was more interested in French protection against democratic anti-monarchists (not just communists) than in independence. Their forces at one moment controlled nearly half of Cambodia, but beginning in 1962 they were supplanted by the Pol Pot group (on which see further below).

Shawcross in this passage seems to be suggesting that the Cambodian communists did not have “a tradition of true Marxism-Leninism”, which would in fact be a reasonable position to take, but just two columns further on he complains of an attempt to “obscure the fact that the Khmer Rouge was a Marxist-Leninist organization”.

He is even more confusing in alleging both exaggeration to demonstrate [falsely?] solidarity with Viet Nam and absence of anything “to suggest the extent of Vietnam’s own past support for the Khmer Rouge revolution”. And the last statement hardly squares with his assertion in another publication that “the poor state of the relations between the leaders of the Khmer Rouge and those of

Hanoi ... not well-documented in the press in 1975... [but] was well-known to US intelligence ... [I]n researching ... Sideshow I found CIA and DIA documents of the tensions going back as far as 1970”.

Likewise, a few years earlier, Shawcross had emphasized long-standing differences between Vietnamese and Cambodian communists, and he stated that “until Sihanouk’s overthrow in 1970 the Vietnamese communists subordinated Khmer interests to their own”.[271]

Well, Bill, how do you view the relationship between Vietnamese and Cambodian communists? For the poor reader’s sake I shall try to summarize it in a few words. The first Cambodian communists of the early 1950s, including those “whose blurred” photographs decorate Tuol Sleng, wished to make a revolution in cooperation with the Vietnamese.

After 1960 they were replaced in leadership positions by the Pol Pot group who were anti-Vietnamese, and starting in 1962 with Tou Samouth, many of the first group were murdered, some eventually in Tuol Sleng.[272]

Although the Vietnamese communists supported an eventual Cambodian revolution, they disapproved of the timing and strategy of the Pol Pot group and did not favor the policies followed in Cambodia after 1975. The top leadership of the PRK, those with a revolutionary background, represent the political descendants, and in some cases are surviving members, of the first Cambodian revolutionary organization, they always agreed on some level of cooperation with Vietnam, and they are more Marxist-Leninist than the Pol Pot group.[273]

Shawcross berates the Vietnamese for “assiduously” trying “to associate Pol Pot with Hitler ... thus Tuol Sleng prison has been called ‘an Asian Auschwitz’“; and he goes on to explain why Tuol Sleng and Auschwitz are not comparable. Shawcross is far off base here. Although the Vietnamese have at times termed the Pol Pot regime ‘fascist’, it is rather with Mao and the Chinese Cultural Revolution that they ‘assiduously’ try to draw a comparison.

The Nazi analogy began, and has been propagated, in the West. In 1977 Jean Lacouture compared Cambodian executions with Dachau, and also with Katyn; and in 1978 Senator George McGovern declared that Cambodia made “Hitler’s operation look tame”.[274]

This theme continued after the overthrow of Pol Pot in 1979. In the middle of that year the Far Eastern Economic Review (20 July 1979) published photographs of execution sites, including Tuol Sleng, under the rubric, “The Kampuchean Holocaust”, and compared them to “post World War II films of the horrors of Dachau, Belsen and Auschwitz”.

Nearly a year later a New York Times article of 22 April 1980 likened the decrease in Cambodian population to a “holocaust”; and FEER correspondent Nayan Chanda, along with a photograph captioned “A Kampuchean Auschwitz” wrote that “each village seems to have its local Auschwitz”, a formulation which should come closer to satisfying purist Shawcross, since those local Cambodian ‘Auschwitzes’ were generally execution prisons near work sites, more like the real Auschwitz, rather than interrogation centers, like Tuol Sleng.

Chanda also noted “the Vietnamese propaganda line about Chinese instigation of the massacres” (FEER 4 April 1980). Chanda did not call Tuol Sleng an ‘Auschwitz’, and that particular usage, which Shawcross now wishes to knock down, may be strictly his own (although I have made no effort to collect all media references to Tuol Sleng).

In an earlier attempt to de-emphasize ‘Khmer Rouge’ atrocities in order to make the Vietnamese look bad Shawcross cynically referred to Tuol Sleng as “a school which, the Vietnamese say, was a Khmer Rouge torture chamber ... no one can doubt that the Khmer Rouge tortured people, but whether there was an ‘Asian Auschwitz’ in this particular place and with these precise methods remains uncertain” (see page 98, above).

Still later Shawcross found the Nazi analogy useful in his piece for Revolution and its Aftermath, and he there devoted most of 5 pages to it without objection (pp. 230-1, 250-2), although he also included a three-line warning that “the evocation of fascism [should] not obscure the fact that the Khmer Rouge was a Marxist-Leninist government”.

I would agree that the Nazi analogy is not very useful, but Shawcross cannot be taken seriously if he uses it in one context while denouncing it in another; and in any case it is not a propaganda device whose origin can be laid to the Vietnamese. I would also deny that the Pol Pot revolution was Marxist-Leninist (see my Cambodia, chapter 5). The Cambodian revolution, like most others in the Third World, must be carefully studied for itself, as a number of scholars ignored by Shawcross are attempting, not just associated with a series of negative buzz words.

Somewhat greater consistency appears in the final sections of “Burial” where the Vietnamese are assigned blame for most of the difficulties now faced by Cambodia. Four years ago, in “The End of Cambodia?”, Shawcross gave currency to Francois Ponchaud’s canard that the Vietnamese were “conducting a subtle ‘genocide’ in Cambodia”, suggesting that Cambodia was in more danger than under Pol Pot.

Although Shawcross later realized that the somber picture painted there was inaccurate, and that the ‘end’ he had evoked was not approaching, he now wishes to convince us of Cambodia’s burial at a time when most observers see a recovery in spite of the US-supported blockade of Cambodia and Vietnam.

“Burial” is thus a sequel to “End” in Shawcross’ campaign to make the Vietnamese appear even worse that Pol Pot. In the earlier article he swallowed whole and regurgitated a number of propaganda stories which he may now realize were inaccurate, and which I have discussed in Cambodia 1975-1982 (pp. 209-10, and ff.). In “Burial” he simply piles up dubious and tendentious statements.

“Since 1979, Viet Nam has refused to compromise over its occupation of Cambodia”, he says. This is simply not true. All parties to the conflict have tried to drive hard bargains, but to accuse Viet Nam alone of intransigence is mischievous. Four years ago the best journalist reporting on Indochina, Nayan Chanda, wrote that what the Vietnamese considered irreversible was “the end of Pol Pot’s rule”. “Hanoi”, he wrote, “would not rule out the idea of a coalition government in Kampuchea with non-communist elements if the quid pro quo is the abandonment of Pol Pot by ASEAN, the West, and China”.

Chanda continued, “sources familiar with Hanoi’s thinking say that the word irreversible does not apply either to the Vietnamese military presence in Kampuchea or the composition of the present Phnom Penh administration” (FEER 14 April 1980). According to Chanda’s sources, and I would agree, one obstacle to such a compromise was “some senior officials of the Heng Samrin regime [who] do not seem to relish the prospect [of integrating non-communist elements from the opposition]”.

Of course this argument, which grants some independence to the PRK, is unpalatable to those who, like Shawcross, wish to dismiss the PRK as Vietnamese puppets.

It is utter sophistry to argue that the aim of “ASEAN and their Western partners” was a compromise with Viet Nam “in which the Khmer Rouge was removed as a significant force in Cambodia”, and that Viet Nam has not wished to see such a compromise. There was indeed a time when ASEAN seemed to be making such noises, but it was not Vietnamese intransigence which silenced them.

At the UN conference on Cambodia in July 1981 ASEAN wanted to find a solution without the Pol Pot group, and they even proposed inviting representatives of the PRK along with Son Sann and Sihanouk. They offered proposals that Viet Nam withdraw from Cambodia, the PRK dissolve, and an interim administration be set up until elections were held, pending which all factions would be disarmed. This was blocked by China, supporting the Pol Pot group, as interference in the affairs of Democratic Kampuchea, and the US acquiesced (see FEER, Nayan Chanda, 24 July 1981).

The following year China, the US and ASEAN colluded in making Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea leading component of a tripartite coalition, thereby insuring that Vietnam, the PRK, and the Cambodia population would be hostile to compromise with that coalition.

A final serious misrepresentation is Shawcross’ characterization of the PRK leadership as simply “cadres who had previously worked ... for Pol Pot”, and the PRK system as one in which “former Khmer Rouge officers were often deemed to be more reliable than former officials or soldiers of the ... Lon Nol regime,” or in which “more confidence was placed in the torturers than in their victims”, who saw the former “actually being promoted by the new order into positions of new authority over them”.

Above I noted the rival factions of Cambodian communists. The very thin stratum of communists at the top of the PRK government are of, or derive from, the original Cambodian communists whom Pol Pot saw as enemies, who in fact did oppose his policies, and most of whom he murdered. During 1975-78 the part of Cambodia which they administered, the East, was noted for better living conditions and significantly less brutality than most of the rest of the country, until Pol Pot destroyed them in 1978.[275]

Below the top communist stratum, the entire central government and provincial administration is staffed by former employees of the Lon Nol and Sihanouk administrations, not by “former Khmer Rouge officers”. Furthermore, the numerous interviews conducted by Stephen Heder, some of whose views, of all Cambodia specialists, are closest to what Shawcross wishes to believe, established that throughout 1980, the year from which Shawcross’ examples date, Lon Nol and Sihanouk era survivors were also dominating sub-district and village administration (see Vickery, Cambodia,pp. 221-224).

It is true that the policy toward defectors from the Pol Pot forces is lenient - a few weeks of reeducation, but this is true for anyone, of any faction, who returns peacefully from the border to be reintegrated into Cambodian society. Not every Pol Pot soldier was a ‘torturer’, as everyone in Cambodia knows. The longer periods of detention are for those involved, as Shawcross correctly states while misrepresenting the total situation, in “antigovernment activities” within the country. And what government does not give favored treatment to those who join it over those who are in armed opposition?

I was not the only student of Cambodian affairs to object to Shawcross “Burial”. David Chandler and Ben Kiernan also wrote critical letters to NYRB, of which Kiernan’s was published, with a weasely response from Shawcross.[276]

Shawcross wrote a good book about the war in Cambodia - Sideshow - which we all admired. It is essential to recall, however, that Sideshow was not about Cambodia, its society and politics, but about American actions in Cambodia and based on American sources. Shawcross may have come to believe that Sideshow made him an authority on all aspects of Cambodian affairs.

Whether for that reason, or simply because he has tried to hew to a trendy journalistic line, his subsequent articles on Cambodia have precipitously declined in quality, with “Burial” the nadir, as he reworks his own and others’ material to redefine the demon in the Cambodian dilemma. Perhaps when he becomes aware that the Pol Pot group are denying the Sideshow thesis about the effects of American bombing we will see as his next move an autocritique of Sideshow published in Commentary.

So far as I know, my facetious proposal for an autocritique of Sideshow in Commentary has not been realized, but equivalent revisions of himself have now been published by Shawcross, as will be shown below, “Shawcross in the 90s”.

Cambodia in and about 1981: assorted articles

Following the conference in Chiang Mai in 1981 where I met Shawcross and found that he had seen my unpublished critique of his changed position on Cambodia, I traveled to Phnom Penh, and then to Battambang and Angkor, altogether spending three weeks in Cambodia.[277]

From that experience I wrote five articles which were published in the Canberra Times [Australia], and two more pieces which were not published at the time. Below is an unpublished description of the first phase of our trip, followed by the five Canberra Times articles, and then an article on Cambodia’s International situation as I saw it then..

ANU-Monash-University of Paris joint mission to Saigon (1981)

In the comfortable pre-World War II past, when an ‘Indochina Federation’, being run by the French rather than by the natives, was quite acceptable to ‘Free World’ official opinion, the French who settled there liked to describe, half in jest, how they took on the coloration of the particular area in which they worked - becoming in the process ‘Tonkinese’ (North Vietnam), ‘Cochinchinese’ (South Vietnam), French ‘Lao’ or ‘Khmer’.

Thus the ‘Tonkinese’, like their stereotypical local counterparts, were supposed to be industrious and efficient, while the ‘Cochinchinese’ were lazier, given to intrigue, preferring to get rich through clever manipulations rather than honest work. The difference between the two groups, even if not the terms by which it was described, was real since the French society of Hanoi, then the capital of Indochina, was dominated by officials, while Saigon was the center of an agricultural colony where the French were landowners, bankers, and businessmen.

The French ‘Cambodians’, a relatively small group in a country much less important to the metropolis and working through an intact, ‘protected’ local administration, were characterized as insouciant hunters and skirt chasers; and it was held that anyone who spent a few years in Laos was thereafter useless for work anywhere else, an attitude exemplified by a character in Andre Malraux’s Voie royale / Royal Road who, speaking of a European doctor met in southern Laos, says (appositely, I would say), “anyone who chooses to spend his life out here must be either a dope addict or a sex maniac”.[278]

Present-day journalists and academic specialists on the Indochina countries are also similarly divided, although in saying this I do not mean to impugn (or extol) my colleagues’ idiosyncrasies, nor to give away any of my own secrets. The division is less complex, however; essentially between ‘Vietnamese’ and ‘Cambodians’.

There may in fact be some ‘Lao’ academics, but by the very nature of the stereotype they would never be able to tear themselves away from the delights of the country long enough to produce any work. And the one well-known journalist who has written frequently on Laos over the past few years proved, if not just by his productivity, but also by his inability, in one situation, to distinguish between ‘stone’ and ‘cunt’ that he had really not adapted to the spirit of the country.[279]

A disproportionate amount of journalistic and academic writing about Indochina since 1975 has been from the pens of the ‘Vietnamese’ - an inevitable result of the attention focused on that country in a way that produced a whole new generation of ‘Vietnamese’ journalists and scholars. Cambodia, still a backwater, or a ‘sideshow’ to the main attraction, was throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s visited on quick trips by Vietnam-centered writers who saw, and wrote about, its problems in relation to Vietnam.

The few Cambodia specialists of those years were scholars, not journalists, whose work was confined to academic journals, and who after April 1975 were so stunned by the unexpected developments there that, if they could not be propagandists for the new regime, preferred a careful silence.

Following the American Social Science Research Council-sponsored conference on Cambodia in Thailand in August 1981, some of the participants visited Cambodia and Vietnam. For David Chandler and myself, both chronologically and in terms of preoccupation with Cambodia the oldest of the occidental ‘Cambodians’ there, it was our first visit to Vietnam.

In 1960, already disgusted by American involvement in the war there and by reports about the Diem regime, I had decided to avoid Viet Nam until the situation improved. It was a stupid choice of course, since in 1960-62 I could have traveled with relative ease by car from Phnom Penh to Saigon and then over most of south and central Vietnam.

Even now Chandler and I, unregenerate ‘Cambodians’, had not planned to visit Vietnam, but because of poor connections in plane schedules we were forced to spend four days in transit in Ho Chi Minh City. On the trip with us were Ben Kiernan of Monash University and his wife Chantou Boua, who although ‘Cambodians’, adopted and real, had previously visited Vietnam, and Serge Thion, a French sociologist-journalist, who before 1975 worked as a teacher in both Viet Nam and Cambodia and in the latter country became the sole western journalist ever invited to visit a pre-1975 revolutionary liberated zone.[280]

The visit to Ho Chi Minh city proved well worth while, since if ‘Vietnamese’ journalists and scholars may be insensitive to the special problems of Cambodia, the ‘Cambodians’ as well as the Kampucheans must finally break out of their insularity vis-a-vis their larger neighbor and see the two countries in a joint perspective.

We were met at the airport by a Foreign Ministry representative who told us that while in transit we could not travel outside the city but were free to move around at will within it. No program of official sight-seeing was imposed on us, and we were able to choose our hotel among the four or five open to foreigners, settling on the Ben Thanh, former Rex, mainly because it was cheaper, at $13 (US) for a single room or $21 for a double.

This change of names, and language, thorough and universal, is disconcerting to old Viet Nam hands, who still only feel comfortable with ‘Majestic’, ‘Caravelle’ (former hotel names) and Rue Catinat, but is of no consequence to those making a first visit to the city. The only such relic of former days I regret missing is Le Grand Monde, apparently a sort of eighth wonder of the world in French Saigon, but which passed out of existence when most of the present crop of journalists and scholars were still too young to have appreciated its variety of delights.[281]

Not only have the street names and signs over doorways been changed, but ‘hotel’ or ‘restaurant’ has been carefully scraped out or painted over, and signs on exhibits in the museum are entirely in Vietnamese.

If the form is determinedly national, the content may be less so. In the dining room of our Ben Thanh Hotel the menus were consistently the food of colonial French ‘Bungalows’, those government-operated rest houses which existed in all provincial centers and which continued to function until destroyed by the war.

The food was not always bad, either in earlier years or now. For our first lunch on arriving from the airport we had frog legs; and I never heard even the steak and chips Aussie of our party complain. The same practice prevailed in the more expensive former Majestic Hotel overlooking the river, and in both places Vietnamese food could only be had with 24 hours advance notice.

That would have been the wrong way to get local food, since on virtually every street corner there are small bars and food shops filled with local customers and selling all the usual Vietnamese dishes. Particularly pleasant was a riverside open-air place specializing in crab, and which once during the war received world-wide publicity when a bomb planted there caused a heavy casualty toll. Now it is packed every evening with Vietnamese who for a party of three or four find it possible to pay several times an average monthly salary.

There is nothing about Ho Chi Minh City which resembles the stereotypical socialist dictatorship. Besides the public display of people living on obviously illegal money, some of the streets in the center of town are filled with antiques and bric-a-brac shops where the prices are quoted in dollars which openly change hands. There, occasionally, remarkable pieces may be had for remarkably low prices; and it is there that one buys dong [Vietnamese currency] quite openly at the black market rate. Indeed, there is less control of free currency transactions than in capitalist France or Germany in the 1950’s when those countries were recovering from their war.[282]

This is not to say that total laissez-faire prevails in all domains. It is forbidden for foreigners to visit Vietnamese without permission, and the movements of the former are no doubt monitored, albeit unobtrusively.

Occasionally someone passes through Ho Chi Minh City and reports that he moved around without being followed at all. That is naive, and more astute travelers have come to realize that most foreign visitors, even if not on tour, will visit the same locations: certain public places, the museums, a famous Buddhist temple, a certain ‘anti-regime intellectual’, and so forth, and there is no need to annoy them with heavy-footed tails.

In all such places strategically placed personnel will make some kind of report. The security apparatus comes into more evident operation when one strays from the standard tourist path.

As ‘Cambodians’ in Saigon our first interest was not the antique shops nor the ostensibly dissident intellectual, nor the An Quang Pagoda, but rather Wat Chantaraingsey, a Cambodian Buddhist temple which in the 1950’s had been a center for dissident Khmers working against the government of Prince Sihanouk, generally with the connivance of the South Vietnamese authorities and the CIA.

Our interest now was heightened by the revelations of General Chana, a Thai specialist in Cambodian affairs, that most of the alleged support of Cambodian dissidents by Thai, Vietnamese, and Americans was true; and we wondered if some of the men involved in those mysterious operations might still be at Wat Chantaraingsey, perhaps retired from politics in monastic robes.[283]

The trishaw drivers we engaged did not know the name, but they knew the university nearby; and not far from the university gate Khmer faces became numerous among the sidewalk throngs and the typical Khmer temple roof could be seen among the trees.

The temple and surrounding streets formed a distinctly Khmer village where Khmer was spoken by nearly all and there were even Khmer signs on the shops. It was probably the first time in years that a group of Khmer-speaking foreigners had been seen there, and a suitable crowd immediately gathered. The monks invited us in for tea and an unconstrained conversation began.

Soon, however, two newcomers, one in uniform, entered, and the crowd dispersed. The two men were from the police station. They spoke only Vietnamese. They wanted to know why we had come to Wat Chantaraingsey without permission; and because we had violated regulations we were to accompany them to the police station about 100 meters away.

With one of the Khmers from the temple acting as interpreter the station chief explained that we had violated the law by visiting the temple without first reporting to the police for permission. We showed the card of the Foreign Ministry official who had told us on arrival that we were free to move around the city as we wished. The policeman said freedom to move around did not supersede the regulation about permission to enter premises, and our violation of the law was therefore real.

We thus went back and forth a few times until he finally said the offense having been committed, nothing could be done about it, but he would consider our enforced visit to his police station as the requisite request for permission, and we could return to the temple to continue our visit. We did, the crowd gathered as before, with the same curiosity and lack of fear, and we continued our chat with this small island of Khmers in the middle of Saigon - some of them natives of the Khmer-inhabited provinces of Vietnam, others refugees from Pol Pot wondering whether they should now try to return to Cambodia.

The conversation was mostly about conditions in the latter country. The old politicians of Wat Chantaraingsey seem forgotten; So’n Ngoc Thanh, the most notorious, a rapidly fading memory - although one never knows, and it would probably in any case have been impolitic to speak of them. So’n Ngoc Thanh might have been the monk who poured tea, insisting that he had never heard of himself.

Vietnamese security, then, does keep track of foreigners’ movements, and can become obtrusive if they stray into unexpected places, but it is clearly not so oppressive as to inspire great fear. The Khmers of Wat Chantaraingsey were not afraid to talk to us either before or after our encounter with the police, it is not difficult to strike up conversations elsewhere, shopkeepers deal in illegal goods, and the public flaunts illegal money in restaurants.

Even illegal gasoline, which ultimately can only come from the military, is sold on street corners in old liquor bottles; and when two foreign academic researchers, after a night of testing the 11-4 curfew law and other things, found themselves broke, sleepless, and hungry, tramping the streets and warming the benches of central Saigon until their hotel opened at 7 a.m., they were given scarcely a glance by the armed militia patrolling the streets.

At the same time I wrote five articles for the Canberra Times, published on 22, 26, 29 October; and 2, 9 November, 1981. The titles under which they were published, and which are reproduced here, were not mine, but, as too often happens, to make propaganda points different from the author’s intentions, devised without consulting me by the Canberra Times editors. All footnotes and comment in square brackets have been added later.

Phnom Penh decays behind a bustling cheerful facade (1981)[284]

Kampuchea starts for the traveler today (as in French colonial times, but not in the Sihanouk-Lon Nol-Pol Pot interim) in Saigon, or Ho Chi Minh City as it is now called.[285]

More precisely, travel begins at Tan So’n Nhu’t airport where the Soviet-built jets of the Vietnamese national airline begin their twice weekly flights to Phnom Penh.

During 1979-80 the International Red Cross flight from Bangkok could also take in travelers with Kampuchean visas, but after too many of them came back with positive accounts of progress under the PRK the Thai authorities forbade non-official passengers on those flights.

The aircraft between Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh are always full - with Kampuchean officials on their way to study in Viet Nam or in socialist Europe, Vietnamese military and advisers, foreign diplomats and internationalaid personnel, and the occasional journalist or scholar.

After a flight of less than an hour over the rice plains of south-eastern Kampuchea, which because of the serious flooding looked last month like a vast lake, the aircraft flies over Phnom Penh, which from the air seems not to have changed.

Even on the ground most of the old landmarks can still be seen, and the city, for those who knew it before 1975, makes an impression which is at once cheering and yet disappointing. It has suffered much from neglect and disrepair, but few important public buildings or private houses have been destroyed or badly damaged; not even the important Buddhist temples, pre-1979 Western misinformation and post-1979 foreign regime propaganda to the contrary.

The population is certainly in the hundreds of thousands, and may even approach the 600,000-plus of the pre-war city; and the people appear well-fed, active and cheerful. The food emergency has definitely ended and even if much of the city’s rice supply has been from foreign aid the other foods, vitamin-rich vegetables and protein-filled meats, eggs and fish are local products. The country has been feeding itself and its already overgrown capital, and has so far given the lie to the annual predictions of famine which are spread abroad by certain media.

Little coffee shops and restaurants, some surprisingly good, abound and provide a wide choice of Khmer, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Western food, with which one can drink the seemingly unlimited supply of bottled Vietnamese, or tinned Heineken, beer.

Both in these establishments and in the innumerable small markets which have sprung up in every section of the city the careless display and consumption of food shows no concern for the serious rice shortage which is projected for 1982. Indeed, given such projections, reasonably based on drought in the west and floods in the east, one would expect some system of rationing.

The footpaths too are lined with all kinds of small tradesmen - bicycle, tyre, and radio repairmen, photographers, barbers, tailors, and the ubiquitous old women selling petrol, obviously obtained illegally, in whisky bottles. Since there is as yet no privileged class which would normally be the beneficiaries of these service occupations, the population seem to be essentially trading with each other, “taking in one another’s laundry”, as one foreign aid official put it.

There is much movement, on foot, by bicycle and motorcycle, and in the ‘cyclo’, that Indochinese institution made of a passenger seat attached either before or behind a bicycle or motorcycle frame. Just as before the ‘cyclos’ are owned, not by their operators, but by fleet proprietors who rent them out at 20 riel a day, above which the driver hopes to make at least a 10-riel surplus for his livelihood. There are, however, few cars. Phnom Penh may be nearly as bustling as before, but at a lower level of personal wealth.

The first impression is thus of a newly burgeoning healthy urban life after its devastation in 1975-79. It is soon clear, however, that very few of the present population are of the pre-war 600,000. Most of those people either perished or have fled abroad since 1979. Phnom Penh has been resettled by former villagers who have rushed into the city and squatted in the new freedom of the past two years.

They live in flats and shop house with their chickens and pigs, cook in the streets, and try to make an urban life for themselves by petty trade, essentially with one another. Phnom Penh has thus already become the non-productive, consumer city which it was before, although on a much less lavish scale, but with the same inherent dangers for national development, or more accurately at present, national recovery.

Water, light, and sewerage services have not yet been restored to a capacity sufficient for the new population, and although in most parts of the city water cannot be pumped above the ground floor, the upper stories are inhabited by people as careless of rubbish and sewage disposal as they would have been in back-country villages. There is a real danger that the inevitable wear and tear of such disordered urban village life may outstrip the capacities of the new administration to repair the damage done before 1979 and restore the city to a semblance of its former self.

It will not be possible in the future to blame every malfunction or damage on ‘Pol Pot’. The evils of the regime associated with the name were real enough, but they did not include a great deal of physical damage to the city of Phnom Penh. After the evacuation of the population in 1975, masonry buildings not put into use by the new regime were closed off, often with their contents intact to be recovered by the few surviving owners who returned in 1979. Many old wooden buildings were marked for removal, but they still remain in outlying sectors and some even in the center of the city.

Although it is impossible to prove, it is likely that Phnom Penh has suffered more physical deterioration since 1979 than in the Pol Pot years, first of all from the rapid, uncontrolled resettling by hundreds of thousands of people accustomed to making do in austere rural conditions. The new settlers in the disorganized months of early 1979 tore window and door frames out of public buildings, including temples, for firewood or house construction, leaving the gaping holes and gutted interiors which deface much of the city today.

They were also responsible for much of the damage to libraries, in search of paper to wrap goods in the market stalls they were erecting and of books to sell in them.[286]

All of this may have been unavoidable. After the oppression of 1975-79 a period of anarchic freedom may have been socially and politically necessary. Because of the freedom permitted, Phnom Penh is active and cheerful again, and its people are healthy and smiling as before, but as a city it is still decaying, and the new administration seems unable, or unwilling, to risk taking the social disciplinary measures which would be necessary to arrest the decay.

Communists are scarce in today’s Kampuchea (1981)[287]

The present Kampuchea Government has generally been termed the ‘Heng Samrin regime’ in the West, and its leading personnel have been characterized as unknowns who owe their positions only to Viet Nam.[288]

If ‘unknowns’, they are in a long tradition with respect to the outside world. But in their struggle they have been no more dependent on Viet Nam than Lon Nol was on the United States and its South-East Asian client-regimes.

The top level of leadership consists of a small group of communists who fought against the French in the 1940s and 50s in close co-operation with Viet Nam. When peace came to Indo-China in 1954 hundreds of those first Khmer revolutionaries went to Viet Nam for study and training, intending to return in 1956 after the free elections, guaranteed by the Geneva accords, gave them, or so they expected, a position of strength in a newly constituted Government. The communists who did not go to Viet Nam formed a legal organization within the country, working for their goals by political methods rather than armed struggle.

But the Cambodian Right scored an overwhelming victory in the 1955 elections and the Sihanouk Government decimated the internal party organization, which was eventually captured by a group of relative newcomers led by Saloth Sar, to become known as Pol Pot, and leng Sary.[289]

Those who had gone to Viet Nam could not return until war broke out in 1970, and they then discovered that they were considered dangerous enemies by the Pol Pot faction, which over the next few years was responsible for the deaths of most of them. The survivors are the more perspicacious who realized their danger before 1975 and escaped to Vietnam, to return only in 1979.

There are also in the Heng Samrin administration a few members of the post- 1954 internal communist organization who escaped both Sihanouk and Pol Pot, as well as a number of younger revolutionaries who began their political careers after 1954 and in the Pol Pot organization, but who rejected it before 1979.

Pen Sovann, for example, and Lay Samun, respectively the party secretary and the governor of Battambang province, represent the returnees from Viet Nam, while Heng Samrin himself and Mat Ly, Vice-Minister of Agriculture, are of the group who stayed behind in 1954.[290]

Ouk Bun Chhoeun, Minister of Justice, joined the Pol Pot-dominated party in the 60s and apparently served that organization loyally until open warfare broke out between the central Government and the eastern zone in 1978.

Of whatever group, the total number of genuine communists is extremely small. There may be about 40 in Phnom Penh; in some of the provinces, such as Battambang and Siemreap, the local party chief who is also provincial governor, may be the only communist, and there is no party organization below provincial level.

Below the topmost layer the administration is staffed mainly by former officials, technicians and intellectuals of the Sihanouk and Lon Nol eras who were considered enemies by Pol Pot, demoted to poor peasant status, and were one of the groups most in danger of execution.[291]

Such people were often in opposition to the Sihanouk and Lon Nol policies, and many were close associates of the intellectuals who joined the revolution in the 60s and 70s. However, they are probably unsympathetic to socialism, and before 1975 generally hoped for some kind of liberal regime run - in contrast to the Sihanouk and Lon Nol Governments - on honest, democratic lines in which they could continue to enjoy the comfortable bourgeois status to which higher education and a government job opened the door.

As a whole, they were nationalistic, some the most virulent anti-Vietnamese chauvinists, and they are probably unsympathetic to the goals of the present regime. Those who remain to work honestly for it may hope by their presence and efforts to turn it away from its proclaimed goal of socialism.

The policy of the regime to make use of those people is not just an effort at national reconciliation, although that is also a real goal. The small number of communists require for the most elementary administrative tasks the cooperation of all competent people, of whatever political background.

Also, as most of the highest ranking, and a majority of the most competent, of the prewar technicians and administrators either disappeared during the Pol Pot period or have emigrated, the pool of those left to be integrated was shallow; many people are holding posts of a much higher rank than anything to which they might have aspired before 1975.

When Pol Pot was overthrown in 1979 the new authorities invited all pre-war intellectuals, technicians and administrators to return from the peasant cooperatives to which they had been consigned so that they could participate in rebuilding the country.

The call was met with mixed enthusiasm. What most of them wanted was a restoration of Sihanouk / Lon Nolism minus its corruption and inefficiencies, probably a utopian goal. Some refused to co-operate with socialism or with Viet Nam, and promptly used their freedom to head for the Thai border.

Others worked for the new regime for a while and then took the same road westward. Thus Kampuchea lost about half its surviving doctors, perhaps thousands of teachers and countless skilled administrators, technicians and other educated people.[292]

Because flight was easy, those left probably intend to remain and work for the Government with reasonable loyalty, if not with real enthusiasm. Their decision may be patriotic-to rebuild their country-or pragmatic, a calculation of relative career advantages in Phnom Penh against the ever more precarious situation of refugees.

What cannot be foreseen is whether the inevitable tension between them and the communist hierarchy will be resolved in favor of an increasingly bourgeois order or whether, faced with Kampuchea’s severe economic problems, the technocrats will be won over to socialism.

It may be worthwhile to bring the matter in the last paragraph up to date. Many technocrats worked loyally without ever becoming convinced of socialism, and throughout the 1980s bourgeois tendencies increased slowly until 1988, then explosively, encouraged from 1991 by the United Nations intervention. Now it would be difficult to find even a closet socialist, and Cambodia has fallen into the extreme unfettered capitalist mode of Thailand. See my Cambodia: a Political Survey, Phnom Penh, Funan Press, 2007.

Kampuchea’s markets are totally free and thrive on smuggling (1981)[293]

In the previous article I evoked the tensions inherent in the dual and contradictory types of background and experience of the members of the administration and government services.

If the present regime continues for a few more years without being disrupted by a new foreign intervention, it is unlikely that the probable desires of the former urban bourgeoisie to return to prewar ways will be realized.

Since the possibility of flight leading to resettlement abroad is ever more uncertain, they may be forced - simply to assure their careers - to prove their loyalty and efficiency by hard work; for in a few years a new generation of solidly indoctrinated and technically competent young people will be ready to enter service.

While waiting at Tan So’n Nhu’t airport in Ho Chi Minh City to board the flight to Phnom Penh I got into conversation with the leader of a group of a dozen or so Khmer youngsters, boys and girls, in a uniform of white shirt or blouse with red scarf of a distinctive East European appearance. They were ‘pioneers’, and were on their way home after a month-long vacation trip to Hungary, which they had greatly enjoyed, in particular the spicy goulashes, which they found an acceptable substitute for Kampuchean food.

All were orphans, chosen two to a province, and they were one of many such groups who went every summer to all European socialist countries.

The children were healthy, obviously well fed, cheerful, voluble, and full of praise for the present ‘socialist’ regime of Kampuchea. Pol Pot, Lon Nol, and Sihanouk seemed for them to be nearly indistinguishable demons of the past.

One of them asked David Chandler, of Monash University, if everyone in Australia spoke Khmer, and he countered with the remark that all of the nonKhmer but Khmer-speaking residents of Australia were there in the airport. One girl then asked if Australia was a socialist country, and when Chandler said, “No, capitalist”, she gasped in astonishment and asked, “Then how did you get out?”

It is no doubt that on children such as these the Government hopes to develop a loyal, efficient administrative structure, which it does not yet have. One of the legacies of Pol Pot is hundreds, or even thousands, of such children whose families are either dead or broken, for whom life today in Kampuchea is as day to night compared with what they have known previously, and for whom Hungary or the Soviet Union, friendly nations held up as models, must seem paradises.

The Government clearly appreciates this fund of potential human capital cut off from its roots, and the organization of orphanages, creches and day-care centres is superior to anything existing previously [or since the international intervention in 1991-1993]. Where in pre-1975 [and post-UNTAC] times homeless children would have [and now again do] become servants or ill-paid unskilled labour, they can now become the loyal armature of the new state, free of the traditional family or class ties which were so conducive to the nepotism and corruption which plagued old Cambodia.

According to the Minister for Industry, Keo Chenda, thousands of Khmer students are now abroad in the socialist countries, studying technical subjects, and the first crop of graduates is expected back in about four years, to be followed each year by new graduates until the country has the technical staff it requires.

Given their orphan-cum ‘pioneer’ upbringing, they will no doubt serve more loyally and efficiently than many pre-war graduates whose experiences in the

West often alienated them from Kampuchean realities, or inspired a taste for luxuries which neither they nor the country could afford.[294]

That, however, is in the future; and the problems of the present must still be solved without sufficient trained personnel, in a pragmatic, often ad hoc, manner. Parallel with the dual background of the present administrative class is the paradox that the regime is socialist in name but economically liberal in fact.

Nothing really ‘socialist’ has as yet been attempted. Markets seem to be totally free, with no restrictions except that they may not be located in the former central market places of the major towns, which are empty and have been set aside for future use by the State.

These new markets are abundantly supplied with local foodstuffs and handicrafts plus all sorts of consumer goods smuggled in from both Thailand and Viet Nam. The Government has set up no serious obstacles to the smuggling trade, which has been financed first of all by the export of hoarded gold and other valuables, but now also involves such Kampuchean products as dried fish, a delicacy prized in Thailand.

In the very first months after the end of the Pol Pot regime the free market might have been a way to rapidly supply basic goods which were in short supply, but since trade had to be financed by gold, little of which was in the hands of the peasants - 80 percent or more of the population - the market has come to be a channel of luxuries and more or less useless, if not noxious (uncontrolled medicines from Thailand) items to the city population who seem to be engaged in petty trading with one another.

Although the new riel currency, established in April, 1980, has been accepted by the population, and is used in the markets, the riel salaries paid by the Government are too low to permit much purchase on the market, and thus hoarded gold or silver are still the ultimate mediums of exchange.

In theory the market might be a way of attracting surplus food production in exchange for consumer goods for the peasants, obviating the need for the State to rely on foreign aid to feed its employees. But surpluses have so far been small, government employees could not buy their requirements on the unsubsidized market without higher salaries, and the peasants, especially those of the northwest and south-east, might just as well trade directly across the borders as through the Phnom Penh market.

Surplus food does come into Phnom Penh, as the well-stocked numerous small restaurants testify; but the prices indicate that most of it is not being consumed by people on salary, but by those with an income from trade.

There is thus a danger of Phnom Penh regressing to the pre-war situation in which an urban trading community accumulated the country’s surplus agricultural wealth to sell abroad, importing luxuries which most people, especially government employees, could not honestly afford, and leading to a downward spiral of corruption.

Some observers, seeing the lively Phnom Penh market through Western eyes, have found it a healthy development, and talk of Kampuchea recovering under capitalism, but this may be no more than ideological prejudice.

Previous Kampuchean experience shows that wealth thus accumulated will not be invested in productive activities, but will go for direct consumption and acquisition of luxuries, representing a steady drain of potential capital abroad and a glut of imported products which the country, at the present time, would be better off without.

At least one would expect the State to cream off some of the surplus through taxation, but aside from some exiguous market stall fees there is no taxation at all, and the most profitable activities, such as gold trading and the sale of imported medicines, being illegal, cannot be taxed.

When it is suggested that stricter licensing, heavier taxation, or the organization of the underemployed urban population into labour groups to perform such needed infrastructural tasks as restoring urban services or repairing roads, might be practicable ways of contributing to the State budget, officials throw up their hands in horror and evoke ‘Pol Pot’.

Allegedly because of the excesses of his regime Kampucheans can no longer accept any form of discipline. There is admittedly a problem there, but in the refusal to deal with it in other than a laissez-faire manner, Kampucheans show that they are still, even under ‘socialism’, a ‘soft country’ as described years ago by Gunnar Myrdal in his Asian Drama.[295]

Postscript on Gunnar Myrdal (2010)

Myrdal’s remarks are worth inserting here with some discussion. They were mainly based on his experience in India, and have proved to be both right and wrong - right in diagnosing the problem, but mistaken as to its etiology.

Myrdal began (pp. 65-66) by saying that Oriental Despotism will not return, even if democratic institutions evolve into something unlike the original democratic models. Governments now must strive for economic development, and successful development presupposes a high degree of popular acceptance of development goals.

“All effective governments, whether democratically based or authoritarian, must enforce some measure of social discipline through compulsion; but even an authoritarian regime cannot record major achievements unless it can somehow mobilize acceptance, participation and cooperation among the people”. Thus popular participation, decentralization, and democratic planning are widely accepted as valuation; but “no country in the region has progressed very far toward its realization”.

“These countries are all ‘soft states’, both in that policies decided on are often not enforced ... and in that the authorities, even when framing policies, are reluctant to place obligations on people”. “This reluctance ... derives from the economic, social, and political structure of the South Asian countries as they have emerged under the impact of colonialism and the fight for independence”.

It is “excused and, indeed, idealized”. It is implied that policies should not require compulsion, and this is often held to be the difference from practice in Communist countries. “The abstention from compulsion has thus been permitted to masquerade as part of the modernization ideals”.

There is an unwillingness among rulers to impose obligations, and by people to obey rules laid down by democratic procedures. The tendency is to use the carrot, not the stick; and the “level of social discipline is low compared with all Western countries - not to mention Communist countries” (p. 277).

Myrdal continued (p. 895), “The Paramount Dilemma of the ‘Soft State’“ is the “Low level of social discipline [which] is one of the most fundamental differences between the South Asian countries today and Western countries at the beginning of their industrialization. Pre-industrial European societies had widely ramifying and stratified systems of obligations defining ... duties of different categories of village inhabitants”, roads, bridges, fires, police, etc.

There were similar systems in pre-colonial Asian villages, but the purpose was to preserve the status quo. The heaviest obligations were on the lowest classes. But in Europe these systems tended toward perfection, transformed from individual relationships to the community.

In South Asia colonialism led to the decay of the ancient village system, without creating a substitute, “though this was less true in Indonesia ... than in Burma and the Indian subcontinent”.

Disobedience and non-cooperation were characteristic of liberation movements;[296] and are now characteristic of popular political movements and social behavior in Cambodia and Thailand.

Among the articles I wrote in 1981, the following one requires the most comment today. All my optimistic projections proved wrong, and the pessimistic alternative possibilities have come true, particularly since the disruption caused by the UNTAC international intervention in 1991-1993.

With the return of the royalist and bourgeois parties to equal participation in the central government, and the attendant anti-socialist propaganda encouraged by all influences from the West, the youth educated in Socialist Bloc universities were shunted aside and their degrees treated with contempt. Thus this group of high-quality human capital was unable to make the expected contribution to the country’s revival, and their contemporaries who thronged in from France, Australia, the US, and the contra camps on the border were, with some notable exceptions, less competent, and eager to restore the negative traits of the old society.

Supervised free elections could become a farce (1981)[297]

Among the resolutions passed by an international conference on Kampuchea in July was one calling for UN-supervised free elections to replace the present Government with one chosen through a more complete expression of the people’s will.[298]

This demand has been repeated by every party opposed to the continued existence of the ‘Heng Samrin regime’.

Because of the election fetishism prevalent in the West, that demand may seem reasonable, and many people unfamiliar with Kampuchea might see the reluctance of the Heng Samrin Government to accede to it as proof of their illegitimacy, particularly since the elections they held a few months ago did not fulfil all the conditions of free elections as generally understood.[299]

It must first be emphasized that the resolution does not call on the Heng Samrin Government to hold free elections, but in fact for that Government to remove itself from power and fade away so that the elections may be arranged by some other agency.

Since the Heng Samrin Government, as I indicated in my earlier articles, possesses as many attributes of legitimacy as any other government Kampuchea has had since 1970; and since its own election, even if defective by the standards of advanced democracies, stands favourable comparison with those of Pol Pot, Lon Nol, or Prince Sihanouk, the resolution is absurdly arrogant.

The powers responsible for it must realize that such an act, in the eyes of the Kampuchean public, unfamiliar with the niceties of Western democratic processes, would constitute an admission of impotence and lead to the loss of much of whatever popular support the regime now has.

Such an election could very well turn out to be a farce in any case, whatever good intentions the international supervisors might have. In saying this I am abstracting entirely from the likelihood that an international supervisory force which could ensure the disarming of the Pol Pot, Son Sann, and Sihanouk factions after their entry into the country, and the peaceful conduct of an election campaign would have to be as large as the Vietnamese army now alleged to be there.[300]

An internationally supervised election was once held in Kampuchea, and the results were such as to inspire great skepticism about the efficacy of such supervision and to underline the importance of control of the State machinery during elections.

Between the end of World War II and the granting of Kampuchean independence by the French in 1953 three relatively free elections were held in the country under the still-existing French protectorate. The result was a National Assembly dominated by the anti-French and anti-Sihanouk Democrat Party, which won handily all three times. Unable to survive the democratic process, Prince Sihanouk and the Cambodian Right resorted to extra-constitutional measures to gain political power, and between the last of the three elections (1951) and 1954 embryonic Kampuchean democracy was all but wiped out.

The Geneva accords of that year called for free elections, supervised by an international control commission, throughout Indo-China, with the participation of all political groups, regardless of their ideologies or activities during the independence struggles of the previous nine years.

Given these conditions it was expected that the Democrat Party would repeat its performance in the elections scheduled for 1955. Moreover, because of the Geneva accords, another more radical group, the communists, excluded from previous contests, could form a legal party and participate.

Because of the great success the latter had had in the countryside over the previous three to four years - controlling between a third and half of the peasant regions - it was anticipated that they would do well, perhaps along with the recently more radicalized Democrat Party, even dominating the National Assembly, and giving the country a left-wing government.

This would have spelt the end of the traditional Cambodian ruling class which had benefited from the modalities of the independence arrangements, perhaps even the monarchy itself. Extraordinary measures were taken to ensure that the Left collapsed in the elections. Methods included arrest and harassment of candidates, murder, threats to the populace, and on election day even destruction of ballot boxes.[301]

Prince Sihanouk’s Sangkum Party won, rather took, all seats, with the international control commission certifying the results as ‘correct’. Thereafter Prince Sihanouk did his best to subvert the intent of the Geneva accords as they affected his country.

His elections of 1958 and 1962 were virtual rubber-stamp affairs with opposition candidates either terrorized into withdrawal or arrested. In 1966 when free candidacy was permitted, threats and harassment, often unsuccessful, were still used, an enormous number of charges of electoral fraud were brought, and the resulting Assembly has since been judged as the least competent in the country’s history.

For Kampuchea, internationally supervised elections have been discredited as a fair process; and any faction would favor them only if it was believed the supervision could be manipulated in their favor. ‘Free elections’ may not connote the same process as in the West, given the experience of 1966.

The last reasonably fair election was 30 years ago[1951], when a majority of the surviving Kampuchean population was still too young to be concerned. Elections both free and fair can only be assured by a supervisory apparatus, whether foreign or local, which will prevent powerful individuals from terrorizing or bribing the voters of each individual constituency.

Under present-day condition the proposed UN-supervised elections would be even less reliable than in 1955. The present Kampuchean Government, which contains the survivors of the groups cheated then, is unlikely to see any virtue at all in the proposal, which is in fact little more than a cover for introducing some other foreign hegemony in place of the Vietnamese.

To be honest, those who, as I do, prefer the present regime to any of its competitors, must recognize that they might not do very well in full and free elections. Most Kampucheans, born to a culture in which dependency on someone more powerful, both individually and nationally, is an unavoidable fact of life, are not concerned with hegemony. They would probably vote on the basis of the hegemony they preferred.

The remnants of the town bourgeoisie, wanting a new inflow of Western money, would probably vote for the Son Sann group. Peasant preferences are not at all clear, but their memories should be long enough to make them opposed to the return of Lon Nol elements or Sihanouk-era mandarins, although there might still be considerable support for Prince Sihanouk himself.

The results could very well be indecisive, with three or four mutually inimical factions forced to share power.

In Kampuchean conditions, such an outcome, however “democratic” would be a disaster for the country. However the Heng Samrin people might react, the record shows that the Pol Pot, Sihanouk, or Son Sann Factions, once admitted to the country with international support, would be unlikely to respect an indecisive result, or one in which the present regime retained any considerable measure of influence.

We could then expect to see Kampuchea, as a result of democracy, return to civil strife, with every faction relying on foreign support against their own countrymen.[302]

Border diplomacy lesson given by Thailand (1981)[303]

On the morning of October 9, at Nong Chan on the Thai- Kampuchean border, the same place where in June, 1980, Vietnamese troops made an incursion into allegedly Thai territory, Thai military personnel returned the favor and penetrated into Kampuchean territory in order to eject several foreigners, including the representative of the United States Embassy’s border-watching intelligence team.

The occasion was a ceremony marking the second anniversary of the founding of Son Sann’s KPNLF on the date which coincidentally is also that of Lon Nol’s proclamation of the Khmer Republic in 1970, and the KPNLF was eager to have foreign visitors and thorough international news coverage. The Thai move took everyone by surprise, since the KPNLF is the most respectable, even though not the strongest, of the three anti-Phnom Penh Khmer factions presumably enjoying ASEAN (including Thai) and US support.

There was intimation of what would happen in the afternoon of the 8th when a group of journalists, including NBC’s Australian correspondent Neil Davis, was informed that Task Force 80, the special Thai military unit in charge of Khmer refugee camp and border operations, would refuse to grant any passes to Nong Chan. On the morning of the 9th the Task Force 80 office posted an unusual notice for journalists saying that in order to visit Nong Chan that day they would need a special pass from higher-level army headquarters at Watthana, some 20 kilometers back along the road to Bangkok.

Of course, since the restriction originally came from army headquarters, the Watthana office was not going to provide any special passes; and in spite of the intervention of one ASEAN embassy whose government had sent its own media personnel to cover the event, and the Thai Foreign Ministry, the journalists’ requests were turned down.

Throughout all of this I had been feeling quite smug since I had already acquired a pass to Nong Chan, and I had had some sport with the journalists, suggesting they might like to buy the story and photographs of the celebrations from me.

All seemed to be going well at 9 AM when, along with a small group of aid agency personnel who normally work at Nong Chan, I went several hundred meters eastward from the Nong Chan land bridge distribution centre into Kampuchean territory, to the KPNLF military base. There we were welcomed by General Dien Del and other KPNLF officers and civilian administrators, some of whom I knew from a year ago when I worked in the area, and taken to the special visitors’ seats just behind the speakers’ podium.[304]

I unlimbered my camera and was just finishing a first roll of film when a Thai officer in paratrooper’s uniform rushed up and asked to see my pass, which I confidently produced. He informed me, however, that the usual Nong Chan pass which I and all the other foreign visitors carried was not valid for the KPNLF ceremony at that particular place, and we were told firmly, although politely, to leave immediately.

The entire affair was a slap in the face for the KPNLF, as of course was intended. For them the ceremony was meant to be an important occasion, and they wanted foreign visitors and international press coverage. The reason for the Thai action was apparently Son Sann’s reluctance to co-operate with the Pol Pot forces, who are the Thai favorites, and the Thai move represented crude pressure applied to change the KPNLF attitude. It was intended to show them who runs the show and that they cannot behave independently even if they are on Kampuchean territory.

The lesson could easily backfire, however, if it should lead the interested international public, or Kampucheans who might consider Son Sann to be an answer to the country’s problems, to realize that his group, and all the other border factions, are no more independent of foreign influence and support than Heng Samrin is alleged to be. The KPNLF base, in contrast to the uncertain geographical position of the Nong Chan land bridge, has been located in clearly Kampuchean territory in order to give it some air of independence and to permit the Thais to deny that they give sanctuary to Kampuchean rebels.

When asked how they could justify obstructions placed in the way of journalists invited by a Kampuchean organization on Kampuchean soil, the Thai military authorities replied that they were in fact refusing passage across Thai territory leading to the Khmer base, presumably just as the Thai Government could refuse direct travel from Bangkok to Phnom Penh, even to people carrying Kampuchean visas. The refusal, though, underscores the fact that all supplies which reach the KPNLF, or other border groups, must pass over Thai territory which is under close control and supervision of Thai authorities.

The Thai action would also seem to give the lie to recent press speculation (Alan Dawson, Bangkok Post, October 14, 1981) about ASEAN displeasure over Democratic Kampuchean (Pol Pot) arrogance in negotiations with the Son Sann and Sihanouk factions. Of course, ASEAN forms anything but a united front on the Kampuchea issue, and the Thai move on October 9 would seem to indicate that they find the Pol Pot group more congenial bedfellows, perhaps because they are seen as a more reliable defense force against the Vietnamese invasion menace which is constantly being conjured up in certain Thai milieus.

The implication of the October 9 affair will also inevitably raise the question of what the US means when it claims to be following the ASEAN lead on Kampuchea. Will they follow those ASEAN members who find the Pol Pot position unreasonable, or the hardlining Thais who want Son Sann to make further concessions? American experts know very well that Viet Nam has no intention of invading Thailand, and their choice of ASEAN tendency to support will indicate whether they genuinely desire a peaceful settlement in Indochina, or simply a rolling back of Vietnamese influence whatever the additional human and material cost to those crippled countries.

The above article surfaced again when Ben Kiernan used it in writing the annual Cambodia article in the Singapore-based Institute of Southeast Asian Studies yearbook, Southeast Asian Affairs 1982, “Kampuchea 1979-81, National Rehabilitation in the Eye of an International Storm”. Kiernan, referring to my article, wished to say that “Thai military personnel ejected from Kampuchea Western observers who had been invited by the KPNLF ... ”, but the editors changed ‘from’ to ‘into’, and refused to correct it even when Kiernan, after reading the proofs, objected.[305] Three years later then Secretary of State George Shultz made the US position very clear (see above, p. 45)

The next article, below, was written at the same time as the previous five articles, following my September 1981 trip to Cambodia. A version of it was published in Australia.

Kampuchea’s International Position (1981)[306]

On the grounds that Kampuchea is occupied by a foreign armed force and its government a puppet regime existing only because of the occupying power, an International Conference on Kampuchea in July 1981 (see above, pp. 44, 149) passed resolutions calling for the withdrawal of foreign troops and internationally supervised elections to replace the present government with one more freely chosen among the contending factions both inside and outside the country.

Of course, no one objects to the ideals of independence and freedom from foreign hegemony, but the resolutions passed on Kampuchea seem to be rather distantly removed from the realities of international life.

At no time in the past two hundred years, perhaps even longer, has Kampuchea been free from foreign interference. It was formally independent, nonaligned, and neutral only from 1954-1970 and during the Pol Pot years 19751979, and the increasing complexity of international life makes chances of such independence, non-alignment, and neutrality even less likely in the future than in the past, even supposing the good intentions of all concerned.

Since, however, few of the countries involved in the recent conference showed equal concern over the reimposition of French rule in Indochina after World War II, or over Thai and non-Communist Vietnamese efforts to destabilize the regime of Prince Sihanouk, or the extremely destructive American intervention between 1970 and 1975, it would seem that they are less disturbed by violations of the principle of independence than by a particular specific violation.

Thus the conference resolutions to the effect that Kampuchea should “remain non-aligned and neutral” and refuse to “be used against the security, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of other states, especially those sharing a common border with Kampuchea” appear as pious obfuscations.

The historical record shows that any undertaking by the regional states and superpowers most interested in the removal of the Vietnamese from Kampuchea to “refrain from all forms of interference, direct or indirect, in the internal affairs of Kampuchea” would probably not be worth the paper it was written on.

Well-known Thai political scientists have argued that Kampuchea should be returned to be buffer-state status it occupied in the early 19th century, which would mean a hegemony in which the Thai shared and, if the Khmers themselves did not wish to be buffers, some degree of foreign interference.

At a recent conference of Kampuchea scholars General Chana Samudvanija, a thirty-year Thai intriguer in Kampuchean affairs and ambassador to the Lon Nol regime, in response to a question said that Thailand would not accept a solution which involved removal of the Vietnamese troops yet left the Heng Samrin government in place, indicating a Thai insistence on much more than mere security of their borders.[307]

Later a Foreign Ministry official told me that General Chana did not represent official Thai opinion; yet even former Foreign Minister Bhichai Rattakul, who has attacked the present Thai “policy of confrontation with the Indochinese States”, wants not only Vietnamese withdrawal, but new UN-supervised elections, implying that the present government must be replaced.

For the country most concerned, then, the Vietnamese presence in Kampuchea is not the only issue, and may even be something of a red herring; it is clear that the problem is not so much the overthrow of Pol Pot by an external force which is at issue, but that the force was socialist Viet Nam.

Had Thailand, in response to similar provocation, administered the lesson, set up its Kampucheans, the Khmer Serei, in Phnom Penh, and overseen the same progress which has occurred in the last two years, it would be hailed as a great victory for the Free World and its methods.

[The remainder of this article has been excised to avoid duplication. See the more detailed presentation in the Princeton letter following below.]

After the trip to Cambodia in 1981 that inspired the articles above, I spent the remainder of 1981 and most of 1982 at the Australian National University in Canberra finishing Cambodia 1975-1982. I also wrote a critique of a CIA report on population loss in Democratic Kampuchea, which demonstrated collusion between the CIA and the journalists John Barron and Anthony Paul in their Murder of a Gentle Land.[308]

During 12-14 November 1982 I was invited to an International Conference on Cambodia organized at Princeton University, where I presented the regional analysis of conditions in Democratic Kampuchea which appears in a book deriving from the 1981 Chiang Mai conference mentioned above, and in chapter three of Cambodia 1975-1982, neither of which had yet been published. I also wrote a paper on the Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand which was eventually published in a book edited by the Princeton conference organizers.[309]

I was dissatisfied with the way the discussion sections of the conference were organized, and the manner in which the organization prevented, or made it difficult, to bring up several matters for discussion. Therefore, following the conference I sent the following letter to all panelists, all those mentioned in its program as involved in its organization, and to selected members of the audience known to me as seriously interested in Cambodia.

Letter regarding Princeton Conference on Cambodia (1983)[310]

The purpose of this letter is to present, generally in terms of responses to matters raised in some of the panels, arguments for a point of view which I feel did not get enough attention at the conference - that the present government of Cambodia is the best of the available options and that support of the anti-Phnom Penh Coalition is malevolent.

Perhaps a useful point at which to begin is the presentation by Martin F. Herz during the final panel. Herz, as the self-appointed doyen of American Cambodia scholars, told us that because of his long experience with Cambodia he knows what the Cambodian people want, surely a relevant consideration. He says they want to be free, and under the present government they are not; that even if the Vietnamese and the PRK regime have made life a little bit better, they have destroyed ‘freedom’, and the Cambodians would prefer ‘freedom’ to a better life under Vietnamese hegemony.

Now, having begun my own contact with Cambodia in 1960, I may be the second oldest - in terms of involvement with that country - among the conference participants; and since Cambodia has been at the center of my academic and personal preoccupations ever since (residence 1960-64, frequent visits 1964-67, Ph.D. work on Southeast Asian history 1967-70, extended visits 1970-72, academic post teaching Southeast Asian history 1973-79, historical research 1979-present, work in Khmer refugee camps in 1980, visit to Cambodia 1981), I also have views about what the Cambodian people prefer.

To say simply that they want ‘freedom’ is both true and irrelevant. ‘Freedom’ means different things in different cultures and for different groups within a given culture; and without further specification talk of ‘freedom’ is meaningless [by now, in 2008, the Bush-Cheney regime info-ganda has forever discredited that argument about ‘freedom’].

In particular, ‘freedom’ versus de facto foreign domination may not even be an appropriate antithesis. The historical record shows that no Cambodian political faction for 200 years, perhaps longer, has chosen ‘freedom’ versus dependence on outside powers, with one exception - Democratic Kampuchea; and the preoccupation with that kind of freedom was one of the important factors leading DK down the horrible path it eventually followed.[311]

Dependency at the national level on outside forces has become so much a part of the national psyche that it is not even an element in the calculation of ‘freedom’ for ordinary Cambodians.

During the 1970-75 war, Cambodians who worked loyally for Lon Nol, even while detesting his regime, justified their choice in the following terms: “we can be slaves of Viet Nam or slaves of the United States, and we prefer the latter” and certainly other Americans in Phnom Penh in those days must have heard their Cambodian friends ask plaintively, “Why doesn’t the CIA do something?”, i.e. to replace Lon Nol by a better leader.

The first statement expressed a belief that the Cambodian revolutionaries were Vietnamese puppets, something since proven false; and since the only Cambodian regime to insist fiercely on full national independence behaved so abominably, that policy may now have been discredited rather than seeming, as in the pre-1975 period, merely impractical.

Certainly at the individual level Herz’s characterization of Cambodian desires is mistaken. Numerous foreign aid workers, journalists, and scholars who have visited the country since 1979 have fully documented, pace Herz, the general preference among the population for the present government over that represented by the DK remnants, or any coalition in which DK is important.

This preference for Vietnamese-backed amelioration of living conditions was apparent as early as January 1979 when the massive defection of the Cambodian population, including the relatively favored peasantry, allowed the Vietnamese forces to progress much faster than they had planned. As Timothy Carney pointed out in the first conference panel, they outran their logistics, clearly because they had expected much more popular support for DK than in fact existed.

The rapid fall of DK also surprised outside observers at the time. As Thai Supreme Commander General Saiyud Kerdphol recently said, no one had foreseen “the speed with which the Vietnamese troops drove across Kampuchea to the Thai border.”[312] There can be no doubt that if ‘freedom’ means return of the DK leaders, or any coalition in which they are prominent, most Cambodians living within the country prefer the system now in place.

That is not to say that they would prefer it to some other kind of hegemony, and that may be where Herz’s remarks were intended to lead. As his prescription for ‘freedom’, Herz called for greater American support for the ‘resistance’, that is the tripartite Coalition, with which the balance of forces, given outside support, could be redressed in favor of Sihanouk and Son Sann, to whom the DK forces would supposedly rally once the required outside support had enabled the Sihanouk and Son Sann groups to build up their strength.

Such is in fact the line expressed by those latter groups: if they received money and arms they could attract more soldiers, and if their forces then rose to a level equivalent to the Pol Pot group, most of the Pol Pot soldiery would defect to the other Coalition partners.

There is, however, a corollary to that argument which they sometimes express privately to foreign visitors to their border camps.

Gareth Porter, in his Panel I presentation, said that none of the concerned outside powers really believe that Sihanouk or Son Sann represent a viable third force. Neither do the leaders of those groups on the front lines. They are quite prepared to admit that even if their forces achieved maximum projected development, they would not be able, even in alliance with the DK group, to reconquer Cambodia. They are not even looking for a national popular uprising within the country against the present government and in support of the Coalition.

The displacement of the present Phnom Penh government, they say, can be accomplished only by foreign intervention, diplomatic or military, and the buildup of their own forces is thus for the purpose of inter-factional maneuvering, both now and in the future, after international pressure has reintroduced them to Cambodia [this is what happened in 1997. See pp. 501, ff.]

The third force, then, is no more independent of foreign support than the Heng Samrin-led PRK is alleged to be; and its internationally legitimized nucleus, which has nevertheless been rejected by the Cambodian population, has been cobbled together with leaders brought in from outside by foreign powers (Son San, In Tam, Dien Del, Buor Hell, etc.), and who having left Cambodia in 1975, or earlier, are now foreign creations even more than Heng Samrin.

Although it is possible that some Cambodians might prefer western hegemony with Son Sann or Sihanouk to the present situation, there is no way to determine the extent of such preference, and there is certainly ample spontaneous expression of opposition within the country to that third force so long as DK remains in the equation.

What about the half-million or so refugees who have voted with their feet and chosen ‘freedom’ over the PRK? As Zia Rizvi correctly stated in Panel VII, the refugee exodus in 1979 was prompted by a general fear of the unknown, not by persecution, which had ended with the overthrow of DK in January of that year, months before there was a large-scale movement to the border.

As Rizvi also noted, refugee situations take on significance when the movement is from socialist to capitalist areas, there being no chance for a socialist to socialist refugee movement (and, I would add, where the movement is from capitalist to capitalist countries, as from the Philippines to East Malaysia, or even from Thailand to the United States, movements numerically comparable to that out of Cambodia, they are disguised and the refugee aspect ignored).

Because of this, people who desired to leave Cambodia for whatever reasons (and their reasons have always been varied) have inevitably spoken of Communist or Vietnamese oppression. I have analyzed such stories in some detail in a forthcoming book and have treated the politics of the refugee camps in a paper for the Princeton conference.[313]

I will therefore only assert in the present context that in 1979-80 there was virtually no persecution of anyone but former DK cadres, and there was little starvation except among the DK remnants whose condition on reaching the Thai border was inaccurately generalized by the media to all refugees. The refugee situation was in part artificially created to discredit the PRK and weaken both it and Viet Nam; large numbers of those who chose to become refugees, and whose continued presence in the camps in Thailand is now seen as a serious problem by that country, made their choice because Khao I Dang, the most important camp, was available.

Even if, as Lionel Rosenblatt said in Panel VII, there was no authority for the UNHCR to feed people on the border (as opposed to bringing them across the border into camps), subsequent developments have shown that adequate food and medical care both can be, and have been, delivered to the border by other organizations. The arrival of refugees at the border in 1979-80, and the continued presence of many of them, in no way constitutes an argument against the PRK or in favor of support for the DK-Sihanouk-Son Sann Coalition.

There is in fact good evidence that many of the remaining refugees would now opt for the Vietnamese-sponsored ameliorated conditions of life within Cambodia if they were given a free and fair choice. The members of Panel VII, in their discussion of repatriation, relocation, and resettlement, did not address at all the problem of the Thai attitude toward those issues.

As I have described in my paper, Thai authorities have taken extremely contradictory positions, insisting on different occasions on their desire to be rid of the refugees, and yet opposing UNHCR efforts to organize repatriation back into Cambodia - a situation which well illustrates the political manipulations permeating the Cambodian refugee operations from their inception.

Furthermore, if Rizvi is correct in his estimate of 150,000 refugees who have returned on their own to Cambodia from the border, where they have a freer choice than in the camps within Thailand, that is a significant number of people who have voted with their feet against the Herzian ‘freedom’ of the Son Sann- Sihanouk milieu in favor of the improved living conditions of Cambodia. And since the PRK authorities permit the UNHCR to monitor such returnees, while the latter apparently have no fear of declaring their presence to be thus monitored, the circumstances argue well for an important degree of normal freedom and absence of political persecution.

The Thai position toward the PRK was presented and explained by Ambassador Kasemsri Birabhongse in the final panel; he qualified as ‘simplistic’ suggestions that the Vietnamese riposte against DK attacks had been appropriate and that recognition of the PRK would solve the outstanding problems.

He said the Vietnamese riposte went far beyond an appropriate response, that Thailand had been equally threatened by Pol Pot’s border atrocities but had showed restraint, that the overthrow of a legitimate government cannot be recognized (aggression should not be rewarded), and that the present Cambodian government with its Vietnamese military presence is a threat to Thailand. He also said that Cambodia should serve as a neutral buffer between Thailand and Viet Nam.

Now what constitutes ‘appropriate response’ is inevitably to some extent a subjective matter, but we must note that in addition to the thousands of deaths which DK incursions caused on the Vietnamese border, it is now known that the DK soldiery were encouraged to believe that their goal was the reconquest of the ‘lost’ Khmer provinces in southern Vietnam, leading to a legitimate inference that such was DK policy, even if no official document which would prove it has been discovered. Surely the overthrow of a government which is massively attacking a state’s borders and plotting significant territorial conquest is not entirely inappropriate.

Pace Ambassador Kasemsri, there was no comparison between DK attacks on Viet Nam and the minor incursions registered along the Thai border, the worst of which, causing 30 deaths, may not even have been what it had at first seemed.

On that occasion, on 28 January 1977, the victims were reportedly killed during an unprovoked DK incursion. There were, however, suspicious circumstances, a journalist who pointed them out found himself expelled from Thailand, and several months later three Thais were executed and others imprisoned for involvement in provoking the incident.[314]

As for threats to Thai security, either from the present Vietnamese presence in Cambodia or from DK incursions during 1975-79, interesting but generally ignored comments have on occasion emanated from high Thai military personalities.

Last December the Supreme Commander, Gen. Saiyud Kerdphol, commenting on Viet Nam’s unexpectedly rapid campaign against DK in 1978-79 said, “for the first time in 40 years, we had a powerful enemy (Vietnamese forces) poised on our doorsteps ... no longer could we afford to focus solely on domestic security considerations.”[315] So much for a DK threat to which Thailand, in contrast to Viet Nam, showed restraint.

Only a month earlier Gen. Saiyud had also said that “Viet Nam is incapable of mounting a major attack against Thailand”, implying thus that the undoubtedly “powerful enemy poised on our doorstep” was not there for the purpose of invading Thailand and was not a major threat to Thai security.[316]

The same message was conveyed by a Thai officer responsible for border security, the commander of the 9th Army Division in charge of the border in Prachinburi province who said that because of casualties and illness in their struggles with the DK forces, the Vietnamese had retreated about 10 km from the border where they lacked the capacity to strike into Thai territory.[317]

Another relevant remark in Gen. Saiyud’s November statement was that even if the Vietnamese engaged in “hot pursuit” into Thai territory, it “would not be on the scale of that mounted by Vietnamese forces ... over two years ago”.[318] As I have described in my conference paper, the scope of that attack, in contrast to subsequent propaganda about it, was very modest, and anything on a lesser scale could hardly amount to more than small cross-border spillovers, perhaps accidental.

Even at the time, in 1980, in the midst of hysteria generated by certain journalists and politicians, Gen. Saiyud tried to interject a note of calm: “it would take a 10-year Vietnamese buildup to create a serious invasion for conquest of Thailand”.[319]

There is thus an important section of Thai official opinion which does not see the Vietnamese troops in Cambodia as major threat to Thai security any more than the DK forces appeared to them as a threat during 1975-79; and if the undoubtedly very large Vietnamese military force in Cambodia is not there to threaten Thailand, it must be there, as the Vietnamese claim, and as the Cambodian population generally accepts, to protect the country from ‘Pol Pot’, whose forces, since 1979, have been rebuilt from defeat by Thai, Chinese, and American collusion.

The rationale for such support of the remnants of a ‘regime worse than Hitler’s’ has been, as Ambassador Kasemsri said, international legality, represented since June 1982 by the anti-communist [sic!] coalition, within which the Pol Pot group is in theory meant to be dissolved.[320]

Now the international legal ramifications are undoubtedly complex, and I do not pretend to be qualified to argue them, but certain elements of the situation deserve attention.

Following their victory in 1975 the Cambodian revolutionaries, already enjoying Chinese support, came to be recognized as Cambodia’s legal government, Democratic Kampuchea, by a number of nations, including Thailand, but not the United States, where calls for their forcible overthrow were heard even in usually responsible quarters.[321]

The overthrow of the earlier internationally recognized Khmer Republic of Lon Nol was thus acceptable to much of the world, and one difference from the change in 1979 was that by 1975 the Cambodian revolutionaries were an indigenous force, not requiring foreign manpower for support.

Some might wish to argue that DK derived its legitimacy from Sihanouk, but the latter was removed in due legal form by his own government, and Lon Nol’s Khmer Republic could claim to continue the legitimacy of Sihanouk’s Kingdom of Cambodia, as was recognized by such diverse powers as the United States, the Soviet Union, and Thailand. Even China hesitated, and showed signs of willingness to recognize Lon Nol had he maintained Sihanouk’s neutrality toward the conflict in Viet Nam.

Thus the presence of Sihanouk, and his former minister Son Sann, in the Coalition cannot add legitimacy to the DK remnants, whose position when in power was analogous to the Heng Samrin faction today, both groups having overthrown their predecessors by armed force, and the second of which in 1979, unlike the original DK of 1975, had already formed an important faction within the regime which it replaced.

Within the limits of these considerations the PRK government has a claim to legitimacy equal to that of DK in 1975, and as the victors in a civil war nearly equal to that of the DK remnants today. The sole important difference in their situations is that the PRK victory was gained with massive foreign armed support, which has permitted the charge that DK was the victim of foreign aggression and the PRK nothing more than a puppet regime.

Although the PRK nucleus was an indigenous faction within DK, and from May 1978 was engaged in civil conflict, they admittedly needed the Vietnamese support to win. The Pol Pot-led communists before them, however, had also needed and accepted Vietnamese and Chinese aid in their revolution against the Khmer Republic, and the latter had been dependent on American, Thai, and Republic of Viet Nam (Saigon) aid to maintain itself after overthrowing the legally constituted government of Sihanouk.

The revolutionaries of 1970-71 might very well have been destroyed without the Vietnamese support which they received in the early phases of their war, just as those in revolt in 1978-79 could not have succeeded without the aid which Viet Nam also provided to them.

The formal position of the PRK, then, is that of a rebel group which succeeded with massive foreign aid, as the Lon Nol regime tried to do but failed, and as the original Cambodian communist revolutionaries did, although in the end with less aid from foreign powers.

In spite of the foreign element in the PRK victory, the latter have increasingly taken on the appearance of a genuinely indigenous government which accepts the need for foreign military assistance for its national defense, a position toward which neither Thailand nor the United States, among its enemies, can convincingly adopt a high moral tone.

The members of the anti-Phnom Penh Coalition, on the other hand, not only required massive foreign aid to exist after 1979, but are still totally dependent on it. The DK remnants arrived virtually destroyed and starving at the Thai border and have been rehabilitated as part of the refugee operations, while the Son Sann and Sihanouk groups could never have developed at all without foreign aid. They are all even more dependent on foreign support than the PRK, and have little prospect of gaining power without foreign armed intervention, whether overt or disguised as an international supervisory force.

What the foreign supporters of the Coalition are trying to do, then, is to bring into Cambodia factions which could not on their own have become strong enough to enter the country and which probably have less popularity than the PRK government. If only the Pol Pot group are notorious, the Son Sann and Sihanouk groups also lack credibility.

I have discussed Sihanoukism in a recent publication; the reasons why Sihanouk’s overthrow in 1970 was welcomed by all who are now active in Pol Pot’s, Heng Samrin’s, and Son Sann’s forces are still operative. They were epitomized in November 1982 when the courtiers who run Sihanouk’s operations in Bangkok, in a caper like the scandals which rocked Cambodia in the 1960’s, attempted to sell forest timber rights within Cambodia to a private Thai firm - a move which finally had to be denounced both by Sihanouk and the Thai authorities.[322]

Half the present Cambodian population is too young to have a clear memory of Sihanouk as their leader; and when he visited the largest Cambodian refugee center in Thailand last July 7[1982], I was able to observe that it required several hours of exhortation by camp authorities to get out a respectable crowd to greet him.[323]

Son Sann’s officials in the field quite openly despise the Sihanoukists, but the KPNLF itself, although including honorable and professionally competent figures, is ridden with factional strife and its more corrupt elements seem to have too powerful backing to be removed with impunity.[324]

The international opposition to the PRK is not in order to make Cambodia genuinely free, independent, neutral, and non-aligned, but to change its alignment, to substitute one foreign hegemony for another. The buffer status evoked by Ambassador Kasemsri would mean a hegemony in which Thailand shared, as it did during the existence of an earlier Cambodian buffer state in the 19th century, and if the Cambodians themselves did not wish to constitute a buffer, some degree of foreign interference would be required now as then.

The only reasonable argument which could be pressed for a change of regime in Cambodia would be that a different hegemony would be better for the Cambodians, which, given the PRK record so far, would be a very difficult case to make.

[The present regime in Phnom Penh is by far the most benign the country has had since at least 1970, possibly even since some time before that date, and the Vietnamese troops there behave with exemplary correctness. The poverty of the Pol Pot-Son Sann-Sihanouk case is emphasized by the extremely dishonest antiVietnamese stories which they feel forced to propagate in order to justify their struggle.

As a substitute for the very benign hegemony and Vietnamese military protection which now prevails, the international conference resolutions are in fact asking for the return of (1) the Pol Pot forces whose record requires no comment, and (2) remnants of the Lon Nol army of scarcely better repute, and in support of which it is likely that we should eventually see (3) Thai troops, whom the most casual perusal of the Bangkok Post will show incapable of proper behavior even within their own country, (4) American military advisers, about whom the less is said the better, or (5) Chinese advisers, who, even if their behavior is exemplary, are tainted by the fact of having advised Pol Pot during his worst years.][325]

Elizabeth Becker and Nayan Chanda

Among the participants of the Princeton conference was former US Ambassador to Cambodia Emory Swank, who later, early in 1983, published a very sympathetic account of the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea based on a trip which he had made there.[326] Such sympathy was extremely unusual among mainstream writers, and Swank’s effort was not appreciated within his own milieu.

Another participant at Princeton was journalist Elizabeth Becker, who early the following year traveled to Cambodia and then in a series of articles in the Washington Post (28 February and 1 March 1983) offered a picture diametrically opposed to that of Swank.[327] Indeed, it was difficult to imagine that they were both writing about the same place at about the same time. I found her articles objectionable, and offered a critique, which the Post, in the manner of NYRB in the Shawcross case, did not acknowledge. Footnotes have been added later.

A Cycle of Journalistic Poverty (1983)[328]

Even if Cambodia by the very nature of its problems is so complex that any statement about it at all may be controversial, Elizabeth Becker’s “Cycle of Poverty” and subsequent articles belong on an editorial page, and cannot be accepted as straight news to be used as information to help the public form a reasoned opinion.

The title “Cycle of Poverty” is itself tendentious, and is not supported by the content, even if it is clear that Becker wishes to argue that Cambodia is caught in such a cycle. The subtitle, emphasizing “warfare and ban on aid” as 2 of 3 main causes for Cambodia’s current difficulties, is much more honest, and is apparently to be credited to the Post, not to Becker, since it is in contrast with the tone and content of her articles.

The latter contain virtually no factual information not already published in material which is presumably in files consulted by Becker before her trip, and even the rumors she reproduces could have been picked up outside Cambodia; for example, in a background briefing from the chief of the Cambodia desk at the State Department. In their factual and allegedly factual content, then, the Cambodia articles could have been written without visiting Cambodia.

It is only in their slant that they present something new in comparison to most of the reports by journalists, scholars and other competent observers (such as former US Ambassador to Cambodia Emory Swank), over the past 2 years. Indeed, for sheer acceptance of unsubstantiated rumor and tendentious interpretation, they have hardly been matched in writing on Cambodia since 1979.

Before dealing directly with Becker’s material, it is essential, given its editorial character, to recall certain background details of Cambodia’s history since 1975, and the conventional view of those developments in the West.

Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea (DK) was castigated as the ‘worst regime since Hitler’s’ for its atrocities, starting with the evacuation of urban areas and the destruction of all that was considered ‘normal’, civilized, bourgeois life.

When the Salvation Front, forerunner of the present Peoples Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) government, was formed in December 1978, it promised to rectify those atrocities and reestablish towns with their normal infrastructure of administration, schools, medical facilities, free choice of occupation, freedom of movement, and, with respect to religion, “liberty of conscience”.

Thus the Salvation Front was promising to do what all western critics of DK had said should be done. The only serious difference between the SF program and western preference was the insistence that Cambodia should progress toward socialism rather than return to the Sihanouk-Lon Nol era ‘capitalism’ which the enemies of DK would have preferred.

Those promises have in very large measure been kept, pace Becker’s assertions that recovery has ended, that the PRK has failed to “keep its word and rebuild the country as well as give them the basic freedoms outlawed under Pol Pot”, and that Cambodians are well behind other Southeast Asian villagers who can “take for granted: clean water, a measure of sanitation ... and a dependable supply of affordable food” [see further below].

Throughout 1979-81 nearly complete freedom of movement was tolerated even if not officially authorized. This permitted both a rapid repopulation of urban areas and a large-scale movement toward the Thai border in which over half Cambodia’s surviving doctors and other thousands of teachers, technicians and administrators whom the country badly needed were siphoned off into the refugee camp system, with the effect of further destabilizing the already fragile society.

Fear of starvation in 1979 was replaced by belief that the country might be food self-sufficient in 1981, a projection belied by natural calamities. Since then production has picked up, and although some food aid is still needed, the situation is steadily improving.

A conventional administration, centered in towns, has been built up; schools, as Becker wrote, were rapidly established, as were medical facilities, to the extent permitted by available personnel and supplies. To staff the new services, competent survivors of whatever political background - Sihanoukist, Lon Nol Republican, or reformed DK cadres - were invited to take up employment with the new government. Those who cooperated loyally, even if they had never been pro-revolutionary in the past, have often found themselves promoted to positions far higher than what they could have expected under Sihanouk or Lon Nol.

Tens of thousands of other people have been allowed to freely trade and enrich themselves, if possible, in the towns, which even if contrary to the professed socialism of the regime, is something which the capitalist West, along with the surviving apolitical populace, should approve.

It is obvious that this freedom has had some deleterious effects, as Becker noted, but that is not a problem on which the socialism, or the Vietnamese backing, of the PRK may be attacked. I agree that it is unpleasant to see traders “growing fat and wealthy” while officials are underpaid and children undernourished, but would Becker support the obvious solution: confiscation or high taxation of those traders, abolition of free trade, socialized markets? Becker seems at some points to damn them whatever they do.

It is true that claims to ownership of land and buildings have not always been recognized, but in Phnom Penh, at least, most former property owners are dead or have fled abroad, and the records to substantiate property claims have probably been destroyed.

If private real estate ownership were recognized, it would mean that those “fat and wealthy” traders who have squatted in Phnom Penh’s villas and apartments would be getting even fatter and wealthier on real estate speculation, something of which I think even Becker would disapprove in Cambodia’s present situation.[329] It would be interesting to know precisely where Becker obtained her information on this point.

I have met people who were able to return to their old homes after the overthrow of DK. In September 1981, in Battambang, on a visit to the provincial cadastral office and after listening to their new plans to re-survey a certain area for uniform-sized single-family housing plots, I asked about the status of a piece of land in the municipal area of Battambang owned by my wife and the deed to which was in my possession. The answer was that such claims to ownership could be given consideration, depending on the size of the plot, its location, and the presence of the owner in Cambodia.

Certain areas had been appropriated for state use, and claims to previously owned property could not exceed the size designated for housing units in the government’s new scheme; but I was not told that “claims of previous ownership have no validity”. In any case it must not be forgotten that the PRK promised development toward socialism, not return to full private ownership.

One of Becker’s very dubious assertions about PRK failures is that “the authorities have suppressed Buddhism”, something contrary to the observation of any other visitor of whom I have heard. First of all, to keep the record straight, the Salvation Front promised, not “to allow the Buddhists to form their own organization” [Becker’s words], but “liberty of conscience”. Even the refugees who streamed to the Thai border in 1979-80, and who were ipso facto antiregime, were quite willing to report on the revival of religious life with reopened temples, reordained monks, and freedom for the populace to worship.

The same was clear during my visit to Phnom Penh, Battambang, and Siemreap in the autumn of 1981, when I saw many functioning temples and others being cleaned up preparatory to opening. Those in operation were not locked “except for the few most important religious holidays” [Becker’s words]. Suppression of religion now, since 1981, would represent a reversal of the policy of 1979-81, and if true it deserves attention, but Becker’s treatment of the issue is inadequate and propagandistic.

Becker may well have picked up complaints from people who are dissatisfied that everything did not immediately revert to pre-1970 conditions, but that does not justify her assertions of religious suppression, nor, in itself, criticism of the PRK.

If the authorities are attempting to integrate the religious structure with the political system they are only doing what the state authorities in every Theravada Buddhist country of Asia have done for centuries. Using temple buildings for meetings of general community interest, including political discussions, is nothing new. Under Sihanouk monks were expected to tout his Sangkum, while Lon Nol called for ‘Religious War’ and used temples as recruitment centers.[330]

The political use of religion has never bothered anyone so long as the politics were right; and there is nothing shocking about monks “learning about the new socialist system”. Sihanouk on occasion had them out building dikes in his program of manual labor for national development.

Certain activities connected with religion have been curtailed. The number of festival days has been limited as has the amount that should be spent on ceremonies, including weddings. Officially no one under the age of 50 is supposed to enter monkhood, but in 1981 it was easy to observe that the rule had not been enforced.

There are obvious practical and acceptable reasons for such limits. In the country’s dire economic straits as much as possible of its wealth and workforce should be directed into productive channels; and the undesirability of conspicuous consumption in, for example, weddings, by the fortunate few, say, Becker’s “fat and wealthy” traders, seems self-evident in Cambodia’s circumstances.

Incidentally, if old Cambodia hands wish to demonstrate their close contact with sources of information by dropping names, they must get the names right. There is no “Wat Niroat Reaingsei” (the temple where Becker picked up some of her information) in Phnom Penh, nor anywhere else, for that is an impossible name. Becker no doubt means Wat Pipheat Reaingsei; and the error intriguingly suggests a foreigner unsuccessfully attempting to decipher Khmer script.[331]

Once the towns, with their offices, markets, temples, and schools, were permitted to redevelop in 1979 the new authorities were faced with the problems of maintaining them in the absence of normal supply and support infrastructures which had not existed since 1975, nor functioned properly since 1970. The first problem was how to feed the new urban population. Should the new officials, teachers, monks, medical workers, students be expected to perform those tasks and at the same time grow or forage for their own food?

The pragmatic laissez-faire which has been permitted under a socialist facade has meant that no taxes or forced sales have been imposed on the peasants who may dispose of their surpluses as they choose. This has contributed to peasant efforts in redevelopment of agriculture, but the food grown is outside the towns and in the hands of the growers, who may choose to sell it across the border in Thailand, or exchange it in Cambodian markets for consumer goods imported across the Thai border.

Should the government, in order to feed the towns, have used Pol Pot-type discipline to forcibly squeeze food out of a severely disrupted countryside? Had they done so they would have been attacked both at home and abroad.

The solution chosen was to feed the towns with foreign aid and leave the peasants total freedom to consume or dispose of their production as they wished. As a result the PRK was subjected to months of dishonest criticism by virtually every journalist writing about Cambodia: food was being diverted from needy villagers to feed bureaucrats and party members.

Villagers were needy, but they were out where food was grown or available for forage. Urban dwellers were even more needy, and criticism about the distribution pattern is quite out of place from those who had made destruction of towns a symbol for the evils of Pol Pot and their rehabilitation a touchstone for return to normality.

Most serious observers of Cambodia have now realized the dishonesty of that particular criticism, and Becker does not repeat it. She does, however, speak of “politicization of aid”, and only in the utilization of foreign aid by the Cambodian government, not in the “refusal of the international aid community, led by the United States, to give more than emergency aid to Cambodia”.

The last perfectly true and important consideration is among a list of 6 reasons for Cambodia’s slide into a “dangerous new cycle of poverty”. Another of the reasons, in an apparent show of evenhandedness, is “the failure of the Soviet Union to provide the major relief it promised”, which is amplified farther on in the article. The “Soviet record since (1979) has been dismal”, says Becker, and “according to Cambodian sources, Moscow has failed to provide at least two-thirds of the aid it promised”. “Little aid comes from Communist countries”.

Now without seeing the texts of the Soviet-Cambodia aid documents we do not know what precisely Moscow promised, but the picture of Soviet aid as seen from another angle is quite different.

In its 10 February 1983 issue the Far Eastern Economic Review reported on ‘politicization of aid’ to Cambodia. Western donors to the UN Cambodian relief operations had just pledged a total of $14.2 million, but only $1.2 million, from Sweden, was for work inside Cambodia, the rest being for support of the antiPhnom Penh operations on the Thai border.

The western delegates had then complained about Moscow’s aid to Cambodia, which in 1982 alone had included the delivery of $82 million of industrial and consumer goods. In addition there had been road and bridge equipment, which had apparently been put to proper use in a task which Becker recognizes as one of the more important: restoration of the transportation network.

The Soviets also restored about 7500 hectares of rubber trees to help get that rubber plant about which Becker complained into operation again. Further important contributions were to the restoration of telephone exchanges, power stations, technical education, both within Cambodia and for Cambodian students in the Soviet Union, the fishing industry, and medical facilities.

There was, indeed, no mention of a water system for Phnom Penh, which Becker faults them for neglecting, and it is impossible to know whether the aid actually given really represents less than one-third of what was promised, but their record on aid to Cambodia is so far superior to that of the US government that it is in bad taste for an American journalist to quibble over such details.

Indeed the magnitude of Soviet aid to Cambodia has incensed the western UN donors precisely because it is development, designed to keep Cambodia out of the ‘cycle of poverty’ which the US and ASEAN have sought to maintain in order to exert political pressure on the PRK and Vietnam.

In pointing out these other aspects of the question, however, I do not mean to deny all ‘politicization of aid’ by Cambodian authorities. There is no doubt that some “ministries want to squeeze ... money”, examples of which I was made aware during my visit in 1981. Whether there is more such squeeze than could reasonably be expected under the circumstances is impossible to determine, but it is no doubt in part related to the pattern of survivors within the new government.

Becker noted, with apparent shock, that many officials “are survivors of the (Pol Pot) government that unleashed the bloodbath”. This is true, although Becker’s inferences, as I shall discuss below, are unfair.

Another aspect of the bureaucracy, and one which has been described in several articles over the past two years, is that the overwhelming majority of officials below the topmost level are non-revolutionary survivors of the Sihanouk and Lon Nol regimes where ministerial squeeze was a fine art and one of the reasons, as Becker notes, for the demoralized Cambodian society of 197075 and the government’s defeat by the communists.

It could well be that this numerical preponderance of pre-revolutionary survivors makes a large contribution to the return of “deeply ingrained customs ... leisurely (work) pace ... long rest at midday ... countless holidays,” which once upon a time were held to reflect the easygoing charm of those happy Khmers, but now, apparently, are to be evoked as signs of demoralization under socialist oppression.

The predominance of non-communist, even anti-communist, survivors in the bureaucracy, and the reemergence of quaint old Royalist and Republican customs no doubt account for the importance given to political indoctrination. People who grew up and were educated at a time when corruption in government was the norm must be convinced of the necessity to work for exiguous salaries while a profiteering private market sector is tolerated. The government should not be condemned for trying to inculcate loyalty to the common good in place of anarchic individualism.

And what is wrong with Indochinese solidarity? Why is it somehow more heinous than the anti-Vietnamese racist propaganda of the three preceding regimes? There have no doubt been silly mistakes in the organization of political courses, but given Cambodia’s experiences over the past 20 years political indoctrination in itself cannot be condemned, nor can it, on the basis of Becker’s anecdotes, be blamed for the country’s current poverty.

Within the “unsettling jigsaw puzzle of many layers of recent Cambodia history” (why ‘unsettling’? Every old and interesting city is a jigsaw puzzle), Becker noticed a “similarity ... to the Lon Nol era, particularly the later years”. She describes, now as then, officers in white Mercedes and soldiers treating friends to banquets.

There is a degree of truth in that. In 1974 Phnom Penh was run down, salaries were inadequate, and malnutrition was rampant among the underprivileged, as may well be the case today. But in 1974 it was wartime deterioration in spite of massive aid from the world’s richest country, while today Cambodia has been emerging from a chaos which was in part the legacy of that war, and in spite of the attempt by that same rich country to block all development.

Becker no doubt saw hungry people in Phnom Penh this year, and she may have seen a few pretentious officers or corrupt soldiers, but she has not, in contrast to 1974, seen a country bombed to pieces by its ally, nor daily shootouts in the streets, nor generals growing wealthy on phantom battalions paid for by the rich ally, nor an entire elite of officers, officials, merchants and landlords scandalously overprivileged and fattening themselves on war profits.

Today most of those in direct state employ are constrained to penury and subject to strict discipline, and there is no fat in military aid provided by the Vietnamese. In 1974 the white Mercedes and other luxuries were imported with money diverted from essential supplies or soldiers’ salaries, whereas the few such cars that exist today have been pulled out of the scrap heaps to which superfluous vehicles were consigned by Pol Pot.[332]

If the “ruling government has (again) the air of a caretaker government” (and Becker doesn’t tell us what that is supposed to mean), its record is incomparably better than that of 1974, and to say that “the country is far poorer” now is disinformative. On this last point one need go no farther than comparative food production statistics; but perhaps Becker thinks that national wealth is to be measured by the incomes and lifestyles of overprivileged elites. Did her sensitive nose detect a “scent of corruption in the air”? Quite possibly, but when in Cambodia’s history was there not? Well, in Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea.

I noted above Becker’s shock at DK survivors in the PRK leadership. Instead of ‘de-Stalinization’ or ‘de-Nazification’ with a mass trial of “tens of thousands” of former DK personnel which Becker wants, the same Communist Party, she complains, is still in power, led by men who had no objection to Pol Pot until they found themselves in danger. That party’s complicity in DK crimes is studiously concealed, and the archives of the former Tuol Sleng prison have been closed because the confessions there would be embarrassing for the present government.

Surely de-Stalinization and de-Nazification are unfortunate examples to evoke, given the very limited extent of the former and the recent embarrassing revelations about who blocked certain de-Nazification proceedings in the past and contributed to the escape and concealment of a certain notorious Nazi, in a manner resembling contributions to the rehabilitation and maintenance of the Pol Pot nucleus since 1979.[333]

In any case the PRK, contrary to Becker’s allegations, has gone much further than either. There was a trial of the former regime, in August 1979, and it produced several hundred pages of documents, translated into French, and available to researchers for the past three years. It was not conducted as a vendetta and blood purge leading to the execution or imprisonment of ten thousand more Cambodians, as Becker would like, but was in order to publicize and document what had happened during 1975-79.

In contrast to de-Stalinization, the DK political and economic systems have been completely destroyed, their policies reversed, and the ‘examination’ of them which Becker calls for may now seem superfluous since all Cambodians are well aware of what happened. And unlike the results of de-Nazification, those PRK leaders who were prominent in DK have not tried to conceal their past. Their positions are well known and have been proclaimed to the public in official publications; and they do not appear to fear acts of revenge from the population.

If they have no fear of revealing their past it is because all Cambodians know, and have described for foreign researchers, who over the 2-3 years have published material which must have come to Becker’s attention, that in the very compartmentalized administrative structure of DK there were very great differences in living conditions and treatment of the population both among zones, regions, or even contiguous villages, and from one year to the next.

Because of such administrative compartmentalization those in one zone, including important officials, often did not know what was going on in other areas, and in particular were not involved in purges which occurred outside their own administrative units.

In general the best zone of all was the East, where living conditions were tolerable and killings few until it was purged by the DK central authorities, partly in 1977, and then totally and massively in 1978. Most of the DK survivors among the PRK leadership are former East Zone officials.

Their crime in the eyes of Pol Pot was to have been too closely associated with the old Indochina Communist Party, or the first Cambodia party founded in 1951, and therefore resistant to Pol Pot’s extremism, or potentially conciliatory toward Vietnam (which, we may recall, was advising and following a quite different, and much more benign, revolutionary path). The real Pol Pot killers are not in Phnom Penh, but in the anti-PRK Coalition supported and maintained on the Thai border by the US, China, and ASEAN.[334]

Thus it is not just the same party which has been reconstituted as a continuity from DK, the present leaders cannot be qualified as the same “who ran the government for Pol Pot”, and there need be no embarrassment about the role of the present party under DK nor its complicity in the crimes perpetrated under that regime. Although Pol Pot led the party from 1962, no one was aware of nor predicted the line he would follow after 1975.

The present party dates its founding from the party of 1951, in which some of the present leadership participated at a time when Pol Pot was still a schoolboy. For him, that party was anathema, and he dated his party from 1960 in order to signal a break with all that the old party represented, in particular its close links to Viet Nam.

The only point in all of this on which Becker is correct is that there were factions within the party and its leadership, and among them were many who opposed Pol Pot’s policies both before and after 1975, especially afterward. There were even attempted coups against Pol Pot - thus the purges which tore DK apart.

Those purges of high party cadres were often clandestine and unknown outside the security apparatus and this, together with administrative compartmentalization, served to keep the opposition split, unable to present a united front against the Pol Pot faction. The central leadership did go mad after 1975, but the entire party were not accomplices, and there is no way to maintain that Viet Nam contributed to the massacres.

For the history of the DK period the archives in the former Tuol Sleng prison are indeed as important as Becker says. They are the major surviving documentary source for the DK period, and they have already contributed greatly to our knowledge of Cambodia under Pol Pot. They have not, however, been “completely closed to Cambodians” - I have met many who examined them.

If few foreigners have been allowed to see them, perhaps really the half dozen Becker alleges, it is because there are hardly more than that number of foreigners both qualified to use them - they are written in Khmer - and involved in the study of modern Cambodian history.

The present administration has in fact been extremely generous in giving foreigners access to those files. Every qualified researcher who has visited Phnom Penh has been given virtual carte blanche to browse, photograph, take notes, and carry entire dossiers off to some foreign aid agency office for photocopying. The access granted Becker herself is proof of this generosity, since she is not among those capable of using the documents.

Of course, one cannot just walk in off the street and demand to see them. A certain application procedure is involved, as is customary for such collections anywhere in the world.

Becker goes on to tell us what the archives ‘reveal’ about the nature of the Cambodian revolution, though how she knows what they reveal, since she cannot read them, is unclear. If, as she at one point writes, the documents tell of “purges based less on ideological differences than on Pol Pot’s obsession with loyalty, power and searches for scapegoats,” which, I would say, is a reasonable inference from much of the Tuol Sleng material, then they support the present government’s contention that Pol Pot and his narrow coterie were to blame for the disaster of DK.

But Becker will not have this, and resorts to a claim that “certain factions won or lost in various power plays, but the entire party was involved.” Now that is one thing which the Tuol Sleng documents do not reveal. In the power plays on record there, no other faction than that of Pol Pot ever won, their leaders were one after another wiped out because they were unenthusiastic about the Pol Pot line, and the Tuol Sleng records show that Pol Pot had developed an obsessive hatred towards the 1951 party and all who had associated with it.

Becker wishes to make a major point out of the circumstance that “one could argue” it was only the purges which “forced some party members to turn against the Pol Pot regime”. One could argue, as I would, that it was only the purges that made the DK regime atrocious. Given the state in which the country was left by Lon Nol and the US it was not an atrocity to put everyone to productive work, eliminate old-regime privileges, and for a time insist on a rigidly egalitarian lifestyle.

It was an atrocity to assume that mediocre or poor results were due to traitors or malingerers and resort to mass executions as a corrective. It was also an atrocity to take available food away from hungry people to stockpile for attacks against Viet Nam, that is, for a goal like that encouraged by the present-day foreign backers of Pol Pot and his Coalition.

Cambodia may, unfortunately, be slowing down after the hopeful develop- pments of the PRK’s first three years; and it is discouraging that industry is at an even lower level than under DK, with PRK officials disingenuously blaming the situation entirely on Pol Pot’s destruction. Pol Pot did, however, as Becker admits, kill off large numbers of the country’s industrial personnel, including skilled workers, but he was able to keep factories going with captive laborers.

The PRK now suffers from a serious lack of skilled people, and having given the population freedom of movement and choice of work cannot dragoon them into factories at wages which may not be interesting. Those who might in other circumstances work in factories may now prefer to remain farmers or engage in petty trade. In any case it is in bad taste for an American journalist to assess major blame on political indoctrination or lack of Soviet aid.

Not only have the United States and its allies tried, as a matter of deliberate policy, to block redevelopment of Cambodia by limiting aid to emergency supplies, but they have rehabilitated Pol Pot and other anti-PRK groups on the Thai border under cover of a refugee system which has also drained off much of Cambodia’s surviving talent.

Because of the escape valve on the border, Cambodians dissatisfied with even those irksome details of life which might occur anywhere may run to the border and, alleging Vietnamese or communist oppression, receive succor and sympathy. This is one important reason why the PRK cannot limit the runaway and wasteful free market, cannot tax in order to use local resources in reconstruction, nor even organize the population in self-help work teams to repair roads or clean up Phnom Penh, measures which in the circumstances would be reasonable and could not honestly be attributed to ‘oppression’.

The insufficiencies of Becker’s treatment result from several circumstances. There is the lack of historical perspective, or even historical accuracy, to which I have given attention above.

Then there is the anti-Vietnamese, anti-socialist slant which permits denigration of anything done by Viet Nam, or in the name of socialism, no matter how objectively necessary or positive the measure might otherwise appear. Where perfect freedom is hindered, as in the private reappropriation of Phnom Penh real estate, that is bad, but where freedom is permitted, as in market trading, that is bad too.

If bureaucrats, or officers, envious of the “fat and wealthy” traders, seek to moonlight, or to apply ministerial squeeze, the regime is condemned, but efforts to keep them in line through education and persuasion, rather than with the threat of death as under Pol Pot, are castigated as political indoctrination.

There is also some question about the reporting of ‘fact’. I have no doubt that some “Cambodian sources” blame all defects on political indoctrination or that one may hear of misused aid and dishonest officials; but among Cambodian refugees over the past three years, or in casual contacts within the country, one has heard all manner of things which were just not true.

The preconceived anti-Viet Nam bias and a vacuum cleaner approach to ‘fact’ are combined in the contrast Becker asserted, in her 27 February article on Viet Nam, between liberalization in Viet Nam and Viet Nam’s “rigid colonial policies in Cambodia”.

This is grossly dishonest; in fact, it is disinformative propaganda on two counts. There is nothing in Viet Nam’s position in Cambodia which can be called ‘colonial’, by any accepted definition of that term, and liberalization of the type Becker describes in Viet Nam has in fact gone much further in Cambodia.

I realize that the determination of truth and falsity is not an easy matter. It requires comparison of many sources, and journalists may not have the time, or in the case of Cambodia, the linguistic competence. They could, however, even while protecting their sources, indicate whether the reports they have heard are from people who claim eye-witness experience or who themselves have only heard what they are reporting, whether the story is from an old and trusted friend or a random street acquaintance (the ubiquitous taxi driver, or in Phnom Penh the pedicab man), or whether it is generalized rumor.

Rumors, like hard facts, may be interesting items of news, but a certain unfortunate journalistic technique gives all such news items equal value as ‘fact’, regardless of source or context. The opinions on political indoctrination held by various groups and strata of the Cambodian population are interesting and valuable news items, but one cannot accept as fact that political indoctrination is responsible for stagnation just because it is a fact that some Cambodians make such statements.

It is a fact that some features of Phnom Penh today resemble 1974, but the totality of the situation renders such comparison almost meaningless, if not consciously deceptive. Allegations that Soviet aid is less than promised, or less than required, are also facts, but set within the total foreign aid picture the slant given by Becker is disingenuous.

Although Becker no doubt heard such an assertion, as I have, it is not true that all good housing in Phnom Penh has been taken over by Vietnamese and Soviets; and it requires no more than a casual walk around the city and visits to Cambodian government installations to ascertain the inaccuracy of such statements.

I also recall a refugee, an engineer who had worked for the new government in 1979 and early 1980, when there were far more Vietnamese experts and advisers in Phnom Penh than now, telling me that the Vietnamese with whom he had worked lived, apparently as a matter of policy, at a less comfortable material level than their Cambodian counterparts.

It may also be a fact that the PRK does not encourage the return of people who fled the country since 1979, but those doctors, etc., who would be refused permission “to come back and help rebuild the country” ran away just at the moment when they had been freed from oppression and the threat of death, and when the new authorities were begging for their services. Neither have they shown notable inclination to return and offer their services.

There is certainly room for honest value judgement about what is desirable in economic recovery or political reconstruction, but honest assessment must take into account what is feasible under the given circumstances, and that in turn may involve consideration of comparable development in other circumstances.

Thus, it is true that Cambodia’s health, economy and politics are precarious, and there may be reason for particular concern over developments during the past year, but is the situation simply depressing, or is it worse that could reasonably be expected under the existing circumstances? Becker seems to think it is worse, and wishes to place blame on political education, malevolence of the regime (broken promises), and niggardly Soviet aid.

More important, I should say, are the constraints placed on development by lack of trained personnel and equipment (which result primarily from DK massacres, the foreign backed border operations, and the refugee system), as well as limits placed on aid from the affluent West, matters outside PRK control and thus among the existing circumstances. Given such impediments to reconstruction, it is dishonest to focus on the low material standard of living rather than the progress made in the past three years, in particular the improved quality of life.

It is also informative to make some comparison with neighboring countries, as Becker attempted in her assertion that Cambodians were well behind other Southeast Asian villagers.

In Thailand, for example, where there has been no war, foreign invasion, carpet bombing, nor revolution, where foreign investment is massive and the sympathy of the most advanced Western powers is enjoyed, health authorities, as in Cambodia, are concerned about serious malnutrition among half or more of the country’s children, and only 30% of the population has a safe water supply (Bangkok Post, 18 Oct. 1981, p. 8).

Moreover, the food supply situation there, in nutritional terms, may be deteriorating (Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholar, 14/4[1982], p. 21). Since 1980, as I discovered while working in the refugee camps, there has been some concern that the ‘high’ standard of living of Cambodian refugees may evoke invidious comparison and ultimate political disaffection by the poor Thai peasants who observe them.

It is amusing now to set the tone and newsworthyness of Becker’s presentation against the boasting of Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee, “I have no politics. I’m a newspaperman, who tried to put out the best big-city daily in America”. “ I ... let the editorial pages take over the opinionated stuff”.[335]

I not only sent the critique of Becker’s articles to the Washington Post, but realizing of course that there was no chance of publication there, I also sent it to a number of persons interested in Cambodia and to the Far Eastern Economic Review. The then Deputy Editor, Philip Bowring, replied in an interesting manner. He said that they could not use my material directly, because “[a]s these [Becker’s articles] did not appear in the Review - though they were offered to us - I really do not think we can devote space to demolishing them [FEER, apparently, did not think much more of Becker than I did]. However, if you would like to write us a 5th Column criticizing press coverage in general of developments in Cambodia since 1975, which could include references to Becker’s recent pieces, we would be most interested”.[336]

I accepted Bowring’s suggestion, and on 5 May 1983 sent an article, “Cambodia and the Media”, which is printed below. By that time FEER had published a letter from the KPNLF, who, relying on Becker’s articles as evidence, attacked Emory Swank’s positive assessment of the situation in the PRK. Whether or not Becker had based her articles on information she was fed at the border, she had certainly written what they wanted.[337]

The reply to me from FEER came in the form of a rocket from Editor Derek Davies, saying, in essence, that Bowring had not meant what he had said. What the Review wanted was an expansion of “those portions of your critique of Elizabeth Becker which dealt with the difficulties faced by reporters in circumstances such as they faced in covering Cambodia [there were no such portions] ... a somewhat sympathetic analysis of these difficulties”.

In particular he objected to my attributing anti-Vietnamese feelings to Shawcross, and political bias to journalists. At the end, however, he wrote, “I would like you to try again along the lines I describe ... ”, which I think can fairly be described as an offer of money to write something which he knew I did not believe (the Review was then paying $250 per 1,000 words published).[338]

Cambodia and the Media (2003)[339]

A recent series of articles in the Washington Post (27 February-1 March, 1983) by Elizabeth Becker has attracted attention for their striking contrast to what has been written about Cambodia over the past two years by most journalists, scholars and other competent observers, such as former US ambassador Emory Swank (FEER 17 March 1983), and because that slant is congruent with the line of one particular Cambodian faction who now cite Becker, against Swank, as proof of their legitimacy (FEER 14 April 1983, 6-7).

To be sure, Cambodia, by the very nature of its problems is a trap for the unwary, and the complexity of its situation is such that any statement at all may be controversial. Even given that circumstance, however, English-language journalism since 1975 has been exceptionally noteworthy for controversy not only over interpretation, but also fact, and for abrupt shifts in viewpoint which indicate ideological bias and selective use of evidence.

Thus, in 1975-76 several articles in FEER, whose record in Indochina reportage has generally been good, characterized the Cambodian revolutionary leadership, in particular Saloth Sar / Pol Pot and Ieng Sary, as pro-Vietnamese, a view which seems ludicrous in the light of subsequent revelations about Democratic Kampuchea (DK). It illustrates how a simple preconception - that Cambodian leftists must somehow be working for Viet Nam - could totally distort the true situation.[340]

The search for a Vietnamese devil, often eagerly supported by Cambodian informants, has linked several phases of western media attention to Cambodia; including the recent articles by Becker, who asserted Vietnamese responsibility in the Pol Pot massacres.

During most of the DK period, however, arrangement of Cambodian news to fit an anti-Viet Nam bias was held in abeyance, for the allegedly atrocious nature of DK could hardly be related to the methods being used in Viet Nam, particularly from 1977 when full-scale enmity between the two countries became clear to all.

Most of the Western media sought to portray Cambodia, following the evacuation of Phnom Penh and the massacres of Republican officers in Battambang, as an unmitigated chamber of horrors where intellectuals were killed on sight and most people lived on starvation rations.

John Barron’s and Anthony Paul’s Murder of a Gentle Land and Francois Ponchaud’s Cambodia Year Zero are the best known examples; and the Bangkok press corps has offered “a thick file of news clippings dating back to May 1975” to prove their assiduity in writing about “the massacres and misery in Cambodia” (FEER 5 February 1982, p. 3).

In contrast to that approach there were others, including myself, who saw that not all refugees had horror stories, that much of the general hardship was an effect of the war, and that the available evidence did not permit conclusions like those drawn by Barron and Paul or by Time in its article of 26 April 1976. This more nuanced material, when it was published at all, was given little notice until collected and published by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman in the Political Economy of Human Rights, the Cambodia chapter of which requires little modification in the light of new evidence.

The same more balanced approach was also adopted by some of those reporting in FEER. William Shawcross wrote in the 2 January 1976 issue that refugee accounts “suggest [emphasis added] that the Khmer Rouge is finding it hard to govern the country except by coercion” and “even suggest that terror is being employed as a system of government”. The refugees themselves, however, in spite of complaints about “young and old ... dying of starvation”, “did not appear to be in a sorry condition”.

Shawcross concluded that life in Cambodia was “appalling”, but he recognized that “it is impossible ... talking to some refugees and reading the radio monitoring, to say how a country is being run”; and he emphasized that if an atrocity was being perpetrated, it “did not begin in April[1975] - it simply entered its sixth year”.

Donald Wise, in FEER 23 September 1977, intended to follow the horror version of DK, emphasizing “the liquidation of intellectuals and professionals”, but he merely repeated the more extreme allegations then current, referred to Barron and Paul as a source, and cited one new informant who badly damaged his case by reporting that “the normal ration per person is two condensed milk cans [500 grams] of dry rice a day”, an adequate, almost normal, ration, and a luxury in most of DK.

The Review’s Indochina specialist Nayan Chanda, in particular, was properly circumspect given the evidence available at the time. On 16 October 1976 he wrote “most observers agree that the worst excesses are over”, adding that “part of the killing was the action of the have-nots against the haves”, inspired by a desire for revenge and the effects of a savage war. He also considered that most refugees, then coming from isolated work sites near the Thai border, “rarely have any information of value”.

A year later (21 October 1977), writing “occasional executions continue, the refugees say”, following “the first rush of executions of top military and civilian officials in the summer of 1975”, Chanda still showed concern for a fair analysis of the then available information.

After the simmering Cambodia-Viet Nam conflict erupted into open warfare in 1977 and relations were broken off at the end of the year, the Vietnamese began accusing Phnom Penh of atrocities after the manner of the Western press, and the latter took this as confirmation of their efforts to expose DK and as proof that those who had more skeptically assessed the evidence had been mistaken.

A careful reading of statements from Viet Nam, however, revealed that apart from reports of Cambodian attacks across the border, which did show a propensity for cruelty, most of the Vietnamese statements about DK atrocities had been culled from the uncritical Western press and could in no way be taken as independent confirmation of the latter.

But the Vietnamese intervention and overthrow of Pol Pot did not occasion the expected rejoicing from those who had most strongly attacked his regime. Rather there was a shift in journalistic attention from the atrocities of DK to alleged Vietnamese oppression of Cambodians, and the theme of Vietnamese malevolence behind Cambodian difficulties came once more to the fore.

One important article of that genre was William Shawcross’s “The End of Cambodia?”, New York Review of Books 24 January 1980, in which he retailed a number of anti-Vietnamese stories provided by Francois Ponchaud from the Khmer Serei (now Son Sann and Sihanouk) border camps, giving emphasis to Ponchaud’s allegations that the Vietnamese “are treating the Cambodians with almost as much contempt as the previous regime did” and “are now conducting a subtle ‘genocide’ in Cambodia”.

In the intensity of his anti-Vietnamese feelings, or perhaps just manifesting still the careful approach he had adopted in 1976, Shawcross even seemed to doubt that DK had been as bad as portrayed, writing “whether there was an ‘Asian Auschwitz’ in this particular place and with these precise methods remains uncertain”.

The Ponchaud-Shawcross line of 1979 was shared by the CIA in their report, “Kampuchea: A Demographic Catastrophe”, one of the purposes of which was to make the first Heng Samrin year appear even worse than the DK period. For 1975-77 the report presented the atrocity picture of Barron and Paul which Shawcross had earlier eschewed, but it then white-washed the last two years of DK by ignoring the purges of 1977 and the East Zone massacres of 1978, the worst of all Pol Pot excesses.

Shawcross himself, a year later and after a trip to Cambodia, came to realize, as did most journalists, that conditions in Cambodia were rapidly improving, and were far superior to the DK years. Like most of his colleagues, though, he continued an anti-Vietnamese theme in complaints about ‘diversion’ of foreign aid to “officials of the Vietnamese-backed government in Phnom Penh”.

Later in 1981, apparently regretting that he might have been too soft on DK, Shawcross wrote that Barron and Paul had been among the few to do a proper job of describing DK and that journalists had in general been too skeptical of refugee stories before 1979.[341]

Those journalists certainly would not have appreciated Shawcross’s remark, for a similar comment by Derek Davies - that Western reporters had only accepted Cambodian massacre stories after the Vietnamese invasion (FEER 25 January 1981) - brought stinging rebukes from “Concerned Correspondents” in Bangkok who alleged, on the contrary, that it was the Review which had been too lax in reporting Cambodian atrocities.

In this competition for first prize in DK-bashing where does the factual accuracy lie?

No one now doubts that DK was a failure, that its brutalities went beyond what was reasonable even in Cambodia’s very trying post-war circumstances, and that it merited overthrow, but from the much greater volume of evidence which has been accumulated since 1979 it is clear that the attempts to discover nuances and to present a balanced picture were of much greater value and historically more accurate that the indiscriminate horror stories.[342]

When Derek Davies suggested that the Western press had neglected DK atrocities he was wrong - there had been too much atrocity-mongering from localized evidence, and the Bangkok-concerned correspondents who reacted to Davies were mistaken in asserting that their worst accounts of “the massacres and misery in Cambodia” had finally been legitimized by the Vietnamese (few of them have accepted Vietnamese statements about post-1979 Cambodia).

Davies was also off the mark in his listing of certain Review articles as rivaling the concerned correspondents’ work of damning DK (FEER 5 February 1982). To their credit his writers had often provided objective accounts which did not try to go beyond the available evidence, and those who tried to beat the atrocity drum sometimes failed to make their point (Donald Wise cited above and Nouth Choeum, FEER, 24 October 1975).

It is also clear now that the Vietnamese-supported regime has been beneficial for Cambodia economically, socially, and politically and that most of the antiVietnamese stories fabricated on the border and fed to uncritical journalists have been inaccurate, sometimes, as in Ponchaud’s case, reflecting invidiously back upon the reliability of his earlier work.

Even the complaint about ‘diversion’ of aid rice to cadres and bureaucrats was dishonest from those who had made destruction of towns a symbol of DK evil and their rehabilitation a touchstone for return to normality. The towns were fed with aid rice, leaving the peasants, the mass of the population, freedom to consume or dispose of their produce as they wished, thereby insuring peasant cooperation in the redevelopment of agriculture.

The failure of much of the mainstream press to report accurately on all of the evidence about DK, and in particular the alacrity with which many journalists switched from anti-DK to even less honest anti-Viet Nam stories after 1979, implicitly supporting the rehabilitation of Pol Pot -whose obsession with Viet Nam was the impetus for DK’s worst massacres - indicate that ideological prejudice and a scramble for sensations were the paramount concerns.

The same kind of preoccupation permeates Elizabeth Becker’s recent work, cited above. Becker complains that the PRK leadership is tainted by association with Pol Pot’s bloodbath, ignoring as did earlier writers the differences within DK, but with less justification, since evidence that the East Zone, where the Heng Samrin leadership worked, was the best run and least atrocious part of DK has been available for the past two years.

She also alleges, no doubt on the basis of Cambodian informants, that an important reason for the country’s present economic difficulties is failure of the Soviet Union to deliver promised aid, apparently having neglected to read in FEER, 10 February 1983, that for 1982 the Soviet Union delivered over $82 million of industrial and consumer goods against $1.2 million pledged for relief within Cambodia in 1983 by Western UN donors.

Another tendentious point was her comparison of similarities in Phnom Penh today and in 1974, forgetting that the situation then was due to war and corruption and in spite of support by the world’s richest country, while today Cambodia is recovering, in part from that same war, and in spite of efforts by that same rich country, Becker’s own, to block redevelopment.

With respect to Cambodia, journalists have often objected to criticism of their work by intellectuals and academics (FEER 5 February 1982, p. 3). Their ire could be given more credibility if they showed greater care in applying the same yardstick to all evidence on all sides of controversial issues.

Academics, after all, generally have to depend on journalists for the latest information and they are disappointed when the latter show palpable bias. The concerned correspondents of Bangkok, for example, could improve their record if they devoted attention to an abusive comparison made by Becker, and reported on Thailand with the same critical eye they direct toward its eastern neighbors.

Becker claimed that Cambodians are well behind the rest of Southeast Asia in health and sanitation, but Thailand’s own health authorities, like their Cambodian counterparts, are concerned about serious malnutrition among half or more of the country’s children, and only 30% of the population has a safe water supply (Bangkok Post 18 October 1981, p. 8).

Becker’s Washington Post articles had wide influence, which I noticed and tried to counter in Australia, where I lived in Adelaide, employed at the University of Adelaide, from 1982 to early 1988.

The following month three of Australia’s main urban newspapers used Becker’s articles to condemn post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia and Viet Nam. The theme of the first, by Peter Day, in The Australian, Sydney, on 4 March 1983 was clear in its headline, “Hanoi ‘had a hand in Pol Pot’s atrocities’“, and in its acceptance of Becker’s claim that Viet Nam had a role in “contributing to the massacres under Pol Pot”.

The second, by Michael Barnard in The Age, Melbourne, 15 March 1983, “Viet

Nam a vital text for Labor”, was crafted to undermine the newly elected Labor Party government which was believed to intend giving aid to Viet Nam. The third, in the Melbourne Herald, by Anthony McAdam, also used Becker to undermine Australian efforts to improve relations with Viet Nam and provide economic aid.

The Age, then considered Australia’s premier newspaper, also jumped in with an editorial, to which I was able to publish this reaction.

Becker and the Australian Press (1983)[343]

I hope The Age editorial of 5 April, “Brutality on the border”, was written in ignorance, for otherwise it must be accounted one of the more tendentious pieces on the Cambodian situation to appear in recent months.

The writer deplored the recent “assault on border camps containing both noncommunist guerrillas and thousands of civilian refugees.” Now in the news columns of The Age and other newspapers emphasis has been given to attacks on Phnom Chat, one of the principal hard-core military bases of the Pol Pot faction, where there are no “non-communist” guerrillas and few innocent civilian refugees.

Phnom Chat is part of the Khmer Rouge military organization rehabilitated since 1979 by Western and Chinese aid under cover of the refugee relief program, and it is no doubt from there that some of the sabotage teams have set forth to attack civilian supply trains and to mine roads within Cambodia. Phnom Chat has also been considered as on the Cambodian side of the border, which raises an interesting question about the international legality of the Thai napalm raids reported in The Age of April 6.

Your editorial then said the West “must attach immediate importance to ... convincing the Kampuchean People’s National Liberation Front (indeed noncommunist) to stop basing its guerilla group at the border camps ... (where) innocent civilians ... are ... held political hostage”.

That suggestion is ridiculously naive, if not hypocritical. The KPNLF has been deliberately built up by the West as a non-communist military presence on the border, and because the food, medicine, and other non-military supplies they require must be distributed together with genuine refugee relief they can only exist near the refugee camps. Moreover, KPNLF self-support to the extent that it exists, as well as much personal profit for some of the leaders, depends on crossborder trade which could not be conducted in any other location.

On the third point, aid to Thailand to care for Kampuchean refugees, it must be pointed out that over the past two years the Thai authorities have blocked all serious attempts to return to Cambodia the thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands of refugees who would choose that course under UN auspices. They have insisted rather that those Cambodians should move to the border camps in order to swell the forces and civilian base of the guerilla groups working against Phnom Penh.

I cannot help wondering if the editorial writer has been influenced by some of the comment in Michael Barnard’s column of March 15, in particular the ‘revelations’ reported from Elizabeth Becker’s Washington Post articles.[344]

I would like to emphasize here that the archives in Phnom Penh, to which Michael Barnard citing Becker refers, have been open to qualified western researchers for three years, that Becker is unqualified to draw any independent conclusions from them, that they do not “strengthen evidence that the ... regime of Heng Samrin in Phnom Penh is inextricably linked with the genocidal excesses of the butcher Pol Pot”, nor reveal a “propaganda cover-up”, and that the real Pol Pot killers are not in Phnom Penh, as Becker and Barnard allege, but in the western-supported guerilla groups on the Thai border.

Elizabeth Becker came to my attention again when she published a review of my Cambodia 1975-1982 and Craig Etcheson’s The Rise and Demise of Democratic Kampuchea in Problems of Communism, May-June 1985.[345] I did not respond at once, but then urged on by a fellow Cambodia specialist who thought Becker should not be allowed to get away with what she had written, and further inspired by another exhibition of vicious US regime propaganda, the State Department’s Elliot Abrams on TV, smirkingly telling about the evils of the Leninist Sandinistas and the altruistic fledgling democrat Nicaraguan contras, I wrote the following letter to Problems of Communism in October, 1985.

Becker and Problems of Communism (1985)[346]

To: Problems of Communism, Washington, D.C.

By choosing to place her pique at current Cambodia scholarship in a US government propaganda bulletin, Problems of Communism (ProbComm), rather than in a real media organ, Elizabeth Becker has duplicated the ideological leaps of So’n Ngoc Thanh and Pol Pot, from sympathizer of leftist liberation wars to anti-Vietnamese chauvinist, to supporter of loathsome American regimes.[347]

Becker’s article is in part a comment on the field of American Cambodia studies in general, and through her we now have the official regime view of who’s who in ANZUS Cambodia scholarship.

As a review it contrasts two books which, according to her (and indeed) represent two extremes in current writing on Cambodia: the newcomer, innocent of direct experience with the country in question, who plugs away at secondary sources, but does “an admirable, if flawed job”, no doubt the sort of scholarship the people who pay the fees to ProbComm reviewers wish to encourage, and at the other extreme Michael Vickery, burdened with “top-notch” Ph.D. studies in the historical background (“building blocks of any scholarly field”), “a fluent Khmer speaker”, with several years’ experience in the country, yet who unaccountably seems bitter about what has happened to Cambodia and the way certain others have written about it.

Elizabeth generously attributes some blame for this aberration to general problems of Cambodia scholarship in the US, a question to which I shall return. First, however, since this is written as a response to her review of my book, I shall deal with that.

Cambodia 1975-1982, she says, is a “melange of scholarship, memoirs, and polemics”, and on that point she is absolutely correct. I appreciate that she accurately transmitted my intentions to potential readers whose attention may have been drawn to my book by her review. I also appreciate that as a professional journalist Elizabeth complimented me on my eloquence “when using journalistic methods”.

Perhaps this means that when academic funds really dry up I can move successfully into her field; that is, if I can package my stuff for market requirements (the egregious Patrick Honey, on the other hand, himself an academic, criticized me for writing like one, and thought my book bore too much resemblance to a Ph.D. dissertation, which perhaps only reflects his own chagrin at not having produced one).[348]

Elizabeth is right in saying I have “written a personal book filled with rage”. She also saw correctly that I had a two-part thesis about the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) [her ‘Khmer Rouge’] regime, that its record in its first two years is more nuanced than described in the press of the time, and that it was worst in the last year-and-a-half, when it began to attract positive attention, and to some extent a whitewashing, from certain US government circles.[349]

Elizabeth seems to disagree, although herself adding considerable comment that would support my case; and she objects that I have unfairly attacked other “writers, experts, and journalists who have argued to the contrary”. In fact no experts argue any more to the contrary, and as more first-hand material about

Cambodia appears, my thesis about temporal and regional variations within DK finds increasing support.[350]

Moreover, when I took on an ‘expert’ I did it thoroughly, in great detail, and in a scholarly manner, devoting nearly 20 pages to the dissection of a writer’s arguments over a series of his publications.[351]

As for the others, Elizabeth only regrets by name “the wrong-headed and inaccurate attacks on ... Francois Ponchaud” Well, Elizabeth could have made a contribution by demonstrating that my criticism of Ponchaud was inaccurate; but at least she implicitly accepts my much more severe remarks about the Barron and Paul show and the lucubration of William Shawcross, whom ‘respectable’ press organs like the New York Review of Books protect from corrections of the lies which some of his writings contain.[352]

Thus the single criticism of the content of my book which Elizabeth raises, but is unable to support, concerns the accuracy of my regional analysis, in particular with respect to the East Zone, and to which she particularly objects because of its utility to the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) whom she rejects but whom I support relatively in comparison to the other current feasible choices. To be fair, her objections deserve a more detailed answer than I shall present here, and which I would have presented had her review appeared in an honest scholarly or journalistic organ, rather than in Washington’s equivalent of Moscow’s Socialism: Theory and Practice.

The East Zone (her ‘East Region’) thesis does help to present the PRK “as the best alternative for Cambodia”, and my regional analysis of DK may be particularly embarrassing for Elizabeth in that she traveled across the East right up to the Vietnamese border just after the worst massacres, under the guidance of DK special honcho for foreign journalists Thiounn Prasith, without seeing anything wrong; something which, if I chose to write as a propagandist rather than as a scholar, I could lift as evidence that the East, and DK in general, was even better than my own sources indicated.[353]

I do not know whether Becker is correct in stating that the East Zone thesis “first appeared during the trial of the ‘Pol Pot-Ieng Sary clique’“ in 1979. For me it appeared from the raw data of refugees whom I interviewed in the Khao I Dang camp in Thailand in 1980, at a time when I had not yet read the record of that trial nor even the work of Stephen Heder and Ben Kiernan on that subject.

All told I am happy with Elizabeth’s review. She has complimented me both as a journalist and as a user of the language, and in spite of hoping to do a hatchet job she was unable to demonstrate any serious error in my choice of sources, their use, or my conclusions, or even in the details of my “wrongheaded” attacks on other writers.

She has also written a review that is sure to sell copies, no doubt among a non-specialist public who might not otherwise have heard of Cambodia 19751982, and it comes at the right time, when the first printing is sold out and the publishers are preparing a second. So thanks, Liz.

As Elizabeth concluded her review with a remark that it would be coy of her not to notice my attacks on her articles of 1983, so it would be coy of me to ignore this point here. I indeed wrote a long polemical critique of her no less polemical February-March 1983 Washington Post articles on Cambodia (or are we to be instructed that it is a priori non-polemical to follow the US regime line?), which naturally went unnoticed by Ben Bradlee’s non-political Washington Post [see p. 355], and I repeated some of the points in the final “Postscript” of Cambodia.

In the original letter to Washington Post on her articles I made a couple of mistakes, which I realized later, and which I shall correct in due course in a forthcoming publication.[354] Elizabeth could have taken the occasion in her review to point out my errors, if she herself is aware of them, although this might be a trifle sticky since it would open up the whole issue of non-publication of the much more important valid portion of my critique.

In addition to its function as a book review, Elizabeth’s ProbComm article addresses the problem of exotic area studies in the US (in particular Cambodia), which is a subject of perennial interest to me, and on some aspects of which I am in agreement with her.

I was among those who received government support to complete my Ph.D., though not for language study, for I had done that on my own time in Cambodia and Laos beginning in 1960. Unfortunately, starting about 1969, government funds to universities for exotic area studies were cut back, followed by closure of most university Southeast Asia programs, and scholars, as Elizabeth said, went into other fields or were brain-drained away to other countries.

I for one have since 1970 lived on “various grants and temporary teaching positions”, first for two years in Cambodia and Thailand on dissertation research, then in Penang for six years, and since 1979 in Australia.[355] This has been the environment which, according to Elizabeth, has worked “against sustained, serious scholarship”, resulting in “books [which] reflect the vacuum in the United States for serious studies of Cambodia”.

If Elizabeth were really concerned about scholarly neglect of Cambodia, she could have used her professional and personal connections with a major newspaper to call attention to what has been produced. She might have reviewed my book in that newspaper when it was newly published rather than in ProbComm when it was no longer easy to find on the market.

She could also have called attention to work by some of her approved scholars by reviewing the volume of essays edited by David Chandler and Ben Kiernan (Revolution and its Aftermath in Kampuchea), incidentally a project in which Timothy Carney and Stephen Heder [her most approved Cambodia scholars] declined participation; and she could have reviewed, or at least mentioned, Ben Kiernan’s How Pol Pot Came to Power, a scholarly, non- polemical work, but which, no doubt significantly, does not push a line congenial to the ProbComm crowd.

Elizabeth seems to imply that if I had been offered a cushy tenured position in some US university ten or twelve years ago I could have been bought off. Well, perhaps. Who knows, I am as fond of booze, broads, and riotous living as the next bloke. Certainly had I been favored with a US teaching job I would not have had the opportunity to research Cambodia 1975-1982, which is perhaps the point Elizabeth wished to impress on the ProbComm crowd and the regime behind them.

Neither would I have had time to produce much of my other work - several long articles on problems of source criticism in early Thai history, and in the past two years, in addition to continuing work on modern Cambodia, a forthcoming article on a reinterpretation of the Angkorean 11th century, and another forthcoming article on the Cambodian 8th century. All of this workl represents, to use Elizabeth’s terminology, ‘building blocks’ for building blocks (“monographs about selected issues”), to permit monographers, those lathe men of the next downstream-integrative step in the history production process, to get on with their monography.[356]

This is no doubt the sort of Southeast Asian history work which the ProbComm crowd in the widest sense would like. I am sure that scholars of Southeast Asia will take interest in the methodological message which Elizabeth, in her new role as regime spokesperson for Cambodia scholarship, has chosen to deliver.

I recall, incidentally, that around 1969 or 1970, when I was in my ‘buildingblock’ phase and was going through the application procedures for a Foreign Area Fellowship for overseas dissertation research, I got word that my project, a study of sources for the 14th-16th centuries in Cambodia and Thailand, was viewed with relief by foundation authorities (as opposed to sticky things related to the Viet Nam war).

If I have given up monography for polemics in the last few years, it is not because of the lack of academic employment in the US, although that situation is true enough, but because of the shameful behavior of the US government in those parts of the world which I study. I wish I could, with a clear conscience, just continue to read old stones.

Chapter 4: the late 1980s

By this time I had made two more trips to Cambodia, in 1984 and 1986, as well as short annual visits to the border refugee camps until 1985, after which I ignored them. These experiences reinforced the views which I had expressed in my earlier interventions, and together with ongoing research in the Cambodian press which I collected on each visit, contributed to my second book, Kampuchea: Politics, Economics, and Society, published by Frances Pinter, London, in 1986.

Elizabeth Becker and Nayan Chanda

In 1986 both Elizabeth Becker and Nayan Chanda published books on Cambodia, respectively After the War Was Over and Brother Enemy. Ben Kiernan passed along an invitation from The Guardian (New York) to write a joint review, which was attractive because it included free copies. I produced the short review they requested, but it was never published, for reasons I was unable to discover, but which may have been ideological. That is, I was too sympathetic to the PRK, while The Guardian (not to be confused with the one in England) still supported DK.

Two years later, when in Passau to give a couple of lectures on Cambodia, Professor Bernhard Dahm, together with a survey article on Cambodia in 1988, published the joint review of Becker’s and Chanda’s books in Asien, journal of the German Association for Asian Studies, Hamburg.

Review of When the War Was Over and Brother Enemy (1988)[357]

Elizabeth Becker, When the War Was Over The Voices of Cambodia’s Revolution and its People. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1986; and Nayan Chanda, Brother Enemy, the War After the War. San Diego, New York, London, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1986.

Both of these books are too late, with too little that has not already appeared in several works by specialist scholars.

Becker’s “attempt to tell the full story of the Khmer Rouge” pretends to be based largely “on original research” (p. 14); while Chanda’s history of contemporary Indochina, inevitably centered on Cambodia, is much more a history of diplomatic relations than a treatment of events within the country; and his claim to originality is in the interviews with “all the protagonists and many of the foreign observers” (p. x).

In spite of their claims, both writers rely very heavily on their academic predecessors - Becker sometimes raiding their work without acknowledgement, while Chanda is careful not to depend on work which he does not wish to cite.[358]

As historians they have neglected the first task, source criticism, and have stumbled into some strange positions and inconsistencies.

Becker, for instance, has adopted the Pol Pot line on the formation of a party, at a ‘First Congress’ in 1960 (pp. 87, 104), while Chanda recognizes that three national parties were really set up in 1951 (57), and that the meeting in 1960 was “a clandestine party congress”, not the founding (59).

The trouble with the Becker line (following Pol Pot and Stephen Heder) is that Cambodian communists believed they had a party in the 1950s; when Ith Sarin, whom Becker cites favorably (155-7), wrote about his sojourn with the communists in 1972 he learned that the party had been founded in 1951, and that date was not challenged within the party until 1976, when the Pol Pot faction wished to obliterate early links with Vietnam. As Thiounn Mum said, “we switched to the 1960 date in order to disconnect ourselves from the ICP [Indochina Communist Party]”, a strictly political move.[359]

Becker’s purpose is to show that there was never a serious split between Pol Potists and another group more favorably disposed toward Vietnam; that when the Pol Pot group was taking control in the 1960s they were at one with Hanoi, and that the break between Viet Nam and Cambodia in the 1970s was because of legitimate Cambodian nationalist fear of Vietnamese domination, which has now been realized with the PRK. Its leaders, this way, are just Pol Potists who had to save their skins at the last minute, and who have now become puppets of Vietnam.

Thus East Zone chief So Phim, who as Chanda says “maintained a close relationship with the Vietnamese Communists” and “was suspect for keeping the East Zone relatively prosperous” (Chanda 250-2), must be charged with “fighting the Vietnamese too zealously” in 1976 (Becker 275). “Nowhere”, she alleges, “in the record is there a hint of [his] being a close friend of Vietnam” (307), nor of his dissent from the Pol Pot line.

Although he “doubted the seriousness of ... [a] Vietnamese threat” (315), and refused to execute suspected traitors who “were his trusted lieutenants” in 1977 (315) when such doubt would have signaled not just dissent but high treason, he was just “Machiavellian”, accepting “Center policy direction and demands” to avoid interference (306). Becker admits he was late “in adopting communal eating and in some areas resisted orders to abolish the concept of private property” (307), which constituted dissidence, and might be seen as admiration for Vietnamese methods, a view she will not countenance, preferring to claim that for this he was “accused of being too slavish an admirer of the Chinese model of cooperatives”.

Chanda has not been embarrassed to note real conflicts in Democratic Kampuchea, and he blames the Pol Pot line for the increasing hostility to Viet Nam which split the Cambodian party down the middle. Still he feels obliged to throw a sop to those who would tar the PRK with the Pol Pot brush and this leads him too into confusion, centered on Heng Samrin, whom PRK enemies charge with fleeing only because he was in trouble for incompetent soldiering.

Following variously Stephen Heder, Ben Kiernan, and unnamed sources, Chanda has Heng Samrin in late 1977, inferentially for good work against the Vietnamese, promoted to chairman of “Route 7 Battlefront”, bordering Vietnam, “effectively ... deputy chairman of the Eastern Region military staff” (197) and commander of the 4th Division under the Center (206), which person was allegedly shot by a Pol Pot loyalist after the December 1977 attack (213), while “Commander of the 4th Division Heng Samrin ... with about a thousand of his loyal troops ... headed for the jungle” after the May 1978 conflict between East and Center (253).

Hun Sen had already fled after refusing to participate in the September 1977 attack on Vietnam, and a brother of Heng Samrin, also a division commander, was among those officers from the East Zone rounded up and killed in April- May 1978 (197, 251). On this subject Chanda seems to have had trouble getting his note cards into good order.

The climax of both books, and a main focus of Chanda’s, are in the international relationships when Cambodia and Viet Nam were fighting while the US entered into negotiations with Viet Nam and China.

While Becker’s treatment is anti-Vietnamese, Chanda indicates that Viet Nam was unjustifiably provoked by Cambodia and unreasonably attacked by China.

He considers that the change of government in 1979 brought improvement to Cambodia, while Becker (444) retails lies about Vietnamization in that country;[360] and Chanda has more sympathy for those Americans, such as Holbrooke and Vance, who wanted normalization of relations with Vietnam, than for the Brzezinski group who wanted to line China up against the Soviet Union.

The reader who wishes to be informed about these matters will ignore Becker for Chanda - but perhaps would do even better with the more academic treatments. For Chanda’s contribution to history is too often name-dropping dressed up with the devices of second rate fiction - ”Darkness fell like fate on Saigon” (1), “Oksenberg “sat silently with a scowl on his face” (265) during negotiations at which Chanda was not present - little more than anecdotal froth obscuring rather than illuminating the factual picture. Chanda even seems to have pulled back when the interview technique might have elicited something new, but dicey.

Thus, US-Vietnamese negotiations got off to a good start in 1977, and again looked promising in the fall of 1978, but it was too late. One of the reasons they had been frozen for 10 months was theft (for Viet Nam) of State Department cables by Ronald Humphrey, which led to expulsion of the Vietnamese ambassador to the UN in February 1978.

When the Woodcock mission was making good progress in Hanoi in March 1977, Kenneth Quinn, a long-time analyst of Cambodian communism, told Woodcock that another member of the team had left a fiancee behind in Saigon, and Woodcock interceded successfully with the Vietnamese (141-2).[361]

Quinn unaccountably took a similar case, that of Ronald Humphrey, to the Swedish Embassy in Hanoi, not the best place, one would think, for American diplomats to ask favors (155). A little later “in the summer” (155-6) Quinn tipped off the FBI that a spy might be at work for Vietnam, and he suspected Humphrey. Following this, apparently, during the May-June negotiations with the Vietnamese in Paris, Holbrooke, warned by the FBI was worried, in Quinn’s words, that they “may well have seen our negotiating instructions” (153-4); and Holbrooke appeared cooler to the Vietnamese than usual.

The cables which Humphrey and David Truong allegedly stole, Chanda finally tells us, were “Of limited importance ... some not classified at all” (268), thus they had not given the Vietnamese an edge in negotiating, and the chronology of events, contrary to Chanda’s step-by-step presentation, makes clear that US authorities had known that at the time.

The work of Becker discussed above exhibits clearly the ‘tilt’ of US official sympathies toward Democratic Kampuchea because of antipathy toward Viet Nam; and her writing was much appreciated in those circles.

Thus, in Congressional hearings in 1983, following some regime-line ignorance by John C. Monjo, and just as Carlyle Thayer was about to speak with some sympathy for the PRK, chairman Solarz interjected “Well, when Elizabeth Becker’s book on Cambodia comes out, the definitive account of the last decade will be available for you and others and will make the record of these hearings pale by comparison, I am sure ... ”.[362]

I did not write a detailed review of Becker’s After the War Was Over, but soon after its appearance I did write one on Chanda’s Brother Enemy, which has never been published, in part because of the length.[363]

Review Essay: Brother Enemy, by Nayan Chanda (1988)

Brother Enemy, by Nayan Chanda. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1986.

“Darkness fell like fate on Saigon” - this opening line which might not seem out of place in a French colonial opium and sex novel, say Jean Hougron’s Soleil au ventre, would be reason enough to snap shut and fling into the nearest wastebasket any book pretending to be a serious work of history, if there were not extenuating circumstances. But this is Nayan Chanda’s Brother Enemy, ‘hailed’ by its publisher as the “‘most brilliant history’ of the past decade in Indochina”, and judged even by serious professionals as “by far the best account of the Third Indochina War” (George Mc.T. Kahin).

That was the author’s intention: to write “the story of the historic struggle in Indochina and the big-power diplomacy that surrounded it” (p. 7). He started his “Acknowledgments” with reference to E.H. Carr’s “commonsense definition of history as a body of ascertained facts”, which could not be followed in this case because he is “too close to the events to attempt a historian’s objectivity in seeking facts”. Instead, Chanda has the advantage of having interviewed many of the first and lower level participants in the action and decision-making over some 15 years, which gives him “a certain advantage over future historians”.[364]

Brother Enemy may thus serve as a test case in the argument between journalists writing history and academic historians trying journalism, in which academics find that journalists shoot from the hip to make sensational points, while journalists seem to object that working historians too often refuse to accept sources, written or oral, at face value.

For the problem is not what Chanda seems to think, that in this case Communist governments may offer only “self-serving selections of confidential documents”, and “are unlikely to open their archives to independent historians” (ix).[365]

Oral interview material, and not just from ‘communists’, may be equally selfserving. Anonymous interviews (even accepting that anonymity cannot always be avoided) have a historical evidential value equivalent to self-serving archival selections, and the historian’s duty is to subject them to the same sort of source criticism that would be given written documents.

This is the crux of the difference between journalists and historians. Journalists rarely do engage in source criticism, if only because of the demands of their work (historians, I admit, too often do not either, but then they are not acting like historians).[366]

By training and experience Chanda is among the best fitted to bridge the gulf between the two vocations - a card-carrying academic whose study was in the area, Southeast Asia, in which he has since specialized as journalist, and his journalistic production, at least until he moved from Southeast Asia and Hong Kong to Washington in 1984, deserved the encomiums which have been bestowed on his work as a historian.[367]

They are now, however, exaggerated, which is not to say right off that Brother Enemy is not a good book, but because there are too few historical accounts of the Third Indochina War for ‘best’ to have much significance.

The comparison which immediately comes to mind is Elizabeth Becker’s When the War Was Over, which was published nearly simultaneously. There is no doubt that Chanda’s is the superior work, although they are minimally comparable, for Becker gave most attention to Cambodian domestic developments, a minor aspect of Chanda’s book, and its weakest [see my short joint review of the two books above].

One entirely comparable academic treatment, Red Brotherhood at War, by Grant Evans and Kelvin Rowley, has been perversely ignored, even by Chanda himself, although his title was probably suggested by it, and he should have had the courtesy to acknowledge use he made of it, at least in places where he fol- lows it nearly line by line and from the same sources.[368]

The reason Evans and Rowley, Australian sociologist and economist, may never have been reviewed in the US, and not often in Australia, is perhaps only because they were overtly leftist politically, but their book would in any case cause discomfort because they refuse to just take all information as given, whether in interviews, official documents, or standard histories.

Unlike Chanda, Evans and Rowley based their work mainly on written sources, including Chanda’s reportage in Far Eastern Economic Review; the writing is straightforward, solid scholarly prose, not decked out with tricky devices of journalistic pizazz or cheap fiction. Their interpretations, and criticisms of earlier interpretations, are influenced by experience in the field, in Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.

Particularly noteworthy, in comparison with Chanda, is their reasoned treatment of the international legal aspects of the post-1975 Indochina conflicts. After reading Red Brotherhood one has a picture of the Third Indochina War which is clearly set forth and argued.

This is what should be expected of a history of the Third Indochina War and its diplomacy: a clear, chronologically coherent story outline for the reader who needs to be informed, together with a chronologically ordered interweaving of the more complex details of background and inferential explanation.

This is not what one finds in Brother Enemy. The story is there, but not in clear chronological or topical arrangement, and the reader seeking more than entertainment is forced to refer back and forth between chapters, or even to prepare his own synopsis arranging related details from different chapters in significant order.

Unfortunately it was more important for Chanda to drop names and serve up pseudo-intimate details than to tell a straight story, and his interviews too often provide little more than anecdotal froth for the factual picture which the reader should already have acquired elsewhere in order to follow Chanda. He has not helped matters by overloading his text with the slick devices expected in fiction or semi-reportage in second-rate publications ranging from Ladies Home Journal, at one extreme, to Soldier of Fortune at the other.

No opportunity for a cliche has been resisted. Bombs “hug undercarriages” (222); dispatches are “pounded out” (3). Every subject is introduced with some pseudo-evocation of on-the-spot news gathering: not long after “Darkness fell like fate”, “as a calm dawn broke over the emerald-green island”, “boyish blackclad soldiers” captured the Mayaguez (9); “Back at the green-baize table” Americans and Vietnamese negotiated (140); and Hanoi “dusted off a proposal” (257), the dust having accumulated perhaps because Hanoi is an “inward-looking city”, “at the best of times”, moreover (46), whenever that means, presumably long before Nayan Chanda had visited it.

In introducing personalities this touch becomes amusing. Hua Guofeng is a “burly Hunanese” (37), Lon Nol “paraplegic” (38), Pham Van Ba is a “short and stocky Vietnamese” (58), Sandor Gyorgi a “lank and gaunt Hungarian” (192). At least Chanda has seen them, but what about So Phim, “a pudgy, round-faced peasant” (250), whom no western researcher ever saw.[369]

And how does Chanda know that Oksenberg “sat silently with a scowl on his face” during a conference with Nguyen Co Thach “dressed in a blue suit” (265), even if he may naturally assume that they met with “brisk handshakes” and of course they also sat around a “green-baize table”; de rigueur, it seems, in embassies as in poolhalls.

The beginning of chapter 8 is faked in the same way (231). “It seemed the beginning of yet another uneventful day in ... Ho Chi Minh City. As the sun peeped from behind the trees”, and an “old lady on the corner ... started setting up her noodle stand.”[370]

Nayan Chanda was hundreds of miles away. Given the geographical latitude he was probably right about the weather, but it is irrelevant, for the “military style operation” which interrupted the peaceful scene on March 24, 1978 was not directed at the street corner of Chanda’s description but at Chinese businesses in Cholon, several miles away.

Sometimes the remarks seem designed to exhibit a pseudo-technical proficiency beloved of writers in those magazines for frustrated green berets - ”Jolly Green Giant and Knife helicopters” in the American invasion of the Cambodian coast in May 1979 (9), or the “Voyager backchannel” (332, which in the 1990s sounds like something to avoid in safe sex) for diplomatic messages during the Sino-American negotiations of 1978.

In its very organization the book bears some resemblance to a work of fiction. The end of the Second Indochina War in 1975 and beginning of new conflicts in 1976 are followed by a flashback to ancient history (10th century to 1960s), after which there is a return to changes in China in 1976-1977, then more ancient history (3rd century, 15th century), then on to the 1954 Geneva Conference, and the early 1970s.

After this comes the meat of the book, US-Vietnamese negotiations in 1977 (“Window to the West”), Vietnamese-Chinese-Soviet relations 1976-1977 (“East Wind Prevails”), not entirely accurate because it includes the Vietnamese efforts to increase their independence from Moscow in 1975-76, details which should have preceded the story of negotiations with the US.

Then the reader is lifted back to the events which conditioned much of what was in the preceding chapters, Cambodian-Vietnamese conflict 1975-1978 (“Calm Before the Storm”). Finally in more logical order are events of 1978 (“Road to War”), US negotiations with Viet Nam and China (“Yankee come Home!”), the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia and Chinese attack on Viet Nam in 1979 (“A Red Christmas”), and (“Indochina: War forever?”).

These chapters are interspersed with four intermezzos devoted to reminiscences by Prince Norodom Sihanouk and called “The Victory” - 1975; “The Retreat”, Sihanouk’s return to Phnom Penh in 1976; “The Cage”, his house arrest in Phnom Penh, 1977-1979; and “The Survivor”, after he emerged from Cambodia in 1979.

This artificial arrangement, particularly the Sihanouk vignettes, diminishes Brother Enemy’s value as a work of history. The Sihanouk chapters also reveal the case Chanda wishes to make - that Sihanouk is essential to the survival of Cambodia - but it detracts from the announced subject, for Sihanouk is not a major factor in the history of the Third Indochina War. It is no doubt only a coincidence that Chanda’s position at the time of publication was also the line of the US regime.

One might also query Chanda’s historical judgement, writing in 1985, in cutting off his story, except for an epilogue, in 1979, as though it marked the end of a coherent historical period.

In a narrow sense of course the Third Indochina War was that between Viet Nam and Democratic Kampuchea between 1977 and January 1979, and which ended then, with the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea established in Phnom Penh as a result of the Vietnamese victory and Chinese inability to reverse it. That is indeed where Chanda’s final chapter, except for an epilogue update, leaves us, but with the question “Indochina: War Forever?”.

But in a wider sense, and what most people mean by ‘Third Indochina War’, is the political, occasionally military, conflict which erupted unexpectedly among communist allies in 1975 and continues[1994], with intervention by a number of outside powers, with a view to reversing the outcome of the real war which ended in 1979.

The post-1979 continuation struggle, and the frantic diplomatic scramble by the enemies of the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea to secure by other means what they could not preserve for themselves on the battlefield would have been the perfect field for Chanda’s talents, wide contacts, and modus operandi.

Perhaps a better question is why it took so long to publish a book which ends in 1979, and which was obviously nearly finished by 1984. One result, to which I shall return, is that information about internal developments in Cambodia is cut off in 1980-81, providing a false picture of the Peoples Republic for readers after 1985.[371]

Within Indochina hostility between Cambodia and Viet Nam in the form of brief border skirmishes began almost as soon as each had won its internal war, and the hostility escalated until a true war situation was reached by mid-1977. Laos, the third Indochina country, stayed out of the conflict, maintaining very friendly relations with Vietnam, and correct diplomatic relations with Cambodia.

The facts of this true Indochina conflict have been described many times, and there is no longer much doubt about the facts. The single serious controversy, which side was responsible for initiating and maintaining the war, seems now to have been resolved with agreement that it was the Cambodian side which initiated and kept up armed attacks (Chanda, chapter 7).

Further study of the matter is concerned with the reasons for such hostility between two parties who had appeared as long-term allies in the struggle to eliminate foreign domination of Indochina and establish socialist states. Three different reasons have been alleged, (1) ancient Vietnamese-Khmer cultural and political enmity which was hidden during the periods of foreign domination, (2) the different types of revolution followed after 1975, (3) interference of a foreign power, namely China, which deliberately built up Cambodia as an enemy of Vietnam.

The second and third lead to further questions. Why did the communist leaders of the two countries choose radically different models for revolution, and if Cambodian policy was formed under Chinese influence, why did China make this choice?

The extreme formulation of number 3, at times put forth by Viet Nam and the PRK, is that the DK system was a Chinese creation for the purpose of securing Chinese domination of Indochina. Chanda gives adequate attention to evidence that the Chinese, even while supporting DK diplomatically and militarily, did not approve of the path taken by the Cambodian revolution, at least once Mao had died and the Gang of Four had been eliminated in 1976, just when the extremist policies under Pol Pot were really taking off (Chanda, 79-80, 209-11).

With respect to (1) and (2) Chanda makes far too much of continuation of ancient attitudes and policies over hundreds of years - the alleged ancient hostility between Cambodians and Vietnamese, the age-old Chinese drive to subjugate Vietnam, and a traditional Chinese policy of keeping Southeast Asia fragmented and weak.

The best published antidote to this form of explanation is by Evans and Rowley, who argue against the popular tendency to explain a “clash between modern nation-states ... in terms of traditional cultural differences”, particularly when China supported ‘Indic’ Cambodia against ‘Sinitic’ Vietnam, and by pointing out that in the course of the ancient struggles Thailand absorbed as much territory from Cambodia, and more from Laos, than Viet Nam did, something that is generally forgotten in modern propaganda.[372]

Here Chanda has just followed the pack, inserting (50) a map of “The Stages of Vietnamese Expansion” such as is found in standard textbooks, which never have an equivalent map of Thai expansion.

That the cultural explanation of modern enmity is popular among peoples of the countries involved is not an excuse for its adoption by historians writing from the outside. As Evans and Rowley aptly comment, “triumphant nationalists ... like to see history written in terms that show the justice and inevitability of their victory, and the correctness of their political line ... nationalism uses history as a legitimating myth”.

And they quote Barrington Moore, “the assumption that cultural and social continuity do not require explanation obliterates the fact that both have to be created anew in each generation ... To speak of cultural inertia is to overlook the concrete interests and privileges that are served by ... the entire complicated process of transmitting culture from one generation to the next”.[373]

This is especially true with respect to Cambodia-Viet Nam relations, or to the ‘ancient’ Thai-Vietnamese hostility now brought forward to explain aspects of the Third Indochina Continuation War.

The facts are that there was little Cambodian-Vietnamese contact at all before mid-17th century. The first Vietnamese intervention in Cambodia was at the invitation of the latter, for help against the Cham and a Cambodian Muslim king in 1658. Subsequent interventions, simultaneously by Vietnamese and Thai, were because of internal conflict among royal Cambodian factions depending on support from their neighbors.[374]

This internecine strife ended in 1846 with the total defeat of the proVietnamese side of the Cambodian polity, and subsequent Cambodian history has been written by the descendents of the pro-Thai faction, who have inculcated their view of history and cultural continuity, in Moore’s words, by means of “human beings ... punched, sent to jail ... cajoled, bribed, made into heroes, encouraged to read newspapers, stood up against a wall and shot ... ”, all methods common in Sihanouk’s Cambodia during 1955-1970.[375]

Chanda seems to base the peculiarities of the Cambodian revolution on the preordained hostility to Vietnam, and he devotes little space to the internal history of Cambodia, which could have suggested other explanations.

Indeed, Chanda’s book is a history of the diplomatic relations around Cambodia, not a history of events within the country. He attributes too much of present difficulties to a potted version of ancient history, virulent nationalism resulting from a centuries-long Vietnamese push towards the south.

The colonial canard that the “French protectorate in 1863 saved Cambodia from being carved up any more by Viet Nam and Thailand” (54) is dutifully trotted out, forgetting, as have most of Chanda’s predecessors, that by 1863 French conquests in southern Viet Nam had forestalled further Vietnamese encroachment in Cambodia, while Thailand’s economic and political changes under British pressure were undercutting that country’s ability to engage in expansion.

The real advantage for the Cambodian monarchy of the 1863 agreement with the French was protection from a rebellion led by rival princes against an unpopular king.[376] This would probably have been an unwelcome topic for Chanda, for that king was the great-grandfather of Norodom Sihanouk, who, if anyone, emerges from Chanda’s treatment as a hero and potential savior of his country.

Chanda’s historical treatment makes an almost clean jump from 1863 to the revolution, with no discussion of the effect on Cambodian political development of the colonial period, or 1941-45, nor the domestic political history of Cambodia from 1946 to 1970, except for a very brief sketch of the formation of the Communist movement (56-62), and an excellent summary, unfortunately squirreled away in the middle of a chapter on ancient history, of the cogent arguments against the allegation of a long-standing communist Vietnamese goal of an ‘Indo-China Federation’ (118-122).

This includes a clear statement of US efforts to subvert Viet Nam via Laos and with Thai connivance even before the Second Indochina War (the same thing was happening vis-a-vis Cambodia).

No notice, however, is accorded the growth of Cambodian parliamentary activity in 1946-1953, crucial to what happened there in the 1960s, nor the concomitant rural success of the revolutionary forces, nor the post-Geneva phony parliamentarism after the right wing under Sihanouk stole the election of 1955. Again, these subjects cannot be discussed without putting Sihanouk in the dock.[377]

Perhaps, honestly, Chanda in long listening sessions - I doubt if one could say dialogues - has come to accept Sihanouk’s version of the events of those years, and he simply discounts the more critical treatments written by others.

Reluctance to undercut his positive assessment of Sihanouk may also explain his inconsistency in describing the pre-1970 coup situation, when “right-wing politicians and generals” (63), Lon Nol in particular, had opposed Sihanouk’s hostile policy toward the US in the 1960s; but when Sihanouk sought rapprochement with the US in 1968-69 his “newfound respect for American power only helped to confirm for General Lon Nol and Prince Sirik Matak ... that their criticism of Sihanouk had been right all along” (64).

Here Chanda has totally suspended disbelief, swallowing whole Sihanouk’s own explanations, however inconsistent, while totally ignoring what historians have written about the 1960s. Since Lon Nol and Sirik Matak were proAmerican, how would a pro-American shift by Sihanouk “confirm ... their criticism” of him, made when he appeared to be moving leftward?[378]

Except for the needless excursion into ancient history to ‘explain’ traditional Chinese-Vietnamese enmity (110-17), Chanda chronicles accurately enough the deteriorating relations between Democratic Kampuchea and Viet Nam after April 1975, and the Chinese diplomatic moves in relation to that conflict.

One issue which Chanda’s contacts with participants has not resolved is the reason for China’s various moves in the Cambodia-Viet Nam conflict. Crude attempts to link DK policies directly to Maoism, then to the Cultural Revolution, or to the Gang of Four, or even to Deng Xiaoping, often based mainly on the political line of the commentator at the moment, have been found wanting.

Pol Potism was not Maoism, nor the Cultural Revolution; the Gang of Four, who may have been viewed sympathetically by Phnom Penh, were arrested before Pol Potism flew off into its wildest excesses (Chanda 74, 80), and nothing

Deng Xiaoping has ever said or done in China suggests that he would have approved the domestic policies of Democratic Kampuchea.[379]

Chanda shows clear evidence that in 1977 the new Chinese leadership was unenthusiastic about DK (79-80). Moreover, the Vietnamese also felt that the end of Mao and the Gang of Four and the reemergence of Deng heralded improvements in the situation (87-88). Nevertheless, by September 1977 Pol Pot was received in Peking and promised support against Viet Nam (98-100).

Why then did China give its full support to an Indochina regime which was ideologically unsound, and was destroying itself from within, against another Indochina entity whose leadership shared the ideological objectives of the post- 1976 Chinese? The answer must not be sought in ancient history, as Chanda seems to think (133-5), but in the intricacies of the Sino-Soviet-Indochina relationships.

Since the 1960s China had considered its main threat to come from the Soviet Union, even though both supported Viet Nam against the United States during the Second Indochina War. Viet Nam itself had always tried to stay aloof from the Sino-Soviet conflict, maintaining correct relations with both great powers.

As soon as the war was over in 1975 Viet Nam set out to map its own international course independent of either China or the Soviet Union. Viet Nam laid claims to the strategic Spratley and Paracel islands, also claimed by China, and in 1975 Le Duan, in Peking, refused to join the Chinese anti-Soviet crusade (24-6, 134). Contrary to Chanda (135) this could not have been, nor been viewed by China as, simply Vietnamese support for Moscow, for Viet Nam was resisting Moscow’s request for bases, and in 1976 Pham Van Dong crudely snubbed the Soviet ambassador at a reception in Hanoi (171).

The snub, moreover, was not to indicate a leaning toward China, but toward the West, and this was just at the time when Viet Nam was formulating its postwar development plan which depended on large inputs of western aid, in particular the $4.7 billion promised by Richard Nixon in 1973.

As Chanda admits in another context, as late as 1977 “Hanoi was clearly not ready to abandon support for revolutionary struggle in Asian countries in order to help the Soviets to draw the ‘reactionary’ regimes into a plan of encircling China” (179), and his Vietnamese informant claimed the Soviets had gone soft, wanting detente with the US to produce more consumer goods.

What is apparent, even from Chanda’s presentation in which the crucial details are widely scattered, is a competition among China, the Soviet Union, and Vietnam, complicated by their own mutual antagonisms, for improved relations with, and economic aid from, the United States. For China at that time Vietnamese hegemony in Indochina did not necessarily represent an opening to the Soviet Union. The Chinese must also have been worried by the prospect of the US-Vietnamese rapprochement sought by Vietnam, and by US business interests eyeing, for example, Vietnam’s oil potential (144-5, 150).

Now we come to the great hole in Chanda’s data base, or at least in the spread of interview material which he chose to use, “in choosing facts from a plethora of events” (ix). While showing off his wide contacts with Chinese, Vietnamese, European, and ASEAN players, his narrative is organized in a way that disguises the lack of hard questioning put to US personnel, in spite of his presumed close contacts in Washington starting in 1984.

It seems, in fact, that Chanda has bought the official US line, that “not long after the spring of 1975 ... Washington developed amnesia about Indochina”, that there was a “lack of interest in Indochina”, “Indochina sank below the horizon of American consciousness” (142). And his book, which begins with the 1975 American exit, ends with a plea for their return, so it is unlikely that he ever tried to pin down American responsibility for any of what happened in between.

American ‘amnesia’ is belied at the same time by the revelation that the US “froze $150 million of Vietnamese assets in the United States and slapped a trade embargo on Cambodia and Vietnam” (142). That is not the act of a great nation which is forgetting a smaller, weak one. Neither was the US veto to keep Viet Nam out of the United Nations (144).

What then was the US interest in Viet Nam and Cambodia, since its actions cannot be explained by amnesia? Was it simply a bloody-minded desire for revenge? The answers are not in Chanda, though he does provide some hints toward an explanation not generally given attention and missed by Evans and Rowley.

We must recall the situation in Southeast Asia in the 1970s, and the US position there. The three Indochina countries were on their way to winning revolutionary wars which would lead to ‘socialism’, something the US had fought to prevent for over 20 years. And Thailand had overthrown its most proAmerican military dictators in 1973, had insisted on the US military getting out of Thailand, allowed domestic expressions of sympathy for socialism, and in 1975 had quickly moved to recognize the new Indochina governments.

From Washington it must have looked as though Indochina was not only ‘lost’, but that the most crucial domino was not just falling, but throwing itself down in enthusiasm.

The first objective of US policy must have been to prevent wider attraction to the Indochina solution, and to weaken Indochina. The communist bloodbath was evoked, but soon proved untrue for Vietnam, and to the extent it was true in Cambodia was willfully exaggerated. Economic pressure was exerted on Thailand, in the form of what some observers have called an ‘investment strike’, while the lack of US moral support for Thai democracy[1973-1976] was palpable.[380]

In spite of economic measures against Viet Nam taken in 1975, by September 1976 Viet Nam was admitted to the International Monetary Fund, and after a World Bank team visited Viet Nam in January 1977 their confidential report “praised the Vietnamese government’s efforts to mobilize its resources and tap its vast potential” (151). The World Bank urged donors to give substantial assistance on concessional terms.

This moreover was at a time when Thailand, even after overthrowing its experiment in democracy in October 1976 and getting back into the US- preferred type of dictatorial regime, was doing very badly, as the World Bank revealed two years later (Far Eastern Economic Review 1 Dec 1978).

For Washington this was disastrous. Communist Viet Nam was being praised by international capitalist institutions, while US-favored capitalist Thailand was wallowing in economic incompetence and unjustifiable exploitation of the poor by the rich. If Viet Nam was allowed to take off as the IMF and World Bank thought possible, its example could not fail to attract the peoples of Thailand, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

Viet Nam was moreover trying to make a good impression on the capitalist world. Hanoi had refused to join COMECOM, and was reducing the level of relations with the USSR, which complained about losing Viet Nam to the capitalist world (184).

But they were also trying to insist that the US honor Nixon’s promise to give aid for reconstruction, and their development plans depended on this (149). As Evans and Rowley wrote, “as Le Duan put it ... ’accumulation from internal sources is non-existent’, the whole strategy [for development] depended on an influx of foreign aid to finance investment”.[381]

This then, is part of the setting for the US actions in 1977-1978, the necessary background to study of negotiations over ‘normalization’. It was not just the question of Chinese relations being more important, or ‘amnesia’ about Indochina. The real problem was the danger that Viet Nam might make an economic success of socialism, and this had to be stopped.

Because of Vietnam’s own efforts to effect an opening to the west, even at the expense of close ties with the Soviet Union, the US could not avoid negotiations, but at each step, as Viet Nam conceded on important points, new obstacles were thrown up until an accord was preempted by other circumstances. This can be read from Brother Enemy even though Chanda apparently did not see it himself; or, if he did, chose not to give it emphasis.

This is not to say that all Americans involved had a hidden goal of crippling Vietnam’s progress. Leonard Woodcock’s mission to Hanoi in March 1977 got off to a good start. The MIA issue, which, amnesia to the contrary, had been hoked up by US enemies of normalization in 1976, was defused by a formulation accepting the fullest possible accounting, rather than a full accounting (144, 146).[382]

Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and Assistant Secretary Richard Holbrooke wanted normalization with Vietnam, and Chanda’s account is more sympathetic to them than to the Brzezinski group who wanted to line China up against the Soviet Union.

Nevertheless, negotiations had foundered by December 1977 over the issue of US aid for reconstruction as promised by Nixon in 1973 (149-59), and Vietnam’s disappointment came just at a time of intense debate in Hanoi on domestic and foreign policy, with the failure of negotiations strengthening the faction opposed to liberalization at home, and in favor of close ties with the Soviet Union (159).

Thus, US refusal to keep its promises, which Chanda, along with even good guys Holbrooke and Vance, found unobjectionable (149-50), pushed Viet Nam toward that position which China was already accusing it of occupying. Further negotiations were then blocked by alleged Vietnamese espionage and the expulsion of the Vietnamese ambassador to the United Nations in February 1978 (see p. 196).

There was still hope, however. After a ten-month break, new meetings began in September 1978, and Viet Nam dropped all demands for aid, thereby meeting US preconditions to date (266). By this time, the Brzezinski group were prevailing with their view that China came first and that Viet Nam was just a proxy of the Soviet Union.

In October Viet Nam was told that there were new conditions - ’’Vietnamese hostility toward Cambodia, Soviet-Vietnamese ties, and the increasing number of boat people coming out of Vietnam’ (290), all problems to which US actions over the previous 3 years had contributed. Chanda here puts his finger on American post facto hypocrisy, the explanation that it was “Vietnam’s treaty with Moscow and its invasion of Cambodia and the surge of boat people’ which made diplomatic relations impossible.

In fact, President Carter decided on October 11, 1978 not to normalize relations with Vietnam, while the Vietnamese-Soviet treaty and invasion of Cambodia came later, and even the “boat people exodus reached crisis proportions only in the summer of 1979’ (291).

But Chanda could have done more with some of the reasons for the long break in negotiations in 1977-1978 which delayed matters until several crises coincided.

[Excision to avoid repetition. See joint review of Becker and Chanda, p. 193, ff.]

US intelligence certainly knew the circumstances of “Vietnamese hostility toward Cambodia”, one of the new October 1978 impediments to normalization. Indeed, Elizabeth Becker wrote that “the US government knew by May[1978] that Viet Nam planned to invade Cambodia”. But no American expert in 1978 was predicting full-scale war between Viet Nam and Cambodia; at most, only a Vietnamese push into eastern Cambodia in response to the Cambodian attacks, something justifiable in international law and not a cause for suspending US- Viet Nam normalization (Becker, 396, 409). Yet Viet Nam was being blamed for hostility, not Cambodia for attacking Viet Nam.

The Vietnamese ‘threat’ to Southeast Asia, as seen from Washington, had been contained. Economic development which might have made Viet Nam a socialist model had been blocked, and Viet Nam was soon to become an ‘aggressor’. Here we see the emergence of Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea as a useful and favored tool of US policy against Vietnam.

By 1977 US intelligence had decided to downplay the Cambodian bloodbath which they had found useful in 1975.[383] The Pol Pot regime were aware of this and responded in kind. Confessions that have been preserved from their archives show that complicity with Viet Nam, rather than with the CIA, was becoming the favorite accusation thrown at suspected traitors.

An intriguing example of their change of heart is visible in a photograph made by Swedish sympathizers who visited Cambodia in December 1978. In a communal hall in eastern Cambodia they photographed a current slogan painted in large letters on the wall. “Sweep away the CIA and running dog agents who have wormed their way inside until they have been completely cleaned up”, was the original text, but then ‘CIA’ had been covered over with black paint, not heavily enough, however, to prevent the lettering from showing through.[384]

US coddling of Pol Pot became more evident after his overthrow in January 1979, as can be read from Chanda’s final chapter, “Indochina: War Forever?”

Sihanouk, taken from house arrest in Phnom Penh to China in January 1979, went to New York accompanied by DK security agents to attend the United Nations session. There he fled from his bodyguard and threw himself on the mercy of the US government, intending to defect from Democratic Kampuchea.

Instead of being welcomed as an ally in the search for a peaceful and legitimate alternative to the DK horror, Sihanouk became a “hot potato in the hands of the State Department”. They paid the $15,000 for his and Monique’s medical checkup (368), which, contrary to ethics, bought them access to the medical records.[385]

But the US government did not want Sihanouk hanging around. They were worried about the “chilling effect US asylum ... could have on the newly established Sino-American ties”. Andrew Young, Holbrooke, and Frank Tatu asked him, “why don’t you think it over?”; a defector “loses his identity ... his usefulness as a political leader” (366-7).

He was even told he could not go back to Cambodia anyway, something which Chanda’s own research has shown untrue. Already in October 1978 Sihanouk’s son Ranariddh had been informed that Sihanouk would be welcome to “play a leading role” in the overthrow of DK (335-6), and while in New York “Hanoi sent him a message ... that he would be welcome to return to Phnom Penh as head of the Vietnamese-installed regime”.

Chanda, now evidently writing in his post-1984 Washington mode, editorializes that this third choice “was scarcely more attractive” than “life as a penniless and stateless exile or as a pampered representative of a murderous regime” (368). In the end the American government did its part to obstruct the third choice, which would have immediately ended the Cambodia conflict, and instead pressured Sihanouk into remaining as the representative of a murderous regime. [Note again the ‘tilt’ in 1975 described by Chandler, p. 125, above.]

In his last 20 pages summing up post-1979 events even-handedness disappears from Chanda’s treatment, and the Washington influence shows through in point after point. In describing Cambodia in early 1979, he imputes the plundering of Phnom Penh to the Vietnamese army, and terms it “a large blot on the Vietnamese role as ‘savior’ of Cambodia” (371). He offers no source, and has simply followed a line popular in anti-PRK circles.

The earlier line, from 1975-1976, was that Pol Pot forces had done the plundering, which careful questioning of refugees showed to have not generally been true, either. There may have been some Vietnamese plundering, but again careful research fails to substantiate it as general policy.

Something else which was going on at the time was scavenging by Cambodian “returnees ... who managed to enter [Phnom Penh] ... hunting for movable goods” (371). My informants, both among refugees and people still living in Phnom Penh, indicate that most of the looting resulted from the anarchy of a propertyless floating population in the early months of 1979.[386]

The new slant permeates his description of the new government. “Hanoi’s major effort was focused on consolidating its hold over the country by creating a new Khmer state, government, and party institutions” (372), although the alleged goal would have been better attained by direct Vietnamese administration. Chanda can only get away with this through limiting himself to obsolete 1979-81 data, although writing in 1985.

Using a 1981 paper by Stephen Heder, an overt PRK enemy, Chanda says that 80% of the Central Committee members are “former ... [Khmer Issarak] allied with the Vietnamese” (453, n. 8), terminology required by Heder’s eccentric position on the history of Cambodian communism.[387] The percentages, however, are close enough for 1981, but by 1985 the old group close to Viet Nam had become a minority, replaced by new young intellectuals and technocrats without any pre-1970 Vietnamese or communist background.

Chanda also keeps obsolete statistics on the Vietnamese presence, “the 180,000-strong Vietnamese army”, which was no longer true even at the 1983 date to which Chanda refers. A US government expert had by then acknowledged the truth of the first Vietnamese partial withdrawal, leaving 150,000, and another source which Chanda quotes for statistics on Vietnamese civilians in Cambodia, suggested 160,000 military.[388]

Worse than this is Chanda’s reliance on a real propaganda rag, the Singapore- based Indochina Report, for Hanoi’s intention to create “an economically integrated unit in which to achieve ‘gradual implementation of labor distribution’” among the three Indochina countries; in other words settlement of“sparsely-populated” Cambodia by Vietnamese surplus population (375).[389]

By the time Chanda was going to press this was observably untrue, as was his assertion that “with every passing year the Vietnamese grip over Cambodia increased” (405). On the contrary, from 1981 it became clearer each year that a truly Khmer regime was being built, and after 1983 there could be no doubt that the Vietnamese were gradually withdrawing their forces.[390]

The anti-PRK slant continues in Chanda’s summary of international maneuvers around Cambodia. After describing how the Non-Aligned Summit in 1979 decided to keep its Cambodia seat vacant pending resolution of the dispute, Chanda tells us “similar tricks were not possible at the United Nations” (376-7), where the US swings considerably more political and economic weight to be used against countries who vote the wrong way. Apparently Chanda would agree with Vernon Walters that such tactics are not ‘tricks’ [Walters was the John Bolton equivalent of the 1980s.]

The key player in the post-1979 reaction was Thailand, without whose cooperation no effective anti-PRK campaign could be set up. Thai cooperation was easily secured because “the drama of the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia” (not, we will note, ‘the Vietnamese rescue of Cambodia from Pol Pot’) “was a replay of Nguyen dynasty expansion in the early part of the nineteenth century” (380).

Perhaps some Thai saw it that way, but there is no excuse for foreign journalists and historians to swallow the same line. In the 19th century the Thai had been as aggressive as the Vietnamese, and in the 20th century the “antiCommunist Khmer Serei movement in Cambodia” which they supported in “the post-Geneva period” (380) had been first of all anti-Sihanouk at a time when there was no Vietnamese threat to Cambodia, let alone to Thailand.

Considerable great-power effort went into getting the Thai on side after 1979. The Chinese effort, and the profits for Thai military and businessmen which went with it, are recorded by Chanda (349, 381).

But a glaring absence in Chanda’s treatment is the lack of any comment on the US role, whereas Elizabeth Becker reported “Brzezinski himself claims that he concocted the idea of persuading Thailand to cooperate fully with China in its efforts to rebuild the Khmer Rouge” (Becker, 440). There is not even an interview with Ambassador Morton Abramowitz, whose pressure on the Thais was given ample attention in the press at the time.

General Kriangsak Chomanan was the Thai Prime Minister who made the agreement to allow transport of Chinese aid across Thailand to the Pol Pot forces on the border. This represented something of a change of attitude, for Kriangsak had come to power in 1977 as part of a reaction against the rigid anticommunism of his predecessor, and he adopted a policy of detente toward the Indochina regimes. Moreover, throughout 1979 Kriangsak allowed sales of Thai rice and corn to the Soviet Union, which was shipping at least part of it to Viet Nam and Cambodia, thereby providing enough famine relief to enable them to resist western aid efforts that were perceived as politically unattractive. In March 1979 Kriangsak even visited Moscow and gave permission for Russian aid flights across Thailand to Vietnam.

Domestic problems, however, were undercutting Kriangsak’s authority, and it became increasingly dangerous to risk accusation of lack of vigilance against communism. Even more than from the Chinese, Kriangsak was under pressure from the US, in the person of Ambassador Abramowitz, who was particularly insistent toward the end of 1979 on opening the enormous refugee camp system designed to drain Cambodia of surviving qualified people.[391]

Chanda’s refusal to treat any of this seriously detracts from his claim to be providing a story based on “a glimpse of the secret calculations and behind-the- scene maneuvers”. With respect to possible American responsibility for what has happened to Cambodia since 1979 Chanda’s problem has not been lack of “enough relevant information to choose from”, but that he has tendentiously exercised “subjective judgement in choosing facts” (ix-x).

Given the several examples of Chanda’s obeisance to the US regime line, the stylistic flourishes so much at variance with his previous journalistic writing may signal something more than an attempt to flog his book on the lower middlebrow public.

This occurred to me when I read a quotation from former Turkey CIA station chief Paul Henze’s ‘Bulgarian Connection’ propaganda: “The sun had just set, bringing to an end a cool, bright autumn day when I stepped off the bus near the central square of Malatya ... I had come to probe Mehmet Ali Agca’s background”. Did Chanda and Henze share the same rewrite specialist, or, since the style is not out of line with Henze’s other writing, has Henze become an editorial adviser to young journalists whom Washington wishes to turn?[392]

The problems with Chanda’s writing which I have signaled above, and which are found in so much recent ‘historical’ writing, especially about Cambodia, result from an effort to write for sale rather than to supply the most sober and objective treatment of their subject, as one should expect from first-generation studies. There is a striving for literariness, or pseudo-literariness, seen also in the trendy titles to excite readers and increase sales in Kiernan’s Pol Pot Regime, and to a lesser extent in Chandler’s Tragedy.

Instead of an attempt to chieve historical objectivity, their treatments show that they started from a position of ‘knowing’ what happened and why, and imposed on it the values of their milieus—what I called the ‘STV’. See Kiernan, “Wiping the Slate Clean”, “Writing on the Slate”, “The Slate Crumbles”, “Thunder Without Rain”; and Chandler, “Inside the Typhoon” (Tragedy, chapter 8), or even Tragedy of Cambodian History.

Such ‘sexing up of the dossier’ is often the work of editors who are interested exclusively in sales and not at all in historical objectivity. This is particularly true in writing by Cambodians who were children at the time, and whose ‘sexed- up dossiers’ were certainly encouraged by western editors.

Even an adult intellectual, writing of a situation in which he was an expert, Benny Widyono, has acknowleged to me that his rather silly and irrelevant title, “Dancing in Shadows” was not his own, but was imposed by an editor (see also p. 544)

Chanda, Chandler and Kiernan, however, are all talented writers perfectly capable of composing what they wished without any imposition by editors. Their misplaced attention to literariness is entirely their own.

At its worst, then, in its post-1979 summing up, Brother Enemy is USIA history - at its best ‘journo-hist’ entertainment to place on the coffee table. It’s great if you want to know how star players dressed and eyeballed each other, or which foreign minister barfed in his limo after lunch with Sihanouk (395). But if you want to learn about the Third Indochina War, start with Evans and Rowley.

Postscript on Chanda (2010)

Chanda’s book illustrates a phenomenon noted at least as early as I.F. Stone. A talented young journalist with a somewhat critical sense, as Chanda’s early articles in Far Eastern Economic Review showed, is invited or assigned to a tour in Washington, as Chanda was from 1984 to 1989. He is cultivated and flattered by some of the government elite, and emerges with a largely uncritical position on US policy.

Besides what appeared above, this is seen in Chanda’s references to Ambassador Kenneth Quinn as ‘Ken’ Quinn, a key signal noted later in the controversy over a Thai journalist accused of being on the take. As it was put in the Thai press, “by the very nature of their job, members of the press hobnob with politicians and influential business people ... which can blur the border between their role as public watchdog and conflict of interest ... senior journalists are on a first-name basis with politicians, wealthy businessmen and civil servants”.[393]

When Nayan Chanda was reporting on Asia for FEER he acquired a reputation as a reliable journalist with academic training in the history of his area, something rare in foreign newsmen in Southeast Asia. His reports usually showed an admirable objectivity and refusal to depend on handouts from the anonymous ‘western diplomats’ who pepper most dispatches, especially those about countries whose regimes are out of favor in Washington. This type of objectivity was even rarer among Chanda’s colleagues than was a background of knowledge about the area they were covering.

In 1984 Chanda was transferred to become FEER’s correspondent in Washington, and the quality of FEER reporting on Indochina quickly slipped. This could have been predicted, but a compensating quality in dispatches from Washington, which the FEER editor claimed was the goal, did not materialize. There were soon signs that Chanda was being co-opted, as I.F. Stone said bright young journalists often were.[394]

Not long after assuming his new duties, an article about Afghanistan appeared, from Washington, by Chanda (30 May 1985). Aside from the peculiar circumstance that an Asian-based magazine would turn to Washington as source for an article about Afghanistan by a correspondent without experience there, FEER was peddling the US regime line on an issue in which that regime was involved in a controversial manner.

A second example, even less excusable (since Afghanistan, it could be reasonably argued, was too far away and too exotic to be fully understood), came in 1987, after the attempted coup against President Aquino by the Honasan group of army officers. Without any comment Chanda quoted Assistant Secretary of Defense Karl Jackson - who before leaving academia for regime service had been known for extreme right-wing views - to the effect that the young Philippine army officers were idealists with the best interests of their country at heart.

This in spite of the fact that an expert on the Philippines, Prof. Alfred McCoy, went on Australian television to describe the Honasan group of young army officers as sadist butchers who if in power would institute a regime far bloodier than anything seen in the worst days of Pinochet or the Argentine military.

McCoy’s statement was not picked up by FEER, nor by any other press organ that I saw.[395]

It seems impossible that Chanda, and the regime in Washington, could not have known that the most competent American Philippine expert, Alfred McCoy, had declared that those officers were psychopathic sadists and enthusiastic torturers, and he knew this from hours of interviews with them spread over several years. No wonder some Filipinos have believed that the US was playing a two-track game with Manila - officially support Acquino, but encourage a coup by some other group who might be expected to continue business as usual.

Another indicator of this, and which links the Philippines and Cambodia, and involves Chanda, was the appointment in 1988 of Kenneth Quinn as no. 2 in the US Embassy in Manila.[396]

Kenneth Quinn was known to Cambodia hands as an early US government researcher on Cambodian politics, based in Vietnam, in the late 1960s, and his published reports from that time have been valuable in reconstituting the history of the Cambodian communists before 1975.

Of course Quinn was not just a researcher. His major published article, in the US Naval War College Review, identified him as an “employee of the executive branch of the US government”, often a transparent code for you know what; and I think no one doubted that Quinn had been part of the effort to destabilize Cambodia in the 1960s and line it up in support of the US position in Vietnam.[397]

Quinn later produced a Ph.D. thesis on the Cambodian revolution for the University of Maryland. A peculiar feature of it is its reliance, for information about conditions inside Cambodia, on Barron and Paul, rather than on his own publicly-known research, while they thank Kenneth Quinn as one of the people who provided them with valuable background information on Cambodia. That is, Quinn unloaded his research privately on Barron and Paul, then took it up again

from them for his thesis, a procedure which I think might have disqualified him had he been writing for a real university.[398]

‘Ken’ Quinn also comes forth as a major character in Chanda’s book, and one cannot avoid the thought that he (like Henze? - see above) was given the task of guiding the young Chanda around the Washington maze, and if possible coopting him, a task which he appears to have carried out successfully.

One more indication of Chanda’s turning was signaled by David Roberts, writing of the pressure exerted by George Shultz on ASEAN and Australian Foreign Minister Bill Hayden to prevent them from making any proposal which Viet Nam might accept. Roberts playfully notes that “the nature of this event [Shultz’s bullying] was disguised elsewhere ... Nayan Chanda [later in 1989] claimed that ASEAN ‘had difficulty persuading [Shultz] to support’ the regional attempt at reconciliation”.[399]

The final result was Chanda’s positions in the 1990s as editor and executive editor of Far Eastern Economic Review, at a time when that journal, which had once been a fairly decent news magazine with articles by Chanda on Indochina which all (except possibly old warmongers in Washington) admired, sank to its lowest as a right-wing business rag after being taken over by Dow Jones, with articles on Cambodia, especially by Nate Thayer, that violate all standards of decent journalism.[400]

Australia, Cambodia, and the Propaganda Mill (2010)

Much of my own journalism during that time, while in Adelaide from 1979 through 1987, consisted of efforts to correct false information emanating from writers on the far right of Australian politics.

I contributed several short pieces to the Australian and Bangkok press, including articles reporting new observations following trips to Cambodia in 1984 and 1986. My second book, Kampuchea, Politics, Economics and Society, was written there in 1985-86.

In 1983 the Australian press revived the issue of Yellow Rain, which elsewhere had fizzled out; generally discredited to the extent that many no longer recalled what was at issue.

‘Yellow Rain’ was the name given by American propagandists to an allegedly new chemical or biological weapon which they charged the Vietnamese, with Soviet support, were using in Laos and Cambodia on the guerrilla forces operating against the existing governments. By 1983 so much evidence had been produced to discredit it that the Yellow Rain campaign in the rest of the world was tapering off.

The attempt to revive it in Australia, using American journalistic conduits, in particular Commentary and Michael Ledeen (see below), seemed to have been related to American, ASEAN and conservative Australian efforts, noted above, to get rid of Labor Party Foreign Minister Bill Hayden, who was manifesting ideas about conflict resolution in Indochina which were not to the liking of those circles.

Hayden’s projects were discredited and he was eventually replaced as Foreign Minister by Gareth Evans, a more acquiescent follower of US Indochina policy, and sponsor of an American-Australian document which developed into the Paris Agreement on Cambodia of October 1991.

Besides short letters to the newspapers concerned, I wrote a longer article, never published in its entirety, although parts appeared in publication combined with other material.

The Propaganda Mill (1983)[401]

For several days following the announcement at the beginning of this month that Australia would not co-sponsor the ASEAN resolution on Cambodia at the UN this year, the Australian press gave attention to the adverse reaction from ASEAN countries.

One of the reasons why Mr. Hayden was not satisfied with the language of that resolution seems to be its inclusion of statements about alleged acts of Vietnamese oppression in Cambodia; and his position apparently reflects a Foreign Affairs Department assessment of the situation different from that of ASEAN.[402]

In those circumstances one could not help but be struck by the appearance in The Australian [Sydney, a Murdoch paper] on the 10th and 12th of October 1983 of two apparent news items which seemed orchestrated to undermine Mr. Hayden’s position through new and shocking revelations of alleged Vietnamese and Soviet atrocities against the Cambodian people.

Both articles were credited to an Australian journalist based in Washington, D.C., Peter Samuel. In the first, headlined “UN accused of covering up Soviet atrocities”, Samuel presented seemingly fantastic accusations that “UNcontrolled” doctors refuse, for political reasons, to treat Yellow Rain victims on the Thai-Cambodian border, and that the UN since April 1982 has acknowledged, but has destroyed evidence on, “grisly Nazi-style chemical and biological warfare experimentation on children” conducted by the Vietnamese and Soviets in Cambodia.

As amazing as the allegations themselves was the circuit through which they had passed before reaching the eyes of the Australian public. Samuel cited the New York magazine Commentary which was said to have republished material from an Italian journalist in Milan (Lucio Lami), who had in turn received the information from one Adelia Bernard, a resident of Melbourne.

Now although such assertions may easily be assimilated by a public fed on anti-Vietnamese stories for several years, they are truly mind-boggling for anyone who, like myself, worked among Cambodian refugees in Thailand and along the Thai-Cambodian border in 1980, who has visited those refugee camps each year since [until1985], and who during that period annually had contact with those “doctors working under UN control”, UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) officials in Bangkok, and Dr. Amos Townsend, the American ‘Yellow Rain’ investigator.

The assertions were not so astounding, however, for anyone who had noticed Mrs. Bernard’s earlier allegation in The Age, 19 March 1983. I found them equally fantastic at the time and tried without success to initiate a discussion in The Age; and they impelled me, when in Thailand in August-September of this year, to make some inquiries about Mrs. Bernard’s activities near the Cambodian border.

[Excision to avoid repetition - see letter to Commentary, p. 224 ff.]

Yellow Rain was also the subject of the second Australian article by Peter Samuel who, under the title “Viet defector gives details of ‘Yellow rain’ warfare” reported some apparently new and startling information about Vietnamese use of toxic chemicals in Cambodia, the source of which is a former “Vietnamese Group Commander for Chemical Warfare, Nguyen Quan”, “who surrendered to Kampuchean guerrillas earlier this year” and who “is one of the most important communist military officers to come under Western control”.

Now, for attentive Cambodia-watchers Nguyen Quan is an old acquaintance. His first public performance was under the patronage of the Thai Supreme Command at a press conference in Bangkok on 9 July, 1981 (Bangkok Post 10 July 1981), at which time it was revealed that he had defected 18 months earlier, that is in January 1980, or more than three and one-half years ago [written in 1983].

At that press conference he identified himself as a former Captain with sixteen years service attached to the 28th Artillery Battalion of the 5th Division stationed in Mongkolborei, Battambang, northwestern Cambodia, and he indeed ‘revealed’ that the Vietnamese had used ‘poison gas’ in Cambodia. He did not supply the technical details found in Samuel’s article, nor claim to have been himself a trained chemical officer. He merely stated that “poison gas has been used” in Cambodia in the form of artillery shells.

As interesting as his testimony itself was the way it was handled by the Bangkok Post. The headline was “Vietnam army ‘facing crisis’“, with a subheading “Defector tells of low morale and meager rations”.

The ‘Yellow Rain’ campaign had not yet been fully activated, and what the Thai Supreme Command and the press were then concerned about were other issues on which Nguyen Quan supplied information: disintegration of the Vietnamese military forces, starvation in Vietnam, and theft by the Vietnamese army of international relief supplies in Cambodia, all matters about which we now know he was not telling the truth.

Indeed, having defected at the beginning of 1980, and then been held by the Thai authorities, it is difficult to imagine how he knew anything about conditions and behavior of Vietnamese troops in Cambodia in mid-1981; but the alleged misappropriation of foreign aid in Cambodia was one of the propaganda lines being pushed by certain governments and media at that time.

Once Nguyen Quan had been revealed to the public, two earlier Bangkok news items took on added significance.

In April 1980 Seth Mydans, under the headline “Hanoi defector spills the beans”, wrote of an unnamed 16-year veteran Vietnamese artillery officer and recent defector who had asserted that 65% of international aid rice in Cambodia was appropriated by the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese officer also said that non- lethal chemical warheads, some left over from US supplies in Vietnam, were being used in Cambodia; but non-lethal gas has become standard military equipment, thus not interesting for the press, and the ‘beans’ being spilled were the information about stolen aid rice, not chemical warfare (Bangkok Post 28 April 1980).

A couple of days later Alan Dawson, “Vietnam and the poison gas issue,” citing an unnamed Vietnamese Captain who had recently defected, wrote that non-toxic gas was being used in attacks on the Cambodian ‘resistance’, Dawson’s point being that evidence for poison gas had not yet been produced (Bangkok Post 30 April 1980).

Even though Mydans’ and Dawson’s informant was not named, it was clearly our Nguyen Quan, whose stories have grown with the demand for antiVietnamese propaganda.

Dr. Amos Townsend, the indefatigable American ‘Yellow Rain’ investigator, told me regretfully in 1982 that Quan’s information had not been picked up earlier in his interrogations by American or Thai intelligence personnel - obviously, I should say, because he did not have such information to provide until prompted.

Dr. Townsend also told me that one of Quan’s first attempts to buy favor after changing sides was an allegation that in 1980 the Vietnamese were planning a large-scale three-division invasion of Thailand. That of course did not occur, and intelligence gathered at the time of the small-scale incursion in June 1980 revealed that it had not even been contemplated.[403]

Such is the credibility of “the most important communist military officer to come under Western control”, and who, along with Melbourne activist Adelia Bernard, is being used to dirty the Vietnamese ‘slate’ at a time when Australia’s foreign policy appears to be undergoing a shift in that country’s favor.[404]

After writing the above in answer to The Australian, I sent copies to Commentary, and requested a copy of Lami’s article, which had not yet reached Adelaide.

In my letter (written in October 1983) I added that “It might be of interest to Commentary that among the ‘doctors working under UN control’, who are allegedly depriving people of needed treatment for political reasons, would have been the medical teams of the International Rescue Committee, whose Leo Cherne, with whom you are no doubt acquainted, might have some interesting comments on the allegations”; and it may have been this which impelled them to give my letter some consideration.

Their Associate Editor, Brenda Brown answered in a letter dated 18 October 1983, “I enclose a copy of the original article by Lucio Lami If you wish to write a letter to

the editor commenting on the article we would be happy to publish it”.

After I sent my letter, printed below, Ms. Brown acknowledged it in a letter dated 8 December, 1983, in which she said, “ ... we will make every effort to publish [it], if possible in full, in our correspondence columns, together with a reply by Mr. Lami.” Certain crucial sections were, however, cut.

The ‘Yellow Rain’ Conspiracy (1983)[405]

There is only one point in Lucio Lami, “Yellow Rain: The Conspiracy of Closed Mouths” (Commentary, Oct 1983), with which I would agree; and that is that the evidence on the subject of Yellow Rain, and its mode of presentation, do indeed suggest a conspiracy, but not that which is troubling Lami.

It will be useful here to take up the argument indirectly, with reference to some Yellow Rain (YR) evidence not touched on by Lami. His article was translated by Michael Ledeen, identified in an earlier contribution to Commentary as a member of the Georgetown University Center for Strategic and International Studies, and he had already attracted my attention when he was cited in that capacity as the source of information which appeared in The Australian (Sydney), 12 Oct 1983, under the title, “Vietnamese defector gives details of ‘Yellow Rain’ warfare,” by one Peter Samuel [see p. 221.

Ledeen was alleged to have said that a recent (“earlier this year”) defector from the Vietnamese forces in Cambodia, a “Group Commander for Chemical Warfare”, named Nguyen Quan, “was one of the most important communist military officers to come under Western control”, and had provided startling new revelations about Yellow Rain and other chemical warfare activities in Southeast Asia.

Now for the experienced Cambodia watcher Nguyen Quan is an old acquaintance. His first public performance was under the patronage of Thai Supreme Command at a press conference in Bangkok on 9 July 1981, at which it was revealed that he had defected 18 months earlier, that is in January 1980, or more than three and one-half years ago (Bangkok Post 10 July 1981).

At that press conference he was identified as an ordinary artillery officer, not one trained in chemical warfare, and although he said “poison gas has been used” in Cambodia, delivered in artillery shells, he offered no further technical details, and the allegation was treated as a mere peripheral detail, since what the Thai military and the press of the time found of interest were his revelations about the disintegration of the Vietnamese military forces, starvation in Vietnam, and theft by the Vietnamese army of international relief supplies in Cambodia, all matters about which we now know he was not telling the truth.

Perhaps the lack of attention then to his ‘poison gas’ claim was the awareness of the press that earlier, when he had first defected in 1980, Nguyen Quan had denied the use of poison gas, saying that so far as he knew, Vietnamese forces in Cambodia were only using non-lethal/non-toxic gas, much of it left over from US supplies.[406]

Thus Nguyen Quan’s original unrehearsed information was the opposite of what he is now ‘revealing’, and everything with which he has since been associated has been disinformative.

If not prompted in his revelations, he has at least been astute enough to understand what his listeners wished to hear; and Dr. Amos Townsend, the indefatigable American Yellow Rain investigator, cited admiringly by Lami, once noted regretfully to me in 1982 that Quan’s information had not been picked up earlier in his interrogations by American and Thai intelligence personnel. Not long afterward, however, Townsend realized that he had been conned by Quan and that he no longer knew “which information by Quan is truth and which is fiction”.[407]

Surely these details of Quan’s background cannot be unknown to Ledeen, and it is no wonder that some people believe in the existence of a Yellow Rain conspiracy, but not the one alleged by Lami. One might also ask whether Ledeen just happened to be perusing an obscure Italian newspaper and stumbled on Lami, or whether he had reason to believe he might find something suitable for his own Yellow Rain campaign.

The whole operation reminds us of another story, by a certain Paola Brianti, laundered through another obscure Italian publication a few years ago, designed to prove that the Pol Pot leadership admitted killing a couple of million people in their first years in power. Is Lucio Lami perhaps really Paola Brianti in drag? [408]

Lami claims both that evidence for the use of chemical weapons is overwhelmingly plentiful and that it has been suppressed by the UN with the aid of some Western journalists. How such censorship could be exercised by the UN organizations, when the US government, using evidence gathered by its own personnel along the Thai-Cambodian and Thai-Lao borders, has published its own reports and otherwise trumpeted its story to the world, is not made clear.

Indeed, Lami seems quite unaware of those US government documents, which for all their weaknesses are far superior to Lami’s documentation, and which show, with respect to Lami’s first general point, that the evidence, apart from scatter-gun allegations, is pitifully scarce and weak, and becomes progressively weaker as new information about the natural occurrences of mycotoxins, the alleged new Yellow Rain poisons, is discovered.

On the subject of such evidence, and its collection, I can do no better than recommend Grant Evans’s The Yellow Rainmakers, which demonstrated in great detail how the stories from Laos are most probably mass hysteria plus some disinformation, while the apparently genuine instances of mycotoxin poisoning in Cambodia are probably of natural origin.

Particular attention should be given to Evans’s demolition of the story of one star Hmong Yellow Rain witness, a man who when Evans interviewed him had given his story 13 times to various Western organizations and journalists.[409]

I have no doubt that Lami heard allegations of gas attacks on the Cambodian and Lao borders, and by their very nature and presentation there is no way to disprove them, but Evans’s book demonstrates the care such claims require. It is not permissible to simply accept someone’s assertion that he was hit by ‘poison gas’, and still less to accept that as evidence for a new generation of chemical weapons being used by the Vietnamese.

Although Lami’s story of the two Son Sann soldiers whom he met at Ban Sangae cannot be disproved, Dr. Amos Townsend’s report of 19 August 1983, of which I have a copy, indicates the carelessness with which evidence from those alleged gas attacks of January 1983 has been collected and assessed. Townsend, referring to one case in which the autopsy of a soldier killed in an assumed gas attack had indicated “toxic hepatitis” as the cause of death, hinted that the medical analysis must have been incompetent or dishonest.

Townsend also described his encounter, at Ban Sangae in August 1983, with an alleged victim of a January incident, who claimed to have previously been healthy and who in August showed symptoms consistent with respiratory infection and dengue. Townsend expressed some reservation about the man’s reliability, but “believe that he needs further study”.

Unaccountably, Townsend then departed from Ban Sangae and left the collection of blood samples to Adelia Bernard (see below). In his report he expressed the hope of finding the man again at a later date, although he knows full well the great difficulty in retrieving people in the confused conditions of the border camps. No doubt we shall eventually see that soldier as a Yellow Rain statistic in some US government report.

One of Lami’s stories, the storage of “chemical weapons in the former house of the oblates” in Ban Huey Sai, is of a type discounted even by Townsend and his associates. In a report of 25 August 1983 one of the latter described how a self-proclaimed Thai secret agent in a border town tried to sell them some chemical warfare liquid recently stolen from storage in the “Lao President’s government office in Vientiane”.

They of course refused his offer; and one of the things distinguishing the serious Yellow Rain spooks, even if they are misguided, from the madhatters is that they know the Vietnamese, or Soviet, chemical corpsmen would keep their poisons in proper storage facilities, not in odd places like a former seminary or the President’s office.

Lami’s story of a Vietnamese gas mask, even if true, means nothing, since gas masks are standard equipment in all armies; and the detail of the West German embassy secretly negotiating to acquire it from the “Khmer Blancs” (a meaningless term illustrating Lami’s ignorance of the area) tends to discredit the story entirely.

It is certainly not true that all the embassies in Bangkok consider the evidence irrefutable, and this has been one of the difficulties in the US government campaign. Indeed last year the Australian and British governments announced that Yellow Rain samples sent to them for analysis were fakes.[410]

There is even some doubt that the US government still believes its own propaganda. On 7 April 1983, Professor Robert L. Rau of the US Naval Academy’s Political Science Department, on a US-government sponsored lecture tour, told the staff of Adelaide University’s Centre for Asian Studies that “no one” in Washington, except for a small corner of the State Department, any longer took the Yellow Rain stories seriously.

Moreover, Dr. Amos Townsend’s Yellow Rain research efforts lack funds, and the two Bangkok embassy officers who were most energetic in assisting Townsend have been routinely transferred and replaced by new men who have indicated to Townsend that they will not exert the same efforts in Yellow Rain research.[411]

Also of interest is that one person involved in the early collection of Yellow Rain evidence, State Department officer Timothy Carney, told me in 1982 that he considered the Pol Pot people quite capable of feeding toxin to their own soldiers in order to make an anti-Vietnamese case, something consistent with the circumstance that the most potent of the alleged mycotoxins could be made by any literate person or bought wholesale.[412]

Neither is there agreement among medical personnel in the camps about the reality of Yellow Rain, or other kinds of new CBW (chemical and biological warfare). The medical evidence is inconclusive, most of the alleged ‘gassing’ symptoms could just as well have other causes, and where mycotoxins have really been found, in some Cambodian patients, their behavior has been inconsistent with dissemination by weapons and more reasonably explained by natural occurrence in contaminated food.[413]

This inconsistency of opinion within medical circles also comes through clearly in the aforementioned report of Amos Townsend, with Townsend hinting at political motivations of those doctors who do not support the Yellow Rain cause.

No doubt political considerations are relevant, but the political preconceptions of those who support Yellow Rain charges lead them to assume the truth of ‘gas attacks’, etc., and to devise circular explanations to accommodate the most diverse symptoms, while medical personnel not politically predisposed to accept Yellow Rain, or at least honest in their work, seen impelled to adopt the scientifically more acceptable methodology of proceeding from the observed symptoms and laboratory analyses to indications of the causes.

Certainly there is no evidence, though, of a political cover-up by doctors of the Red Cross or other agencies working for the UN. If there were the slightest truth in this it would have appeared in the US government reports and in the reports of Amos Townsend, several of which I have read, and which provide much of the material on which the US government documents are based.

In this connection Lami should tell us just how he knows what went on in Red Cross meetings and what was allegedly deleted from the transcripts. Townsend has not complained that the Red Cross denies assistance to gas victims, and his alleged complaint about suppressed result of an autopsy on a Cambodian woman killed at the border and transported to Khao I Dang in November 1982 is directly contradicted by his report of 19 Aug 1983.

There he noted that he had just recently obtained permission from Task Force 80, the Thai military unit in overall control of the refugee camps, to bring possible CBW victims to Khao I Dang for study and treatment, but he had “not ‘tested the system as yet’”.

It is not true that the medical organizations in the refugee and border camps “are under UN control” with respect to medical practice, or that “they have adapted to these methods and deny help to gas victims”. The medical work in the camps is undertaken by private voluntary groups, mostly from the United States, France, Germany, Thailand, and the United Kingdom, with international personnel of diverse nationalities and backgrounds.

The UN could not, even if it wished, order them to refuse necessary treatment. Some of the medical teams belong to devout Christian organizations which are strongly anti-Communist, believe firmly in Yellow Rain, and would not fail to complain loudly of any UN interference with their medical ethics.

If there were really a conspiracy on the border to suppress information about Yellow Rain or to turn away patients suffering from its effects, the conspiracy would have to include not only the UN and voluntary agencies, but the Bangkok US Embassy, the CIA, and the Thai military, all of whom have agents patrolling the border areas, as well as the Pol Pot-Son Sann-Sihanouk Coalition, which in all of its most exaggerated propaganda have never claimed that international medical teams refused treatment nor that the UN was suppressing evidence.

Lami probably got such fanciful stories from Adelia Bernard, whom he expressly credits as the source of his last, and most fantastic tale, and who seemed to believe that all of the above-mentioned institutions and groups were hiding evidence in order to support Viet Nam.

Adelia Bernard is a resident of Melbourne, Australia, who has spent some time working with a Thai Catholic organization, COERR (Catholic Office for Emergency Relief and Refugees), in the refugee camps, and she has purveyed a certain amount of lurid anti-Vietnamese material to the Australian press.[414]

Being familiar with her name and convictions, I made inquiries about her activities during my latest trip to Thailand in August-September 1983, in particular at UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) in Bangkok, where there are several people whom I have known, and met annually or semi-annually, since 1980 when I also worked in the Cambodian refugee camps, and where one key employee has been my acquaintance for over 10 years.

Although it is logically impossible to prove a negative, that is to prove that Mrs. Bernard has never sneaked into Cambodia, no one familiar with the border or the interior of Cambodia gives credence to her story of travelling clandestinely to Phnom Penh, a story which stripped of the lurid details imparted to Lami is otherwise well known and treated as a joke. All agree on the utter impossibility of such a trip.

Even more stupefying is the claim to have brought a corpse, in tropical heat, from Phnom Penh to the border (a two-day trip in the best, non-clandestine circumstances), negotiated it though the multiple Khmer and Thai checkpoints at the border, taken it to Bangkok (another day), and finally dragged it up to Mark Brown’s office on the crowded third floor of the UN building, where all visitors have to sign in at a security desk and where packages are examined.

Had anything like that ever occurred, it is certain that there would have been a major scandal both within the UN building and Thai security services, Mrs. Bernard might well have found herself detained for violation of several laws, and I would not have been able to converse with UNHCR acquaintances during 2-3 days without hearing of the incident.

It is also worth asking why Adelia Bernard, on 13 April 1983, in a talk before the Community Aid Abroad group in Melbourne, boasted of her ‘secret’ trip to Phnom Penh, but did not relate any of the lurid adventures reported by Lami, why she equally failed to mention them in her atrocity-mongering interview with The Age (19 March 1983), and why she did not report them to Dr. Townsend when she met him at the Ban Sangae camp on the Thai-Cambodian border on 11 August 1983.[415]

If she had really acquired evidence of Vietnamese or Soviet CBW atrocities in Cambodia the logical person to approach would have been Townsend, already known then as a activist in the Yellow Rain cause and who could have organized medical examination of the evidence, not Mark Brown, who was neither administratively concerned with medical matters nor of sufficient authority to effect a scientific investigation. Brown could not possibly have dismissed Adelia Bernard’s corpse and apparatus, but would have had to refer the case to his superiors.

Dragging Brown into the story destroys whatever credibility it might otherwise have inspired, and it reveals much about Adelia Bernard’s state of mind and her approach to questions of evidence and propaganda. It is curious that there is an earlier version of the Mark Brown and baby episode, and it may reveal Mrs. Bernard’s reason for trying to blacken Brown’s reputation.

In my conversations with UNHCR personnel about Mrs. Bernard’s activities I heard an admittedly apocryphal, but circumstantially more credible, anecdote which would have occurred late in 1979 or early in 1980, when Mark Brown was UNHCR Field Officer at the large Khao I Dang refugee camp and when many Cambodians were arriving ill and malnourished at the border, sometimes in numbers greater than could immediately be treated by the available medical personnel.

Adelia Bernard is supposed to have picked up a moribund child, carried it to Brown and asked him what he was going to do about it. Apparently an impatient response, that he knew quite well that babies were dying from lack of adequate care, has caused her to carry an animus against him ever since. Treblinka indeed, Mr. Lami, Bedlam is a more accurate metaphor.

Whatever the whole truth behind the diverse Yellow Rain and CBW stories may be, Lucio Lami’s article is a tissue of wild rumors and lies, and he shows total ignorance of even the official US statements on the question. It should be clear that I do not believe that the Vietnamese are using ‘Yellow Rain’ or any other mysterious new CBW agents in Laos and Cambodia, but I would agree that all of the evidence is not in, and that further careful, objective, scientific investigations are required.

The credibility of the charges so far, contrary to Lami’s citation of the Washington Post, has not been placed in doubt because “the gathering of evidence has been entrusted to the American secret services.” Whatever evidence those agencies may have gathered has not been revealed, and has thus had no influence on the debate.

The charges have been placed in doubt, I would say discredited, by the sloppy way in which evidence has been gathered and presented by presumably qualified medical personnel like Dr. Amos Townsend, refugee hangers-on like Adelia Bernard, hack researchers like Michael Ledeen, and journalists like Lucio Lami.

Postscripts (1984)

Lucio Lami responded at length in the same issue of Commentary. A short letter from Michael Ledeen, although not, ostensibly, in answer to my letter, was also published.

Ledeen said his purpose was to apologize for and correct an error in his translation of Lami’s article in Italian concerning the date of the alleged encounter between Adelia Bernard and Mark Brown. “It should have been given as April 1980”, not in 1982. Ledeen said, “This typographical error in fact was printed in Il Giornale Nuovo when the story first appeared, but Mr. Lami quickly caught and corrected it in a letter to the editor two days later. I translated from the original text and missed the correction”.

Interestingly, Lami, in his response, also redated the incident, but in a different way, making no mention of a typographical error or his quick effort to correct it. Rather, he said, “The Brown case. The story of Adelia Bernard exists as an official document, in the official record of the Australian government (Hansard) for May 1981”.

I wrote to Commentary Associate Editor Brenda Brown about this as follows (29 February 1984):

“ ... you have made dishonest cuts in order to give assistance to Lami’s shaky case. Thus he was still able to use the ‘authority’ of Nguyen Quan whose dubious background I had revealed in the beginning of my letter.

“You also, interestingly, removed my paragraph about a possible encounter between Adelia Bernard and Mark Brown in 1979-1980, while Lami and Ledeen have ‘rectified’ their story to place her adventure in precisely that period. Of course, if the Bernard-Lami-Ledeen story is placed in 1980, it cannot be the same story as that attributed to 1982, and careful readers will realize that the latter has been surreptitiously withdrawn.

“I have tried, unsuccessfully, to find the Adelia Bernard report in the Australian Hansard for May 1981 ... There is no name index in Hansard, and I was forced to go through likely subject headings - ‘Foreign Affairs’, ‘Kampuchea’, ‘refugees’, ‘UN’. Although several long discussions on Indochina and refugees are there, none of them made reference to that subject. If Lami can provide a precise reference, I shall be happy to read it carefully.”

There may, however, have been a mention of Mrs. Bernard in Hansard which I missed, for on 21 May 1981 The Age (Melbourne) published a short article on her testimony before a Senate inquiry.[416] There was apparently no mention of a clandestine trip to Phnom Penh or a meeting with Mark Brown.

Needless to say, the information I requested never came, only a blustery ‘how dare you accuse us of dishonesty’ letter (8 March 1984) from Brenda Brown. Although I have never had the opportunity to check it, it is likely that the typographical error in the date in Il Giornale Nuovo, and its correction, are as mythical as the Hansard record of Mrs. Bernard’s meeting with Mark Brown.

Mrs. Bernard’s name came up again in parliament in another month of May, 1984, when in answer to a question, Senator Gareth Evans, the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, answered “Yes” to a question whether “... Mrs. Adelia Bernard [has] claimed that in 1982 she was instructed to obtain evidence of [chemical] warfare by and for the Australian Government”.

In answer to a further question about action taken on evidence supplied by Mrs. Bernard he said, “The material supplied ... was analysed by the Defence Materials Research Laboratories ... who were unable to find evidence of any toxicity”.[417]

Thus the period in which there is indubitable evidence that Mrs. Bernard was engaged in a search for toxic material was that in which Lami, quoting her, first dated the fictitious incident - which further highlights the dishonesty of Lami’s and Ledeen’s ‘corrections’.

Eventually, Commentary (April 1984, p. 16) was forced to make a retraction, of sorts. A short notice, “To Our Readers” and signed “Ed.”, announced:

“ ... Mr. Brown categorically denies that this meeting [with Adelia Bernard] ever took place ... Although Mrs. Bernard has continued to insist that her story is true, she recalls a different place and time for the alleged meeting from that given in Mr. Lami’s original article[1982] or in a correction[1980] we later published. Mrs. Bernard has also told us the name of a man who, she says, was present at her meeting with Mr. Brown. This man, like Mr. Brown, says that he knows of no such meeting ... Mr. Lami acknowledges that his report ... rested on the uncorroborated word of Mrs. Bernard and so far as he knows, it remains unsupported by any other evidence”.

Finally, in a letter to me dated 27 April, 1984 from Aranyaprathet, Thailand, Adelia Bernard, reaffirmed her conviction that the Yellow Rain accusations were true, downgraded the seriousness and honesty of Dr. Townsend, repeated her accusations that “UN agencies” were covering up evidence of chemical warfare, claiming even that a UNHCR person “made threats on my life in the presence of many people”, and, of course, attacked me personally for my left-wing proVietnamese position.

More interesting, however, was her statement concerning “‘the Lami article”. She wrote that “the contents were the result of my confidences to another journalist, a friend, and printed a year earlier in Europe [place, date, title not cited]. Lami followed it up and it snowballed ... Mr. Lami paid more attention to the story and omitted such detail as dates, places, etc. He was also wrong about other personal details”.

On her contact with Mark Brown she said “I visited Mark Brown in KID [Khao-I-Dang refugee camp], not Bangkok”. Moreover, “I was not fully convinced that the information I was given about the origin of the corpse of the little boy was correct”, thus, apparently negating the story of carrying it herself from Phnom Penh.

The other journalist, a friend, was probably Clara Falcone, but Mrs. Bernard herself, in an interview, had been responsible two years earlier, 1982, for an article published on Yellow Rain, “Tod im ‘Gelben Regen’ ein blutiges Kapitel im Leben der Hmong” (‘Death in Yellow Rain, a bloody chapter in the life of the Hmong’), in the Roman Catholic publication “Mission aktuell” (the German official magazine of ‘MISSIO’, the Roman Catholic mission ... ), 4/82, Munchen, July/August 1982, pp. 4-6, signed Ingelore Schmitz. Mrs. Bernard’s interview is on p. 6 .

In this interview Mrs. Bernard claimed that as an “ordinary woman” and “private individual” she was able to go along the Mekong in the region of Savannakhet where she discovered “three camps with chemical weapon material” stored in “underground bunkers” beneath “military barracks or officers’ houses” under the authority of a special Vietnamese unit trained by Russian officers [as above, stored under a seminary or in the Lao President’s office].

She claimed that she and her colleagues had been able to smuggle rockets for carrying the chemicals out of Laos, but that they were empty, although later they had obtained explosive warheads ready for use and bearing Russian writing, although there is no claim that they contained chemicals. This was probably the activity of Mrs. Bernard to which Gareth Evans was referring as noted above.

Evidence on the credulity, and indirectly on the credibility, of Adelia Bernard is the following: from the website, undated:

“This very Australian farm scene, above and below, at the Brockman River is where Our Lady, accompanied by archangels and saints, visits on the first Saturday of every month. The site is 14.7 kilometres from Bullsbrook along Chittering Road. The image above was taken on 6 December 2003. Mary hovers over the water while communicating with Adelia Bernard, at centre, and Ann Thornberry kneeling at the shrine Our Lady’s appearances often last about 20 minutes”.

In the accompanying photographs I was unable to discern any humanoid or angelic figures except those of the women kneeling in worship. Another illustration accompanying the article was of ‘Our Lady’ as she had appeared in Thailand.

Assorted Journalism

After my second trip, of five weeks, to the PRK in October 1984, I was able to place one article in the Guardian (England), and two in the local Australian press).[418]

Where Defence is Still the Priority (1985)[419]

“KRASO”, “Kraso,” shouted the two grinning boys on a bicycle which veered close to me as I stepped off the curb on my first day back in Phnom Penh. I was mystified, for the word was certainly not Khmer, but I answered “Suosdei,” to which they respond, “Russie cheh khmaer” (‘the Russian knows Khmer’). Then I understood. They had been trying to say “khorosho” (good), which has replaced the “Hey you” and “Number one” of other times. European faces on Phnom Penh streets are now assumed to be Russian.

The Soviet presence has greatly increased since my last visit in 1981. Now it is the most salient foreign influence in Phnom Penh. If the removal of the Party Secretary, Pen Sovann, in December 1981 was to counter Russian influence, as some journalists have speculated, it was not effective.[420]

The reasons are easy to see. The Soviet Union has been the main provider of aid - in projects of clear utility for the country’s redevelopment. The Kampuchea-Soviet Technical Institute has taken up the work it began originally under Sihanouk in the 1960s, and the 84 Soviet teachers there are developing an important segment of Kampuchea’s future technical elite.

There are also over 1,500 Kampuchean students in five-year University or four-year technical school courses in the Soviet Union. The first graduates should begin returning next year. In November I attended the inauguration of a Soviet-built electricity plant which will increase Phnom Penh’s power supply significantly, alleviating one of the main industrial deficiencies - the other is lack of crucial raw materials.

The Vietnamese presence in Phnom Penh is less evident than three years ago, although there are more Vietnamese civilians, in particular pre-war residents, often natives, who have now returned to their original homes. They have settled in their old neighborhoods, along with some new legal arrivals, and are more assimilated, thus less noticeable, than in 1981.

There is also a small floating population of illegal Vietnamese who move back and forth along the rivers to trade, dodge the draft, or simply to enjoy the easier life in Kampuchea. They are out of favor with both governments, but control is hampered by Kampuchea’s lack of an identity card system, and their removal at present would involve a Pol Pot-type of discipline which the authorities eschew.

Vietnamese soldiers have almost disappeared from the city and most are apparently concentrated in the North and Northwest. There is thus no evidence in Phnom Penh of the alleged Vietnamese colonization. Neither is there in the areas accessible to Western aid workers, who have traveled all over two border provinces, Svay Rieng and Takeo, and have significant experience in Prey Veng.

In a hastily arranged, thus unprepared, trip to a pre-Angkor temple in Takeo just 12 km north of the border, in an area where one might have expected Vietnamese, I actually found new Khmer settlers in a government scheme to develop agriculture where insecurity had prevented cultivation in the 1960s and 1970s. Some parts of the country are now clearly safer for honest peasants than at any time since the second world war.

The school system is not being Vietnamized, nor is the Vietnamese language forced on Kampuchean pupils to the detriment of Khmer. In fact, no foreign languages are regularly taught in primary or secondary schools. The syllabus calls for instruction of four hours a week in Russian, German and Vietnamese, in that order, in the last three years of secondary school, but lack of teachers has prevented its implementation. Possibly the first classes will start in the current academic year. For the moment, the schools are more thoroughly Khmer than at any time in the past century.

The relative priorities of the languages are in line with the relative importance of the three countries in the provision of tertiary level training for Kampuchean students. A similar picture emerges from the syllabus of the Language Institute, a post-secondary institution to prepare students for study abroad and to train interpreters for government departments in Russian, Vietnamese, German, and Spanish (because of Cuban aid).

Most of the students, who follow a one-year course before going abroad, are destined for the Soviet Union. Most of those studying Vietnamese are training as interpreters, a two-year course in each language followed by respectively ten months in the USSR, five months in the German Democratic Republic and three months in Vietnam.

The studies in Viet Nam are generally short-term courses of immediate practical application. As the Minister of Education, Pen Navuth, emphasized to me in an interview, Vietnamese is not a world language like Russian or German. It is merely a language of communication with neighbors, and thus its study in Kampuchea will never be as important as that of the European languages.

The lack of official courses in English or French is explained as the result of the break in contact with those countries, but their importance is recognized. In all parts of the capital, private English courses flourish under teachers who, for a few hours each evening, are able to earn several times their state salaries. Although such courses are unauthorized, they are not clandestine, and are even tacitly encouraged.

When I met the Industry Minister, Meas Samnang, one of the old Viet Nam hands among the present leadership, he praised a young aide for conducting English courses, thereby spreading valuable knowledge while contributing to his own family’s support.

The last point is a vital issue for nearly everyone. Even though state salaries, now 140-500 riel a month, have risen since 1981 more than the prices of most basic commodities, no one considers that it is possible to exist on salary alone.

The most frequent complaints about the present state of affairs do not relate to foreign influence or political oppression, of which there seems to be little, but to low income levels and the impossibility of acquiring the desirable consumer items familiar to urban residents before 1975. Most complainants are from the pre-war middle class and they have trouble, particularly the older ones, adjusting to the fact that state employment is no longer an automatic road to social prestige and relative wealth.

Living conditions for most people, as well as industrial and agricultural production, have improved in the past three years, but slowly. The reasons, apart from the unusually frequent natural disasters in agriculture, are to be found in the military campaign by the Democratic Kampuchea Coalition on the Thai Border, increasingly bolstered and encouraged by ASEAN, the United States and China.

National defence takes priority over almost everything else, and this means low incomes, slow economic recovery, strict security measures, particularly in the north and north-west, and mobilization of the population for onerous tasks.

The first of these is recruitment for an expanding army to fight alongside and eventually replace the Vietnamese.

A country already lacking in manpower after the Pol Pot years can ill afford to take large numbers of young men out of production. Even more onerous is the draft of civilians for two-month periods of forest clearing near the Thai border. The task is viewed with distaste, and for some smacks too much of the forced population movements of the Pol Pot years.

Sihanouk to go home as an honored senior citizen? (1985)[421]

“We just aren’t giving attention to the Sihanouk period at the moment,” answered the teacher of the Year 7 Politics course in a Phnom Penh high school. I had been intrigued by the syllabus, which jumped from “The Struggle against French Colonialism” to that against “American Imperialism and the Traitorous Lon Nol Clique” with no reference to the intervening 16 years (1954-1970) when Sihanouk ran Kampuchea.

This is astonishing, since the people who now lead the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), whether old revolutionaries or the technocrats who comprise the second level of leadership, have good reason to reject Sihanouk. They must find ironic his call for internationally-supervised free elections, since a previous exercise of this kind, undertaken under Sihanouk in 1955, proved fraudulent. One would expect, in PRK textbooks, to find a lesson on “The Struggle against Sihanouk’s Reactionary Regime”.

But throughout my month-long stay I observed a marked decrease in antiSihanouk propaganda in comparison to the situation a few years ago, and this gives some support to the view that the PRK would like to draw Sihanouk away from the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) Coalition-in-exile and bring him back to Phnom Penh as an honored, if politically impotent, senior citizen.

This tactic is less for any domestic legitimacy which Sihanouk might lend the PRK than for his international prestige. Well over half the Kampuchean population are too young to have any memory of Sihanouk’s rule and have grown up on a diet of anti-Sihanouk propaganda under Lon Nol, Pol Pot, and at first the PRK.

The rather pluralistic composition of the PRK could easily find a niche to accommodate Sihanouk. Among the perhaps only 1,000-strong Communist Party members who staff most of the highest posts there are two recognizable factions- those who spent 1954-1970 in Viet Nam and the pre-1978 Pol Pot cadres without such Vietnamese experience. There are also two powerful individuals who did not go to Vietnam, who split with Pol Pot before 1975, and who are moreover non-Khmer: Bou Thang, the Minister of Defence and member of a small northeastern ethnic minority, and Say Phouthang, an ethnic Thai from the Southwest who heads the key Organization Committee of the Party.

There are also hundreds of PRK administrators, technicians and intellectuals who served Sihanouk and Lon Nol, including four ministers - Education, Health, Agriculture, and Information and Culture. Many of this group have definite anticommunist pasts, which are known, including one who was trained by and worked for US and South Vietnamese intelligence during the 1970-75 war.

In Phnom Penh, Sihanouk would also find a female cousin who is a deputy general secretary of a State executive organ, the Solidarity Front for Construction and Defence of the Nation, and Mrs. Phlek Pirun, a pillar of Phnom Penh society in the 1960s who now, as then, is president of the Kampuchean Red Cross.

These cadres and State employees of such disparate background have shown unexpected solidarity in organizing the recovery of Kampuchea since 1979 and there has been palpable yearly progress, even if slowed by frightening deficiencies in trained personnel, essential supplies and finance, and by an international campaign to impede the recovery.

A PRK Khmer administration has been implanted throughout the country, enabling Vietnamese advisers and experts, mostly essential technicians, to gradually withdraw. In their relations with authority the Khmer population now deals with Khmer officials. A Vietnamese presence seems minimal, except in the north and north-west where defence against infiltration from the Thai border is still largely undertaken by the Vietnamese Army.

[Excision to avoid repetition of paragraphs on the Russian and Vietnamese presence in Phnom Penh. See the preceding article]

In spite of Kampuchea’s dependence on foreign aid and expertise in the first years after 1979, cultural revival is resolutely Khmer.

One of the most important aspects of this after the Pol Pot experience has been the revival of Buddhism. Temples have been reopened and repaired, monks ordained, and traditional festivals are again organized.

Education has also been revived after the bleak Pol Pot years and the schools are more thoroughly Khmer than at any time in the past century. In the 10-year primary and secondary school syllabus much time is devoted to Khmer language and literature, and no foreign language instruction had yet been introduced. Although English and French are not in the school syllabus, their importance is recognized and in all neighborhoods of the capital private English courses flourish under teachers who for a few hours each evening are able to earn several times their State salaries.

Even though State salaries, now 140-500 riel a month, have since 1981 risen more than the prices of most basic commodities, no one considers that it is possible to exist on salary alone. The economically advantaged groups in Kampuchea today are the free-market traders, independent artisans, and farmers in the better agricultural areas. Taxes, termed “patriotic contributions”, were finally introduced in 1983 and affect traders, private artisans, farmers and semiprivate concerns such as restaurants.

The otherwise optimistic picture is marred by the necessity to divert enormous resources to national defence, and this means low incomes, slow economic growth, strict security measures, and mobilization of the population for onerous tasks. These are recruitment for an expanding army to fight beside and eventually replace the Vietnamese as well as the draft of civilians to build roads and clear security zones near the Thai border.

There is little else the Government can do so long as their enemies’ well- endowed backers, China, ASEAN, and the US, keep upping the ante. Thus multi-party negotiations to end the conflict are essential, but it would be unrealistic to expect that the PRK could be displaced.

Cambodia’s long road to recovery (1985)[422]

Just a few kilometers outside Phnom Penh on Highway I, the road to Saigon, we saw a woman seated beneath her traditional stilt-supported house at a hand loom and stopped to inquire about her work. She was making the red and white checkered krama, a sarong-type cloth which all Cambodians use variously for head covering, bathing sarongs, or for wrapping possession on trips.

She told us this was her full time occupation, and after calculating the prices of her raw materials, the number of pieces she wove in a day and their price, it turned out that her monthly income was 1800 riel. This is $120 at the official rate of exchange or $36 in the free market, but the real significance of the figure is that it is more than three times the highest state salary and will buy 360 kilograms of rice, enough to feed 24 people for a month, or 40 kilograms of beef, or 90 kilograms of sugar.

A paradox in this officially socialist society in which the state lays claim to all land, all dwellings, and even all cars, is that the economically favored are not state functionaries existing on salaries, but private traders and artisans, and probably farmers in the better agricultural areas.

In April 1980 a new Cambodian riel currency was introduced with the first money in circulation being salaries paid to state employees and state purchases of food and other local goods. The riel quickly supplanted the Vietnamese dong and Thai baht which had held sway during 1979, and it is now used for all transactions among Cambodians, although foreigners must pay hotel bills in foreign currency.

Salaries were originally set very low, undoubtedly for the dual purpose of checking inflation, given the penury of goods, and to demonstrate that People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) officials, unlike those of Lon Nol or Sihanouk, were not meant to accumulate wealth solely by virtue of their positions. Since 1980 salaries have been raised twice and are now between 140 and 500 riel.

They have risen faster than the prices of most basic commodities, but are still so low that all agree it is impossible to live on them. Restaurant prices for example, are about the riel equivalent of 1960s prices, whereas salaries are one 10th of the earlier level.

The low salaries emphasize one of the important points made in the frequent political education sessions which all state employees must attend. They are considered as cadres who are to serve the people and the country, not use their places in the system to become a privileged class. Thus the spread in pay between experienced workers and their bosses is small, and the director of a pharmaceutical factory told me his skilled employees with bonuses and family allowance may take home more pay than he does.

The ideological point is well made in a country with Cambodia’s past, but there may be some sacrifice in efficiency, since everyone must engage in extraincome producing activity, even if it is only resale on the free market of part of their subsidized rations of kerosene, cigarettes, soap, rice, condensed milk and sugar. Nearly all officials also maintain personal vegetable gardens, as do schools and Buddhist temples, worked by pupils and monks, and these, in addition to supplying cheap food, serve to keep urban inhabitants aware of rural realities.

There is as yet no state-operated market, and Phnom Penh’s former central market stands newly painted but empty, awaiting the day when the Government feels confident of controlling commerce, which may be years in the future. At present the city is served by four large private markets in which the only local goods are food, traditional textiles and pre-war secondhand books.

The most important market function is to supply foreign products, most of which are smuggled across the Thai border, and in Phnom Penh’s markets one can find nearly everything that would be available in well stocked Bangkok stores, from household wares to medicines to late-model tape recorders stereos and radios.

Such private activity, including the smuggling at the border, is tolerated because Cambodia is unable to produce many essentials, and the poor relations with Western neighbors make state-organized import unfeasible.

The markets, for example, supply medicines, one of the country’s most serious deficiencies. A doctor at one of the largest hospitals told me that they often have to send patients to the markets for prescribed drugs instead of supplying them free, even though the quality is uncontrollable and counterfeit drugs have occasionally caused deaths.

Of course many unessential, even frivolous, items come in along with the essentials, but any attempt to exert more control would generate discontent which the country can ill afford and would also cut off the more essential items.

Indeed, the PRK often seems reluctant to impose even ordinary measures of authority for fear of alienating a population sickened by authoritarian regimes over the past 20 years. This has been a boon for one large sector of the Phnom Penh market trade, the dealers in secondhand books, who in large measure are retailing stolen goods taken from libraries and archives when population flowed back into the city during the transition from Pol Pot to the PRK in 1979. The Government does not attempt to reclaim even those volumes stamped as ministerial property.

One side-effect of the reliance on the free market for foreign consumer goods is a very large degree of freedom to travel toward the Thai border, which makes escape very easy for those who wish to defect and become refugees in Thailand. The continuing necessity for cross-border trade indicates that the construction of barriers and roads along the Thai border is probably more for defence against infiltration of enemy forces than to contain the population in the manner of the Berlin wall.

Only in 1983 did the Government begin to exert some direct control over the market by the introduction of taxes, termed “patriotic contributions”, levied on traders, private artisans, farmers and semi-private concerns such as restaurants. Each market stall pays a daily two-riel municipal fee destined for the upkeep of the markets, and since 1981 there has been a noticeable improvement in organization and neatness.

In addition, the state collects taxes ranging from 90 riel a month for bookstalls to 180 for rice dealers, with wealthy silver and gold shops paying 320 and 1000 riel respectively.

After the war of 1970-75 and the destructive Pol Pot period (1975-79) nearly everything must be rebuilt or repaired and skilled artisans have virtually unlimited opportunities. The streets are filled with all manner of repair shops for old watches, radios, cameras and tape recorders. Refrigerators, pump motors and electrical tools are refurbished; and a recent development is shops to make new upholstery, rebuild old engines and smooth out the dented bodies of automobiles which escaped total destruction and are now being recovered and pieced together again.

Although there is no right of private ownership, possession and use, like other infringements of regulations, are tolerated. One proud survivor I saw was a 1960s Lancia, the recently beaten-out dents still faintly visible, being fitted with number plates on a Phnom Penh street.

One artisanal activity particularly important within Cambodia’s culture, and for which there is a special demand after the suppression of religion during 1975-79 is the making of Buddha images for installation in temples.

In the courtyard of a Phnom Penh temple I found a group of 13 private artisans turning out molded concrete images of the Buddha in several sizes and traditional poses. The images are sold, generally to private persons who donate them to temples, and the prices range from 400-700 riel, more than a high level monthly state salary. Taxes are 130-160 riel monthly, less than half the price of the least expensive product.

When the PRK came to power in 1979 one of its promises was the restoration of Buddhism, a promise which has been kept. Temples have been reopened and repaired, monks ordained and traditional festivals revived.

My visit coincided with the kathen month, during which congregations present new robes and other necessities to monks or contribute to construction and repair of temples. All over Phnom Penh groups of private citizens set up colorful stalls to collect cash contributions to kathen funds and in three localities outside Phnom Penh I witnessed the arrival of kathen groups at temples where the festivities were just as in pre-war times. One difference in line with PRK priorities is that the kathen festivals are advertised as donations for construction of schools in temple precincts rather than for strictly religious activities.

There are also some limits due to the country’s precarious economic situation. Men under 50 are not supposed to be ordained, as they are needed in productive work, but exceptions are seen. Where several temples are clustered in wealthy neighborhoods only one now functions, and temples which once held 20-30 monks are limited to four or five.

Traditional Cambodia is slowly recovering with considerable relaxation of socialist regulations, which reflects the influence of Vietnamese pragmatism and the need for the PRK leadership to gain the confidence of a population which viewed them with suspicion before 1979.

Late in 1986 important personnel changes occurred in the Phnom Penh government, which indicated once and for all that the PRK would not become merely a satellite of Vietnam, but would evolve as an independent Cambodian state. I wrote the article below, and sent a shorter version, minus the paragraphs on Kremlinology, entitled “Power Shifts in Kampuchea” to ten newspapers in Australia, Thailand and the United States. Only the Canberra Times published it on 5 January 1987 under the tendentious title, “Kampuchea edges away from Hanoi”.

Richard Gott of The Guardian (UK) wrote me (letter 6 January 1987) that he “thought [the article] was one of the most perceptive and farsighted pieces I have read about Phnom Penh politics in recent weeks”, but because he had a “cast of thousands [sic!] of Guardian correspondents in that area”, he could not “contemplate any more about Indochina at the moment”.

His numerous corespondents, however, did not touch this subject; and one of them, Nick Cummings-Bruce, was clearly more comfortable with the US-backed antiPhnom Penh line.[423] The Bangkok Post, at least, showed a sense of humor in answering (letter 12 January 1987) that “we also have our own Indochina correspondent, Jacques Bekaert”.

Kremlinology and Cambodia (December, 1986)[424]

On 10-11 December 1986 Radio Phnom Penh announced changes in top level government personnel. In contrast to media treatment of Gorbachev’s new appointees or the shifts among Vietnamese leaders following the recent Sixth Party Congress, there had been no Kremlinological speculation about imminent changes in Cambodia, and students of the country were no doubt taken by surprise.

The new appointments in Phnom Penh, however, may be as indicative of important trends in the Peoples Republic of Cambodia as the better-known developments in the two big-brother socialist countries. Three very prominent Phnom Penh personalities were replaced in some of their main functions.

Hun Sen, Foreign Minister since 1979, and also Prime Minister since January 1985, has given up the first portfolio as well as his Chairmanship of the Party Central Committee’s Foreign Relations Commission.

Bou Thang, of northeastern ethnic minority origin who spent 1954-1970 in Vietnam, a revolutionary military commander during the 1970-75 war who then broke with Pol Pot and went into dissidence, emerging as an important Party figure in 1979, and who in early 1982 became Defence Minister, lost that post but remains a Vice-Chairman of the Council of Ministers.

Chea Soth, also in Viet Nam from 1954 to the 1970s, and Minister of Planning since 1980, has been removed from that job, but also continues as a Vice-Chairman of the Council of Ministers.

Kremlinology, the study of relatively closed regimes through analysis of the positioning, advancement, demotion, retirement or clique alliances of leading personnel, is supposed to aid in the identification and prediction of trends according to what is known of those persons’ backgrounds, views, and group membership.

The utility of the technique is proven, but it must be applied honestly; without doctoring the inputs, and allowing the political chips to fall where they may. Evidence of change, say real liberalization in a Soviet-bloc country, must be given full weight, not dismissed with silly remarks about “Mr. Gorbachev’s cherubic smile” hiding a “set of iron teeth”, as I read in a recent article.[425]

Kremlinology has not been much in evidence in studies of revolutionary Cambodia. Before 1979 this was for the good reason that too little was known

about the background of leading state personnel. But since 1979, it has been for the bad reason that except for a handful of specialists, Cambodia was put firmly in the pigeon hole ‘Vietnamese puppet regime’, with Kremlinological study of leading Cambodian personnel made superfluous by definition. Whenever Kremlinology might have weakened that preconception, the rules were changed to preserve fixed ideas unshaken.

Thus Pen Sovann, a Cambodian revolutionary who had spent the years 19541972 in Vietnam, emerged after 1979 as regime strongman, holding concurrently the posts of Vice-President, Minister of Defense, and Secretary-General of the Party; and foreign Cambodia-watchers considered him Hanoi’s pro-consul in Phnom Penh and proof of the puppet quality of that regime, which one Cambodia specialist even termed in print the ‘Pen Sovann Regime’.[426]

When Sovann was - as it appeared from the outside - suddenly and unceremoniously dumped in December 1981 and replaced by individuals with less obtrusive Vietnamese connections (in particular Heng Samrin, who had no Vietnamese background, as Party Secretary), the Kremlinologists refused to accept that there might be internal pressures to increasingly Khmerize the regime.

They instead rewrote the original script to make Pen Sovann Moscow’s man in Phnom Penh, overthrown by the Vietnamese because of an attempt to steer Cambodia away from Viet Nam toward the Soviet Union. In fact close retrospective attention to the local press and official announcements reveals that Pen Sovann was being gradually eased out for several months, and that there was no drop in contacts with the Soviets after his fall.[427]

When the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea was formed in 1979, two ‘factions’ could be recognized as its leadership was made public during 19791980.

One comprised those who had been active in the independence struggle of 1946-54 and had then gone to Viet Nam until the war of 1970-75. The other was made up of communists who had remained in Cambodia and participated in the Pol Pot administration before going into dissidence, including some who had never been involved in the earlier Khmer-Vietnamese war against French colonialism.

By the time the ruling Kampuchean Peoples Revolutionary Council had been fleshed out in mid-1980, twelve Viet Nam veterans against five former Pol Pot personnel could be identified. The second group included President Heng Samrin, Foreign Minister Hun Sen, and Interior Minister Chea Sim, none of whom had figured prominently in information about the years 1975-79.

Pen Sovann, Chea Soth, and all other ministers except those for Agriculture, Justice., and Education were veterans of the long exile in Vietnam. Chan Ven in Education was the lone figure with no pre-war communist background, a former teacher who had spent the Pol Pot years as one of the disfavored ‘new people’, the urban population forced to become poor agricultural workers under constant threat of hunger and violent death.

In 1981 the state structure was changed from Revolutionary Council to executive State Council plus Council of Ministers and National Assembly, while the Party held its Fourth Congress and revealed the membership in its leading organs.

Although most of the Revolutionary Council ministers remained in equivalent posts in the new structure, in terms of the two ‘factions’ noted above, the balance began to shift away from Viet Nam veterans. After May 1981 there were 11 of them, with 8 former Pol Pot cadres, but the most significant change was in the number of non-revolutionaries, up to five: Chan Ven, moved from Education to Secretary General of the State Council; Pen Navuth, another former teacher, as new Minister for Education; US-educated Kong Samol in Agriculture,;plus two more in Health and Culture/Information.

The predominance of the Viet Nam veteran group was reduced by Pen Sovann’s removal at the end of that year, and then again by the death of Pen Sovann’s successor as Prime Minister, Chan Si, in late 1984, and the elevation of Hun Sen to Prime Minister, retaining his previous post of Foreign Minister.

The same evolution in factional tendencies is even clearer in the Peoples Revolutionary Party. In 1981 eleven full members of the Central Committee and one alternate were of the Viet Nam group, with Pen Sovann as SecretaryGeneral, and 7 had served in the DK administration. The disappearance of Pen Sovann, replaced as Party Secretary by Heng Samrin, and of Chan Si, here also weakened the Viet Nam group, while new people enlarged the other factions.

Then, following the 5th Party Conference of October 1985 the Central Committee was increased to 31 full and 14 alternate members, only 5 of whom were of the Viet Nam group, while 9-10 were Pol Pot cadres, and at least 20 were young professionals who neither went to Viet Nam nor joined Pol Pot.

That is, they were students, teachers, technicians, or civil servants under Sihanouk and Lon Nol, who were considered class enemies after 1975, and who had chosen to work for the PRK since 1979.

They come from those elements of Cambodian society least likely to be enthusiastically pro-Vietnamese, and as exploited third-class citizens under Pol Pot they are strongly against that type of regime. They can be expected to represent a genuine current of Cambodian nationalism, but one which, unlike the ideologies of Pol Pot, Sihanouk, or Son Sann, does not define such nationalism as first of all anti-Vietnamese chauvinism, and which seeks to live in peaceful cooperation with Cambodia’s eastern neighbor.

Further gains by this last group occurred in 1986. Nay Pena took over the powerful Ministry of Interior from Viet Nam veteran Khang Sarin, and Ms. Ho Non, a pre-war-trained engineer, replaced another Viet Nam veteran as Minister of Trade. At Deputy-Ministerial and Provincial level they have also become predominant, even if only because neither of the old revolutionary groups had sufficient cadres to occupy the posts which needed to be filled.

The veteran communists could, however, have filled, at least jointly, the ministerial and top Party posts, and the recently announced changes show further erosion of their authority in favor of pre-war intellectuals and technocrats who have chosen to help build Cambodian socialism, but are beholden neither to Viet Nam nor to Pol Pot.

Of those advanced in the recent shuffle, the new Foreign Affairs Minister Kong Korm was a teacher who remained in a communist zone after 1973, but in 1975 was demoted to the precarious status of ‘new person’.[428] Both he and Yos Son, another pre-1975 intellectual who has taken over Hun Sen’s function in the Party Foreign Relations Committee, have been working under Hun Sen in the Foreign Ministry since 1979, and they were among the unexpected additions to the Central Committee in late 1985.

Although little detail is known about them, new Planning Minister Chea Chanto, Defence Minister Koy Buntha, and Deputy Defence Minister and Chief of Staff Kae Kim Yan have similar pre-1979 backgrounds. Interestingly, the last two made their post-1979 careers in the administration of the Thai border province of Battambang, Kae Kim Yan in 1985 as both Party and administration chief after the displacement of old Viet Nam hand Lay Samon in 1984.

Thus, the Cambodian military establishment is now to be run by officials who have matured at the centre of the armed conflict between the PRK and its enemies. Outgoing Defence Minister Bou Thang’s combat career was in the Northeast, and until 1985 the Defence Ministry appeared dominated by northeasterners and men with a Viet Nam background.

If the surprising emergence of this new leadership group is to be linked to any single regime personality, it is probably to Hun Sen, the youngest of the top level figures, born in 1951, a combatant during 1970-75, then Pol Pot cadre until 1977, and whom some observers see as the most aggressively nationalistic of the top leadership.

The trend of personnel changes in the PRK leadership since 1981 indicates that if the new Cambodian regime was ever a mere creation of Vietnam, its Khmer nationalist credentials have increased yearly until the state is close to being taken over by pre-war educated intellectuals and administrators, few who had past close association with Vietnam, or are tainted by collaboration with Pol Pot.

These little-noticed changes in Cambodia mean that the eight-point peace plan devised by Phnom Penh’s enemies early this year and offering to place the Peoples Republic on a par with each of the three Coalition partners was too little, too late, and addressed to the wrong people. It is attractive to no constituency within the country, where the leaders are increasingly credible as a Cambodian government and cannot be delivered by Viet Nam in negotiations with their enemies.[429]

ASEAN, and China, and other powers wishing to be involved in a Cambodian settlement can no longer pretend that the government of Cambodia sits in a collection of jungle camps of three inherently incompatible factions along the Thai border, or that the conflict is something to be settled among foreign powers acting as proxies for their various Cambodian favorites.

Indeed, the evolving image of the Peoples Republic might well be attractive enough to undermine the ASEAN-supported tripartite Coalition, particularly if the Kremlinological evidence for a break-up of the Pol Pot group after his death proves accurate, and enables Phnom Penh to end the conflict largely on its own terms.[430]

Early in 1987 I received an invitation from the Department of Sociology of Michigan State University to participate in a conference on the subject of state organized terror. After I accepted, a further letter dated 16 June 1987 said, “The paper you suggested presenting [tentative title ‘The Nature and Genesis of Terrorism in Kampuchea’] ... has been judged likely to make one of the most significant contributions to the proceedings”.[431]

The paper I wrote with the final title “Violence in Democratic Kampuchea: Some Problems of Explanation” was sent to them. I was unable to attend the conference, held on 2-5 November 1988, and heard no more from the conference organizers for several months. On 31 July 1989 I wrote to ask about the status of my paper, and finally received a letter from Professor Vanderpool dated 26 December 1989 saying, “we must tell you that your paper will not be included” in the conference proceedings.

Violence in Democratic Kampuchea: Some Problems of Explanation (1988)[432]

‘Democratic Kampuchea’ (DK), ‘Khmer Rouge’, ‘Pol Pot’ have become terms in a kind of code jargon to symbolize murderous violence by a regime against its own population.

This usage began in circles so ideologically opposed to what a revolutionary regime in Indochina was believed to represent that any concern for factual truth was superseded, and this characterization of violence was spread far and wide before there was sufficient evidence to justify it.[433]

As evidence accumulated not only did the people taking that view consider their predictions vindicated, but now even among the residual sympathizers of DK, there is consensus that its policies led to an unacceptable level of violence against its own population, even if the true number of victims seems to have been under one million, rather than the 3 million which was formerly given prominence in the world’s press.[434]

Still more piquant is the circumstance that those regimes which most damned the ‘Khmer Rouge’ when they were in power, and refused to recognize them as government of Cambodia, immediately on their overthrow organized a rehabilitation plan for them on the Thai border and then exerted no small effort to maintain them as Cambodia’s representatives in the United Nations.

Now, all is forgiven; the US leads a campaign of the world’s right-wing regimes, plus China, to insist that the ‘Khmer Rouge’ must find a place within a new government to be forced on Cambodia. US regime intellectuals, who ten to fifteen years ago concentrated on scooping up evidence of Communist iniquity in the Khmer Rouge movement, now argue that they are not so bad compared to the Vietnamese influence behind the government in Phnom Penh, or, on another tack, try to tar the Phnom Penh leadership with the Khmer Rouge brush in the interest of destroying both.[435]

There is still, however, much disagreement on the reasons for such a high level of violence.

It must first be understood that with respect to number of deaths in excess of a normal peacetime rate, DK was not uniquely murderous in the 20th century. World War II death rates in Yugoslavia and Poland were equally high within a similar length of time, and DK violence pales before the crimes of the Nazis and the horrors inflicted by American bombing on not only Cambodia, but on Viet Nam and earlier on Korea, not to mention the estimated 6 million victims of CIA instigated terror since the 1940s.[436]

If it be argued that not all of these situations are comparable, being violence wrought on one country by another, in Yugoslavia at least, atrocities in intraYugoslav conflict were as numerous and as horrible as anything which happened in Cambodia. No one out of Cambodia has come up with a tale to equal the basket of Serbian eyes which Croatian leader Ante Pavelic showed Curzio Malaparte.[437]

More recently and relevantly the highly praised Indonesian anti-communist massacres of 1965 (500,000, although out of a much larger population, within a much shorter time) may be evoked, while the human destruction wrought by capitalist development in Brazil is even more frightening.[438]

Possibly Greece in its post-1945 Civil War might also compare with DK, both in numbers and quality of violence. I recall an acquaintance whose father had been police chief of a city in northern Greece, and who had regularly exposed the heads of captured ‘Communists’ in the town square. Later the son, on a visit to Czechoslovakia, met Greek refugees, some of whom had perhaps been the children of his father’s victims.

No, the uniqueness of the DK experience is not in numbers killed, nor the cruelty which accompanied the killings. The DK experience was first of all unique as a lower-class revolution which totally displaced middle and upper classes with whom major western societies, and some neighboring Asian ruling groups, identified.

It occurred just when the United States, and its ally and Cambodia’s neighbor Thailand, were in particular need of a propaganda device to retrospectively justify the recently-ended US intervention in Indochina and to discredit socialism within Southeast Asian milieus which might have been sympathetic to it.[439]

In Thailand a ‘fledgling democracy’, brought about by student revolt in 1973, was under increasingly violent attack from powerful entrenched enemies. It had not been accepted gracefully by the US, whose ambassador, Leonard Unger, scolded the Thais for being too concerned with democracy rather than with ‘communist’ threats from their eastern neighbors.

Peasant, worker, and student agitation, as well as the results of the 1975 election showed a growing interest in ‘socialism’; together with the violent rightwing reaction to destroy such groups, something was necessary to discredit ‘socialism’ among people who might have found it attractive.

By the time of the 1976 election, the most violent campaign ever, the Thai press had been able to feature the horrors of socialism as experienced across the border. Although the results among urban middle classes may have been what was hoped, Thai peasants might have thought wistfully of what their brothers were carrying out in Cambodia.

In DK most of the victims were of relatively privileged urban groups, victimized by previously low-class peasants. A ‘normal’ world had been overturned. This was obviously what many survivors considered to be the real atrocity: being forced to take orders, and to fear for their lives, from their social inferiors.

One of my former students [in the 1960s] whom I met in the Khao-I-Dang refugee camp in 1980, in a letter which he wrote to UNHCR asking for speedy transfer to a third country, described Pol Pot as “worse than Hitler, because Hitler only killed Jews”. I explained gently that that was not the way to make a good impression on UNHCR officials.

Unlike Hitler, who gave ample clues to his personality before 1939, none of the DK intellectual leadership provided such evidence in their writings, and surviving acquaintances state emphatically that they were not like that. Qualities ascribed to Pol Pot, ‘trustworthy’, ‘courteous’, ‘kind’, sound like the Boy Scout code.

There is thus no evidence permitting inference that DK violence was encouraged by psychopathic tendencies among its leadership, and an early attempt by the CIA and associated journalists to erect such a theory was too crude to find favor even in ideologically sympathetic circles.[440]

But as Georges Sorel remarked long ago, even “optimists, idealists, and sensitive men” “may lead ... country into the worst disasters ... finding out that social transformations are not brought about with the ease that [they] had counted on; [they] then suppos[e] that this is the fault of ... contemporaries, instead of explaining what actually happens by historical necessities; [they are] tempted to get rid of people whose obstinacy seems to [them] to be so dangerous to the happiness of all”.[441]

Before discussing causes of the violence, let us recall again what happened.

Very soon after the victorious revolutionary troops entered Phnom Penh on 17 April 1975 the entire population was ordered to evacuate the city; the same measure was carried out in other urban centers and large towns. One of the alleged reasons was that the Americans were likely to bomb the towns captured by the communists.

This in itself was a cruel measure, and must have been the direct cause of thousands of deaths, but it was not an unusual measure in Indochina, other than that it was city folk being displaced by peasants rather than the reverse. However cruel objectively, the evacuation, particularly of Phnom Penh, was also grounded in objectively valid reasons, whether the economic or political aspect is emphasized.

As American officials had predicted before the war ended and the nature of the outcome realized, Cambodia had been so badly destroyed that a million deaths could easily occur as a result of social disintegration.[442] There was no way of getting sufficient food to Phnom Penh, and people had to be moved out to where the food was, and to start producing more.

If the measures taken to effect this were crude, the US experts just mentioned had indicated why crude measures were inevitable. Even though American bombing of the city in communist hands may never have been considered, it was perfectly reasonable after the Viet Nam war experience, when the city of Ben Tre was destroyed to save iti to assume that such might occur.[443]

Or, if the ‘real’ reason was to dismantle potential networks of resistance, what was wrong with that in terms of standard international practice? Every side in combat or in victory seeks to identify real and potential enemies and put them out of action.

In Indochina in particular forcible population transfers to realize that objective had already been established as a norm. In Cambodia during the first Indochina War (1946-1954) entire districts of peasants had been forcibly resettled by the French, and in southern Viet Nam other thousands of peasants had been forced into strategic hamlets, while American strategic intellectuals were calling for bombing and defoliation to displace entire districts of rural population to the cities to deprive the other side of a population base.[444]

These measures against peasants by city people and their hired guns never provoked the same high decibel outcry that followed the population displacements in Cambodia.

At the same time massacres occurred in a number of places. In general they were focused on the military and highest level civilian officials of the Khmer Republic, and with the exception of the roundups in Phnom Penh and Battambang of central government personnel and military officers they appear to have been local outbursts of anger rather than centrally organized.

Whether or not that supposition is entirely true, no more than a glance at the way the war had been run from Phnom Penh and Washington is required to understand how that level of rage had accumulated in the Cambodian countryside.[445] There were also throughout 1975 selective arrests of former regime officials, businessmen, and intellectuals, nearly all of whom were accused of contacts with the CIA.

This first period of intentional mass violence tapered off during 1975, and 1976 was a year of relative calm and relative agricultural recovery in traditional farming areas. There was, however, still a large measure of objective violence in the organization of labor in certain areas.

In particular where groups of displaced urban folk were settled in hitherto uncultivated areas with the task of creating fields and planting first crops, large death rates, sometimes over 50%, resulted from overwork, lack of food, and illness. They were unfamiliar with and incapable of performing such tasks, and the food they were supposed to receive pending first harvests did not arrive.

Violence also resulted from policies to refashion society through abolition of religious practices, traditional ceremonies, normal educational possibilities, and simply freedom of movement or in personal relationships. Such measures most affected the urban evacuees, and there is no doubt that the majority base peasants were less subject to such harassments, and with some glee participated in their enforcement on their class enemies.

By 1977 the second wave of intentional violence, more centrally planned, began. It appears to have been a result of the failures in planned production and distribution which had already caused many deaths among urban evacuees without the production increases which had been expected. Instead of rethinking their ideology and planning, the DK leadership blamed the failures on conscious sabotage and treason.

The arrests and executions which now occurred were first among cadres and officials, particularly in those areas in which largely urban evacuees had failed to perform as expected (note Sorel above). Such arrests occurred whether or not the cadres in question had behaved leniently or harshly toward their subject populations.

As failures continued, circles of arrests widened, the projected treason behind the failures was blamed on Vietnamese influence, and by late 1977 (and more violently during 1978), anti-Vietnamese policies were instituted, while executions spread from suspect cadres to large population groups in the areas they had administered, particularly the East Zone. Extant records show that accusations of CIA contact were less frequent, while collaboration with Viet Nam was becoming the favorite allegation.

By late 1977 the domestic violence had escalated to international violence with attacks across the border into Viet Nam. The violence had also spread so far into peasant circles which were once DK regime supporters that when foreign invasion came at the end of 1978 and early 1979 it was felt as a relief. Little resistance was offered by the populace who welcomed the complete turn-around in policies instituted by the new People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) with Vietnamese encouragement and support.

In searching for explanations it must be remembered that there were several different patterns of violence, at different times and in different places, with different groups as main victims. No single explanation for all is likely to be satisfactory. In general the reasons so far offered have not taken sufficient account of this, and they are as numerous and varied as their authors, whose ideological propensities they reflect as much as the facts of the Cambodian situation.

Because of this a sociology of explanations is as necessary as further direct historical study of the events in DK. At least the pattern of those events is now clear, even if further detail into the experiences of specific groups is still of value.

William Shawcross first offered an explanation that the violence of US bombing had so maddened surviving DK soldiers that they took revenge on compatriots who had been on the other side. This view did not find favor with many other western writers, and was quickly dropped by Shawcross himself when, after 1975, there was rapid and massive shift of academic and journalistic opinion on Indochina from criticism of US policy to apologies for it.[446]

The simplest explanation was to ascribe the violence to ‘Marxism-Leninism’, or just ‘Communism’. This is what would have been expected from US regime figures, but it was eagerly taken up by those formerly anti-Viet Nam War journalists and academics, and Maoist intellectuals, who began to see the advantages of mainstream respectability.

This is the path ultimately chosen by Shawcross, who turned from a sympathetic observer of the Indochinese victims of US aggression to sympathetic participant in a new wave of indirect US aggression after 1979; in one article even casting doubt on the reality of the Tuol Sleng execution center, and who having once compared DK with Nazism, switched to insistence that comparison with Nazi practices was unsuitable, apparently only because it distracted from blaming communism. [(added later) In his latest manifestation Shawcross has denied himself, claiming that Sideshow was written to expose the evil of the Khmer Rouge.[447]

Within the PRK, Vietnam, and now the DK rump itself, external interference in Cambodian affairs has been favored as explanation. For the two former groups the cause of DK violence was Chinese influence on DK, while for the latter, it resulted from Vietnamese infiltration and sabotage.

Chinese demons also found favor for a time among foreign supporters of the PRK, although their precise identity and manner of influence were difficult to establish convincingly.

When Maoism was still in vogue in western leftist circles, sympathetic students of the Cambodian revolution believed that the Cambodian left were unified and “mostly sympathetic to the Cultural Revolution in China”, a remark intended as a sympathetic assessment.[448]

Later, when it was recognized that the Cambodian left had not been at all united in the 1960s, that the ‘bad guys’, Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, and Son Sen, had followed a line quite different from ‘good guys’ Hou Yuon and Hu Nim, and that the two latter had not been part of the top leadership as we had all earlier imagined, an analysis positing three main factions was proposed: (1) the Pol Pot group with Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, their wives, and Nuon Chea; (2) a group following the old Indochina Communist Party line, and comprising the Khmer communists who had gone to Hanoi in 1954, the Pracheachon activists, and the DK survivors, mainly from the East Zone, who are in the PRK leadership; and (3) a smaller Cultural Revolution group, in which Hu Nim, Phouk Chhay, Tiv Ol, and many of the students and teachers who had joined the struggle in the 1960s and 1970s were included.

The last was in fact merely a residual category for ‘good guys’ who had never had any association with the ICP or Pracheachon, and who around 1967-1968 were producing pro-Cultural Revolution publicity in Phnom Penh. Hou Yuon and Khieu Samphan were viewed as standing between pairs of the three groups.[449]

Note that in this second interpretation of 1980, Cultural Revolution linkage is still regarded positively, and pains were taken to show that Pol Pot was not following the Chinese Cultural Revolution example.

Of course, while the Cultural Revolution was still in favor, Deng Xiaoping and his reforms were not viewed with sympathy, and there was thus speculation that Pol Pot might have conferred with Deng and Liu Shaoqi in 1965, just before his anti-Vietnamese policy solidified, and hints that Deng may have been responsible for Pol Pot and his policies.[450]

There was also a further suggestion that the defeat of the Cultural Revolution radicals by Deng contributed directly to the serious escalation of the Cambodia- Viet Nam conflict, a hypothesis very much at odds with what is known of the ideologies and policy views of the four parties concerned. Temporally this position is closer to the mark since the real take-off of Polpotism began after the death of Mao, and continued after the defeat of the Cultural Revolution; but temporal coincidence does not prove causality.

Interestingly this position, although intended as sympathetic to the PRK, is at odds with their views which treat the Pol Pot regime as an offshoot of Maoism and the Cultural Revolution.

Now that the Cultural Revolution has been thoroughly discredited, and Deng is accepted as a progressive reformer, a change in slant is noticeable in the speculations. Pol Pot in Peking in 1965 “is likely to have been asked by the Chinese, as by the Vietnamese, to refrain from ... rebellion against Sihanouk”, but “probably did receive encouragement for his adoption of a hostile posture toward Sihanouk” [emphasis added]. The argument is based on “Chinese policy interests [which] lay in alienating the Kampuchean Party from the Vietnamese”.[451]

In 1965? - when Viet Nam was not an issue in the Sino-Soviet dispute, and when China was resolutely anti-American?

If the Chinese were cultivating Pol Pot against Sihanouk at that time, it would more likely have been because they saw him as an anti-American ally in case Sihanouk wavered, as Marxists might have predicted, and as he did four years later; not because of Pol Pot’s enmity toward Viet Nam, which the Chinese might not yet have perceived. After all, there was close Vietnamese-Chinese cooperation in training Cambodian cadres.[452]

A further shift is now apparent among those who, like the US regime, favor Deng but oppose the PRK. An example which merits close attention is China specialist Edward Friedman, who has produced several authoritative works on traditional peasant rebellion, the Chinese revolution, and communist theory, and has written intriguingly about Cambodia, as well as sympathetically both about Asian revolutions threatened by the US and the US threatened by Asian revolutions (although, of course, at different times).[453]

Friedman has gone back to Mao and the Cultural Revolution for his daemon ex machina in Cambodia, for as an ardent admirer of Deng Xiaoping and his reforms he can hardly make a connection between them and a Cambodian regime he excoriates. His position thus puts him on the same side of the argument as the PRK, which has in fact instituted Deng-ism even if imitated from other sources.

Friedman cannot acknowledge this, for like Shawcross, he has seen the advantages of changing his image from friend of revolution to supporter of the US regime line, which means that it is OK to support Deng, but not equivalent policies in countries which have not received US regime certificates of good behavior.

Thus Friedman, like Deng’s China, supports the Pol Pot group in exile against the PRK, while the latter follow Deng-type policies domestically and agree with Friedman that Maoism was responsible for DK policies before 1979.[454]

For Friedman DK represents a malignant outgrowth of Maoism. “Pol Pot-ism is the logical extension of Maoism”, an example of “malignant Maoist rule”. “Pol Pot’s Cambodian Communist Party ... chose to use the Leninist state organs of coercion to force people on the Maoist path toward the solidaristic egalitarianism seen as the essence of Marx’s communism”;[455] DK was the “unfettered use of force to realize its Maoist notions of a socialist transition ... [but] Leninist state action to implement Maoism is like launching a war on society ...”.[456]

The arguments behind these remarks depend on facile ‘Leninist’ links through the world’s Marxist or quasi-Marxist regimes, all of which are versions of the ‘Leninist’ state. This state is never clearly defined in opposition to other types of state system, and the only reason which may be inferred for Friedman’s insistence on ‘Leninist’ rather than ‘Marxist’ is that some reformers in, or in exile from, some of the countries in question, have used Leninism as a positive concept in their search for progressive transformations of Soviet-bloc states, an intellectual current holding no little danger for official American attitudes toward those countries.[457]

Friedman’s Leninism is a catalogue of undesirable features, and the states claiming to be socialist are bad because they all show some combination of those traits. Thus the Leninist state is a “privileged Party-state whose officials enjoy what the populace views as illegitimate perquisites”, and “is found by its citizens to be a stratified system of corruption, personal networks and nepotism ... ‘feudal socialism’”, in which “privilege and corruption” mean that the benefits of the system are awarded “for personal loyalty and not for work performance”. It is a “Party-state structured in tiers”.[458]

It includes a number of institutions adopted from preceding regimes: a modern army, “a pervasive secret police apparatus taken from Czarist Russia and transferred ... not only to Soviet clients in East Europe and to Stalinist regimes such as Albania, pre-1949 Yugoslavia, Viet Nam and North Korea, but also to the whole variety of Third-World Leninist Party-states which at one time or another have sought Soviet-bloc aid ... China and Cuba, Nicaragua, Afghanistan and Angola”.

Thus apparently because of what happened in DK we should all have supported Reagan’s and Bush’s contras in Nicaragua.

If indeed so many traits are inherited from the past, from pre-Leninist regimes, as any historian might suspect, then this is the genre of analysis required for explaining their differences, and the category of ‘Leninist State’ loses much of its significance. We might note here that Korea, already in the 19th century, was described by westerners as a xenophobic hermit kingdom.

It is easy to see why this trend of thought is unacceptable to Friedman or the US government. It undermines anti-Communist crusades. The most rigid of Leninist states may have to struggle with a particularly heavy hereditary burden, against which some of them measure rather well by democratic or western welfare state standards, while countries like Nicaragua and the PRK would have to be credited with immense achievements following unusually oppressive regimes.

In Cambodia DK “revealed itself as a typical Leninist Party-state” because it was “very hierarchized”, “position could carry considerable privilege”, a powerholder “had many daughters who married rising political and military cadres”, and children of top leaders attended special schools, “[i]n sum, the system was one of ‘feudal fascism’“.[459]

These traits are all cited from my Cambodia 1975-1982, and Friedman, note 38, finds his case strengthened because I argued that DK was “not rooted in Leninism or Maoism”, and “the evidence from [this] ... book showing that the Cambodian government’s policies were Leninist with a Maoist trajectory is the more persuasive because it exists despite the intentions of” the author.

What this more convincingly illustrates is Friedman’s peculiar fashion of arguing from unconnected phrases rather than coherent structures, as though hierarchy, privilege, political marriages, and special schools had never existed, and could not exist, except in a Leninist state. As for ‘feudal fascism’, I thought I was using it in a clearly sarcastic reference to the work of another writer, but I apparently misjudged the literacy of my readership.[460]

In Cambodia most of these traits were normal aspects of traditional society, not attributable to revolution, but persevering in spite of it. An exception might be ‘feudal fascism’, which I find meaningless, but which for people who like it might better fit the last Sihanouk years. Indeed all of Friedman’s ‘Leninist’ traits are shared by many regimes noted for their anti-communism, and thus in no way specially Leninist.

The legitimacy of Friedman’s ‘Leninism’ is at least dubious, and the notable common feature of all his Leninist states is that they are disliked by the US government, in the case of the smaller ones outside Europe simply because they have refused to become US clients. When some of Friedman’s examples, even for himself, seem to get too far from core ‘Leninism’, such as Nicaragua, Afghanistan and Angola, he slides off into an even fuzzier notion, the “autonomous state”.

In this connection he does take brief note of some non-Leninist autonomous states, “giving full reign to coercive instruments”, such as ‘East Pakistan’ (now Bangladesh), Uganda, Iran, Guatemala, Argentina, but he plainly does not consider them as serious a problem, and the one he singles out for juxtaposition with DK is Ayatollah Komeini’s Iran, likewise no friend of the US.[461]

But as was pointed out by another Edward Friedman, together with Mark Selden, “One of the striking features of American Asian scholarship has been its reiteration of Cold War myths”.[462] Friedman thoroughly disapproves of Shawcross’ bombing theory, which he attributes to Kiernan, and he finds it “a most dangerous approach to the issue, one that makes future Pol Pots more likely ... as with Sendero Luminoso in Peru”.[463]

Now how a misreading by intellectuals of the effects of bombing in Cambodia or elsewhere could promote the rise of more such regimes is difficult to fathom. Does this prefigure support for more such US atrocities, and absolution in advance for any social disasters which may result?[464]

Friedman’s DK resulted from conscious imitation by its leaders of Maoism, but what neither Friedman’s ‘Leninism’ nor his Maoism can explain is why DK should have been more malignant than real Maoism. Friedman moreover recognizes this. The difference between “Pol Pot’s malignant Maoist rule in Cambodia” and more benign developments out of the ‘Leninist’ state elsewhere “cries out for analytic categories capable of distinguishing between such palpably different political systems”.[465]

Well, such categories have been proposed, and serious students of the matter might have expected Friedman here either to discuss them or argue for their rejection. Instead, except for Kiernan who did not deal with this issue, he has quoted only second-hand or non-theoretical treatments of Cambodia.

Yet in “After Mao” he comes perilously close to the non-Leninist explanation for the DK phenomenon which I offered, with his “The Maoist language of opposition to commodity systems, wage grade structures, expertise and bourgeois rights was translated in peasant consciousness to legitimate anger against or hate for the urban, the intellectual and the fat cat bureaucrats who were all experienced at ripping-off hard-working, honest, loyal and patriotic peasants. Maoism heated up pre-existing, proto-populist, semi-fascist angers of poor, traditional, rural people who saw the army as their protector against urban wiles”.[466]

But still, why was DK more malignant than what had resulted from peasant anger in China? Perhaps because the Cambodian countryside had suffered more, as from bombing? But we shall leave that for now, and return to it below.

It would appear that Friedman may have hoped to find an evil genius behind the DK leadership, and that his choice fell on Franz Fanon, who, dead 20 years, was exhumed, if not in serious attempt to explain DK, at least to throw retrospective discredit on Fanon.

Third-World Leninists, in Friedman’s “Little Lessons in Leninism”, took Lenin’s logic “in a direction that Lenin himself never moved” (is it intellectually legitimate then to call them Leninists?). They concluded that liberation requires breaking the “bonds of the super-exploitative metropolis ... [l]iberation would be the work of the Third-World rural poor”.[467]

As Friedman ignores, although I have emphasized it in Cambodia which he had read, the theory of the peasant as the truly progressive revolutionary, or even reformist, class was not invented by Leninists, or by any other type of Marxist, but, especially in Eastern Europe, constituted a well-established non-, even anti-, Marxist political current.[468]

Nevertheless for Friedman it represented “hidden tendencies” “shared by Mao, Che, Pol Pot and ... explicated in France by people ... such as Frantz Fanon”.[469] And it was in France that David Hawk “found” [sic!] that “‘the leaders of the revolution, the avant-garde, had all studied ... and had developed their own hybrid versions of Marxism/Leninism/Stalinism”; and it was in France where “Shawcross described how in 1959 ... Khieu Samphan completed his Paris dissertation arguing ‘that the cities were parasitical’ which required ‘a transfer of the population out of the towns into productive work’”.[470]

Whatever Khieu Samphan did in France, he made no such suggestion in his thesis, and if Shawcross had written what Friedman alleged, he would be fully revealed for what his post-1979 writings have suggested: one of the crowd of hip-shooting journalistic hired guns who, having never looked at the single existing scholarly work by a member of the Cambodian leadership, any more than Friedman did, still pontificated about its contents.

As it was, however, Shawcross did slip up in saying that Samphan in his thesis had called for “a transfer of the population out of the towns into productive work, first in the fields ... ”, but otherwise he demonstrated a careful reading of the dissertation, and acknowledged that the “methods this twentyeight-year-old Marxist prescribed in 1959 for the transformation of his country were essentially moderate”, not a blueprint for what occurred after 1975.[471]

Samphan’s thesis is based more on the ideas of the 19th-century German nationalist economist Friedrich List than on Marxism-Leninism, and he argued in it for rapid development of independent capitalism in Cambodia, making full use of the indigenous Chinese, as well as Khmer, bourgeoisie.

“We are not proposing”, he wrote, to eliminate the classes having the highest incomes ... structural reform which we are proposing does not tend to eliminate the contributive capacity of these groups ... we believe ways and means can and must be found to bring out their contributive potential by attempting to transform these landlords, retailers, and usurers into a class of industrial or agrarian capitalist entrepreneurs”; and “[i]n the city, an effort will be made to transfer capital from the hyperactive commercial sector into more directly productive sectors”.[472]

Friedman’s use of Fanon is just one more instance of his peculiar tendencies toward empty word-grubbing, in this case doing violence even to the work of Shawcross with whom he sympathizes, and the most blatant example of which appears precisely in connection with Fanon, alleged to have held “that only peasants, not city workers, should be trusted as revolutionaries”.[473]

This is purportedly cited from a biography of Fanon by Irene Gendzier, where however we find that it was a remark made by Ben Bella, and that a journalist named Francois Bondy, reporting on Ben Bella, added “this is pure Fanonism”, something which Fanon’s biographer Gendzier takes pains to deny.[474]

It is easy, moreover, to show that when Fanon, as well as Pol Pot and Khieu Samphan, were all students in France in the 1950s, not only was it extremely unlikely that they ever met, but Fanon was then intent on pursuit of a medical career and had not undertaken any of the revolutionary writing for which he was to gain fame, and that moreover what he advocated in his writings later is quite different from what was carried out in DK. Perhaps the only interesting parallel between Fanon and Pol Pot is that both were being viewed with positive interest by the CIA at the ends of their careers.[475]

The sole influential ideologue whose programme foreshadows DK policies in almost precise detail is Ivan Illich, whom no one so far has proposed as Pol Pot’s mentor. Quite rightly, of course, but not because Illich is a nice, quite nonviolent chap, but because there is no reason to believe that the DK leadership had ever heard of him. At least, he was unknown in their formative periods.

Illich’s programme, de-schooling, de-medicine, etc., is in retrospect a DK blueprint; and there is a Pol Pot-Illich relationship. Both are middle-class intellectuals with such a romantic, idealized sympathy for the poor that they did not imagine rapid, radical restructuring of society in their favor would lead to such intolerable violence. That the actions of nice guys pursuing noble goals could have horrible results has long been known, and was illustrated in an Indochinese situation by Graham Greene.[476]

In the search for origins of intellectual/political currents, or the derivation of one from another, entire structures must be demonstrated, not just isolated features like violence which may occur with equal furor in any number of unrelated societies. Thus the emptying of the towns, which was the first step in DK violence, is better explained as a type of traditional peasant violence against cities than as an effort to emulate China, where such a step was never contemplated.[477]

Some colleagues have suggested ‘Stalinism’ as an appropriate epithet for DK, but again the structure, squeezing the rural areas in order to build industrial cities was the very opposite of Pol Potism.[478]

But what about the procedures at Tuol Sleng? Surely the interminable confessions, the constructing of networks of saboteurs from them, the dossiers with photos, these must have been learned from the NKVD.

Unfortunately it was not necessary for the Cambodians to go so far afield. One need only evoke the spirit of traditional Cambodian society, in which the greatest crime, punishable by the severest penalties was disloyalty to the state represented by its officials.[479]

Of equal interest and relevance here, but so far the object of too little attention, is the French colonial heritage with which Cambodian bureaucracy, courts, and police were permeated. I believe everyone is sufficiently familiar with the literature on arbitrary and unjust, if legal, procedures which were commonly used in Indochina against suspected revolutionaries, or even nationalists.

What may be less familiar is the book by a Cambodian political prisoner which I have cited before to the effect that in Indochinese political prisons it was in particular the Cambodians who were known as trusties, spies, and torturers.[480]

In post-1975 witch-hunts police spies may have been even more sought after than army officers.

Independent Cambodia inherited all of this baggage, no doubt including former Surete torturers and police spies who continued in the Sihanoukist services, and Sihanouk was all too ready to use and encourage them. Such continuity was particularly easy because of the convergence of the colonial legal burden with attitudes and practices handed down from traditional Cambodian society. Few Cambodians of my acquaintance in the 1960s seemed to realize that such practices were anomalous in the modern developed world. [And of course now, in 2008, the leader of the ‘modern developed world’ has taken the lead in such practices.]

A Cambodian acquaintance has related that in 1968 he was arrested on a political charge, held secretly for a month before his family was informed, and during interrogation shown albums of photographs, including some of his acquaintances, which his interrogators said represented uncooperative prisoners whom they had killed, and did he want to share their fate? No, the DK security organs did not need advice from abroad to set up the Tuol Sleng system.

This type of police and judicial apparatus had old pre-communist roots in France, the foreign country, not China, nor the USSR, which had most deeply influenced the DK leadership; and these methods were particularly prevalent in French Indochina.

As Sorel wrote, “[o]ne of the fundamental ideas of the Old Regime had been the employment of the penal procedure to ruin any power which was an obstacle to the monarchy”; the “Inquisition furnished a model for courts which, set in motion on very slight pretexts, prosecuted people who embarrassed authority”; and the “essential aim was not justice, but the welfare of the State”.[481]

Because of this there was a proliferation of lawyers who served the Ancient Regime, and who formed a majority of the Third Estate in the Constituent Assembly in 1793.

“The Revolution piously gathered up this tradition, gave an importance to imaginary crimes which was all the greater because its political courts of law carried on their operations in the midst of a populace maddened by the seriousness of the peril [remember DK?]; it seemed quite natural to explain the defeats of generals by criminal intentions, and to guillotine people who had not been able to realize hopes fostered by a public opinion that had returned to the superstitions of childhood”.

The professed return to natural law in 18th-century philosophy “happened to render these methods still more formidable”. After a long period of corruption of humanity by selfish people, “the true means of returning to the principles of primitive goodness ... had at last been discovered”, and “all opposition ... was the most criminal act imaginable”. The evil influences had to be destroyed, “[i]ndulgence was a culpable weakness”, toward people “who gave proof of an incomprehensible obstinacy, who refused to recognize evidence, and only lived on lies”.[482]

All of this fits, to the extent it has been reported, the personality of Deuch/Duch, the director of Tuol Sleng, himself a product of a semi-intellectual milieu like the 18th-century lawyers - hastily turned out teachers from lower middle class backgrounds, formed by the Cambodian state for the purpose of inculcating the state’s values in succeeding generations, and permeated with similar rigid respect for petty regulations. Deuch, according to one person whom he interrogated, was obsessed by the ‘lies’ of his enemies.[483]

Having brought out this perhaps unexpected background, let us not now be distracted by the inevitable objection that all European 19th-century thought, in particular Marxism and Leninism, was influenced by the French Revolution, and that by the time the French Revolutionary current had reached Cambodia it had become Leninism.

This would only illustrate that in the modern world we all carry mixed and interrelated intellectual heritages, and that in terms of intellectual genealogies both Friedman and I may be second cousins of Pol Pot; but the Cambodians, in particular, were more directly exposed to French thought and traditions than Soviet.[484]

All former colonial countries, whether those which have claimed to be following a bourgeois democratic path, or those overtly more statist, are burdened by the ‘democracy’ inherited from those western models of democratic society, Britain and France, who in their liberal use of anti-democratic methods to maintain control have discredited democracy in Asia and permitted the hypocritical use of the term by their successors.

This perversion of ‘democracy’ by the major western democracies has been continued, and amplified, by the US since the end of World War II, until almost any horror can be justified by recourse to ‘democracy’.[485]

Serious study of revolutions, and the societies which produced them, must begin with those societies, not with meaningless word-grubbing to prove invidious relationships in the interest of satisfying current propaganda. In more scholarly terms we need deeper investigations into autonomous development rather than superficial diffusionism, a change in emphasis which has become common in most of the social sciences and has led to important advances in the last 30 years or so.[486]

We may then begin to discover matters of real historical, sociological and political-economic interest, for example, possibilities of convergent political and social evolution out of similar backgrounds, which for example, is the only way to account for the apparent similarities between DK and the programme of Sendero Luminoso.

I have argued elsewhere in some detail why responsibility for DK cannot be laid to Maoism, even if some of the DK leaders thought they were emulating Maoism and carrying it further than the founder. Moreover, I suspect that Pol Pot, no more than Ivan Illich, either planned, or expected, what occurred, and I have argued that the violence of DK was first of all because it was such a complete peasantist revolution, with the victorious revolutionaries doing what peasant rebels have always wanted to do to their urban enemies.

It is an argument which has not appealed to either left or right, for it deromanticizes peasants and does not help in evocation of any kind of ‘Marxist’ demon, for Marx and Lenin took the same critical view of peasant rebels, and even Mao never tried to eliminate cities and the proletariat.[487]

Friedman, who knows something about traditional peasant rebels,[488] hinted at this but then shied away from it, and it requires more than just citing a similarity, for no anti-urban peasant ideologue whose ideas are on record ever proposed the extremes which occurred in DK.[489]

This shows once again the importance of careful investigation within the society concerned. The Cambodian peasants did not win their war and take their vengeance in a social and political vacuum, and it is here that the utility of Shawcross’s first explanation, now fleshed out with further evidence from Ben Kiernan, becomes helpful.

Having evoked Shawcross in so many unpleasant ways, I am now happy to rehabilitate his first theory about the Cambodian revolution, and help him, if he still wishes, defend himself against those critics even farther to the extreme right who so bitterly attacked him for blaming Pol Pot on the US.[490]

In a recent study Kiernan has provided details from interviews with survivors of the American bombing which provide ample proof of what in Shawcross’ work was still a hypothesis. Much of the Cambodian countryside was driven mad by US bombing, moderate leaders were discredited, and the rage was transferred from the US to the local enemies calling for US help - Lon Nol’s army and the urban civilian population. There can no longer be doubt that the effects postulated by Shawcross were all too real.[491]

There is really nothing new in the idea of violence by foreign invaders promoting violent revolutionary movements. It was an important theme of Chalmers Johnson, in a “sophisticated brief for the techniques of Special War which the United States was then initiating in South Vietnam”, who argued, “in his influential study of the Chinese Communist resistance”, that “insurgent movements may be created and legitimized by an unexpected ally - the foreign invader”.

In the case in question, Japanese invasion of China 1937, “the brutality and dislocation produced by the onslaught of the invasion inadvertently mobilized the peasant population for resistance”, and “the windfall of peasant nationalism springing from war-induced crisis lies behind the success of revolutionary nationalist movements”.[492]

Recent discoveries among another group of soldiers on the opposite side of the Indochina War may be interestingly compared. For the American army in Viet Nam it “was a war fought mainly by the poor, but it was also perhaps our first war fought by adolescents ... average age ... 19.2 years, compared with 26 in world War II”. They were “still in their formative years, ... particularly susceptible to the traumatic, terror-filled ‘imprinting’ many of them were later found to have undergone”.

As a result, coupled with their often troubled social origins, they saw Viet Nam as “a kind of free-fire zone of the mind”, they “didn’t just fantasize killing a father or mother, they did it”, and engaged in such atrocities that “the therapist’s ability to hear them out without feeling revulsion has become an issue in the psychiatric literature about Viet Nam veterans”.[493]

Fortunately for the US population, the army of dangerous psychotics we unleashed on Viet Nam did not return to govern at home [which is not to say that the US has not been governed in recent years, in particular since 2001, by dangerous psychotics, who did not even require battle experience to become quite mad].

Most analyses of the DK wartime army have emphasized the youth of the troops; although stories of vast numbers of child soldiers are exaggerated, there can be no doubt that DK forces, like those of Lon Nol, paid little attention to any lower age limit for recruits, and their average age may have been even lower than the 19 years of the American forces, which were subject to a lower limit of 17. There were probably many 15 and 16 year-olds in the Khmer forces on both sides.

Unlike the Americans, probably few of the Khmer youth were dangerous psychotics to start with, but their war experiences constituted an even more “terror-filled ‘imprinting’” than suffered by the Americans, and when the war ended their “free-fire zone of the mind” became the crowds of urban snobs who were perceived as having called in the American planes.[494]

Moreover, unlike the American soldiers who committed such horrible crimes that psychiatrists have difficulty listening to them, on personal and cultural strangers belonging to a country about which most of them had never heard before being drafted, the young Khmer survivors were given control of people whom they knew, at least as a class, and in the case of higher officers and officials, often as individuals blamed for specific incidents of brutality or injustice against villagers before, or during, the war.

This is enough to explain the first violence, the sudden, spontaneous mass killings in the first months after April 1975. It may also make more convincing the suggestion that the DK leadership felt itself pulled toward peasantist goals, as I have argued in Cambodia 1975-1982.

Given the accumulated fury of the preceding five years, it would have been impossible to hold the support of their peasant army if Phnom Penh had been allowed to continue living at what in the eyes of peasant soldiers would have appeared as a privileged level of existence, if a normal administration, which would inevitably have been staffed by holdovers from Lon Nol, even if loyal, had been maintained, as was done in the Soviet Union after 1917, and if the Lon Nol army, police, and pro-American officials had not been punished.

The reason so many such people remained in Phnom Penh until the end may have been because they expected the new revolutionary regime could not exist without them, and that they would be able to insert themselves into and transform it.

If the initial DK violence evolved from old peasant dislike of townsfolk fueled by externally-induced violence imputed by the peasants to their enemies in Phnom Penh, while the second wave of purges may be imputed to disappointed idealism of the leadership, which if not a human universal may have derived from their exposure to French thought (classical, not 1960s), the extension of the violence across their eastern border, which was their undoing, was strictly an effect of the traditional Khmer chauvinism so assiduously cultivated under Sihanouk and Lon Nol.

None of this is Leninism or even Maoism. Indeed the anti-Vietnamese chauvinism, which the KR leadership had learned in non-Marxist schools, and which may have caused more deaths by execution than anything else, is the reason why the DK regime in exile has been revived and nurtured since 1979 by joint efforts of the US, China, and ASEAN. While crying crocodile tears about the sufferings of the poor Cambodian people under Pol Pot, the US regime has rewarded him for his worst excesses.

Postscript 2010

In the International Herald Tribune, 7 July 2010, p. 9, James Carroll, in “Post- Traumatic Nation”, wrote that “It belongs to every U.S. citizen to have in mind what the nation’s present wars are doing - not only to U.S. troops, Iraqis and Afghans ... but to the American character ... A psycho-medical diagnosis - post-traumatic stress syndrome - has gained legitimacy for individuals, but what about whole societies? Can war’s dire and lingering effects on war-waging nations be measured ... to include aftermath wounds to society that, while undiagnosed, are as related to civic responsibility for state violence as one veteran’s recurring nightmare is to a morally ambiguous firefight?

“The U.S. Civil War did not end in 1865. Its unleashed spirit of total destruction went West . and savaged the remnant native peoples . World War I was only the beginning of industrialized nihilism.coming in train with the civilizational suicides of the Somme and Verdun. The extremities of World War II generated a pathological paranoia in the Soviet Union and a debilitating American insecurity. that spawned a garrison state. After Vietnam, citizens of all stripes proved permanently unable to trust their government . America’s wars left moral wreckage in their wakes. The chop continues .

“. psychiatrist Jonathan Shay cites an official definition [of PTSD] . characteristics include ‘a hostile or mistrustful attitude toward the world; social withdrawal; . feelings of emptiness or hopelessness; a chronic feeling of being ‘on the edge’, as if constantly threatened’ . The catastrophic experience of war, to put it most simply, can completely change the personality”.

Carroll continued, “it is impossible to read that catalogue of symptoms belonging to traumatized persons and not recognize notes of the contemporary scene in the United States”.[495]

If this is at all true for the United States, which of all the modern western nations has suffered the least from war - no fighting at all on U.S. soil - what about the effects of societal PTSD on the young rural Cambodians? Their quiet villages were torn apart during 1970-1975 in a class-based civil war that pit them against a U.S. supplied and encouraged state, direct U.S. involvement in bombing large areas of the country, and invasions by U.S. troops and those of both North and South Vietnam. Because of those events, they suffered horrific personnel losses and endured lack of food and medical care.

Is it strange that when they gained control after 1975 the ‘unleashed spirit of total destruction’ of 1970-1975 was taken out on the perceived enemies who then came under their control?

Considered in this way one can perhaps understand the Democratic Kampuchea regime as rather moderate. It is also useful to compare stories told by survivors among the ‘New People’ with reports collected by Eric Hobsbawm from German war prisoners returned later from post-war Soviet labor camps.

“They [the Russians] did not treat us worse than themselves. It was simply that they were physically so much tougher than we were. They could stand the cold better. That scared us, when we were at the front, and we suffered from it as prisoners. They would dump us on a central-Asian plain in winter and say: build a camp. Start digging’.” (Hobsbawm, Interesting Times, A Twentieth-Century Life, p. 179).

Although cold was not a problem in Cambodia, it is clear from most of the honest testimonies of life under DK that the work to which the ‘New People’ were subjected was the same work that villagers engaged in year after year. They were simply tougher than the former urbanites and often considered the weaknesses of the latter to constitute slacking.

Among the evil Leninist states condemned by Friedman in his work cited above was Nicaragua, relevant in this discussion of Cambodia not only because of the close diplomatic relations between the post-1979 governments in both countries, but because of structural similarities in their situations. By the mid-1980s US treatment of Nicaragua was drawing criticism from sources usually sympathetic to US policies, and I took advantage of one instance, in the Bangkok Post, to highlight the similarities.

The Post, on June 30, 1986, published an editorial in support of the World Court’s condemnation of US actions in Nicaragua “as being in direct violation of international law”, and it emphasized the actions of the ‘Contras’ supported in neighboring

countries to attack Nicaragua. I answered quoting liberally from their text, inserting ‘Kampuchea’ and other relevant areal terms as required. The insertions are in parentheses below.

Kampuchean Contras (1986)[496]

Sir: In your excellent editorial of June 30 on the American aggression against Nicaragua, you failed to note still another tiny nation, and one of much more direct relevance to Thailand, which President Reagan (and previous presidents) have “taken on ... to reap political dividends.”

Kampuchea “is a sovereign nation ... a very small country ... (with) a major task merely restructuring its society and economy after the devastation of (the Lon Nol and Pol Pot) years.”

Like Nicaragua, Kampuchea takes “help from any quarter it can find;” and Soviet aid in particular, with its very large component for education, health, and economic reconstruction puts the West to shame, and is in contrast to recent US treatment of its allies in certain economic areas. “The United States should not be too dismayed that (Kampuchea) is receiving weapons (and men) from the Soviet Union (and Viet Nam) to defend itself ... With no other sources of supply, in the face of a foreign-funded invasion, the alternative would be to lie down and play dead.”

Denial of PRK sovereignty and legitimacy, always founded on gross hypocrisy, is less convincing each year. The PRK has now lasted longer than either Lon Nol’s Khmer Republic, which after overthrowing Sihanouk with great public support, saw itself in turn destroyed with equal popular enthusiasm by the Khmer Rouge, who then so disgusted their own people that a new faction was received with open arms, even though backed by a “traditional enemy.”

The Kampuchean “Contras,” the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea, are also “a motley crew,” and we need go no further than the columns of the Bangkok Post reporting abuses of their own camp populations and Thai border villagers to see that they also can only be termed “freedom fighter” in ironical quotes. They are the remnants of those three earlier regimes which all in the end thoroughly discredited themselves among their own population.

Nicaragua and Kampuchea recognize one another diplomatically, and consider themselves allies in the struggle against US led reaction and denial of the rights of small countries to choose their own form of government and economic reconstruction.

In Kampuchea as well as in Nicaragua, scarce resources which should go into reconstruction, health care, and food production must be devoted to defense.

In spite of this, the PRK has an excellent record in restoring a purely Khmer 10 year-educational system, has in spite of its official commitment to socialism, maintained free markets and increased opportunities for private entrepreneurial activities, and since its 5th Party Congress last year has given nearly half its Central Committee places (at least 20 out of 45) to young technocrats and intellectuals who before 1979 had neither a communist background nor association with Vietnam.

Similar people also fill many ministerial, deputy ministerial and provincial leadership posts; while the former prominence of those Khmers who spent 19541970 in Viet Nam, like the number of Vietnamese advisers, rapidly diminishes. If there was ever legitimate doubt abroad about PRK Khmerness, there can no longer be any, and if it once may have seemed that the PRK government might turn into a Vietnamese puppet, they have now clearly proved the contrary.

The Post’s lucid view of the Nicaraguan situation could well be extended to Kampuchea, where the opportunism of US policy, rejecting one ASEAN proposal which excluded the Khmer Rouge, and now another ostensibly because they were included, is probably best revealed by George Shultz’s 1985 warning to ASEAN against formulating proposals which Viet Nam might accept.[497]

Other foreign supporters of the CGDK need to revise their thinking about Kampuchea and to realize that it is in no one’s interest to continue the harassment of this country which has suffered so much for so long. Perhaps, as in the case of Nicaragua, an election in another country will provide some impetus for change.

The concluding remark was in reference both to the conclusion of the Post’s editorial, which proved to be a false hope concerning Nicaragua, and to a coming election in Thailand, with a happier result, though only temporary.

The Post had written, “The only relief for the Nicaraguans would appear to be the United States’ electoral process. If the Nicaraguans can hold out for two more years, Mr. Reagan ... will retire to his ranch. Then, perhaps, his successor ... will accede to the United Nations and the World Court and desist from further support to the Contras”. That did not happen. The optimism of the Post was misplaced.

The Thai election of 1988, however, opened the way to a new policy on Cambodia. Chatichai Choonhavan became the first elected Prime Minister since 1976, immediately called for changes in relations with Cambodia, saying Indochina should change from a battlefield to a market-place, and in 1989 he invited Hun Sen to Bangkok. The new policy was destroyed by the 1991 military coup.[498]

The Human Rights Bugbear (2010)

In the campaign by the United States, China and ASEAN to undermine the PRK, the lurid propaganda schemes collapsed, and the contra Coalition was only preserved by increasing foreign aid. While able to blow up bridges, attack civilian trains, and murder a few people here and there, their military success was never impressive.

The confidence of the PRK side was shown by the annual withdrawals of Vietnamese troops, an increasingly Khmer administration, particularly after the 5th Party Congress in 1985, and gradual, even if limited, political relaxation within Cambodia.[499]

In the face of this a new weapon was brought out by the Great Power Coalition behind the triple Khmer Coalition. This was ‘human rights’.

Little was said about this when the Khmer Rouge rescue operation was mounted in 1979, or when the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea was put together in 1982. Then suddenly in late 1984 a body in the US calling itself the Lawyers’ Committee for International Human Rights sent a team to the Thai-Cambodia border to investigate the human rights situation ‘in Cambodia’.

They included one real Cambodia scholar, Stephen Heder, who had worked for the US government on the border in 1979-81, and who in 1981 had presented a strong submission to a Congressional Committee urging US military intervention to back the KPNLF.[500]

In a follow-up mission in January 1985 Raymond Bonner, having learned his lesson and lost a good job with The New York Times for reporting sympathetic to the people of El Salvador (who faced massive human rights abuses from their US-backed government), lent his prestige to the Lawyers’ Committee operation in support of US-backed contras against a government and people trying to recuperate from years of US-backed war and a misconceived revolution.[501]

When the Lawyers’ “Preliminary Summary of Findings and Conclusions, Kampuchea Mission”, was issued in November 1984, I wrote a critique which was eventually published, although not in time to influence further work in that direction.[502] In August 1985 they issued their final report, Kampuchea: After the Worst. It expanded the material from 20 to 250 pages, but contained the same faults as their preliminary treatment.

After that Stephen Heder moved to Amnesty International whose Cambodia reports over the next three years reflected the same propaganda goals as the work of the Lawyers’ Committee. First there was “File on Torture”, released in September 1986 to have maximum impact on the annual UN vote on Cambodia.

Then, in early June 1987, with an internationally coordinated press campaign, Amnesty released an 89-page special report: “Kampuchea Political Imprisonment and Torture”. Like the earlier ‘File on Torture’, the new report was obviously timed for effect - just before an international NGO conference in Brussels.

Fortunately I was able to obtain a copy immediately, in time to write a critique and send it to acquaintances among the delegates to the Brussels conference, where, I have been told, it was useful to those NGOs who wished to continue work in, and increase aid to, Cambodia.

These productions of the Lawyers’ Committee and Amnesty were precursors of the spineless acquiescence of much mainstream journalism in the backward slide of the US in the area of democracy and human rights criticized, for example, by Kishore Mahbubani in “Sermons of moral cowardice”, The Guardian Weekly, April 4-10, 2008, p. 19. Mahbubani should be reminded, however, that in the 1980s, when he was a senior Singapore diplomat, he was active in a similar cabal supporting revival of the Khmer Rouge against post-DK Cambodia (see note 557).

Amnesty International and the War Against Kampuchea (1990)

During 1975-1979 ‘Democratic Kampuchea’, under Pol Pot, was governed by a regime which many have called ‘worse than Hitler’s and which has become a paradigm for oppression, arbitrary imprisonment, torture and murder by a state of its own citizens. An international campaign is now being organized to bring its former leaders to trial for genocide.

Even earlier, between 1970 and 1975, under the Khmer Republic of General Lon Nol, all guarantees of civil rights, fair trial, and freedom from arbitrary police harassment were de facto suspended, justification, if any, being the state of war prevailing in the country.

Even during Kampuchea’s best peace-time years under Prince Sihanouk before 1970 the right to a quick, fair trial without risk of torture during preliminary police investigation was not guaranteed in practice; and political suspects could be judicially murdered in widely publicized executions.[503]

Adopting the methodology of the latest Amnesty International Report, it may be said that under Sihanouk in the 1960s, people inferentially suspected of harboring anti-regime thoughts were regularly subject to clandestine arrest, (without notification to their families), long secret incarceration, and threat of torture during interrogation, including exhibits of albums of photographs which the police presented as earlier victims of their repression, saying ‘do you want this to happen to you?’.[504]

Even in those best years there was little protest locally, not only because such protest itself would have been viewed as anti-regime activity, but because Kampucheans in general did not fully realize that standards in the rest of the world might be different.

At the end of Kampuchea’s nearly decade-long decline into madness, and state brutality for its own sake, the war which Pol Pot’s ‘Democratic Kampuchea’ had started with its neighbor Viet Nam resulted in the overthrow of DK and its replacement by the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) which is still in place.

Almost overnight there was a full swing of the pendulum with respect to civil and human rights - freedom of movement, family and choice of work were immediately acknowledged, the normal infrastructures of society (administration, education, health, markets, currency) began gradually to be reconstructed and recreated, with great difficulty given the near total destruction of material - including documentation and archives - and trained personnel, which began with the war in 1970 and increased with tacit regime encouragement after 1975.

Among the institutions which had to be recreated from zero were legal and judicial systems, in a situation in which no one had experienced normal legal procedures for at least nine years, often longer (or never), in which written laws no longer existed, in which only a handful of trained legal personnel survived, and in which persons with police experience may never have heard of the rights of accused.

Beginning in 1980 with laws on criminal offenses, new law codes have gradually been developed, culminating in 1986 with a detailed law on arrest, search, temporary detention, and treatment of arrested persons which is not inferior to similar laws promulgated by the capitalist regimes of ASEAN. Perhaps for the first time in the country’s history, police training involves formal instruction against the use of torture.[505]

The dismantling of the DK regime and its replacement by a new government which not only declared its intention to reestablish a normal society, but whose actions from the beginning proved its sincerity, was greeted with dismay by most of those western countries, led by the United States, who had been shedding crocodile tears over DK.

With the full support of China, and the acquiescence of ASEAN, particularly Thailand, a huge international campaign was developed to block the peaceful development of the PRK, if possible to destroy it, no matter who might replace it. This effort has included the physical rehabilitation, military supply, and encouragement of the remnants of Pol Pot’s DK regime, who have also been allowed to retain Kampuchea’s UN seat.

In the propaganda field the anti-PRK campaign has meant refusal to acknowledge improvement, while giving publicity to all real or imagined defects, and continued characterization of the PRK as nothing but a puppet of Vietnam, while most organs of the western press refuse even to print news which would counter that description.

The significance of instruction against torture in the PRK is minimized by those who report it, and a major news outlet on Indochina, the Washington D.C.- based Indochina Issues, refused to print a short description, which they had commissioned, of the contents of the new PRK law on arrest.[506]

Among the international institutions working for the destruction of the PRK is Amnesty International, which has just (3 June 1987 in Australia) released, with an internationally coordinated press campaign, an 89-page special report, “Kampuchea Political Imprisonment and Torture”.

The manner in which this publication has been put together and released indicates that Amnesty has gone far beyond its official purpose of simply working for “release of prisoners of conscience”, “fair and prompt trials” and opposition to “the death penalty and torture” (inside cover of report), without “grad[ing] governments according to their record”.

The report is a deliberate move in the international political game being played around Kampuchea, with Amnesty’s prestige as a hitherto objective humanitarian body utilized as cover for partisan propaganda. For this to be clear the process which has culminated in this report must be reviewed.

The Lawyers’ Committee

The beginning was in research in 1984 for the Lawyers’ Committee for International Human Rights, whose Cambodia expert, and in fact, whether officially or not, principal investigator, is also Amnesty’s Cambodia expert and editor of their Cambodia reports, Stephen Heder.

When the Lawyers’ “Preliminary Summary of Findings and Conclusions, Kampuchea Mission”, was issued in November 1984, I criticized it for:

(1) pretending to conduct investigations within Cambodia, when they had only been at the border,

(2) slanting their language against the PRK,

(3) propaganda statements about conditions in Cambodia not justified by their own evidence, nor grounded in any other research,

(4) careless - to give the benefit of the doubt - use of their own research in order to exaggerate the degree of human rights violations within Cambodia,

(5) palpable favoritism for the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea, including the Pol Pot remnants, encamped on the Thai border.

Although they wrote that “persons detained [in the PRK] ... are routinely tortured”, only 5 certain distinct cases could be discerned behind their obfuscatory facade.

In August 1985 they issued their final report, Kampuchea: After the Worst. It expanded the material from 20 to 250 pages, and gave slightly more relative attention to human rights violations on the CGDK side, but it is hardly an improvement. The same faults I found with their first effort are still blatant.

Authorship is claimed, p. i, by Floyd Abrams and Diane Orentlicher, “based upon two fact-finding missions ... to areas on both sides of the Thai-Kampuchean border”, the first during 30 October-14 November 1984, by Abrams,

Orentlicher, and Stephen Heder, “an experienced observer of recent Kampuchean politics who speaks Khmer”.[507]

The second mission, p. ii, was by Raymond Bonner visiting evacuation sites and one refugee camp during 28 January - 6 February 1985. There were apparently no other inputs of information. “Altogether the delegates conducted in-depth interviews of over 150 persons in Kampuchea and Thailand”, a geographic formulation which, like the claim in their preliminary report, is in itself partisan propaganda, since the extent of their ‘Kampuchea’ was the KPNLF or DK camps along the Thai-Kampuchean border.[508]

The same propaganda method of presentation dominates the final report, with scatter-gun accusations, and conclusions dumped on the reader before presentation of evidence.

Examples are, p. vi, “ ... the numerous reports we received from throughout the country depict a pervasive pattern of officially-sanctioned torture, inhumane treatment ... ”; p. 10, there is ... “systematic practice of arbitrary arrest, brutal torture, and indefinite detention under degrading conditions ... ”; “Persons taken into custody for political offenses typically [my emphasis-MV] are subjected to sustained and ruthless torture ... ”; p. 11,”Citizens of the PRK do not enjoy even a theoretical right to be free from torture”, a statement repeated verbatim on p. 50; p. 12, “Our evidence suggests that a pattern of arbitrary arrest, torture and indefinite detention may be the most typical experience of such persons”; p. 26, “Beatings are commonplace, and more sophisticated forms of torture usual”.

Although they say, p.v, that only testimony judged reliable was included, and “any doubts ... were resolved against inclusion”, if they had wished this report to be accepted as a serious piece of research they would have set forth clearly in the beginning:

- number of cases on which the conclusions were based;

- number interviewed by Heder;

- number interviewed by Bonner;

- number interviewed by any other persons;

- number of people interviewed by both Heder and Bonner, and whether their information differed in any way from one interview to the other;

- number of persons interviewed and judged unreliable; and in which group of the above were they found;

- a table showing dates of arrest and period of detention of those interviewees deemed reliable.

- some description of the types of testimony considered unreliable.

Instead of presenting the basic quantitative material clearly, the editors have done their best to disguise it, and the only such ‘statistical’ summary, offered in advance of the evidence, p. 6, is that “the chilling description” of one person “typified those of dozens of other former prisoners whom we interviewed on the Thai-Kampuchean border”. This in itself is sufficient to discredit their effort. If they had an honest case to make, they would not have had to rely on stratagem.

Throughout the book there are 30 contexts in which incidents of alleged physical torture are reported, on pages 6, 35, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42 (2), 45, 46 (2), 47, 48, 49, 61 (2),62, 64, 66, 68, 69 (2), 86, 91, 94, 95, 96, 112, 114 (2).

Some of these, however, are repeated accounts of the same individuals. This has not always been signaled to the reader by the editors, and even when it has, the notice has sometimes been confined to footnotes, leaving in the text an impression of more incidents than in fact were reported. The cases may be matched by date, place and sequence of events.

Torture cases

(1) Page 6: “One former prisoner” who, from the details related, seems to be Vin Savann, named p. 37, arrested in 1980 carrying rice home to Battambang from the border. He was confined to TK-1 for 3 years, 8 months (p.38), and is mentioned further on pp. 45, 68, 70 (where his confinement is described as September 1980-May 1984), and 114.[509]

(2) This case has really been milked for all it was worth. A man named But Chanrathana, pp. 33-34, was arrested in Prey Veng in April 1981. Then, p. 35, there is an anonymous account of a “former prisoner’s arrest in January 1984, in Phnom Penh, by “six Vietnamese ‘experts’ from 7708, two underground Khmer police, one regular precinct nokorbal (‘police’) agent and four Khmer members of the Supreme Military Command of Phnom Penh”.

The reason for anonymity was that the second, different, story also concerned But Chanrathana, whose identity is made clear on p.39, where we find that he was arrested a ‘second time’ in January 1984. On pp. 46-47, it says again that he had two arrests, 1981 and 1984, with no mention of how he was released after the first arrest. “As previously noted ... he was arrested a second time in January 1984 by a combined force that included six Vietnamese ‘experts’ from 7708”, as on p. 35. Then he was taken to the prison of Sras Chak. The second arrest is mentioned further on pp. 62, 77-78; and on p. 84 anonymously, “As previously noted”, “A former prisoner” was detained at Sras Chak in January 1984; and he is mentioned again by name on p. 85.

(3) The anonymous case on pp. 40-42, interrogated by a police official named Van Sen, and taken to T-3 for 30 months, is certainly the same as p. 49 “A third witness” arrested in Phnom Penh in September 1980 (and this is noted in the report); and he is also the case on p. 96 arrested in Phnom Penh in September 1980, beaten during interrogation, shackled 6 months in a dark cell in T-3, detained 30 months without legal process.

(4) A case from November 1980, footnote pp. 42-43, “One former prisoner”, who is most likely the person arrested, pp. 60-62, 66, in November 1980; and also the same as the person, p. 93, employed at 17 April hospital until arrest in November 1980. It is apparently the same case as p. 38, anonymous, “One former prisoner from Phnom Penh” confessed opposition activities, but refused to name others and was tortured.

(5) Page 45, Kithan Vath, arrested June 1983 in Siem Reap by Vietnamese, beaten to confess to cooperation with Pol Pot. Also mentioned p. 91, with reasons for arrest.

(6) Pages 45-46, Krin Mon, arrested January 1982, in Siem Reap; also mentioned pp. 115, 168.

(7) Page 46, note, Chou Veth, arrested February 1982, in Mongkolborei; also mentioned p. 115.

(8) Page 48, Prak Savann, arrested 1982 in Bovel, Battambang; also pp. 67, 118.

(9) Page 48, anonymous, arrested August 1981 in Koh Thom, tortured, imprisoned in Saang. He is apparently Hong Saroeun, pp. 64-65, who was first taken to the “city hall at Koh Thom district”, beaten for two days, transferred to a “provincial hall”, tortured there for three days.

Hong Saroeun is mentioned again in note p. 71, arrested August 1981, spent 13 months in a small dark cell in a prison in Kandal province and another 22 months in a big cell there; and he must be the same as, p. 95 “prisoner, who had been a subdistrict chairman in Kandal province ... ’organized against the Yuon by underground elements’ from the KPNLF border bases in 1981’”. He was “detained indefinitely in a succession of prisons until his escape, in June 1984, from Ta Khmav, the Kandal provincial jail ... had spent the first 13 months of his 26 months there in a ‘dark cell’”.

(10) Page 68, Ly Mav, arrested in Pursat in January 1981; “particularly brutal torture”, then shackled confinement. Then on p. 72 Ly Mav was “arrested while trying to escape to the border in 1984”, placed in Bakan district prison in Pursat, “brief, mild period of interrogation”; p. 73 courses of political study in Bakan; p. 77 detained several months in 1984 in Bakan for trying to flee to the western border. He was “not beaten himself”. On p. 91 he was detained 1 1/2 years in Pursat beginning 1981, accused of taking rice to the ‘Pol Pots’, “alleges he was beaten when he refused to confess”.

(11) Page 69, “One prisoner” beaten for “looking at [the guard’s] face too close”; “he ripped open the skin on my chin”; his shirt then covered with blood, accused of hiding it to later prove mistreatment, then shackled and told “would undergo disciplining for ten days”.

(12) Pages 69-70, Ouch Samat, a case mentioned again on pp.90, 156, 157.

(13) Page 86, (hearsay) Peang Chhuth, Battambang; report via Prak Virak, a medic who treated him. Compare also pp. 36, 79.

(14) Pages 103-04, “one prisoner” arrested in Svay in late 1981 because he refused to give a bribe. He had lived in a KPNLF camp for a year, and the soldiers who stopped him asked for 2 of 3 damlung of gold he was carrying. He was trying to reach his family in Kompong Cham. After torture he confessed to being a Sereika agent, and was kept in the main Battambang prison for 7 months, and detained until March 1984.

This is apparently the same case as p. 114, “one former prisoner” went to the border for relief assistance, returned to Svay “for his wife and children in December 1981”, was arrested, accused of being a Sereika agent, kept 7 months in a dark cell followed by 2 years in the Battambang provincial jail. He is also apparently the same person as p. 158 “The other former prisoner who told us he had received a trial” was arrested in Svay, accused of being a Sereika network agent. “When he refused to give the soldiers two of the three damlung of gold” he had.

(15) Page 112, Ngeum Pen (f), captured fleeing west, beaten for 10 days in Svay, jailed for 3 months; also mentioned p.168.

(16) Page 71, Chhien Yon, whose case is mentioned twice more on pp. 84 and 116.

Non-torture cases

These are cases in which the report notes that the person interviewed had not alleged torture, or where the report refers to “one prisoner” reporting on some other matter, without any mention of torture, and that reference cannot be collated with any of the torture cases.

(1) Pages 43-44, Sameth Sim, a medic, was imprisoned June 1980-October 1982 for treating alleged Khmer Serei spies in hospital. He signed a confession for fear of torture, and spent the final year of detention in Kompong Cham province where he received political instruction.

On p. 100 he is described as a medic at the 17 April hospital, arrested June 1980, 3 months after he protested the removal from hospital by Vietnamese soldiers of a wounded Heng Samrin soldier who they said was Khmer Serei. Then he was accused of opposing the Vietnamese, and of taking care of the enemy, and working for the opposition. Fearing torture, he signed a confession and was held in a dark cell for 6 months, altogether 28 months. Page 128 informs us again that he was detained in T-3 during June 1980-October 1982, but did not leave Phnom Penh until June 1984, and did not state that political persecution was the reason for his flight.

(2) Page 64, “One prisoner” was arrested in Svay 29 December 1980, held there 3 days, then 3 days interrogation in Battambang, then sent to the main prison. He is possibly the same “One prisoner”, p. 71, who was detained at TK-1 in Battambang from 1980 until 1982, and who described his work there as digging canals and ponds, and planting fields.

(3) Page 71, “Another prisoner in Battambang from 1982 to 1983, also cited for work description.

(4) Page 72, “A third prisoner” in Battambang, in 1983, described work. (5) “Still another prisoner”, p. 72, in Battambang, 1983-1984, described work.

(6) and (7) Two prisoners who described work conditions in Phnom Penh prison.

(8) Prak Virak, a “41 year-old physician from Takev province”, arrested November 1983 (p. 157); detained for trying to escape to border, gave no report of torture to himself, pp. 36, 73, 79.

(9) Duong Buneng, p. 83, in prison in Phnom Penh 1979-1981, not mentioned in any other context.

(10) “One prisoner” released from Battambang prison in March 1984.

(11) Sao Sun Li, pp. 44, 101, “another medic at the 17 April Hospital”, Phnom Penh, arrested June 1980, “was not beaten”, and he confessed “‘because I heard that anyone who refuses is given only a small amount of rice’“.

Thus of the “dozens” of former prisoners whose experiences were “typified” by one “chilling description” of brutal treatment, the Lawyers have chosen to demonstrate only just under a dozen and a half, plus another short dozen cases deemed reliable who did not allege that they had been tortured.

Does that mean that over 120 of the 150 in-depth interviewees on whose information this report has been based were deemed unreliable? If so, we have a right to be much less sanguine than the Lawyers about the possibility of conducting reliable research into such matters at the border, and the skepticism I expressed about this in my critique of their preliminary report seems more than justified. If some of the apparently non-torture cases listed above were really the same persons whose torture had been noted in other contexts, it would mean that even more of the original interviews had been deemed unreliable.

Four of the stories presented, two claiming torture and two who did not, show cause for skepticism about their reliability; at least more information is required about the interview procedure, and the investigators’ reasons for accepting them.

One of the torture victims, case (2) above, whose story was spaced out over at least six contexts between pages 33 and 85, suffered two arrests, in April 1981 in Prey Veng and in January 1984 in Phnom Penh. The report does not say how long the person was detained either time, nor when or how he was released. This would be particularly interesting information about the first occasion, for it would no doubt reveal something worth knowing about the police or judicial system, and it is a real defect of the report not to have included it.

Or perhaps, as the organization of the details suggests, he told the story of one arrest to Heder and the other to Bonner, and they did not realize there was a problem until the information was collated. If so, the selective revelations should call for caution in accepting the testimony.

A similar case was no. 10, also arrested in 1981 (January) and then again in 1984, the total story similarly spread over several contexts, with no explanation of his release after the first term of incarceration. Interestingly his treatment during the second term of arrest was mild, without torture, even though it was his second arrest after a first term of 1 1/2 years in prison for taking food to enemy troops. This could reasonably be interpreted to mean improvement within the PRK judicial and prison system.

One story of a medical worker who was not tortured deserves attention for another reason (p. 101). He claimed he was accused of “taking care of [the resistance] in the hospital”, which seems suspect, since in a large hospital like the one where he worked in Phnom Penh a medic would have little say in who was admitted, and would treat whoever was assigned him by his superiors. One reason why medics may have been arrested, however, is for engaging in the lucrative resale of medicines, a problem which hospital authorities do not hesitate to admit.

Another medical worker who did not suffer torture also claimed that he was arrested for “treating Khmer Serei spies in the hospital”, “taking care of the enemy”, and being “part of the resistance” (p. 43). In more detail (p. 100), he was treating a wounded soldier brought to the hospital by Khmer soldiers, and he protested when some Vietnamese soldiers came to take the wounded man away, saying he was a spy.

This story is suspect for the same reason: careful control, especially in the military, of entry to hospitals. Other details suggest interviews with two different persons. He is said to have “been imprisoned in Phnom Penh from June 1980 until October 1982” (p. 43), “Altogether ... 28 months” (p. 100), but of his “two years and four months” of detention (p. 44), the last year was at a “correction facility” in Kompong Cham where he received political instruction.

One of the purposes of the Lawyers’ work, in addition to blackening the PRK, was to place as much as possible of the blame on Vietnam, wherever possible making Vietnamese responsible for poor conditions and brutal treatment. One aspect of this was the administrative designation of prisons.

Thus the Lawyers’ preliminary report said a “striking indication of Vietnamese involvement is the designation of several prisons by the letter “T”, followed by a number ... [which] We later learned ... stood for ‘trai’ a conventional Vietnamese communist party term for ‘(prison) camp’”; and they had then heard of T-3, T-4, T-5, located respectively in Phnom Penh, near Phnom Penh, and in Kompong Cham. The last two, they said, were administered by “the Phnom Penh police” and the “Ministry of the Interior”, and the latter was “reportedly guarded by Vietnamese as well as Kampucheans”.

Curiously none of the ex-prisoners knew what ‘T’ stood for, nor did even “recent defectors from the Phnom Penh police force” (‘prelim’, p. 8). Even more curious was that although the largest group of ex-prisoners available for interviews had been imprisoned in Battambang, the preliminary report gave no designation for the prison there.

When I attempted to check on some of the details in February 1985, I found two of the former Battambang detainees who had spoken to the Lawyers’ group. One told me that the Battambang prison had a ‘T’ designation, but that it was ‘TK’, or rather a term pronounced te-ka, for he had never seen it written; and he said that even though the prison had been run at first by Vietnamese, it had been taken over by a Khmer administration in July 1981.

The second man claimed that ‘TK’ was written in large Roman letters over the prison’s front gate, plainly a serious discrepancy, and one casting some doubt on his testimony. At the time I criticized the Lawyers’ account, noting that the authors on different occasions had given conflicting explanations for ‘T’, and that the “‘T’ presentation in the report is extremely shaky”.

When the Lawyers’ final report appeared I was flattered to find that the ‘TK’ detail, included in my first critique to illustrate what I considered inaccurate propaganda, had been taken up by the Lawyers. The first victim mentioned (see above) “was confined at TK-1, the Main prison in Battambang province” (p.38); and he said “that ‘the Vietnamese had named the jail’“, a surprising revelation after the total mystification of the preliminary report. The name, say the Lawyers, ‘possibly’ means “Trai Khu, Vietnamese for ‘Zonal [Prison] Camp’“. Possibly, but the prison in Kompong Cham province, equally ‘zonal’, is ‘T-5’, not ‘TK’.

More new information is the discovery of “a series of five prisons designated by the letter ‘T’ followed by a number from one to five”, not including ‘TK-1’. The location of ‘T-2’ was unknown, although possibly in a suburb of Phnom Penh, while ‘T-1’ “is near the site now known as ‘Tuol Sleng’“, which I learned during a visit to Phnom Penh in May 1986, before seeing the final Lawyers’ report, was the Central Military Prison.

Although some kind of ‘T’ designations may really have existed, the attempt to use them as evidence for Vietnamese misdeeds in Cambodia has misfired, and of the six locations to which ‘T’ or ‘TK’ designations have been attributed, at least five (all but the hypothetical T-2) were by 1985, so far as had been determined even by the Lawyers who no longer emphasize the Vietnamese role, directly under Khmer control.

A final example of the calculated tendentiousness of the Lawyers' work is in their treatment of PRK jurisprudence and judiciary. The PRK is castigated for not having, from the day after its formation, and notwithstanding the very difficult special conditions obtaining in Kampuchea, a complete judicial apparatus manned by fully qualified trained jurists, and based on a law code satisfying all the needs of a modern state.

If the first PRK decrees on torture were concerned with those persons most in danger at the moment, former DK cadres facing vengeance by the population, the Lawyers accuse the PRK of deliberately not making the measures more general in order to facilitate torture of everyone else (pp. 51-53); and when the PRK continues to publicize a policy of leniency designed to encourage return of those who fled to enemy territory, this is interpreted as “necessarily imply[ing] that such abuse is permissible with respect to those not included in the protected category” (54), that is the rest of the population.

The Lawyers refuse even to allow any credit for efforts to improve the situation; and when evidence is presented of punishment for abuse of the population, they insist that it must be exceptional and unworthy of consideration in the general picture of life in the PRK (59).

Amnesty International “File on Torture, Kampuchea (Cambodia)” (1986) The next shot in the apparent joint Lawyers-Amnesty propaganda war against the PRK was a 4-page special “Amnesty International File on Torture” in Kampuchea, issued in September 1986, just in time for maximum potential influence on the annual UN vote on seating Kampuchea.

If it were just an honest Amnesty publication it would not have been justified unless considerable new information, not in the Lawyers’ final report, or the Amnesty annual report, had been discovered, for if Amnesty had merely wished to repeat under its own name and for its own readership, the information which its Kampuchea expert had helped the Lawyers gather, the suitable vehicle would have been the annual report for the year 1985 due out just one month later in October 1986.

No doubt in recognition of this, the “File” made some claim to novelty in its introductory paragraph. Amnesty International “has recently [emphasis added] received reports that people arrested on political grounds who do not admit to allegations made against them have been routinely tortured”.

Most of them requested anonymity, but Amnesty “has information on hundreds of named current or former political detainees, many of whom are reported to have been tortured”, quantitatively just as vague as the Lawyers’ report.

The “File” contains excerpts from undated testimony of six former prisoners who were tortured, and none can with any certainty be identified with any case reported in the Lawyers’ Report. Otherwise the information about interrogation centers, conditions, and methods is identical to the earlier publication, and the additional quantity does not .justify the special publication.

There is moreover reason to doubt that the information was new, and to consider most of it simply rewritten from what the Lawyers had published. Unlike the latter, methods of collection of information are not revealed, and Heder told reliable persons on a trip to Thailand in early 1986 that he had not conducted further research on that subject at the border since the Lawyers’ mission. When I telephoned Heder about the “File” on 29 September 1986 from Thailand, he acknowledged that some of the information was old, but refused more comment than that, claiming that it was all “privileged information”.

Although there are good reasons for Amnesty to protect sources, the deliberate propaganda activity that has emanated from the CGDK at the border prohibits the acceptance of derogatory information about the PRK unless collection by a reliable researcher can be assured. Certainly a western expert has no need to refuse to say whether or not he collected information, unless the goal is obfuscation.

In 1987 an Amnesty representative in Australia who had seen relevant records agreed that the “File” as a whole seemed to be based on information gathered in 1984, and in his opinion one purpose in issuing “File” was to influence the 1986 UN vote.

Amnesty International Report 1986

A look at this annual publication issued in October 1986 to cover events in 128 countries during 1985 reveals why something else was necessary to influence international opinion against Kampuchea.

In their annual report Amnesty were only willing, for the time period covered by the Lawyers’ work in which an Amnesty Kampuchea specialist participated, to express concern “about violations of the human rights of people under the ... (PRK)”, some of whom were reported to have been “imprisoned without trial and tortured or ill-treated” (230).

They had received information corroborating reports of violations of human rights in 1984 and earlier; but for 1985 information available “was insufficient to allow [Amnesty] to ascertain the precise extent to which such human rights violations continued” (231). This would seem to have indicated an apparent improvement of the PRK situation, in spite of the flamboyant performances of the Lawyers - posing a danger of influence on UN opinion in the wrong direction if something else were not produced to distract attention from the annual report.

Moreover, in this regular major publication in which Amnesty puts its credibility on the line, the section on Kampuchea for 1985 appears no worse, perhaps even not so bad, as those for its ASEAN capitalist neighbors, Malaysia (pp.241-2) and Thailand (263-5).

Kampuchea Political Imprisonment and Torture (1987)[510]

This latest effort contains a considerable amount of padding, no doubt reflecting the compilers’ own awareness of their lack of new relevant detail. Pages 14-21 are a summary history of Kampuchea from the Angkor period (10th-14th centuries) to the present, without relevance to the question of PRK prison conditions, and it carefully avoids any historical detail which might help understand conditions today.

There are, however, statements of interest for contemporary historiography. In 1960, (p. 15) “communist leaders ... restructured an underground party organization”, a formulation more in line with historians’ consensus than the founding of a new party at its first congress, the Pol Pot line which journalists like Elizabeth Becker (When the War Was Over, pp. 87,107-8) have taken up and propagated.

Of equal interest is that the files of the Tuol Sleng prison are “now publicly available” for research (p. 17), giving the lie to Elizabeth Becker (Washington Post, 1 March 1983, p. A12) and William Shawcross (New York Review of Books, 10 May 1984, p. 19).

Another 10 pages (24-34) are devoted to description of the offenses categorized in PRK laws on treason, the agencies which according to PRK law have authority to arrest, the role of Vietnamese experts, and the legal provisions for temporary detention for investigation. Unless Amnesty intends to instruct all nations that they must have laws made in London, the comment here is out of place.

Even where the content is relevant to the subject, there is much repetition, large sections of pages 2-4 and 12 are found repeated on, respectively, pages 3940, 37-38, 35, 41, 23, 25, 26, 25, 27, 23.

Still more of the content, even if pertinent, has been seriously twisted to present a biased, rather than objective descriptive picture.

There is too much reliance on allegation. Although since 1986 legislation prohibiting torture exists, “the practice allegedly continues” (p. 3). Such allegations will continue as long as there are factions engaged in war, but if Amnesty does not have a case which it feels credible enough to constitute documentation it has no business repeating such allegations.

The further charge that “no PRK legislation prohibits Kampuchean judicial bodies from considering ‘confessions’ obtained under torture” (p. 3) is mischievous, for PRK legislators no doubt felt that if torture is prohibited, then courts cannot accept results of torture in evidence. Amnesty has no business dwelling on this until there is evidence that PRK courts have tried to use it as a loophole. Amnesty’s legitimate business is chronicling abuses, not telling governments how to draft laws.

Five pages (6, 57-60) discuss “misled persons”, a category resulting from Kampuchea’s recent unusual political experience. The category comprises people who in the confusion of forcible removal from one place to another under DK and then the confusion of 1979 fled to the Thai border or to camps under control of opponents of the PRK, and who now have voluntarily returned to their homes.

By all accounts PRK treatment of such people has been lenient and forgiving of those who worked with the opposition, rather than vengeance against all who did not immediately choose the PRK side in 1979. Amnesty, however, has chosen to represent this attempt to separate enemies from friends and permit the latter to integrate easily into their communities, as improper denial of freedom.

The discussion of the PRK law on treason, which Amnesty prefers to call ‘political offenses’, concludes that it “facilitates imprisoning people for their non-violent political activities” (27), but the law is in fact rather lenient, and not out of line with other countries’ laws on treason, which in itself is a highly subjective category. If Amnesty thinks, as I do, that treason should be decriminalized, they should say so.

A particular example of the effort to discredit the PRK whatever the true situation is in “Amnesty International’s Recommendations” (p.9). They have “urged the PRK ... to investigate reports of torture and to review interrogation and detention procedures ... adopt safeguards against torture which include limits on incommunicado detention, detention only in publicly recognized places, and prompt provision of information about detainee’s whereabouts to relatives and legal counsel”.

In fact, in its new law promulgated in 1986, and to which the report selectively refers (pages 29, 33, 43), the PRK has started to fulfil precisely those recommendations, and as I noted in my article which the directorate of Indochina Issues censored, the new law was prompted in part by realization that there were defects in the previous system, that is they had undertaken “to review interrogation and detention procedures” and found them wanting. Perhaps the new law will prove ineffective, but it is premature for Amnesty to charge the PRK with not doing what they have in fact started to do.

The substance of the report, extracted from all the padding and irrelevancies, is not impressive, particularly given that the only justification for such a special publication would be a deterioration of conditions, or increase in violations, over what was reported in previous Amnesty publications. This is not shown by the report, indeed the detail presented suggests the contrary, that there may have been a significant decrease in ascertainable cases.

In the section on “Sources and Methodology”, the report describes the “main source of information” (11) as Kampucheans who have fled to the camps on the Thai border. The number of credible cases is difficult to determine from the report (remember Heder and the Lawyers in early 1985 claimed 150 full interviews producing 16 credible cases of torture).

On page 2 Amnesty claims to have “received information on more than 160 cases” of torture; page 35 says the “data includes 34 testimonies of torture from former political prisoners and more than 130 reports from other sources”. The latter number is perhaps included, on p. 12, in what is called “recordings or transcripts of some 160 interviews conducted during 1985 and 1986 by researchers not affiliated to Amnesty”, thus not part of the data which went into the Lawyers’ report.

Amnesty, however, “does not cite these interviews”, only “examined the data for corroboration of the primary source information obtained by its own research”, which latter, it would seem, should have been the basis for Amnesty reports. Again, the precise number of cases obtained by Amnesty’s own research is nowhere stated, and on p. 13 we are told that Amnesty “bases its conclusions on a comprehensive synthesis of the data obtained from all sources”.

Interesting is the admission that “a large part of the data [as I indicated above in reference to earlier publications] ... addresses events that occurred in 1984 or earlier”, restated on p.35 as “Most reports of torture, ill-treatment, and deaths in detention documented by Amnesty International detail incidents which occurred between 1979 and 1984”; and for the present Amnesty is only able to say that “most current information available reveals that the organization’s conclusions and concerns have continuing relevance” (p.13), a conclusion much too vague to serve as a basis for condemnation of a country trying to revive from near total destruction in the face of opposition from the world’s most populous and most powerful states.

This vagueness pervades in particular the only quantitative statements about new information. In 1986 (p.11) Amnesty “obtained some 60 testimonies, mostly focused on [emphasis added] PRK human rights practices”. ‘Focused on’, of course, since that was the subject under investigation; but how many of them were allegations of first-hand experience with torture, and of those how many did expert investigators find credible?

Apparently not many, for another context (p. 35) tells us that “Amnesty International has received ... detailed information on the treatment of four political prisoners arrested in 1986, all of whom reportedly suffered torture”, wording which does not suggest that the information came from Amnesty’s own researchers.

Four cases is still less than the six implicitly 1986 cases cited in “File”, and the careful reader may well conclude that with time the reliable evidence for a case against the PRK is tending to diminish.

The “case summaries” at the end (78-82) are no more illuminating. There are 24 cases, of “political prisoners believed to be currently held”, thus not direct testimony gathered by Amnesty investigators. In 20 of the cases torture is alleged, in the other four harsh conditions of imprisonment. All dates of arrest except one in 1986 were before 1984, suggesting again a decrease in arbitrary police measures, rather than an increase which would have justified this report.

One more statistical detail is only amusing. On page 8 PRK tribunals are said to “have sentenced five defendants to death since 1979 ... after trials which apparently lacked internationally recognized safeguards”.

On page 69 it is revealed that two of them were Pol Pot and Ieng Sary, sentenced in absentia in 1979 for genocide. Although one can agree with Amnesty’s call to abolish the death penalty everywhere, this is a cheap shot against a poor victimized country whose record of death sentences, at most five in eight years, is hardly a matter for international condemnation.

On one ancillary point, the new Amnesty report tacitly admits defeat in one of the goals of Heder’s first joint efforts with the Lawyers - pinning blame for PRK prisons on Viet Nam. The new treatment of ‘T’-prison designations indicates that I was probably right when I suggested in 1985 that they were a propaganda gimmick.

Although ‘T3’ is still used for the central prison in Phnom Penh (22, 25, 26, etc.), and there is reliable independent information from Phnom Penh that this is genuine local terminology (although possibly not official), Heder is no longer certain that it is Vietnamese. It may be, but it may equally well be “the Khmer abbreviation ‘Da-3’, which identifies an adjacent lathe works” (51).

On most of the other ‘T’ names the report is strangely silent. The earlier alleged T-4 is just “the other [Phnom Penh]” “reform office” “in Prey Sa” (41); what was two years ago called ‘T-5’ is now simply the “reform office ... located in Trapeang Phlong”, Kompong Cham (22, 41); and the Phnom Penh military prison, which I identified above, is no longer called ‘T-1’ (40-41). The old designation ‘TK-1’ is still attached to the Battambang prison (37, 41, 53,), but there is much less certainty about its attribution - it is “believed to be the designation of Vietnamese security forces” (53), a belief, it would seem, difficult to sustain in view of the fate of the other ‘T’ designations.[511]


Kampuchea Political Imprisonment and Torture is a shoddy piece of pseudoresearch and analysis presented in a manner to give the unwary reader a more negative impression of the PRK than the evidence warrants. The real evidence is that the PRK in 1979 replaced a truly murderous regime with one under which most of the population could start to rebuild normal lives.

During the extremely difficult post-1979 reorganization there were no doubt instances of police activity and judicial practice which would not be acceptable in peacetime conditions in the affluent west, but by even the Amnesty figures the scope of such abuses is small for a country in which modern western legal traditions were never fully developed, and which has been forced to defend itself against ‘contras’ supplied and encouraged by China, the United States and ASEAN.

The real evidence, including that accumulated by Amnesty, shows that the alleged police and judicial abuses have probably decreased since 1984 (that is during the time when the Lawyers and Amnesty have tried to use them to indict the PRK), and that the decrease is directly related to official PRK concern with the problem.

In all fairness the PRK deserves at least cautious commendation, not an Amnesty spanking.

This specious treatment cannot be dismissed as a result of incompetence on the part of the researchers and writers who have worked on the Lawyers’ and Amnesty’s material. Experienced lawyers such as Orentlicher and Abrams must, by their professional training and experience, be expert in the dissection and logical ordering of intractable evidence (of course lawyers are also experts in building a case),

Raymond Bonner has published work on another situation of revolutionary and civil conflict which has won critical praise, and Heder is recognized as expert in eliciting information from Khmer sources and has showed in the past intellectual skills sufficient to secure admission to a Ph.D. program in a major university.

The defects of the Lawyers’ and Amnesty reports are not due to incompetence. They are there because skilled operatives decided to make a case. This is not to attack their sincerity in making the case they did. They may all be convinced that the PRK is the worst possible solution to the problems of Kampuchea, and that all sincere sympathizers with that country should work for its overthrow.

I shall not even try here to argue that their case is mistaken, although I think it is. Such a case, however, should not be smuggled into publications which pretend to be strictly humanitarian efforts to publicize abuses of human rights.

The case-building aspect is most flagrant in the latest work by Amnesty, for the evidence, if examined with any objectivity, shows progress, although slow, within the PRK to improve its legal system and diminish police abuses to the extent that the precarious political and internal security situation permits. Amnesty’s report is a panic reaction to these signs of progress, a last attempt to put derogatory material before the public before it is too late.

Claims by the Lawyers and Amnesty to merely report human rights abuses wherever they may occur without passing comparative judgements on any party, and without needing to consider the historical background or political environment of any situation cannot be accepted.

If there were not at least an ideal standard which was implicitly held up as a model for all to follow, the mere description of cases of imprisonment, interrogation, torture and executions would have no meaning. Covertly, at least, comparison and judgment are inherent in the very idea of an Amnesty report; and the ideal against which the situations reported are compared is the theoretical ideal western liberal capitalist judicial system.

Even though Amnesty’s literature shows failures of western capitalist regimes to live up to their own standards, the claim not to “grade governments according to their records” does not stand up to examination. The ‘grading’ may not be overt. But if it is simply reported that countries X and Y each imprisoned 50 people without trial for non-criminal political reasons in a given year, the two countries are implicitly placed at the same level of relative iniquity.

Yet if this was a sudden new development in country X after years of impeccable judicial conduct, while in country Y the preceding years had seen hundreds of arbitrary incarcerations, secret killings by the armed forces, and a civil war out of which a new government was attempting to restore relatively democratic conditions, the degree of human rights abuse in the two countries should be seen in quite different ways.

Country X merits particular humanitarian concern and special reports to alert the world to what has happened, while the regime in country Y deserves praise and international sympathy, and a special report detailing only its 50 arrests without trial would constitute unfair, politically motivated interference. Comparison and ‘grading’ cannot be avoided in the presentation of such studies, and their denial permits covert political partisanship rather than pure humanitarian concern.

Derogatory Amnesty reports have a much greater political impact on some countries than on others. No matter how much injustice is detailed about the United Kingdom or the United States, it will not affect the recognition of those states by other countries, nor their ability to engage in international trade, to obtain credit, or to impose policies on weaker countries.

For Kampuchea, as the Lawyers and Amnesty are well aware, a negative human rights report may have immediate political, economic, and diplomatic repercussions, and may directly impede the country’s recovery.

The latest Amnesty report on Kampuchea, like the related Lawyers’ Committee reports which preceded it, represents covert grading in the worst sense: to develop an impression contrary to the relatively even-handed presentation of the Amnesty annual reports. It constitutes an attempt to play politics with Kampuchea in a manner which Amnesty’s declared principles would seem to forbid.

This is the end of the original draft written 10 June 1987. I added the material below about later Amnesty material as it was published.

Amnesty Strikes Again (1988)[512]

In a bulletin released in April 1988 Amnesty International has continued its campaign against the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea, taken over from the Lawyers’ Committee. The latest onslaught is entitled “Kampuchea, officially reported political arrests and allegations of torture and arbitrary detention”.[513]

Like Amnesty’s earlier propaganda efforts against Kampuchea, this latest one also utilizes the ad-man technique of starting off with sweeping claims, which are then not backed up when one looks for the supporting details. The earlier work, for example, alleged thousands of cases but then was able to list hardly more than two dozen, not all even certain evidence of atrocities. Ongoing atrocities were claimed, but the evidence was two years old, implicitly suggesting that the situation had improved.

Now Amnesty, the new bulletin says, “has learned of a number of political arrests in Kampuchea during 1987 from official news media reports it received recently. The news media announced “126 arrests in the relatively insecure province of Siem Reap-Utdar Meanchey ... [and] Twenty-two political arrests in Prey Veng province were officially admitted”. In addition, Amnesty “knows of three men seized and detained on political grounds in June 1987 in Kratie province”, but apparently not announced in the PRK media.

Thus, Amnesty claims the PRK authorities have admitted to arresting people on political grounds, suggests there are doubts that the PRK judicial system can permit fair trials, and urges the PRK government to provide more information, and “facilitate regular visits by appropriate international bodies and other independent observers to all places of political detention” (p.2).

When we take a look at what the PRK media actually announced, the situation appears somewhat different. On 2 August 1987 the radio station Voice of the Kampuchean People said “‘126 enemy agents who stealthily provided food supplies to the enemy were arrested’ during the first six months of 1987”.

Not only did the PRK not announce political arrests, but the charges against those arrested were not political in any commonly accepted sense of the word. They were people who during warfare, in an area regularly subject to attacks by the enemies of the government under which they live (“relatively insecure province ... where armed opposition groups of the tripartite Coalition government of Democratic Kampuchea [CGDK] have been active”, in Amnesty’s words [introduction]), were arrested for giving material aid to the enemy. They were not arrested “for their non-violent political beliefs”, Amnesty’s quite reasonable definition of a political prisoner (p.1).

Thus the persons arrested in Siem Reap were charged with providing food supplies to the enemy in what is in fact a combat zone, an activity not usually considered a mere political offense. Amnesty personnel may consider the cause of those 126 to be better than the government cause, and therefore their efforts in favor of the Coalition forces invading Cambodia legitimate, but that is not a legitimate position for Amnesty to take publicly in their reports.

Interestingly Amnesty admits (p. 2) that most of their ‘political prisoners’ are people charged with giving such aid to the enemy in wartime, but they attempt to weasel out of the contradiction by implying that because of “peace talks between PRK premier Hun Sen and Prince Sihanouk and invitations to the presidents of the Partie of Democratic Kampuchea and the KPNLF that they join the talks” it is wrong that “CGDK opposition groups are still officially characterized as ‘traitorous’”.

Amnesty seems to want to rewrite international law to establish that a war ends when the opponents begin to talk about the possibility of ending it. I wonder how successfully French farmers caught giving food to German soldiers in 1918 or 1944 could have appealed to French officers on this ground?

Of course those people arrested for giving aid and comfort to the enemy in wartime deserve fair treatment according to international standards of wartime military justice, but Amnesty has shown no evidence that they have not received that type of fair treatment, and Amnesty’s intervention in this case seems to be no more than an objection to the PRK arresting people working for their overthrow. Such an objection is ideological, is in violation of Amnesty’s own stated principles, and makes them unworthy of the credence which their accusations usually receive.

The other group of 22 arrests is in the same category, and in the end Amnesty can specify only 4 unnamed individuals reportedly arrested on arbitrary grounds and mistreated in 1987.

Amnesty is thus forced to attack the legal and judicial systems of the PRK, to show concern “about the legal competence and political independence of Kampuchea’s judiciary”, and to assert that “the PRK legal system may need to be reformed”, because members of courts “are not required to be properly trained and qualified” (“Summary”). Not a shred of evidence is adduced to show miscarriages of justice which may actually have occurred in those courts.

There can be no doubt that the courts have suffered from lack of trained personnel. As Amnesty well knows, only three legally-trained people returned to work in 1979. Would Amnesty argue that no courts be set up in such a situation, that justice be rendered administratively by other government branches, or that the Vietnamese legal system and personnel be imported wholesale?

A rapid training program was instituted to create a new supply of legal personnel, but the process is certainly not yet complete. This could be a simple reason for the delay in inaugurating a Supreme Court (Page 4) - lack of qualified personnel.

Even if it should be true in these circumstances that “legislation does not specify that tribunal members must have appropriate training or qualifications in law”, resulting in “political trials being conducted by tribunals which are not independent of the government” (page 4), it is not Amnesty’s business to tell nations how to organize their judicial systems in the absence of evidence that trials have resulted in miscarriages of justice.

It would appear that Amnesty is telling Kampuchea that in order to receive Amnesty’s good conduct badge they must adopt a court system like that of Britain or the United States. Perhaps Amnesty is specifically objecting to the appointment of ‘Peoples Assessors’ to court benches, but would they also condemn Sweden for its similar system of trial court organization?

Without offering any evidence that the court system is unjust, Amnesty, abstracting from the adverse conditions in which Kampuchea had to be rebuilt after 1979, arrogantly criticizes the PRK judicial system for being less perfect than courts in the most advanced western countries.

Even the evidence of PRK concern about their own system, and their efforts to improve it, are distorted by Amnesty. The “Summary” page says “In 1987 and again this year government officials have admitted there are imperfections in the legal system and procedures”. This publicly stated concern about their own imperfections is then hypocritically used by Amnesty to suggest that they must be forced to change.

From pages 3 and 5 it appears that the source of that statement was Uk Sary of the Legislative Department of the Ministry of Justice, whom I also met in 1984 and 1986. Uk Sary is one of the 3 persons who returned to legal work in 1979, and his legal career goes back to the Sihanouk period in the 1960s.

His admission “that there was reason for concern about the legal competence” of the judiciary, that “not all judicial personnel have backgrounds in law” (page 3), and “that some legislation had not always been properly implemented” (page 5) represents real glasnost in the context of Kampuchean history since the 1950s. Uk Sary is well aware, and so is Amnesty’s Kampuchea expert, that in the 1960s under Sihanouk such an admission of state deficiency by a state employee would not have been tolerated.

In their report of 1987 Amnesty noted information that police personnel were instructed not to use torture, but that the instructions were reportedly ignored, and further reference to the same matter appears in the April 1988 report (pages ‘Summary’, and 4-5). In the PRK situation there are no doubt police personnel who violate official principles and standing orders, but I dare say that this is the first time in Kampuchea’s history that police are even instructed not to use torture.

If police personnel who survived to 1979 and returned to work were of low quality, they were in a long tradition going back to the French period, when Cambodians were known as trusties and torturers in Indochinese political prisons.[514] Independent Kampuchea inherited such traditions, which were willingly used by Sihanouk and Lon Nol, and are part of the difficult heritage of the PRK.

Rather than the petty carping represented by this 1988 Amnesty report, continuing the style of earlier Amnesty work on Kampuchea, the PRK deserves some praise for the improvement it has wrought under exceedingly difficult circumstances.

This latest Amnesty report is in fact a non-report, for it has scarcely any new information about matters which are the legitimate business of Amnesty, and in this aspect it continues the style of its predecessors which, when read carefully, testify to a steady improvement, at least statistically, in human rights in the PRK following the worst years, apparently 1983-1984.

Because of its lack of new relevant information, the political interventionist character of the 1988 report is even more prominent than in the Lawyers’ and Amnesty reports of 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1987. It was hurriedly thrown together, and sprung on the public just when there seemed to be new moves toward a peaceful negotiated settlement of the Kampuchea conflict.

Of course these signs in early 1988 - Vietnamese announcement of full withdrawal in 1989 or 1990, awareness of the increasing solidity of the PRK, changes in Thai attitudes - all portended survival of the PRK as at least a leading member of any post-settlement coalition. Amnesty, along with China, the United States, and the DK coalition, seems to wish to impede that kind of settlement.

Postscript (1995)

This Amnesty interventionist policy was clear again in a 1989 report, which was launched just when the switch in Thai policy signaled by Prime Minister Chatichai’s invitation to Kampuchean Prime Minister Hun Sen pulled the rug from beneath the DK coalition, and gave further support for PRK survival.

A few years later it appeared that Amnesty had changed its position, or perhaps rather was inadvertently revealing that its policy on Cambodia before 1993 was as politically motivated as I had inferred, and deviated from the usual Amnesty position.

In The Christian Science Monitor Weekly, 15-21 April 1994, “The Problem With M[ost]F[avored]N[ation]”, William F. Schulz, executive director of Amnesty International USA, made some conciliatory and reasonable suggestions concerning pressure on China about Human Rights, insisting that ‘leeway’ should be given for what progress the Chinese were making on their own, quite contrary to the Lawyers’ and Heder’s Amnesty work on Cambodia, to whom however he did not refer.

“Our approach to China”, he said, “must recognize that the Chinese themselves are divided over human rights. Often this division is identified with an ideological split, but it is actually more complex”, and the US focus has “embroiled the US in an internal political struggle between pro- and anticommunist forces, in which the dissidents are a lightning rod”. The “US must show the Chinese government ... that its concerns are identical with many of those expressed by respected ‘mainline’ figures within China itself.

For example, in 1991 an article in the People’s Public Security News condemned torture to extract confessions as “a stubborn illness that has not yet seen a recovery”; and in 1989 a criminologist wrote in the Political and Law Journal, that “There are quite a lot of legal scholars who think that the system of shelter and investigation [a type of detention] should be abolished [because] the Criminal Procedure Law has not given the Public Security organs the authority to exercise this power”.

Building on critiques such as these, Mr. Schulz continued, the US government should press the Chinese to abolish torture because torture is prohibited in Chinese law, and “no government can lose face by enforcing its own laws and international obligations ... Indeed the Chinese government would receive universal acclaim if it were to end this malicious abuse of power by local - often corrupt - police and prison officials [sic!, emphasis added]”.

This is precisely the type of reasoning Amnesty rejected in its work on Cambodia. Had Mr. Schulz been active then, and consistent with his views on China, he would have taken the new PRK law on criminal procedure promulgated in 1986, and the 1988 Kampuchea article on cases pending before the courts as evidence for internal Cambodian pressure to improve human rights which deserved encouragement, not petty carping and contempt.[515]

In Phnom Penh Post I used these statements by Mr. Schulz in an article critical of Amnesty and Heder’s work. Heder’s response was peculiar, saying that the views of a mere executive director like Mr. Schulz did not necessarily represent Amnesty policy, and that “the personal views of one Amnesty official now” were not relevant for judging what Amnesty reported in the 1980s.[516]

Chapter 5: lead-up to the peace process

In 1988 and 1989 the efforts of the anti-PRK Coalition and their backers became more desperate, and their propaganda more intense, as it was ever more certain that their policies were proving sterile. The end of that phase was the Vietnamese withdrawal in 1989, a year before their previous self-imposed deadline, revealing that the PRK was viable on its own.

Following the annual UN vote on Cambodia in 1988 I wrote the first sections of the following article, which has remained unpublished, although elements of it have gone into other published pieces, and I have continued it with some analysis of military affairs into 1989.[517]

Thoughts on Cambodia (1988-1989)[518]

Once again the UN vote on Kampuchea in October 1988 extended the farce that the government of that country sits in a collection of brutal totalitarian (DK-Pol Pot) or equally cruel but anarchic (KPNLF-Son San) camps along the Thai border rather than in the country’s capital Phnom Penh.

One hopes that the comedy will not play as long as the US-sponsored charade from 1949 to 1971 about the government of China residing in Taiwan, while the ‘Peiping Regime’ was relegated to the back of the moon. Recently there have been some hopeful signals that it will not.[519]

According to Kremlinological doctrine actors on the international scene send out more-or-less cryptic signals which those in the know interpret according to their ideological code books. That the interpretations are indeed ideological has never been shown with greater clarity than in the warnings that Gorbachev’s reforms did not change significantly the danger of the Soviet Union for the ‘democratic’ West, unless it was the egregious Angleton’s (James Jesus Angleton of the CIA) conviction that the Sino-Soviet split was a hoax to deceive the ‘Free World’.

The interpretation of the Kampuchea issue which has produced such scandalous votes in the UN is first based on a number of falsifications of the situation within that country, and in the interest of maintaining the hold of such falsifications a number of signals have been studiously ignored.

The propaganda line of the anti-Phnom Penh forces, and their very raison d’etre, depend on the depiction of the PRK as a puppet regime imposed and maintained by a Vietnamese occupation of the country, which is resulting in destruction of Khmer culture, occupation of the land by Vietnamese immigrants, and deprivation for the Khmer people. These extreme views have been propagated most assiduously by the three anti-Phnom Penh Khmer Coalition groups, their ASEAN supporters in Thailand and Singapore, and the US.

China, the Coalition’s other major supporter, has not notably argued those issues, insisting simply that DK is still the legitimate government, illegally overthrown by Vietnam.

Signals tending to undermine this position have flowed out of Phnom Penh for several years, but have been ignored both by enemies of the PRK, and by the major media who pander to them. These signals have consisted in large-scale changes in leading government and party personnel, involving most notably removal of figures with long Vietnamese association and rapid advancement of a younger generation, not only without close Vietnamese contact, but without even a pre-1975 revolutionary or leftist background.[520]

The argument made in anti-PRK circles that in order to be appointed such people would have to be vetted by Hanoi, though no doubt true, is silly if it is intended to deny the significance of the changes and the ‘signals’ they emit. Hanoi could have influenced the changes in other directions or insisted on the maintenance in place of the old Viet Nam veterans, but instead accepted the advancement of an entire generation whose pre-war background was bourgeois and nationalist.[521]

These new people could easily have fled in 1979-1980, and most of them would easily have been accepted for third-country settlement. They have chosen to remain in Kampuchea and to work for the new government because as well- educated Khmer nationalists they consider the PRK to represent the best choice among the currently feasible alternatives.

Since China’s interest in DK, at least since the changes which began in 1976, has been not ideological, but geo-political, linked to the Sino-Soviet dispute, it would be expected that changes in Sino-Soviet relations would be reflected in Chinese policy toward Kampuchea, and that ‘signals’ would be emitted.

An early signal from China, discussed below, was ignored by the international press, and I did not chance on it for over a year. Perhaps the refusal to acknowledge it ‘signals’ to us the refusal of international relations experts to receive ‘signals’ incomepatible with their ideology. The Far Eastern Economic Review, which used to be a fairly reliable repository of Asian news, both mainstream and exotic, was one of the media organs which blocked out this signal, only to let it slip through a year and a half later in an article designed to present a diametrically opposite ideological picture.

That is, in FEER of 9 July 1987, p. 28, Nayan Chanda, who since moving to Washington has transformed himself from a journalist into a mouthpiece for the US State and Defense Departments, placed an article entitled “The Managua Connection”, in which China was linked with Ollie North as part of the secret network to supply the Nicaraguan contras.

Worse, for China, was that “China, like Taiwan, was a partner in the Reagan administration’s anti-Nicaragua policy - but unlike Taipei, Peking profited from its cooperation”. As a “carrot” in the negotiations between North and the Chinese, North said the contras, once in power, would switch recognition to Peking from Taipei, which had been the ‘China’ recognized by Somoza.

All of this took place in 1984. Then, having apparently told North what to do with his carrot, by “late summer of 1985 China suddenly stopped the sales without any explanation”. Down at the end of the third column of the three- column article comes the signal which the Review had refused to report when it was emitted some 18 months earlier.

On 9 December 1985 “it was announced that China had established diplomatic relations with the Sandinista regime”, and had “even offered it US $20 million in aid”, thus accounting for the change of heart on weapons supply to the contras. The Review thinks this was merely China’s “pursuit of its independent foreign policy”, for “Peking has made clear its reservations about Managua’s close links with Moscow”.

Then why choose that moment to make a switch on Nicaragua? No doubt there was supposed to be a signal here that China’s attitude toward Moscow was changing, and, perhaps, a signal that China would change policy on Cambodia too. That is, soon after its own revolution Nicaragua was one of the first countries to recognize PRK Cambodia, on 15 September 1979, and close ties have been maintained through exchanges of visits ever since.[522]

Nicaraguan-Chinese discussions preceding the establishment of relations could not have failed to touch on Cambodia. Presumably the Nicaraguans were satisfied on the subject of China’s intentions toward Cambodia, and would have helped pass signals on to the latter country. Indeed, one of the Nicaraguan delegation to Peking, Henry Ruiz, described then as “member of the National Directorate of the Sandinista National Liberation Front” and leader of a “Nicaraguan party and government delegation” subsequently led a delegation to Phnom Penh at the end of July 1986.[523]

Part of his brief would no doubt have been to inform the Cambodians about impending developments in Nicaraguan-Chinese relations connected with the visit of President Daniel Ortega to Peking in September 1986.

On this trip Ortega first visited India (9-11 September), then China where he arrived on the 11th and stayed until the 14th. During the visit Zhao Ziyang said disputes between Nicaragua and the US should be solved through negotiations, not by force; and Ortega said Nicaragua hoped to expand its economic and diplomatic relations with China. Following China, Ortega went to Pyongyang.

Equally interesting is that just before arriving in Peking for the formalities on 5-9 December 1985, the Nicaraguan delegation led by Foreign Minister Miguel D’Escoto Brockman stopped in Australia on 26 November for meetings with his Australian counterpart Bill Hayden and Prime Minister Bob Hawke. No doubt there also, in one of the capitalist countries which has shown most sympathy toward the PRK, Cambodian affairs were evoked in the discussions and relevant signals communicated.[524]

Of course Chinese policy will not change overnight, and it may be expected that even as slight changes occur public pronouncements will for some time repeat the old lines; but the slightest changes in China, or in Chinese - Soviet relations will be closely watched by Thailand, where sensitivity to signals, real or imagined, is finely honed, and will be reflected in further signals emitted by the Thais.

In May 1987 Thai Foreign Minister Sitthi Savetsila visited the Soviet Union. Then in October it was announced that Army Commander Gen. Chavalit Yong- chaiyudh would visit the Soviet Union in preparation for a later visit by Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda in early 1988. Chavalit’s visit had to be postponed by bad weather, but was rescheduled for mid-November. Such a flurry of visits to Russia by high-level Thai personnel is unprecedented.[525]

Another Thai signal, since a blunder by Chavalit on such a matter is inconceivable, was his statement on 3 November that the Kampuchea problem was a civil war involving “mainly the dispute and fighting between two communist factions in Kampuchea”, a position totally at variance with ASEAN policy, and with the public position of the Thai Foreign Ministry.[526]

Chavalit also added that in a civil war either side has the right to seek foreign assistance, although such foreign intervention “may not necessarily help resolve the conflict”, and therefore a “complete military withdrawal of all foreign forces, especially Vietnamese troops” should be effected. He thus maintained the main ASEAN demand, but with a decidedly original nuance.

Both Bangkok English-language newspapers soon carried editorials criticizing Chavalit’s statements, interestingly the usually more conservative and US-friendly Bangkok Post not until after two days. Although aides to General Chavalit said he had been misquoted, his disavowal was considerably weakened by statements in another context that “prime concern should be given to how to develop the Northeast, and not on military threat from Vietnam” and that “‘Viet Nam wouldn’t have invaded Kampuchea had there been no dissident faction in Phnom Penh’“.[527]

The clear signal for the Thai public is that if a Vietnamese military threat is not of prime concern, Thailand’s current Kampuchea policy is without justification. The second remark, about a dissident faction in Phnom Penh during the DK period, reiterates in other words the view of the Kampuchea problem as a civil war.

Certainly no accident either was the simultaneous announcement that the Thai government had given permission for the “Soviet Union to bring in ships, including hydrographic, supply and navy vessels, for repair in Thailand”, the “first time that Thailand has granted permission on a permanent basis to a socialist country to repair its ships here”; something which has now occurred, according to the Foreign Ministry, “at a time when Thailand is more open to the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc countries”.

Negotiations toward this seem to have taken place during Siddhi’s May visit to Moscow, where an agreement was signed to set up a joint Thai-Soviet trade commission; and it followed a policy statement last December in which Siddhi said “Thailand would seek expanded economic ties with all countries ‘irrespective of differences in ideology and political and economic system’”.[528] There may be still another signal here, for in January 1987, “presumably under US pressure”, the Philippine government reversed a previous decision to allow Soviet merchant ships to be repaired in government shipyards.

Because of the secrecy surrounding all aspects of the conflict on all sides, and the tendentious news, if not outright disinformation indulged in, the student of current Cambodian affairs will often go astray using journalistic techniques of questioning participants or informed sources, and must resort to the academic historians’ techniques of analyzing - reading between the lines of recalcitrant documents or statements.

A case in point is the number of Vietnamese troops in Cambodia after 1979, and their partial withdrawals announced starting in 1982. It is a particularly interesting example of collaboration in disinformation between the US regime and the journalistic community which I have discussed in detail in Cambodia: A Political Survey, pp. 20-30.

As part of the 1988-1989 anti-PRK propaganda, a certain Dr. Esmeralda Luciolli of Medecins Sans Frontieres published a book called Le mur de bambou [‘the bamboo wall’], Editions Regine Deforges, Paris 1988. Expecting, because of the Medecins Sans Frontieres connection, that it would be very influential in western milieus concerned with Cambodia, I immediately produced a review in January-March 1989. I never offered it for publication, however, for, contrary to my expectations, Luciolli’s book did not take off. Rather, it was ignored by the mainstream press, and my review would only have given it publicity which it could not acquire on its own.

Only in 1995 did I find an appropriate occasion to present most of the content of the review in a letter to the Phnom Penh Post in answer to another contribution which had recommended Le mur de bambou as a valuable study of Cambodia. In what follows there are also comments inserted relative to post-1989 developments.[529]

Review of Le Mur de Bambou (1989)[530]

I feel compelled to write, as Soizick Crochet began her scolding of Chantou Boua, whose article I missed, but with whose views of PRK Cambodia I have been familiar (and which I largely share) since travelling with her and three others on my first post-DK trip to Cambodia in 1981.[531]

Crochet’s comments follow very closely the themes of Le mur de bambou, by Esmeralda Luciolli, and recommended by Crochet, a book which I thought had been deservedly forgotten, but about which Phnom Penh Post readers should now be warned. The warning should now, in 1995, be extended to a wider circle, since the current journalistic and semi-scholarly fashion is to revive the negative picture of the PRK.

Le mur de bambou (‘the bamboo wall’) is a peculiarly vicious book purveying a certain number of lies about the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), many apocryphal anecdotes which might be true but are unacceptable without more precision of time and place, some truths which, apparently unknown to the author, represent continuity from the pre-1975 Cambodia which she professes to wish restored, and some less trivial accurate information about the present[1989] which, however, has been torn dramatically out of context in order to suggest situations which are not true.

The author, a doctor who worked in Cambodia for 15 months in 1984-1985, apparently blames the PRK exclusively for all the difficulties of life in Cambodia, as though there were no economic blockade by major western powers, no hostility by Southeast Asian neighbors, and no danger of attack from the rival Cambodian enemy forces armed and supported by them. The picture presented also demands that the reader bracket out the violent revolution of 1975-1979, and the war of the preceding 5 years.

Implicitly the only thing preventing a normal happy bourgeois life-style for all Cambodians is the malevolence and mischievousness of the PRK leadership. Indeed Luciolli explicitly charges the PRK with exaggerating the damage done by the Pol Pot regime. The “new regime attributes all responsibility to the person of Pol Pot, crystallizing around this name the very idea of evil” (138).

This is true, but the author shows her basic ignorance of Cambodia in falling victim to the same misapprehension in her (false) charge that the National Museum, “it seems”, possesses a “limited number of art objects since 1975 because of destruction caused by the Khmer Rouge” (179); or in her repetition of the canard that “forced marriages were frequent, in particular [emphasis added] between Khmer Rouge soldiers, sometimes invalids, and young women of the ‘new people’“ (182).

In fact, the exhibits on view in the Museum are virtually unchanged from before 1975, with only very few minor pieces missing; and as I have shown elsewhere marriages between Pol Pot soldiers and ‘new people’ were explicitly forbidden by DK policy, and extremely rare.[532]

Luciolli’s ideological standpoint is anti-communist, which implies approval of private business and a free market; but while acknowledging that considerable market freedom prevails, she charges the state with complicity in the economic inequalities which have inevitably arisen therefrom. Similarly there is strong criticism of alleged inequalities between cadres and ordinary citizens and privileges of the former, an unjustified criticism, for PRK policy, and practice, successfully minimized the social distances which had been part of old Cambodian culture.[533]

Nevertheless, and defying consistency, Luciolli, like a true child of the petty bourgeoisie, cannot bear the sight of cadres, that is intellectuals, professionals, or white-collar workers, being obliged to spend weeks or months at a time working at the grass roots, dressed like the citizens among whom they are working and in whom they are supposed to imbue new ideals (160-61).

The regime is abused for the rough health conditions in which civilians drafted for defense work must live (105-10, 114-5), which is factually accurate, but there is equal criticism for sending medical teams to the work sites to attempt to cope with the health problems (110-11, 150).[534]

In Luciolli’s view the PRK is by definition wrong whatever it does, even if the measures concerned would be considered normal, or laudable, anywhere else in the world. The state insists on doing such horrible things as collecting taxes from merchants and shopkeepers (73-75), and conscripting young men to defend the country when the Vietnamese troops have gone.

Interesting here is Luciolli’s claim, on the basis of hearsay, that the PRK army is 70,000 strong, larger than the usual western estimates, and intended by her as condemnation, a sign of oppression, rather than as evidence that the country may be able to handle its own defence (128).

Having observed that traditional music is very popular, with tapes recopied from those circulating in border camps openly on sale, Luciolli opines that “the authorities close their eyes”, since it seems inconceivable for her that the PRK would desire the preservation of traditional music (183).

She is forced into this position because of the lie that the traditional classical ballet was terminated (179), and that in the Beaux-Arts School traditional art must give way to “production of works which conform to the party line ... especially paintings illustrating the liberation of Kampuchea by the Vietnamese” (179). Here Luciolli adds one of her clever little truths which projects a lie - ”the only vestiges of tradition [are] paintings of Angkor Wat or apsaras, and some landscapes of the Cambodian countryside.”

What does she think Beaux-Arts students traditionally produced before 1975? Precisely paintings of Angkor Wat, legendary celestial maidens, and idealized rural landscapes; and today[1989], as in 1984 when Luciolli visited the place, the Beaux-Arts salesroom is stuffed with such traditional work to the extent that party-line illustrations would be hard to find.

There is some truth in “parties and dancing are considered inappropriate”, which contrasts with the refugee camps where there is often “dancing all night long for marriages and festivals”; and she heard somewhere the lament, “‘you know, before we danced a lot in Cambodia, but now ...’” (181-2).

What is required here is first the reminder that in the non-Pol Pot refugee camps which Luciolli saw, few have to get up and go to work the next day, and in Phnom Penh there is a 9 P.M. curfew imposed because of danger of attack or sabotage by enemies supported by the refugee camp organization. Otherwise even the most casual visitor to Phnom Penh who was not totally blind could see that marriage festivals at least are not at all ‘inappropriate’ and are celebrated in the same way as before 1975.

As for dancing, there was a lot of it in the good old days, but not husbands with wives or young men and women of the same social stratum. Men went to night clubs where they danced with ‘taxi girls’, and at private functions girls from the nearest brothel were brought in to dance with male guests, while wives observed decorously from the sidelines.

It is perhaps such pre-socialist habits of the ‘traditional culture’ which have made the present regime uneasy about dancing, whereas in Luciolli’s favorite border camps the first institutions of the old society to be established after 1979 were officers’ clubs and brothels.

It is of course impossible to ignore the valiant efforts made to rebuild an educational system since 1979, and the facts are set forth accurately enough, but for Esmeralda it is only because “the Heng Samrin government recognized the revolutionary usefulness of schools” (193). If “in principle schooling is free ... parents are constantly asked for contributions” for registration, exams, books, and equipment (196). Well, if so, this is just like the Sihanouk days for which Esmeralda yearns; and indeed it is overt policy, quite reasonable in prevailing circumstances, that local communities contribute toward construction and equipment of schools.

According to Luciolli, “reading texts are ‘adapted’ to socialism’, the vocabulary of the old regimes of Lon Nol and Sihanouk is banned in favor of revolutionary language, and teachers must use the official terms, the same as under the Khmer Rouge” (198). Unless Luciolli can give precise illustrations, which she has not done, these statements can be dismissed as the most arrant nonsense. I also heard such things in the refugee camps in 1980, but then took the trouble to check them out.

The Ministry of Education since 1979 has been firmly in the hands of pre- 1975 professional pedagogues, the school syllabus is very traditional and nationalist, reading texts are in general the same as in the old days, and to the extent that there have been linguistic innovations they are along lines developed before 1975 by a group of Khmerizing nationalist educationists (the Khemarayeanakam movement), most of whom perished under Pol Pot.

But Luciolli’s intentions are made transparent by her complaint that the high moral standards demanded of school teachers represent oppression by the regime (197-8).

Perhaps a key to Luciolli’s assault on PRK education, and to her attitude in general is “[f]ormerly classes were organized as in France, from twelfth [lowest] to [ ... third, second, first, and] terminal [end of lycee] ... [t]oday it is the school system of Viet Nam which serves as model and primary school has four levels [numbered 1 to 4]” (193). What horrors! The French system turned upside down; and this is presented seriously as an example of ‘silent ethnocide’, with credit for the term going to Marie Martin.[535]

Is this Esmeralda’s only problem, a rage that Kampucheans wish to be Khmer (for the final product differs significantly from Vietnam, as from France), not brown Frenchmen?

There is less factual accuracy in her treatment of foreign language instruction, and again the facts which survive are reconstructed to support a false impression. Language instruction “is generally limited to ... Vietnamese, taught in secondary and higher [levels]”, an inaccurate rendering, but made a bit truer with the additional remark, “but ... not always ... for lack of teachers”, a statement true in itself. Still further on she says “study of other languages is limited to Russian, German, and Spanish (199).

The true situation in 1984-1985 when Luciolli was in Cambodia, and when I was able to check the details on the spot, was that no foreign languages were yet taught in secondary schools, although Russian, German, Vietnamese, and Spanish, in that order, were formally in the curriculum, and the reason given for absence of instruction in all of them was lack of teachers. At a higher level, all 4 languages were taught in the Language School which trained interpreters and prepared students for university studies abroad.[536]

It was true until 1985, as she writes, that no history courses as such were taught, but the reason was not that Vietnamese advisers refused to allow the use of French and English sources, for the new textbooks which are now (since 1986) in use treat Cambodian history in a very traditionalist manner. Indeed members of the history textbook preparation committee told me in November 1988 that they had relied mainly on George Coedes, Adhemard Leclere, and Madelaine Giteau, just as pre-revolutionary school books did.

There is a difference, however, in the lesser emphasis on the accomplishments of royalty, and in attention to examples of inter-Indochina friendship, rather than the chauvinist prejudice which permeated pre-1975 education.

According to Luciolli French and English were ‘forbidden’ until 1985 (199), and it is true that they were not included in the secondary school curriculum, although private instruction was widespread and as Esmeralda in another context (66) acknowledges, by 1984, at least, tacitly encouraged by the state. Esmeralda’s description of the use of French in the Medical School, however, is the opposite of the truth.

In 1985, she says, French was finally authorized, but only for first-year medical students, a concession obtained after years of negotiations in which the Vietnamese advisers tried to insist on their language for teaching. Although all medical books in Cambodia are in French, she remarks, and this is true, “up to 1985 beginning students did not speak a word of that language”, a typical Luciollian quasi-truth (199).

The Medical School, which was spared serious damage during DK, was the first tertiary institution to reopen, almost immediately after the formation of the PRK in 1979. While hypothetical beginning students without any previous medical study might not have known French, the first medical students who resumed study again were survivors of the last pre-1975 classes, all of whom had the experience of studying medicine in French and who were familiar with the French textbooks which had also survived.

Because of this, the medical teachers sent from Viet Nam were also chosen from among the older generation for their knowledge of French, or where insufficient Francophones were available, French-speaking interpreters were provided for communication with the Kampuchean students.[537] As time goes on, however, the French-speaking groups on both sides will tend to disappear, and a new solution must be found.

Luciolli is correct in describing the low level of health care prevailing in Cambodia (239-260), but prefers to blame it on PRK malevolence rather than objective conditions. An interesting example of her perversity starts, as so often, with a truth, at least sort of.

When medical training was revived in 1979 the surviving doctors and administrators tried to “reproduce the only model they knew, medical care modeled on that of France thirty years ago”, that is the “training of numerous doctors rather than basic health care personnel, following the practice of occidental countries”, whereas what was needed in Cambodia was to “develop basic health care, hygiene, and preventive medicine”.

What she does not tell the reader is that to the extent the practices she approves were finally adopted, it was due to the Vietnamese influence in the medical school, which she castigated above, and which was resisted at first by Cambodian personnel simply because it was Vietnamese.

Or, because it reminded the former urban bourgeoisie of DK medical theory. When I was working in the Khao-I-Dang refugee camp in 1980, where health care was dominated by western aid organizations who emphasized prevention, hygiene and simple basic remedies over exotic medicines and complex treatments for conditions which should have been prevented, their efforts were often little appreciated by former Phnom Penhites addicted to “medical care modeled on that of France thirty years ago”.

Luciolli particularly condemns the time lost to political indoctrination of medical personnel, apparently without realizing, or refusing to recognize, that the changes in outlook which she acknowledges necessary are not strictly medical, but social and political, requiring ideological reindoctrination to make the medical reindoctrination acceptable.

Most observers have reacted positively to the full integration of the Islamic Cham minority into Kampuchean society after the abuse directed at them by DK and the prejudice against them in earlier times, but Luciolli manages to find fault with this too, because it demonstrates “in fact that the present government has chosen to encourage ethnic particularism, and moreover by means of it, divisiveness and resentment by certain groups against the Khmer majority” (191).

Why the PRK government, a group of Khmers, should want to encourage ethnic hostility against themselves, is beyond comprehension; but perhaps Luciolli is trying to encourage an impression that the PRK is not Khmer, something she dare no longer say, for by now it would so obviously be a lie.

But consistency is not Luciolli’s strong point, and on the next page she concludes on the subject of ethnicity that “recuperation of culture and religion [have been] for the benefit of imported ideological stereotypes” (liberalism toward the Cham?, divisiveness?), and this is “a way to destroy Khmer identity as surely as its prohibition ... like a [again the term] ‘silent ethnocide’“ (192).

Luciolli’s chapter on internal security, police and prisons (211-38) does less violence to objectivity than the foregoing. There is no doubt that prison conditions were poor and police behavior not up to standards in the most advanced countries of Europe. Some people were arrested capriciously, some tortured, and some kept incarcerated arbitrarily without due process of law. But again,

Luciolli brackets out the particular Cambodian conditions which led to those circumstances - a history of anti-democratic and arbitrary police measures under the French, Sihanouk’s dictatorial regime, Lon Nol’s military justice, and the exile or disappearance of nearly all legally trained personnel by 1979; in addition to which the PRK has had to operate under wartime conditions, a circumstance which usually leads to suspension of legal and human rights anywhere in the world.[538]

Probably the years 1984-85, the period with which Luciolli is familiar, were the worst. Since then the PRK itself has become concerned about the defects of its legal and police systems, and has made significant efforts to remedy the defects, something which Luciolli’s sources among the KPNLF and Sihanoukists would not have told her.

But even when telling the truth, grosso modo, Luciolli does not help her case by quoting a named informant who told her stories quite different from what he reported to the Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights. Sim Samith, a hospital medical worker, claimed to Luciolli that he was beaten to make him reveal subversive meetings he had attended and contacts with foreigners (218-9), while he had told the Lawyers that he had been arrested for allegedly giving treatment to enemy soldiers in the PRK government hospital in which he worked, a quite implausible story, and that he had not been tortured.[539]

Luciolli and Crochet speak as neo-colonialists in denying Cambodia the right to decide on admission of foreign organizations and to define the scope of their activities, and in her horror that the PRK did not at least allow foreign NGOs to take over Cambodia’s educational and health services. In this she seems to have been encouraged by border-camp francophile FUNCINPEC-ists, from whom much of Luciolli’s, at least, information was derived.

In 1990 I found another opportunity for a positive contribution defending the PRK against the charges of deculturalization and forced Vietnamization spread by Luciolli. The following article appeared in the journal Cultural Survival Quarterly.

Cultural survival in language and literature in the State of Cambodia (1990)[540]

The Khmer language enjoys the longest actively flourishing written record of any Southeast Asian language; in hundreds of stone inscriptions from the 7th to early 14th centuries, more inscriptions during the 16th-18th centuries, and then written works in all genres in the 19th-20th centuries.[541]

Most of the content of the inscriptions is political, administrative and economic, not literary, and works of literature that can be dated earlier than the 19th century are extremely rare. A history of the language, however, is there whatever the subject matter.

Even though they could no longer read the old inscriptions, Cambodians have always been conscious that they had a long written tradition, to the extent that language came to epitomize national life and culture. Any perceived or imagined threat to Khmer language was a threat to the very roots of their Khmer existence. Although arising in a very different milieu, Khmer language romanticism is very much like that of Eastern Europe.

The school system established by the French emphasized the language of the colonizers. French instruction began in primary school, all higher secondary [Lycee ] education was in French; and Khmerization of education was a constant demand of nationalists from the 1940s.

Perhaps the first modern urban protest movement against the French occurred in 1943 when their attempt to impose romanization on written Khmer met mass passive resistance and had to be abandoned, and the first modern political movement under So’n Ngoc Thanh gave prominence to the language issue in its newspaper Nagaravatta (‘Angkor Wat’), the first independent Khmer-language newspaper, which appeared between 1936 and 1942.

Nevertheless, French education was so effective among the elite that many of them could not express themselves with equal facility in Khmer, and even after the administration had been officially Khmerized in the 1960s many official documents were circulated in French, or at least first composed in French and then translated. French was still essential for a successful administrative career above the lowest levels, and in fact represented a barrier against individuals of poor or rural origins who had been unable to acquire it.[542]

Traditional literature, apart from works of a mainly religious or didactic nature, took the form of long romances in verse recounting the adventures of royalty and high officials, with a strong admixture of the supernatural. Often they were adaptations of themes current also in Thai (or perhaps the Thai adapted them from the Khmer), and some were local versions of originally Indian tales like the Ramayana, the Khmer version of which, Reamker, may be the oldest extant Khmer literary work, ascribed to the 17th century.

Perhaps the most widely read of these verse tales, however, is the one which was thoroughly permeated with realism, Tum Teav, of which there are different versions composed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With powerful language it interweaves the very modern themes of passionate love, and moreover between a young monk and a girl of the rural elite, parental ambition and greed, official brutality, royal arbitrariness, and, as in all Khmer classical literature, Buddhist ideas of fatality.

Because of the morally ambiguous nature of royalty and officialdom which it portrays, Tum Teav in the 1950s and 1960s became a vehicle for progressive commentaries which were taken by Sihanouk to be anti-royalist, and by the mid- 1960s any article featuring this classic was guaranteed to bring on closure of the offending newspaper, if not also prosecution of the writers.

After World War II, along with the various groups working for independence, there emerged a lively coterie of new prose writers offering short stories and novels on contemporary social themes, although occasionally set in traditional, even medieval surroundings.

In general their social positions were modernizing and their political views ‘progressive’, which although tolerated, sometimes even admired, by the French in Cambodia, proved to be too strong for Sihanouk; after independence in 195354 and the consolidation of Sihanouk’s power in 1955 official displeasure, even censorship and harassment, contributed to a gradual decline in the quality of contemporary literary production.[543]

There was a brief revival during the first year of the Lon Nol regime after Sihanouk’s overthrow, but then the adoption by Lon Nol of similar dictatorial tendencies combined with the tensions inherent in Phnom Penh’s wartime situation was not conducive to intellectual production. And after the war ended in 1975 there were four years in which all literary activity, and even most basic schooling, was curtailed.

After the near-total interruption of education, publication and literacy under DK (1975-1979), schooling had to start again from zero; from the beginning noteworthy attention has been given to the revival and development of Khmer language and literature, both within the new school system, and in the press. This concern with the national language, which is also the mother tongue of the overwhelming majority of the population, continues the linguistic theme within Khmer nationalism before 1970, and the PRK (SOC) leaders, in their language policy, are true heirs of those predecessors.

Because of the sensitivity of language for the Khmer, in the conditions prevailing right after the change of regime in 1979 it was an area in which particularly pernicious disinformation could be spread. Displaced or exiled Khmer were all too ready to believe the worst, and it was very difficult for nonKhmer outsiders to check on rumor and fact. The enemies of the PRK eagerly informed the world that the new government under Vietnamese influence was trying to wipe out Khmer culture and replace that language with Vietnamese.

As late as 1986, when there was no lack of evidence that it was patently untrue, Elizabeth Becker still claimed that “Vietnamese is becoming the second language in government offices”, and two years later Esmeralda Luciolli was asserting that foreign language instruction was generally limited to Vietnamese.[544]

Even when Vietnamese influence was not emphasized there were assertions that true Khmer was losing out to a Pol Pot jargon which did not represent the genuine language and was hardly comprehensible. Elizabeth Becker was led by her informants to believe that the Tuol Sleng prison records were written in a ‘Khmer Rouge’ language the translation of which “is nearly impossible for most Cambodians”, for “it requires a knowledge of the new vocabulary introduced by the Khmer Rouge once they came to power ... and phrases the Khmer Rouge used among themselves”.[545]

This ‘communist’ Khmer had allegedly been adopted by the PRK, and was adulterating and supplanting the pure pre-revolutionary Khmer.[546] In fact, the Tuol Sleng documents are written in straightforward Khmer which any literate Cambodian can understand, with some new vocabulary for political concepts which were not current outside of leftist circles before 1975, but which everyone who lived through the DK period learned.

The deficiencies faced in 1979 included dilapidated buildings and missing books, but the most serious was lack of teachers, for of the approximately 25,000 active before 1975 only about 7000 reappeared in 1979, and in 1984 only 5000 of those worked for the Ministry of Education.

Since 1979 the Ministry of Education has been in the hands of professional teachers, trained before 1970, and who were not associated before 1979 with any revolutionary faction. By 1984 new primary teachers had been trained in adequate numbers, and school enrollment was comparable to the best pre-war years.

Tertiary education has been limited. Of previously existing institutions, the Faculty of Medicine and Pharmacy was reopened at the end of 1979, and the Kampuchea-Soviet Technological Institute in 1981. Other branches which combine secondary and tertiary level training are teacher training institutions and the Language School, where instruction was provided for interpreters and students going abroad in Russian, German, Spanish, and Vietnamese, and since 1989 in English and French. Until 1988 all other tertiary education depended on sending students abroad and several thousand have been sent since 1979, most to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

The school syllabus is quite traditional, with more time devoted to Khmer language and literature than previously, with no foreign language instruction below high school.

The last point requires emphasis because of the persistent propaganda about Vietnamization of Cambodian schools and the imposition of that language on Khmer students. Information elicited at all levels in visits to Cambodia in 1981, 1984, 1986, and 1988, from Education Minister Pen Navuth, to school teachers at work, and in private from students and parents met in chance encounters, confirmed the total falsity of this charge.[547]

The secondary level syllabus, as would be expected, calls for 4 hours of foreign language instruction per week, in Russian, German, or Vietnamese, in that order, but before 1986 it had not been implemented because of lack of teachers.

As in all cultures linguistic changes have occurred over time, and in Cambodia they were perhaps accelerated by the social and political upheavals of the 1970s. One change which has carried over from Democratic Kampuchea to the PRK, and which was also noticeable among refugees in Thailand, is the nearly universal substitution of simple verbs of action for a panoply of socially graded terms, such as the adoption of a term for ‘eat’ which used to be considered rude in place of separate verbs for eating by higher or lower class adults, children, or animals.

In this respect Khmer now resembles western languages such as English. In spite of its DK background, this development seems to have found its own roots among the post-DK population, and the former gradations are unlikely to be widely readopted, except for terms referring to Buddhist monks.

A new political vocabulary is developing, however, and in part it reflects another interesting linguistic change grounded in a deliberate policy set in motion by pre-1970 intellectual leaders. It requires a certain amount of reeducation for older generations, and its origin has been wrongly attributed to Democratic Kampuchea, but in fact it has a solid nationalist pedigree and represents a type of re-Khmerization after centuries of gradual modification under the influence of neighboring languages, in particular Thai.

The new policy is the insistent and emphatic use of the common Khmer and Mon-Khmer procedure of infixation, insertion of elements in the middle of words, in order to expand meanings or form one category of term from another, such as nouns from verbs. A simple example is kit ‘to think’, komnit ‘thought’ (noun).

Probably the best-known new example of the procedure is the term for ‘report’ (noun), which rapidly achieved wide currency during the DK years. The old term was sechkdei reayka, literally ‘matter [of/for] to report’; while the new term is robayka, with insertion of the infix b.

In the current press there are literally dozens, perhaps scores or hundreds of newly infixed terms, some of them disconcerting at first sight, but the practice is not of ‘Pol Potist’, or even leftist, inspiration, but began in the 1960s as a means of enriching the language and providing new terms for an educational system which was just beginning to adopt Khmer in place of French for all subjects.

As described by the best-known Cambodian linguist, Saveros Lewitz [Pou], the grammatical procedure of infixation always remained part of the living Khmer language, even though it was not favored by Cambodian scholars strongly influenced by Pali studies or French, and was denied as a still active procedure by several foreign linguists.[548]

As Lewitz insisted, and as I can attest from my own experience in learning Khmer in a Cambodian milieu, infixation has always been a living aspect of the language. In 1967 it was given new intellectual emphasis when “it was decided to extend the [official] use of Cambodian beyond administrative affairs and make it the general language of education”, in place of French which until then had dominated most secondary education, and played a considerable role in primary.[549]

A committee was established to “systematize the creation of new words”, and the results were published in a new journal called Khemarayeanakam, which means literally ‘making the Khmer language a vehicle’. As Lewitz wrote, the committee, dominated by younger Khmer nationalist intellectuals, favored native Khmer linguistic procedures, in particular infixation, to form new terms for subjects, such as sciences and mathematics, which had never been taught in Khmer, instead of terms based on Sanskrit or Pali, “which had always been the case”.[550]

Of course the new political terminology which was developing in politically conscious circles in the 1960s, and which was continued under DK, also followed these procedures; and the ideals of Khemarayeanakam, under the direction of some of its original participants, have been incorporated in the PRK educational system.[551]

With respect to Khmer language, then, state policy within Cambodia has been a continuation of Khmer nationalist trends begun in the 1960s, and the Ministry of Education is under the supervision of some of the people active in the movement before 1970. In addition to Minister of Education Pen Navuth, another prominent pedagogue is Sar Kapoun, author of a popular novel of the 1950s, Dechu kraham, ‘The Red Dechu’ [a traditional rank title], which dealt with a nationalist theme in a medieval setting.

The literature textbooks which I have seen for grades 5-8 suggest that the classical verse romances are not being emphasized, no doubt because of their royalist bias and emphasis on the supernatural, although other types of verse are well represented. Among the traditional genres much attention is given to ‘folk’ literature, particularly the corpus known as “Ancient Tales”, with emphasis on their social content,[552] and the collections known as Cbap, compilations of moral instructions, are also featured. As would be expected, Tum Teav has been reprinted, and teachers will be free to draw anti-royal inferences from it without hindrance.

Since the textbooks on which I have based these remarks were published when the PRK was still insisting on its goal of eventual socialism, the moral and social lessons drawn from literature tended to emphasize class struggle, and the victory of workers and peasants over capitalists, bourgeois, and feudalists. And of course problems of class inequality, conflict and injustice were ever present in the lives of Cambodian writers of whatever epoch.

The explicit lesson of much of the old literature, however, was the futility of struggling against fate, determined in the Buddhist manner as the accumulation of merit or non-merit in this and previous lives. One should accommodate to an invidious class position, not struggle against it; and the PRK project of using such works to encourage a spirit of class struggle and socialist progress would seem to represent a kind of deconstruction. It should perhaps be remarked that to the extent foreign socialist influence appears in these textbooks it is more Soviet and East European than Vietnamese.[553]

In addition to formal education in Khmer language and literature, the press plays an important role in the dissemination of new vocabulary, and as a vehicle for encouraging new writers.

Four Khmer-language newspapers are published in Cambodia: Kampuchea, organ of the Solidarity Front for Construction and Defence of the Motherland, and Kong toap padivat (‘Revolutionary Army’) both began in 1979; Phnom Penh, published by the Phnom Penh municipality, first appeared in 1980; and the Peoples Revolutionary Party has issued its own newspaper Pracheachon since October 1985. All of them began as weeklies. Kampuchea and Revolutionary Army have maintained that schedule, the former with a 16-page tabloid format; Phnom Penh increased to twice weekly in 1986, and Pracheachon to thrice weekly, but each with 4 pages only.

The important newspaper, in terms of general culture and language, is Kampuchea, under its energetic editor Khieu Kanharit, one of the pre-war intellectuals now prominent in Cambodia. Most issues contain an ongoing serial novel or short story by a local author, a Khmer translation of some contemporary foreign novel, and a page of poetry sent in by readers.

There are also frequent articles of general, not political, interest about Cambodia - the temples at Angkor, the non-Khmer tribal areas in the northeast, and descriptions of daily life, development of schools, living conditions in provinces distant from Phnom Penh, most written by Khieu Kanharit after his own visits to the areas concerned. If the army and party papers are mainly of interest to people concerned with military affairs and politics, Kampuchea quite literally has something for everyone, encouraging interest in reading while acquainting the readers with new technical and intellectual vocabulary which many of them may not have encountered in pre-1970 schools.

Although foreign languages were not introduced into schools until after 1986, they are essential in any small country such as Cambodia with a language not known elsewhere. The choices of foreign language for school instruction have been in relation to those countries which are politically important for the PRK, and also those which have provided aid in its development, including aid for the reconstruction of the educational system. This meant at first Russian and Vietnamese, although German and Spanish were also officially in the syllabus from the beginning.

Vietnamese educational aid was particularly important in teacher training and in the Medical Faculty, because of the common French language which the older generation of Vietnamese pedagogues and doctors shared with surviving Khmer teachers and medical students, and Vietnamese influence in the Medical School was apparently crucial in reorienting Cambodian medicine in accordance with modern principles.[554]

In the first years after 1979 all textbook printing had to be done in Viet Nam because there were no functioning presses in Cambodia.

Beginning in 1989 English and French were added to the official curriculum, although private instruction had been tolerated and even tacitly encouraged for years. Probably now these languages will be the most popular, but will not again assume the dominant role of French before 1970. The policies followed since 1979 have insured that Khmer will be dominant in all areas of intellectual and administrative activity, with foreign languages, whether European or Asian, serving as tools for relations with the outside world, not as an inter-class barrier within Cambodian society.

Of greater influence than Le mur de bambou, at least in Southeast Asia, was Luciolli’s summary of her arguments in issue No. 15 (April-June 1988) of the Singapore Indochina Report, a journal meriting special treatment in itself.[555]

This was then quoted approvingly in “The Vietnamization of Kampuchea”, Bangkok Post, 8 November 1988, by Alan Dawson, who, in contrast to his clear-eyed treatment of propagandists a few years earlier (see p. 222 on Nguyen Quan), had, by 1988, joined them. I did offer an immediate answer to that, dated 12 November 1988, but the Post ignored it. Here it is.

The Lion of Lucy’s Tiger (1988)[556]

The Lion of Lucy’s Tiger Den roars again. If I didn’t know that Esmeralda Luciolli and Indochina Report were real, I would have imagined that Dawson had been the victim of some special variety of Lucy’s Tiger Balm, perhaps administered in the guise of hemorrhoid ointment.

If the international press did not immediately take up a story on Vietnamization of Kampuchea from Indochina Report, a “think tank” in Singapore, as Alan complained, there are good reasons. It is a mysterious occasional publication, and the shadowy ‘tank’ which thinks it up tries to make a respectable reputation by imitating the name of a real Singaporean institution, whose personnel are embarrassed when confronted with it. At least this time it has published something by an identifiable author, which has not always been true in the past.[557]

By now the international academic and journalistic communities know that publication in that Indochina Report is an indication of disinformation.

But the details. First one of Alan’s own - “The Vietnamese must share the blame [for the Khmer Rouge problem] by mounting a ‘rescue invasion’ which seemed to ignore destruction of the KR establishment as a target”. This is untrue. The KR establishment fled faster than the Vietnamese could catch them. As a group they were destroyed, but were rescued and rehabilitated by the joint efforts of the USA, Thailand, and China. Without that rescue intervention there would be no KR problem today.[558]

As for Luciolli’s story, I have not yet seen that issue of Indochina Report, and I rely on Dawson. Although Luciolli spent much time in Cambodia, her stories are not based on what she saw there, but what she has chosen to say in support of the coalition against Phnom Penh.

She did not see, as cited by Dawson, that Vietnamese advisers are in charge “throughout the country ... always”; she did not see that Vietnamese dominate all of economic life; she did not observe a shortage of fish, nor of good farm land to blame on Vietnamese; and the danger of Vietnamization of education and culture is so unobservable that such a tale could be printed only in Indochina Report. That canard has been too thoroughly demolished to get space anywhere else, except of course from the Guru of Lucy’s.

If “Vietnamese language instruction is encouraged”, then even in the propaganda-speak of Luciolli’s mentors Vietnamization has decreased from a few years ago when they were claiming that instruction of Vietnamese was compulsory in Cambodian schools; and if learning the language of a neighboring country is encouraged, the policy is identical to that followed by every country in Western Europe, though unfortunately not by Southeast Asian nations.

Another lie is that ‘capitalist’ languages are frowned upon. They were not discouraged even when all instruction in them was limited to small-scale private tuition, before official instruction began in 1985.

As for the “not easily reversible” changes of the past 10 years which trouble Luciolli and Dawson, I should hope that only the Khmer Rouge leadership would like to reverse them.

Dawson also quoted Luciolli as predicting, “It is doubtful that Hanoi, even after a withdrawal of its troops, would accept a relatively independent neighbor on its western border”, a prediction which has been contradicted by events.[559]

A few months later I managed to have an alternative view of the situation in Cambodia published in the other Bangkok English-language newspaper, The Nation.

Recent Progress in Cambodia (1989)[560]

While attention has been focused on the international aspects of the Cambodia problem, equally interesting developments have been underway within the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea (PRK). An item in the Phnom Penh newspaper Kampuchea, no. 462 of 28 July 1988, may serve as an illustration.

On page 11, well down on a list of 61 lawsuits reported as pending in the courts is the case of a lady, who was named, filing suit against the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and a certain ambassador, who was not named, for having dismissed her from employment.[561]

Such an item in almost any country would excite curiosity about the precise circumstances, and a bit of questioning in Phnom Penh at the end of November revealed that it had indeed been a case in which ‘moral transgression’ was involved, probably in a Kampuchean embassy abroad, and the lady had been transferred to another state agency.

One of the traits which the PRK has inherited from its immediate predecessor, but not one of those sometimes wrongfully ascribed to it by the propagandists who have tried to assimilate the PRK leadership to that of Democratic Kampuchea (DK), is a degree of puritanism much stronger than prevalent before 1975.

Unlike punishment in such cases under Pol Pot, which was equivalent for both parties, and so far as can be determined was sometimes death, in the PRK nothing more severe than transfer to a less desirable post is imposed, but apparently only on female cadres, with the males going free, and not even named in the ensuing publicity.

Such is standard practice in Southeast Asia’s capitalist states, and is an unanticipated example of the PRK adhering to international norms, but I was informed by a former colleague of the woman that in meetings of their organizations Cambodian women are now protesting, and insisting that if such behavior is to be punished, both parties should be punished equally. Here is a new cause for western feminists - equal punishment, or equal rights, for extramarital relationships in Kampuchea.

The 61 cases listed by Kampuchea range from the trivial, civil suits for libel and fraud, to the very serious - murder and torture by police agents. Included are several cases of murder, rape, physical abuse, and non-payment of debts. One was a complaint by an individual against the police and provincial court of Kandal for having released 3 alleged murderers. It is clear that courts in the PRK are functioning according to laws, and that individuals willingly enter into litigation, even bringing charges against state organs.

The mere fact of such suits being brought in court, and reported in the press, illustrates a firm intention by the PRK to establish rule of law. It also counters the charges made by certain organizations that human rights are widely abused and judicial procedures neglected. Moreover, the Kampuchea article was an implicit complaint against the authorities that the cases had been ‘stuck’ in the courts too long, and was an example itself of increasing openness in the society.

When the PRK came to power in 1979 there were severe objective impediments to realization of rule of law. These included penury of surviving legally-trained personnel, destruction of archives and legal documentation, total absence of formal courts and legality under DK, preceded by neglect of such during the 1975-1979 war, and even in the best of times before 1970, police traditions which ignored such niceties as rights of the accused.

Added to this was the lack of any administrative infrastructure in 1979, a situation of anarchic population movement and disorganization, and increasing militarization to counter the threat of the rearmed DK and their allies on the Thai border. This situation inevitably gave rise to instances of rough military justice for malefactors, real or suspected, and it provided welcome ammunition for organizations ill-disposed to the PRK.

In a series of publications the New York-based Lawyers’ Committee for International Human Rights (1984 and 1985), followed by Amnesty International (1986, 1987, 1988), have variously claimed that there was no law in the PRK, that this was the fault of Vietnamese control, that there were hundreds of systematic violations of human rights while listing few specifically, that few accused ever received trial, that complaints against abuses by authorities were not entertained, and that court cases were not reported in the media, indicating that trials were not being held.

As PRK officials willingly admit, legality in the first years was below the desired standard and police practices were not beyond reproach, but the promulgation of new laws, rapid training of new court officers and legal personnel, and insistence on implementation of the new regulations by police, all lend credence to the PRK authorities’ claim that normal international legal standards are being reached.

The last formal step was the promulgation in early 1986 of a new detailed Decree-Law no. 27, which establishes procedures to be followed in arrest, detention, indictment, and search of person or domicile, which on paper provides guarantees at least equivalent to those prevailing in Southeast Asian capitalist countries which enjoy international recognition.[562]

The list of cases published by Kampuchea shows that the provisions of Decree-Law 27 are being applied, and one plaintiff charged specifically that he had been arrested in circumstances which violated that law. Likewise in accordance with Decree-Law no. 27, three provincial or district police chiefs, I was informed, in Kompong Speu, Pursat, and Kandal have been dismissed and punished for physical abuse of prisoners.

In the last case the accused was tried before an open court with loudspeakers outside for people who could not fit into the courtroom, and was found guilty of torturing 9 prisoners and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. Moreover, with each successive effort the Lawyers’ Committee and Amnesty have been forced to back away from parts of their previous accusations.

By 1986 most of the specific instances of violations which could be cited dated to before 1985; in their last effort Amnesty International was forced to call people caught giving aid to the enemy in wartime ‘political prisoners’, and through lack of sufficient new cases, had to devote most of their attention to hypothetical situations in which human rights violations might occur, or to supposed defects in the organization of the PRK judicial system, not in themselves matters of proper concern to Amnesty (see pp. 297 ff.)

This improvement is confirmed by the files of another well-informed foreign group whose professional concern is with refugees, human rights, and the status of non-combatants in wartime, which seem to indicate that recent defectors across the border to Thailand are in general only able to provide stories of human rights violations before 1985.[563]

One legal area in which progress has been intriguingly slow is family and marriage, for which a law still has not been passed, although said to be imminent on each of my last visits in 1984, 1986, and in November this year (1988). Unofficial comment holds that it is the very question raised by the dismissed Foreign Affairs lady, equality of the sexes, which is difficult to resolve.

Before 1975 women, in law, were subordinate to their husbands, for whom polygamy was permitted and who were favored in divorce proceedings. Some women refused to have their marriages registered, because in local custom, contrary to the French-imposed law followed by the Sihanouk and Lon Nol regimes, a woman could divorce her husband at will. Now that post-Pol Pot demographic pressure, as well as socialist ideology, have pushed large numbers of women into responsible official and managerial positions, they are unlikely to accept again any of the pre-1975 legal disadvantages.[564]

Another case among the 61 concerns the Sereipheap (‘Liberty’) restaurant which started operation in 1981 as a private, or semi-private, enterprise, and became very successful, in particular as the restaurant favored by the foreign community of diplomatic and aid personnel. Suddenly in 1985 it was closed by the authorities, but soon reopened as a state enterprise. It still prospers and is still popular with the foreign community, but faces increasing competition.

According to its present manager, conflict had arisen over demands for taxes from the Sereipheap, whose owner claimed his agreement with the state exempted him from taxation. His refusal to pay was answered with confiscation by the city government, but he no more accepted expropriation than would a businessman in a capitalist country, and has taken the Phnom Penh municipality to court.[565]

Although much small private enterprise was tolerated from 1979, in 1985 a private sector was formally legalized to encourage those with accumulated wealth to invest in productive activities, particularly in small-scale manufacture.

Two factories which I visited transform scrap metal into household utensils, and employ over 50 workers, paying them up to 5000 riel, 10 times the highest state salary. The owners appear satisfied with business conditions, although one complained bitterly about electricity failures which forced him to occasionally stop work. He said he had set up shop in 1979, and on his office wall were certificates of achievement from 1982, three years before such enterprises were strictly legal.[566]

In the state industrial sector some degree of decentralization has been introduced in planning and finance. At the Kompong Cham textile factory, originally built by Chinese aid in the 1960s, I was told that they plan their own annual output rather than receiving quotas from the state, and the managers of the Chhup rubber plantation and processing plant said they are now responsible for their own budgetary planning, although they still sell their entire output to Kampexim, the state export-import organization, which exchanges most of it with the Soviet Union for diesel oil.

In another type of decentralization the two southwest coastal provinces, Koh Kong and Kompong Som, have been authorized to trade independently with Thailand and Singapore, which may in fact mean simply legalization of an already existing situation. Through this type of trade it seems Cambodia is becoming a middleman in the import of automobiles and other luxuries from the West to Vietnam.

According to government spokesmen, more economic freedom is planned, including laws regulating investment from overseas, first by Cambodians resident abroad, eventually by other foreigners. As with private factories, some overseas Cambodians are reportedly already investing, before it is strictly legal, in reconstruction of the huge riverfront Cambodiana Hotel, left uncompleted since 1970, and in the precious-stone mines in Pailin.

Certainly many groups of overseas Cambodian visitors are arriving to check out the situation for themselves, and money is easily transmitted from abroad to individuals through the banks at a rate close to the free market. Perhaps most significant symbolically is that the Central Market, state-run since 1979, is to be privatized early next year, in part because there was too little patronage by a population who preferred the greater variety of the private markets, in spite of the higher prices.

The relative success of PRK monetary policy, with the riel stable for the past 4 years, is no doubt confidence-inspiring for entrepreneurial Cambodians. To maintain this stability the government has gradually raised the official exchange rate to meet the free market, with the latest rise to 142=$1 against 150-155 on the free market. This stability contrasts with Vietnam, and demonstrates an interesting degree of economic independence.

It is still impossible to ascertain the responsibility for the relatively successful economic planning. It should not be assumed that it was just the result of ‘freedom’. Totally unplanned laissez-faire would have led to runaway inflation, gross class inequalities and mismanagement reminiscent of the Lon Nol years [as has occurred since the international intervention beginning in 1991].

In 1979 someone had to take a decision to allow measured market freedom, accompanied by a large degree of state ownership and strict control of public sector wages. In particular, as a measure against inflation, emission of the new riel currency introduced in 1980 had to be calculated and controlled, with continued careful planning year by year to prevent flooding the market with valueless paper. Planning Ministry officials have so far refused to divulge the nature of such planning or the identity of the planners, nor even where the currency is printed.

It may be assumed, however, that there were important inputs from both Viet Nam and the Soviet Union, and perhaps their reformers were able to experiment on the tabula rasa of post-Pol Pot Cambodia in ways which conservative opposition inhibited in their own countries. Cambodia after 1979 had no body of entrenched cadre, old military, or sclerosed security apparatus to oppose measures which smacked of the heretical ‘capitalist road’.

The combination of increased economic freedom and prosperity, greater access to justice, and more certain independence as the Vietnamese troops leave is producing an atmosphere of visibly cheerful confidence. There is no doubt in the minds of Cambodian citizens that the Vietnamese troops are leaving. While officially there is confidence that the PRK can defend itself; in private many people are worried, and count on international pressure to inhibit return of ‘Pol Pot’ who serves as a generic term for the tripartite Coalition.

Surprisingly there seemed to be near total disinterest in Sihanouk among all whom I met, from officials in formal interviews to ordinary people met alone and by chance, although I was told that among surviving aged traditionalists there was belief that Sihanouk’s return would bring back the best days of the 1960s.

The new Cambodian confidence was reflected in Hun Sen’s report to the nation, broadcast and published after his return from Paris on 20 November, taunting Sihanouk and Son San with being more concerned about Chinese opinion than the fate of the Cambodian people, and contrasting unfavorably Sihanouk’s maneuvering for the internationally-supervised 1955 election after the First Indochina War with the conditions offered by the PRK to their opponents.

These conditions are cease-fire with the armed forces of all factions remaining in place, elections held under the auspices of the PRK and in the presence of international observers, then formation of a new mixed government in accordance with the election results.

There are however discomfiting signs that the legitimate confidence may crank up to the traditional unrealistic Khmer overconfidence. One official who should know better seemed to believe that with the Vietnamese soon gone Cambodia would be on the threshold of rapid economic takeoff based on hitherto unexploited mineral wealth and superior Khmer administrative and economic skills, evidenced by comparison of the Cambodian and Vietnamese economies over the past 10 years. Such unrealistic assessment of possibilities contributed significantly to the Lon Nol and Pol Pot disasters.

No major unexploited minerals are likely to be found, and the optimistic economic situation, relative to Vietnam, may be to a great extent the result of intelligent Vietnamese and Soviet aid policies and planning. The enthusiastic PRK officials are probably right that the PRK will not collapse when the Vietnamese are gone, and they may even have an army capable of defending most of the country, but Cambodian progress, even in the best conditions, will inevitably be slow, and based on peasant agriculture and a few associated industries.[567]

The tasks of defence and reconstruction, however, should not be made more difficult by US and ASEAN support for the recognition and maintenance of the Khmer Rouge. As Peter Carey wrote, it is time for the West “to give substance to its statements on the ‘unacceptability’ of a Khmer Rouge return to power”.[568]

Among “practical steps” listed by Carey there is one which is striking by its absence: acceptance that a Khmer nationalist government sits in Phnom Penh with an administration covering nearly the entire country, a 10-year life span, and a better record than its opponents. From Carey’s article it is not clear that he is aware of this, for he finds it necessary to emphasize “Vietnam’s occupation of Cambodia”, and the “post-1979 Vietnamese order in Cambodia”.

The refusal to acknowledge the preeminence of the PRK, insistence on establishment of a new government of national unity and a “new Geneva conference” convened by a group of foreign powers with “the task of merging the existing ... Asean and French-sponsored peace processes”, and to result in “establishing Cambodia as a neutral state”, all without reference to the Cambodian government and people, are as dangerous to the peace process as the occupation of Cambodia’s UN seat by the Khmer Rouge.

Since no major press organs would take a detailed critique of Amnesty, their views went unchallenged and undoubtedly influenced significant segments of world opinion concerned with Cambodia. An example was an article published in 1990 by Ms. Sidney Jones of Asia Watch, an organization which, while criticizing human rights abuses, had a better record than Amnesty of sympathy for poor nations trying to rebuild.[569] Nevertheless, her article was also an illustration of the prevalent trend to turn everything about Cambodia into anti-PRK propaganda.

Ms. Jones mentioned me as the author of an article which “denounced” an Amnesty International report on Cambodia because “it played directly into the hands of the government’s opponents”. This was apparently hearsay on her part, for in the article in question I criticized Amnesty; not for the reason alleged, but because I considered Amnesty to be in error.[570]

Because of her reference to my work, I sent an answer to Ms. Jones’ article to the New York Review of Books on 18 October of that year. What follows is abbreviated from the original. Ms Jones’ positions are clear from my reactions.

Reply to Sidney Jones / Asia Watch (1990)[571]

I was flattered to see my name mentioned as author of an article which “denounced” an Amnesty International report on Cambodia because “it played directly into the hands of the government’s opponents”. I did indeed criticize the Amnesty report, Kampuchea: Political Imprisonment and Torture; not for the reason alleged in Ms. Jones’s article, but because I considered it to be in error (see pp. 289 ff.).

In my article which was cited, however, only one sentence was devoted to Amnesty International. Nearly the entire content concerned another matter mentioned by Ms. Jones, “a series of articles [in fact one main article] in the Kampuchea Weekly on how people were detained without trial for months at a time”.

This would have been a more accurate and fair context in which to cite me, particularly since my article has been, so far as I can determine, the only press comment outside Cambodia (perhaps because the original material is in Khmer) on this first-hand and unbiased source relating to a subject in which Asia Watch claims to have a major interest.

I realize that intellectual honesty is not at a premium these days, but at least intellectuals, as most of Sidney Jones’s team seem to be, could be expected to cite what a fellow ‘academic’ really wrote rather than what others may have said about it. The problem for Asia Watch was that the information about courts and trials which I cited, if read honestly, would not lend itself to the interpretation of a badly flawed judicial system.

Ms. Jones criticized alleged Cambodian official reluctance to provide human rights information. In contrast to Ms. Jones, and to most western observers, I do not find the Cambodian position surprising. Given the American record in Cambodia, no Cambodian regime owes any kind of accounting to any American institution or organization.

Nor should Cambodia, in the general context of Southeast Asia, including its capitalist countries, be singled out for opprobrium. If American human rights organizations want more cooperation from Cambodia, they should first pressure the US regime to clean up its act; until they do it is breathtakingly presumptuous to demand “frank discussion with [Cambodian] government officials of the problems of protecting human rights inside Cambodia”.

Now for the factual errors, or questionable details, in Ms. Jones’ text:

(1) The “leeway” which should be allowed a government starting from scratch, which allegedly has “posed an ethical problem for human rights organizations”.

The two organizations whose reports I have seen, The Lawyers’ Committee for International Human Rights and Amnesty International, refused to allow any leeway at all, insisting that Cambodia should be judged by the same standards as prosperous western countries with fully developed legal systems, i.e., not even judged by Southeast Asian capitalist standards. Most western media comment adopts the same view, at least where the PRK/SOC is concerned.

Things are different for the other side. When UNBRO (United Nations Border Relief Operations - dominated by Americans) and the Catholic COERR assigned American lawyers to teach basic law in the camps of the Coalition Government on the Thai border, they explicitly recognized that considerable leeway had to be allowed. As one of the young American lawyers said, “Many of these things [police practices in the camps] fly in the face of what we believe about the law ... But ... we came here as a ‘liaison’. Who are we to challenge basic Khmer concepts of justice and fair play?”.

Those ‘liaison’ lawyers are attempting to introduce a new code, “the backbone” of which is “an allowance for Khmer tradition ... ‘accordance with Khmer practice’”, for “We don’t want to force anything on the population here” - certainly not, at least, the standards which Amnesty International and Asia Watch think they are entitled to impose on Phnom Penh.[572]

(2) “The Khmer Rouge forces largely refused to accept international aid” after they took refuge on the Thai border in 1979. This is not true.

Since 1979 they received - and it was given overtly, publicly - enormous amounts of aid in the form of camps in which to live (the very first major camp, Sakeo, some 50 km inland from the border, was built expressly for the Khmer Rouge),[573] food, medicine, ‘non-lethal’ equipment, etc. What they refused to accept was “some access to their activities” by “Western observers”; and the western aid organizations, backed (in some cases pressured) by western governments, spinelessly caved in to Khmer Rouge conditions.

There have been rather reliable reports that the Khmer Rouge have even received direct US financing, and lethal equipment too, although this is more difficult to document.[574]

(3) U.S. support for the Khmer Rouge did not begin in 1982. The CIA obviously saw advantage in using them against Viet Nam earlier, perhaps as early as 1977.[575]

And it is not true that the Coalition formed in 1982 “was given Cambodia’s seat in the UN”. The Democratic Kampuchea representative had kept that seat continuously after 1979, and what happened in 1982 was US, Chinese, and ASEAN pressure on Sihanouk and Son Sann to join the Pol Pot group, and to accept that group’s continued occupation of the UN seat.

(4) The Amnesty Report. It is not true that “Since the Amnesty report was issued, the Phnom Penh government has formally outlawed torture ... and announced a number of legal reforms”. As I wrote three years ago, torture was outlawed in 1986, and important legal reforms were introduced then.[576]

(5) In answer to Ms. Jones positive comments on recent free market reforms, the listing of economic reforms “During late 1988 and 1989”, page 18, column 2, next-to-last paragraph, describes things already true as early as 1984, perhaps even 1981-2. Although there were further changes in 1988-1989, most of which appear to have been economically disastrous. As remarked by an Asian diplomat cited in the next column (of Ms Jones’ article), “liberalization of the regime ... had started in 1984”.

(6) I assume the evocation of the ‘Nicaraguan model’ for Cambodia was intended as a bit of comic relief in a catalogue of Cambodia’s problems. Or are Asia Watch, and Senator Kerry, really naive enough to imagine that after what happened in Nicaragua it would be seen in Phnom Penh as a desirable model, or that the PRK/SOC would, or should, cooperate in its own destruction.

Whatever the intentions with that remark, I think it does highlight a key element of the post-July 18 1990 US regime policy, to squeeze and cajole Phnom Penh into a Nicaragua-type debacle, rather than expect outright victory through military action by the US-backed Coalition contras.[577]

(7) Unless it is part of the new liberalization which began after my last visit in November 1988, the allegation that “Works of fiction ... cannot be published” is the most egregious nonsense. On visits in 1981, 1984, 1986, and 1988 I collected both new works of fiction and reprints of old works, and the Kampuchea Weekly [Khmer-language newspaper] regularly published fictional short stories and serials.

(8) I find quite peculiar the remark that “As late as 1980, there were no laws or administrative regulations of any kind”, after Asia Watch had showed some sensitivity to the situation in which Cambodia found itself.

Just how would you expect a country with no formal administration, no legally-trained people, etc., to create a legal system and law codes in less than a year. Would you approve if, say, the Vietnamese law codes, court system, and legal personnel had been imposed? I dare say you would not, and certainly neither would the crowd of PRK/SOC enemies who accuse them of being too closely tied to Vietnam.

Asia Watch does seem to be aware that beginning in 1980 laws were promulgated, and increasingly, but Ms. Jones’s reluctant acknowledgement suggests influence from someone in the Lawyers’ Committee who was piqued when, in answer to their 1984 lie that there was a “virtually complete absence of a functioning legal system”, I noted that in November of that year “I acquired three volumes, nearly 400 pages, of published law texts”.[578] So the new antiPhnom Penh line is, “ok, but there weren’t any laws until 1980”.

(9) It is a mistake, I think, to give the “second perspective ... encountered” [corruption, authoritarian leaders, exaggerated preoccupation with defense] equivalent status with the first [reforms, improved social services, new guarantees of human rights].

At least in reporting the first Ms. Jones was able to cite some contacts with Cambodians and with foreigners engaged in activity helpful to the country, whereas the second, as a general outlook, seems to come from professional enemies of the PRK/SOC, who, in material, both journalistic and academic, which I have recently seen, appear to be coordinating efforts to discredit Hun Sen and to emphasize one or more rival factions headed by Heng Samrin and Chea Sim.

The latter do have a somewhat different political background from Hun Sen, and they may disapprove of some of the economic liberalism since 1988 (and Ms. Jones’s article indicates that they may have good reason), but I have yet to see a convincing report on the nature of whatever factional strife may be going on.

I suspect that this particular media campaign originates with those who fear that other Phnom Penh factions may succeed in halting the economic decline which has resulted from Hun Sen’s liberalism and which is playing into the hands of PRK/SOC enemies.

Ms. Jones cites East European diplomats for some of the negative information about the Phnom Penh government. Of all people in Phnom Penh, I think they may be the least objective, with the most reason to take an anti-Vietnamese position, and to say what they think the US regime wants to hear.

(10) Ms. Jones noted, apparently with some disapproval, that “a government official who has a large house can rent it to a foreign aid organization for at least $1,000 a month, and he can keep every penny”.

What do you want? A couple of pages earlier she had praised the liberalization of 1988-1989 which permits this sort of thing, on the ground that such “free-market reforms have brought the economy back to life”. Perhaps you now see what I meant when I said these latest reforms had been disastrous.

(11) It is not true, or at least it was not true in 1988, that “there is no banking system”, although it would be true to say that it is not well developed.

Two years ago I met people in Phnom Penh who were receiving cash from relatives abroad through the national bank, and at a rate not much different from the free-market rate. Of course that was when PRK ‘socialism’, before liberalization, was still keeping the money supply, exchange rate, and price level relatively stable.[579]

Perhaps now the reforms which have “brought the economy back to life” (at least for the privileged) have destroyed the banking system. I do not, however, have up-to-date information on this.

(12) The Vietnamese troops who “returned between November and January to support the government army” may have been a hoax (see pp. 352, 372.)

(13) As of November 1988 the “money-changers on the ferries crossing the Mekong River” were mostly Khmer, as were pimps in Phnom Penh. And it is an old tradition in Southeast Asia that prostitutes, for those who disapprove of their activity, are always of some other ethnic group. [This was in answer to one of the fantastic claims about Vietnamese entering the country and overwhelming Khmers in various occupations, of which I noted those mentioned by Ms. Jones.]

(14) Destruction of personal property in Phnom Penh after 1975, or after 1979. It is amusing that during 1975-1979 the western press, particularly in 1975-76, was filled with stories about the blind destruction wrought on housing, books, consumer goods, etc., by the Khmer Rouge. Now we are to be told that the Khmer Rouge never harmed a thing, and it was only those nasty Vietnamese who did it.

I have investigated this matter to some extent, first among refugees in Khao-I- Dang in 1980, and later on trips to Phnom Penh (with some detail in my Cambodia 1975-1982), and my view is that neither is true, for the most part, although neither the Khmer Rouge nor the Vietnamese are entirely without blame. Most such destruction resulted from lack of control of the Khmer population which flowed back into Phnom Penh after January 1979. They scrounged, pillaged, and destroyed until an administration was set up.

(15) I conclude with a remark on Ms. Jones’s concluding paragraph. Ms. Jones, in writing it, seems to have forgotten that Cambodia is at war, against enemies which have received considerable material, political, and moral aid from Ms. Jones’s government.

If Ms. Jones wants the Phnom Penh government to seek greater credibility through elimination of all legal abuses, an end to “young men ... abducted and sent to fight”, and no more villagers at risk from shelling, she should first direct her attention to US intervention in Cambodian and Vietnamese affairs. Only then can she honestly expect cooperation from the Cambodian government in “assess[ing] the extent of political imprisonment and the conditions under which prisoners are held”.

Exchanges with the FEER and Tommy T.B. Koh

I was not the only one in 1989-90, after the Vietnamese withdrawal and the increasing evidence that the PRK could be a success, to offer positive treatments of Cambodia, which met with increasingly frenzied denials. In an October 1989 issue of FEER Gary Klintworth offered a positive overview of Viet Nam’s role in Cambodia since 1979, which three weeks later attracted a shrill attack from Mr. Tommy T.B. Koh, then Singapore’s ambassador to the US.[580]

Koh’s main points concerned the legitimacy of Vietnamese intervention in 1979 - it was disproportional, not really in the interest of human rights, was illegal aggression, and would not serve to bring peace to Cambodia.

These were the standard anti-PRK arguments of the time, and hardly deserved attention, but one detail caught my eye, and inspired this answer to FEER.

Former Khmer Rouge? (1989)[581]

Serious, but non-specialist, readers who have tried to follow the Cambodian situation from the Review’s usually well informed columns might wonder where Tommy T. B. Koh found that, “according to some academic estimates, about 80% of the [Phnom Penh] regime’s present cadres are former Khmer Rouge”.

As one of the academics involved in Cambodia studies, and in particular as one who demonstrated already 3 years ago that no more that about 20% of the Party Central Committee and a third of the government ministers and state council were former Khmer Rouge, I would like to indicate the probable sources of Koh’s misinformation.[582]

The 80% figure is not an ad hoc guess by Koh, but is at least its third manifestation in the Cambodia debate, and its origin needs to be pinned down before it takes off as a new basic datum.

In the New York Times, 5 August 1989, Douglas Pike, in “Khmer Rouge: Not the Threat it Was”, argued that the Khmer Rouge have changed, and that since “about 80 percent of the present cadre structure [a misleadingly vague formulation] of the Phnom Penh government are ex-Khmer Rouge”, Cambodia “accordingly ... is not threatened so much by the return of the Khmer Rouge”, and there is no good reason to block the return of all the rest.

Pike’s source may have been the apparently next previous appearance of the 80% figure, Nayan Chanda’s Brother Enemy, where Chanda, p. 453, n. 8, writing in 1986 said, “eighty percent of the K[ampuchean] P[eoples] Revolutionary] P[arty] Central Committee members are [emphasis added] former anti-French fighters (Khmer Issarak) allied with the Vietnamese ... ”; but they are not at all the group which is now designated ‘Khmer Rouge’.

Chanda’s source was a 1981 [again emphasis added] paper by Stephen Heder who further emphasized that “80 percent of the KPRP Central Committee members are from provinces bordering Vietnam, and 60 percent of the CC members have spent twenty or more years in Vietnam”. Heder’s purpose was to make the PRK look bad because of its Vietnamese connections, and less attention was given to the former Khmer Rouge who, as Chanda wrote, formed “20 percent of the Central Committee”.

Whatever the figures on ‘former Khmer Rouge’, the important detail is that they are indeed former, having broken with Pol Pot at various dates between 1975 and 1978, while the Khmer rouge friends of Pike and Koh are still what they have been since their victory in 1975.

Perhaps a still more significant statistic which receives too little attention is that following expansion of the Central Committee in 1985 nearly 40% of the combined full and alternate membership consisted of new (post-1979) party members with no pre-1970 communist record, while the number of old veterans with Viet Nam connections had declined to 8%.

By 1988 the same group of new people were also holding nearly half the ministries, and an even larger number of sub-ministerial and provincial leadership posts.

Following this, on 30 November 1989, FEER published a response from Koh, in which he tried to be witty, with “Singapore never had any illusions about the nature of the Khmer Rouge. Unlike some members of the US Left, we have never described them as ‘agrarian reformers’.” To be sure, Koh also said that “I have ... never denied that an incidental result of the intervention was an end to the oppressive and barbarous rule of the Khmer Rouge”, although “my contention is that Viet Nam intervened in Cambodia in order to impose Vietnamese hegemony on Cambodia just as it has done on Laos”.

To this I replied as follows.[583]

To and Fro with Rip van Koh (1989)

Now we know why official utterances by Singapore’s international representatives on the subject of Cambodia are so steeped in rhetoric of unreality.

Rip van Koh has obviously just awoken from a 40-year sleep ready to react against the last words he heard before dozing off - a speech by a Wallacite [Henry Wallace] arguing that the newly victorious Chinese communists in 1949 were only “agrarian reformers”. That was the last, perhaps only, time that anyone on the US left characterized a communist revolution in those terms.

Again Koh could not contain himself, and fired off a missive (1 February 1990), decrying my sarcasm.[584]

“I am disappointed that Michael Vickery [LETTERS, 11 Jan.] should have found it necessary to resort to sarcasm to respond to my point that from 1975-78 several prominent members of the American Left defended the Khmer Rouge regime against their critics and heaped praise on that regime’s “agricultural reforms” and “agricultural revolution”.

“To refresh his memory, I would respectfully suggest that Vickery re-read George Hildebrand and Gareth Porter’s 1976 book, Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution and Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman’s 1979 book, After the Cataclysm. Hildebrand and Porter defended the policies of the Khmer Rouge regime and praised its agricultural revolution. Chomsky cited US congressional testimonies by David Chandler and Porter to dismiss as “myth” allegations that “the leadership of Democratic Kampuchea adopted a policy of physically eliminating whole classes of people.

“Interestingly, Chomsky in 1977 cited the writings of Vickery to refute refugees’ testimonies on abusive conditions in Cambodia. Vickery was quoted as equating the forced relocations from Cambodian cities as comparable to “basic policies considered by bourgeois economists and political scientists to be rational and practical for a country with problems similar to Cambodia.”

And I answered again.[585]

One sarcasm (Koh, 30 November 89) deserves another (Vickery 11 January 90). Didn’t Koh ever learn sportsmanship on the playing fields of Singapore?

If he now wants to shift ground that is OK too, but he needs a new research assistant. The ‘agrarian reform’ argument originally appeared in order to minimize ‘communism’ and make a case which even non-leftist American liberals might accept for recognizing the new Chinese government in 1949.

Even if not quite accurate in detail, the goal has subsequently been accepted as correct, against U.S. policy which for over 20 years tried to make Taiwan China while relegating ‘Peiping’ to the back of the moon. Throwing ‘agrarian reform’ at the American Left now is to line up with those old China Lobbyists who brayed on about ‘losing’ China until they were relegated to the museum shelves where they already belonged in 1949.

Praise in 1976 for the reforms, or revolutions, in agriculture in Cambodia is quite another matter, and Koh was not simply arguing, nor was I denying, that some “members of the American Left defended the Khmer Rouge regime against their critics”.

At least in dredging up those “prominent members of the American Left”, Noam Chomsky, Edward Herman, David Chandler, George Hildebrand and Gareth Porter, Koh is only a dozen years out of date rather than four decades. They may respond as they will, but I take the occasion to assert that most of those views offered in 1976 and early 1977 stand up rather well in light of subsequent research, and even where proved wrong do not require regret or apology from their authors.

Nowhere in their book did Hildebrand and Porter argue that the KR (their NUF) were mere ‘agrarian reformers’. They insisted on the revolutionary nature of their policies, and at the date they wrote (1976) their claims for increases in agricultural production are largely confirmed by careful sifting of refugee testimony, although the brutality accompanying it in some areas - not everywhere, I emphasize - was greater than they allowed for.

As for Koh’s other stalwarts of the “American Left”, nothing he cites is relevant for the question of ‘agrarian reform’ vs. ‘communist revolution’, nor is any of Porter’s or Chandler’s congressional testimony cited in Chomsky and Herman related to the alleged “policy of physically eliminating whole classes of people”.

Koh has also fudged in his allusion to my own contribution to Chomsky and Herman. In addition to my report on the contradictory nature of refugee testimony in 1976-77, which U.S. State Department specialists confirmed, Chomsky and Herman also quoted (note 225) my observation that “a good bit of Cambodian policy since the end of the war[1975] has been inspired by good old-fashioned vengeance and that the revolution could have been carried out more gently”.

If Koh was discomfited by my remark about Khmer Rouge evacuation policy being in line with measures advocated by “bourgeois economists and political scientists”, he should condemn them, not me. Are they also to be dismissed as mere lefties, including another person cited by Chomsky and Herman (p. 153), U.S. Foreign Service Officer Peter Poole.[586]

And since Koh’s controversy is with me, why not attack the two books I have written rather than pick on people who, except for Chandler, have not been involved in Cambodia studies for a decade? Perhaps the reason is my argument that because the KR revolution was ‘peasantist’ (not agrarian reformist), it therefore resulted in more brutality than would have occurred under a stricter Marxist-Leninist regime, a line of argument that has been welcome neither on the left nor the right, but against which no one has tried to offer an honest refutation.

The ‘American Left’, even if mistaken on some details in 1976, or overly optimistic then in their predictions for the future, have now concluded, in some cases after careful sifting and publication of written and oral evidence, that the Pol Pot regime failed miserably and should not be given a second chance. This is a much better show than that of the US and Singapore Right who are trying to give the Khmer Rouge another shot at state power.

Finally, returning to the point at which this exchange began, the closest approximation to the old ‘agrarian reform’ claim with respect to the Khmer Rouge has come from someone on the American Right, and the source of Koh’s initial error: Douglas Pike, who in 1979 lamented the overthrow of Pol Pot, a “charismatic” leader of a “bloody but successful peasant revolution with a substantial residue of popular support” under which “most [peasants] ... did not experience much in the way of brutality” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 29 November 1979).

I obviously had Koh up against the wall. This was too much for FEER’s Bowring and he pulled the plug. He refused publication, and wrote to me saying that the correspondence was closed - which was not true.[587] My response to this is given below.[588]

Dear Mr. Bowring,

I have received your gutless communication of 23 February 1990 regarding my letter of 9 February.

Perhaps you sent it first to Koh for vetting, as you obviously did with my letter of 30 October 1989 printed on 11 November 1989, permitting Koh to get off on a quick start with his first sarcastic and irrelevant response. This time it appears that finding himself worsted in argument he was unable to provide a coherent answer, so you helped him out by suppressing it.

Throughout the part of the world in which a more or less free press operates, it is considered a matter of basic courtesy - in some places it is a legal obligation - to permit a reader who has been the object of allegations and innuendoes such as those dropped by Koh to respond adequately. My letter was not so long as to afford the excuse that it could not be published; and you have exhibited a deficient sense of intellectual honesty and basic fair play.

This is the second time within a month that you have rejected a letter on spurious grounds [the other concerned a different subject], and it confirms my previous suggestion that the Review slants its comment about Cambodia.

One must recognize, however, that FEER had had trouble with Singapore, and that this cut into profits. In a later memoir Bowring acknowledged this in an indirect way while attempting to record their red-blooded courage under his editorship:

“The new approach [after Bowring in 1992 had been replaced as editor by Crovitz] was soon evident in the deal the Review cut with Singapore, from which the magazine had been banned for more than four years. Before the ban, about 15 per cent of the circulation had been in the city state. But the price of return was to stop covering Singapore in the forthright manner the readers expected. The magazine had thrived on controversy and promoting a free press in a none-too-free Asia. Although the costs in the short term could be high, the reputation that the magazine acquired more than made up for it.”[589]

Bowring’s cave-in to Koh appears as a preliminary to the ‘deal cut with Singapore’.

Biased treatment of Cambodia was not confined to propaganda organizations and moralizers, but appeared even in some of the respectable press enjoying a somewhat leftist reputation, as I noted in the following “Outside powers’ manipulations fascinate the Cambodia watchers”, published as a letter and with significant cuts, in Guardian Weekly (England), 26 July 1990.[590]

Outside powers’ manipulations fascinate the Cambodia watchers (1990)[591]

I was flattered to see, in John Gittings’ “Cambodia’s peace hopes wither on a dying bamboo vine”, Guardian Weekly 24 June 1990, reference to myself, along with Ben Kiernan and Chantou Boua, as “careful scholars” who do not think the Khmer Rouge did such a good job of running Cambodia in 1975-1979.

I fear, however, that except for a small group of specialists, few among even the presumably well-informed readers of the Guardian know who we are, what we have written, and why it might be significant in comparison with reports on Cambodia by more famous writers.

Certainly we are not unusual in writing about negative aspects of the Khmer Rouge in power. The ‘evil of Pol Pot’, at least in 1975-1979, is a nearly universal theme across the ideological spectrum from extreme right-wing hacks (Stephen Morris) and popularizing trendies (William Shawcross), through US government professionals (Timothy Carney, Karl Jackson, Kenneth Quinn and Charles Twining) to serious specialists and historians who, with respect to Cambodia, can hardly be anywhere but somewhere on the left.[592]

Outside of a few specialists, however, nearly all writers on Cambodia, supported by a hitherto rarely seen unanimity of the English-language press, whether left or right by other criteria, have fallen into line behind the US regime, denying, or at least refusing to acknowledge, that there was an increasingly viable alternative to the Khmer Rouge within Cambodia: the government of the People’s Republic, now State, of Cambodia.[593]

It is thus hardly surprising that otherwise intelligent columns, editorials, letters to editors, etc. show preoccupation with manipulations of the various Cambodian actors by outside powers to impose a new, hopefully non-Khmer Rouge, or at worst only part Khmer Rouge, regime on the country, neglecting almost totally the proposition that the most effective anti-Khmer Rouge force has been the Phnom Penh government which has run Cambodia rather well on exiguous resources for over 10 years, and that the best way to prevent Khmer Rouge return would be simply international recognition of the PRK/SOC.

The Guardian itself has shown little interest in going beyond the conventional wisdom that the answer to a Khmer Rouge return was the imposition of one or another complex formula worked out among outsiders.

When in December 1986 I offered a description of recent changes in PRK leadership which showed them as a genuine Khmer nationalist government it was turned down, not with the excuse that it was journalistically unworthy - indeed it was complimented (“one of the most perceptive and farsighted pieces I have read about Phnom Penh politics in recent weeks”) - but with the excuse that the Guardian had too many people contributing on Cambodia (letter to me from Richard Gott, 6 January 1987). Subsequent issues which I saw (admittedly I missed some) did not bear this out, and certainly no one else writing for the Guardian made the same point about developments within the PRK.

Even now, Guardian writer (Guardian Weekly 8 July 1990), Nicholas Cummings-Bruce, one of the stalwarts whom Gott considered to be providing all the news Guardian readers needed about Cambodia, nearly a year after Vietnamese military withdrawal, remains loyal to the shibboleth “Hanoi-backed regime”, whose “intransigence”, and only their intransigence, is forcing the beneficent great powers to waste time to “probe ways around” it.

It is discouraging that the Guardian, no more than the right-wing press, in fact even less than Time, is willing to ask why certain great powers, and some smaller but influential ones, have felt obliged to re-impose on Cambodia remnants of three previous regimes, each of which was in turn rejected by its people, when simply ‘laying off’ and allowing the PRK to govern alone would have done more to bring about peace.

It would seem that the purpose behind probes of Phnom Penh is to destroy the PRK/SOC rather than to inhibit the Khmer Rouge.

The international press, including the Guardian, has spinelessly cooperated in the blockade of Cambodia, the economic and political effects of which are increasingly apparent, and it may be true that in some rural areas close to their bases the Khmer Rouge, well-supplied as they are with international aid, are making some new converts.

Even more significant and dismaying, in addition to the suppression of information about the PRK by the international press, including the Guardian, is the veritable epidemic of up-beat articles about the reformed Khmer Rouge and their growing popular support, even though close reading shows that most of the information is based, not on personal observation by the writers, but on statements by Khmer Rouge officials, rumors put about by Thai military, and unattributable opinion from anonymous ‘western diplomats’ and ‘embassy officials’ in Bangkok.

If the Khmer Rouge win again, the press which was so eager to relay rumour about their change of stripes after withholding serious information about the PRK when it might have been helpful can claim a share of the champagne poured out by the Pol Pot-backed George Bush [I] regime. [changed to “Pol Pot regime backed till last week by George Bush”]

Alan Dawson and the Bangkok Post

In 1990 the Bangkok Post, in the person of Alan Dawson, continued its propaganda activity. Dawson’s writing inspired me to a couple of short contributions in answer.

The first was my reaction to his review of Karl D. Jackson, ed., Cambodia 19751978: Rendevous With Death, noted above in comment to the Guardian. Four of the six writers were Cambodia or Southeast Asia specialists in the service of the US government. The other two were David Hawk and FranQOis Ponchaud.[594]

Dawson used his review, which was very favorable to the book, to denigrate writers on Cambodia who had been sympathetic to the PRK and opposed to the US war in Viet Nam and Cambodia, and whom he called ‘Khmer Rouge apologists’. Bangkok Post published my letter critical of his review on 23 June 1990.

Return to Lucy’s Tiger Den (1990)[595]

The first thing that is clear from Alan Dawson’s recent book review, “Bad for Khmer Rouge Apologists”, is that Dawson wouldn’t recognize a KRA if one sat down beside him in Lucy’s Tiger Den wearing a sign.

‘KR apologist’ must mean someone who defended Democratic Kampuchea during its existence in 1975-1979, or who does now that they are an out-ofpower guerrilla group (and who did not support them before 1979), or who has supported them all along. Dawson seems to think they are all around us, “too many remain, especially in the West”.

Quite a lot of serious people defended the KR while they were in power, some out of an ideological belief that what they were doing was the best sort of revolution for a poor agrarian country, others because they considered that the record of foreign interference in Cambodia in the 1970s was so misdirected and destructive that the Cambodians should be left alone with their society, no matter what the result.

Very few of the ideological supporters are still around, and those who are keep very quiet, except when they are brought out of their closets every couple of years for a conference, such as “The Third International Conference on Kampuchea, 25-26 July 1987” in Bangkok, to try to give a degree of intellectual respectability to a hardline policy of destroying the Phnom Penh government at whatever risk, even return of the Khmer Rouge.

The lead-off speeches were by Air Marshal Siddhi Savetsila and Khieu Samphan. One Anglo-American participant tried to give Mrs. Thatcher a leg up by evoking British support for the ‘Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea’, while dropping Mrs. Thatcher’s name to give respectability to the KR, and she ended with a salute to the KR and their allies, “from England, the motherland of parliaments, we wish you well”.[596]

Now there, at that conference, were real KRA, but they are obviously not the people at whom Dawson is aiming.

Those real apologists are not, for instance, among the “serious apologistauthors [who] will have trouble refuting the fact that Khmer Rouge violence increased during their four years in power”; and not just because the former, the ‘real apologists’, have written so little as to hardly be called ‘authors’. Among all the books, serious, semi-serious, frivolous, apologetic, or anti-, including two produced by myself, I cannot recall any that try to deny the increase in KR violence, particularly in 1977 and 1978.

Does the increase in violence really support Dawson’s point, that is, “make specious the idea that the[1970-75] war fuelled a feeling of revenge, or that US bombing so brutalized the Khmer Rouge that the killings were somehow mindless”?

The first, and still only, author who made that a major explanatory factor for Khmer Rouge policy was William Shawcross, who has now rejoined the angels and no longer wishes to be associated with the idea. Shawcross, though, and David Hawk, a contributor to the book Dawson was reviewing, have continued to allege another type of outside influence, French Marxism of a Maoist variety, as bearing responsibility for KR policy.

The serious writers, apologist or not, have on the contrary focussed on the internal sources of Khmer Rouge policy; and thus a new book (the one Dawson was reviewing) which argues that “no outside agency or force determined this policy, made it inevitable, or was able to affect it”, will not be “bad news”. Speaking personally, I am delighted that Dawson implicitly agrees with me that neither classical Marxism, Leninism, nor Maoism can explain the KR phenomenon.

It is just silly, however, to imply, as Dawson does, that the US bombing which killed tens or hundreds of thousands had no effect on the psyche of survivors; in fact there is ample first-hand interview material to demonstrate that many killings in 1975, which was not the worst year, were linked with it.

Where are the serious apologists about whom Dawson thinks we should be worried? Obviously not among the conferencers evoked above; and neither are they where Dawson has his sights fixed, or where he wishes his readers to fix theirs. They are, however, real.

One pamphlet that tried to do just what Dawson thinks apologists have done, deny that KR violence increased from 1975-1979, was the CIA-produced “Kampuchea: A Demographic Catastrophe”, May 1980.The anonymous researchers totally whitewashed, through ignoring it, the greatest massacre of all in 1978, and their purpose was clear, to make Pol Pot look relatively better than the new Peoples Republic.

Although anonymous, that pamphlet must have been put together by people with “distinguished US government service” and particular expertise on Cambodia, like the contributors to the book Dawson was reviewing. Among them, Carney has personally assured me that he was not involved, but publicly none of the US government Cambodia specialists, including in particular Jackson, Quinn, or Twining, has ever been willing to dissociate himself from that extremely disinformative tract which constituted the first apology for the Khmer Rouge after their overthrow.[597]

Dawson has been looking in the wrong direction. He was right to say that “on the face of it, this book is suspect” because four of the six authors, named above, work for the US government, but it is not suspect in the way he meant.

The real KR apologists are in the US government, among the authors of Cambodia 1975-1978: Rendevous With Death, and among their anonymous colleagues and associates who now weekly, if not daily, assure press hacks both in Washington (Twining) and in Bangkok that the KR have changed their stripes, have real popular support in Cambodia, are needed to chase out imagined Vietnamese, and that peace is inconceivable without their participation in a new government.

None of the historians, in particular “from Woolongong, Australia [and passing via Penang] ... ” will have anything to do with that line.[598]

A couple of months later Dawson appeared again with a rather hysterical revelation of Soviet black propaganda aimed at the unwary in the West.[599] It seemed to me that his screed in itself constituted another type of black propaganda. This time the Bangkok Post chose to protect Dawson, and my answer to him, sent on 5 August 1990, which raised matters of real anti-Cambodian disinformation, was not published.

Black Propaganda (1990)[600]

My delight in the big spread devoted to Alan Dawson’s new crusade for the truth was exceeded only by my amazed admiration at the breadth of Dawson’s worldwide multilingual research, from La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa) to Sovetskaya Rossiya to Tiedonantaja (newspaper of the Communist Party of Finland) which ratcheted up my respect for him as perhaps the only other American Southeast Asia freak who can read Russian and Finnish.

And I thought that, as a fellow combatant in the fight against disinformation, perhaps the next time I am in Bangkok we could share a few beers and swap a few Finnish jokes in Lucy’s Tig ... oops, I mean Mississippi Queen.[601]


But then I thought that if Dawson knows Finnish he should also know that even within the badly fragmented factions of Finnish communism ‘Stalinism’ has been out for at least 20 years, and if Tiedonantaja is a “Stalinist newspaper” it must be restricted to a readership of only a few hundred in one of Europe’s most obscure languages. Hardly a vehicle for the orchestrated campaign of antiAmerican black propaganda (BP), the threat of which Dawson wants to frighten his readers with.

How influential either, no matter if full of nonsense, are Cameroon Tribune, La Tribuna (Tegucigalpa), or Barricada (Nicaragua). Surely their excesses do not rate a full page in the Bangkok Post, whose readers might never have heard of these objectionable stories were it not for the energetic research of Dawson.

Another problem I had with Dawson’s story, after my first shiver of excitement, was that it is old. I read most of the same expose in Australia or travelling in Europe over two years ago, in particular the AIDS story (i.e., that AIDS was started by CIA or Defense Department biological weapons research), and the plot to unseat Rajiv Gandhi, almost detail by detail and sentence by sentence.

Thus if those stories have not taken off in the intervening two years, and Dawson still has to search for them in Tiedonantaja and the Cameroon, then his great fear is groundless, and “you’ll [not] be seeing it again, Real Soon Now”, nor will “several newspapers in the world ... print [them] in the next few months [in] exclusive stories”.

What is Dawson up to? Or why did someone lay this silly story on him and insist that it should be printed again now in Bangkok? Let’s look at the BP items in question.

Most nonsensical of course is the Ethnic Bomb, a weapon which would kill only non-whites. For this Dawson did not cite any specific sources, except a story about “alleged research on ethnic weapons” in the US Communist People’s World in 1980, which according to Dawson, without any source, had by 1988 been “enhanced to ... a joint venture between South Africa and America”. Rather than Soviet disinformation, it sounds more like the invention of some manic journo trying to sell a backwoods rag than an attempt at serious black propaganda.

But a fear that South Africa, at least, would desire an ethnic weapon was not paranoid or necessarily Black Propaganda. John Pilger cited evidence before the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission by the former director of the Roodeplaat Research Laboratory that there had been a project to “develop a vaccine to make blacks infertile”, and that the “big dream ... was to develop a race-specific biochemical weapon, a ‘black bomb’ that would kill or weaken blacks and not whites”.[602]

Incidentally, I first encountered that theme in a Playboy short story way back in the early 70s, maybe even the 60s; a source from which many journalists worldwide have no doubt drawn inspiration of one kind or another (better check out ol’ Hugh Hefner’s connections to the KGB, and perhaps Playboy’s “Service A” means more than Dawson thought).

The AIDS story has now been proven wrong, but it was an idea that occurred to many people in different places independently, was reported in the serious press, and does not have to be attributed to the Soviets, though they may have been happy to give it good coverage while it was still under investigation.

Another of the KGB-invented BP themes, according to Dawson, was “Vile Americans ... ‘adopting’ Latin American (or Asian) babies, killing them and using their body parts for organ transplants”. This was the least Black Propagandistic of Dawson’ stories. Quite credible stories of murder for organ transplants have been reported from various poor countries, none that I have seen involving Americans, but that story in itself is not incredible.

Perhaps Dawson is counting on readers forgetting that it is not the Soviet Union which is the dominant foreign power in Honduras, the ascertained place of origin of the story, and that the fact of who is the dominant power may have accounted for the original source refusing to confirm his story that rich Americans were buying the organs of poor children in Honduras for transplants, of course killing the children in the process.[603]

Even if entirely incorrect, some of these stories - the Ethnic Bomb, and by 1990 even the AIDS story - would seem to have been non-political wild rumors, not KGB-invented black propaganda. It is not only in Bangkok that some journalists are so starved for, or impermeable to, intellectually respectable material that they pounce on any oddity to earn their bread and entertain an opiated public.

But perhaps these funny tales are regurgitated to discredit by association some much more serious things. And here we have some news items which were not part of the earlier edition of the handout given to Dawson, and for which he could not provide published sources from his world-wide perusal of the press. “US military expansion into Latin America”, which he said “will gain publicity” [emphasis added] is not disinformation.

It has occurred, most recently in Panama, and few people would care to risk much money on a denial that something of the sort had been planned for Nicaragua if the Sandinistas had won the election[1989] and carried on victoriously.

Nor can it be denied that the apparent new peace in Europe is largely due to Soviet efforts which caught the US unawares and to which the US has only grudgingly acceded. Over the last few months I have read stories acknowledging this in Time, The International Herald Tribune, The Guardian (England) and other quality press organs which I do not think would appreciate being lumped by Dawson with The Cameroon Tribune and the Tegucigalpans.

Is Dawson’s piece as a whole some kind of black propaganda in itself? Did somebody suggest, “Alan, the Soviets are getting too good a press in Bangkok, and we’ve got to throw a banana skin under them; so let’s update and refloat this old ‘black propaganda’ handout”?

Why did Dawson not give more attention to some of the real disinformation which has played in Southeast Asia over the last few years? Yellow Rain for instance, or the cultural genocide of Cambodia by the Vietnamese [in fact he did, in his own way - see p. 323, in his use of Luciolli], or a case just as peculiar as that of the Honduran babies used for organ transplants.

This was the Adelia Bernard story (discussed pp. 220 ff.) about Soviet hospitals in Phnom Penh using babies for poison gas experiments, and her claim to have herself carried a child’s corpse as proof to the UNHCR office in Bangkok, only to have those commie-influenced UN officials ignore her.

Possibly that story did not play well in Bangkok because too many people were aware of the logistics, but it was taken very seriously by the press, and by parliament, in Australia, where I was at the time, and in some serious circles in the US, where it received special attention in Commentary magazine, without any attempt by US authorities who had direct information on refugee and border affairs from their JVS (Joint Volunteer Service) and KEG (Khmer Emergency Group), or by mainstream journalists working from Bangkok, to discount it.

Eventually Commentary was forced to retract, in part because of my own efforts in the campaign I share with Dawson to unmask disinformation. I hope that truth-seeker Dawson performed equivalent service in Bangkok (I wasn’t receiving the Bangkok papers regularly at the time, and don’t know what happened there).

Most of the time, however, on these local issues, Dawson gives aid and comfort to the disinformers, as in his “The Vietnamisation of Kampuchea” (Bangkok Post 8 November 1988), about Esmeralda Luciolli’s disinformative article on that subject in the Singaporean Indochina Report (see note 555).

And how did Dawson react when one of his colleagues invented the return of Vietnamese troops to Cambodia last year long before they were discovered by the Coalition forces who were supposedly facing them in battle? This story went through an international transmission circuit almost worthy of Dawson’s baby transplant tale, from source unknown, to Jane’s Defense Weekly (“earlier this month”) to “Asian diplomats in Singapore” to International Herald Tribune (21 Feb 1990) to anonymous intelligence sources to The Nation (22 Feb 1990).

A really intriguing detail, though, was that a certain Bangkok Post colleague (Jacques Bekaert), in his report to Le Monde of 9 February claimed to have been told of the returned Vietnamese by PRK troops, including the gem that they had to be paid “at least 100 dollars a month”, yet in his Bangkok Post column of 8 February was unwilling to report the same thing, which did not come forth from journalists visiting the Coalition troops until 25 February (The Nation), perhaps after they had learned what their problem was from the international press. Now we know it was all part of what Dawson is out to get, Black Propaganda.[604]

Phnom Penh: Political turmoil and red solutions

Following the total withdrawal of Vietnamese troops from Cambodia in September 1989, 1990 was a year of frantic speculation among journalists about survival of the PRK, the end of Hun Sen’s ‘liberalization’, in part legitimately brought on by the arrest of several persons in May 1990 for trying to establish a new political party, and the possibility of a ‘Red Solution’ (see pp. 356 ff.).

Among the journalistic speculations was an article in FEER by Murray Hiebert to which I offered the following response.

Still Seeing Red (1989)[605]

Murray Hiebert’s “Still seeing Red” (FEER, 7 Dec 1989) is not entirely coherent.

Are the Soviets and East Europeans “pushing ... Hun Sen to include individual Khmer Rouge”? So what’s new? The possible inclusion of individual Khmer Rouge, even though no one in the PRK was ever willing to suggest names, has been Phnom Penh’s line for years, but this does not mean “to go back to the negotiating table again”. The question there was not integration of individuals into the Phnom Penh government, but devaluation, even dissolution, of that government vis-a-vis the Khmer rouge faction and its allies.

And should non-communist westerners suddenly accept that Hungary’s switch to capitalism and democracy provides the Khmer Rouge with instant credibility? The heady atmosphere along the Danube may tempt some there to replace Brezhnevism with Reagan-Bushism, but that does not mean that the rest of us should be mesmerized by the vagaries of East European euphoria - certainly not so long as they are denouncing both communist centralization, in favor of a freer market economy, and status differentiation, which implies a call for a more pure socialism.

Let us not forget that Hungary’s new stance on Cambodia approaches that of Romania. Should that now make Romania respectable again?

Romania after all has another feather in its cap (besides agreeing with Washington on Pol Pot and abortion). They have paid off their foreign debts, which, if the world were a consistent place would earn them the same sort of praise as showered on ‘gallant little Finland’ three or four decades ago. No doubt repayment involved squeezing the Romanian people, who it is said now lack heat and light bulbs, but is not that precisely what World Bank and IMF emergency plans for poor, indebted Third World countries always imply, at least in the short run?

It seems quite unlikely that ex-Khmer Rouge Cambodian officials fear that their involvement in DK policies would be exposed if Khmer Rouge officials were allowed to return. There would be more reason for the Khmer Rouge to spill the beans now to discredit the Phnom Penh leadership if there were any secrets to be revealed. As least Hiebert has on this point emphasized that “no evidence has emerged linking Phnom Penh’s senior leaders to Khmer Rouge atrocities”.[606]

I also wonder who in Phnom Penh are meant by that overworked and until now meaningless term ‘hardliners’, presented on the one hand as those who formulate Phnom Penh’s anti-Khmer Rouge policy, and in another context as a group critical of Hun Sen’s opening to Thailand. Presumably all Cambodians, hard, soft, or whatever, are disappointed that the result has not been a cutoff in Chinese arms to the Khmer Rouge via Thailand, but can we believe that they blame Hun Sen for trying?.

Are the ‘hardliners’ the ex-Khmer Rouge who not too long ago were characterized as objecting to Hun Sen’s version of perestroika, because they wanted a command economy like they remembered under Pol Pot? Or are they the now miniscule group of old ‘Viet Nam veterans’ still in leadership positions who might object to an alignment with Thailand rather than with Vietnam, and who certainly oppose too much accommodation with the Khmer Rouge?

If the former, then does not the call for a Phnom Penh opening to the Khmer Rouge by the Hungarians make them now more hardline than they were before their communist party fell apart? In that case, by analogy, Cambodian hardliners would be the young administrators and technocrats who have overseen a type of economic development not unlike what the Hungarians have undertaken.

If ‘hardliner’ means what it does in Eastern Europe - opposition to glasnost and perestroika - then the Phnom Penh hardliners should find it ideologically easy to follow the Hungarian suggestion and cooperate again with the Khmer Rouge, who have shown the same interest in those concepts as Budapest’s opponents Ceausescu and Honecker.

Least likely of all do I find the supposition that “mid-level non-party officials ... think that [Hun Sen] should more actively seek an accommodation with ... Sihanouk”. Most mid-level officials are now in the party; but party or not they constitute the group within Cambodian society who have been the most consistently anti-Sihanouk since the 1960s when, as young students, teachers, or low-level officials, they gave me my first lessons in Cambodian politics.

They also have material reasons to favor present policies. They occupy, and have recently been given title to, up-market real estate, and in terms of quality of dwelling are living better than most of them could have hoped before the war. Because of the nearly complete turnover of the Phnom Penh population, almost no one occupies the same house as before 1970, nor have old ownership records been preserved.

The original owners, if they survive and are politically active, are among the Sihanouk and Son Sann partisans, and no doubt one of the first things they would try to do on return to Phnom Penh would be to recover their old property, thus provoking a trauma which might approach the proportions of April 1975. For this reason alone I do not expect much support for them among Phnom Penh officialdom or the new class of private businessmen.

Bowring refused to publish the letter, but, surprisingly, sent me a personal communication to explain why. My response to that follows.

Response to Bowring (1989)[607]

Dear Mr. Bowring,

Thank you for your letter of 18 December 1989. I was flattered and surprised to receive it, since it is not obligatory, nor usual, at least in my experience, for a chief editor to explain to a correspondent with “Editor (Letters)” why a letter could not be used.

I have always accepted that those responsible for publication have an absolute right to publish or not publish such contributions without explanation. I do not find it easy, however, to accept the reasons which you offered (unnecessarily) for not publishing that letter.

My topic, possible relationships between what is or is not happening in Cambodia and the changes in Eastern Europe is not a subject which had “been rather oversubscribed”, nor to which I had previously contributed. It had first been raised by the article of Hiebert to which I was responding.

I assure you, nevertheless, that I understand your reticence to publish my letter of 11 December, particularly now that I see the way the subject is being pursued.

Further, with respect to slanting news on Cambodia, could you ask Hiebert to stop referring to the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea, or any of its three factions, as ‘the resistance’?

Hiebert may not be old enough to recall and be sensitive to the issue, but ‘the resistance’ conjures up images of French and Polish heroines remaining silent under Gestapo torture, or of ordinary citizens hiding Jewish neighbors from deportation, not US-financed contras trying to destroy what little progress has been made in their countries in the interest of groups which behaved hardly better than Gestapo when they had earlier chances to govern.

Political arrests and Red Solutions

The Cambodians arrested in May 1990 for allegedly trying to form a new political party were released in October 1991. They included Thun Saray, now director of an important human rights NGO named ‘Adhoc’, Ung Phan and Kann Man, close collaborators of Hun Sen who joined FUNCINPEC after their release, and Khay Matoury, an architect who was one of the founders of ‘Adhoc’. Khieu Kanharith was removed from his editor’s post at Kampuchea. The group was believed to be close to Hun Sen. Since, except for Khieu Kanharith, they were little known to foreign journalists, their arrest, signaling that a new party would not be tolerated, fueled much speculation.[608]

It is amusing, with hindsight, to note that in the press comment of the time a split was seen between ‘liberal’ Hun Sen, and ‘hardline communist’ Chea Sim, and makes one wonder whether subsequent comment on alleged differences among CPP leaders, for example, between ‘strongman’ Hun Sen and ardent Buddhist Chea Sim, should be given any more credence. Of course, something was going on among the leadership, but frivolous speculation about ‘liberals’ and ‘hardliners’ does not help to understand it. In November of that year I was able to make a short visit to Phnom Penh, after which I wrote several articles.

Three of them, reproduced below, appeared in The Nation (Bangkok) on 5, 6, and 13 January 1991 (footnotes have been added later). Together, with other material, they appeared in Indochina Issues 93, August 1991, as “The Campaign Against Cambodia: 1990-1991”. I had tried to place the combined article in Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, where it was rejected for reasons which suggested that BCAS was in danger of going the way of New Republic, with its own coterie of Leftists for Reagan, a la Peter Collier and David Horowitz, led by Edward Friedman, then on the editorial board and a founding member.[609]

Notable Changes in Phnom Penh (January 1991)[610]

In September-October 1990 a group of over 30 Cambodian classical dancers spent six weeks touring the United States, much of the time living in fear from pressure by right-wing refugees, the Lawyers’ Committee for International Human Rights, and finally the U.S. State Department and Immigration Service, to make them defect as a massive political statement against the Phnom Penh government.

In spite of threats, inducements, invasion of privacy both during their work and in their free time, and at last confinement in their hotel for interrogation during the final day and evening of their tour, when they had hoped to shop and see a bit of New York night life, only 5 decided to remain, inflicting a political slap in the face of the US regime.

This case, in its very pettiness, epitomizes the US position on Cambodia. What the US regime attempted on a small scale was its ‘Nicaragua strategy’, which seems to be the guiding line of US policy on Cambodia. This strategy consists first of external pressure - political and military against the nation; moral and material on the individual.

When this fails to bring about collapse there is both inducement and threat to persuade the nation to relax its vigilance against the external pressure, and open up its economy to capitalist freedoms and its politics to competing factions.

Then, it is implied, the external heat will be taken off, and the US will help effect a reconciliation with the external enemy (which the US had organized and financed), development aid and investment will be forthcoming, and progress with freedom will be assured.

Inevitably, economic liberalism in a small, poor country, at war and facing a US economic blockade, results in disastrous inflation and further impoverishment of most of the population until, when an election comes, they may be so disoriented as to vote for even proven enemies because they seem to be backed by the rich Uncle Sam, in the mistaken belief that generous aid will be forthcoming.

If that side wins then rich uncle’s promises evaporate and the country is left to rot, just as the Cambodian dancers realized that after defection they would be on their own in a strange country, without even minimal reward for the political points they had made for Uncle Sam.

Press reports on Cambodia during 1989-90 have given disturbing indications that the Nicaragua strategy may be succeeding, even abstracting from the individual hostility of most Western journalists to the Phnom Penh government, and the enthusiastic advocacy by some for the Coalition.[611]

Their attitudes show that however nebulous the alleged gains made by the Khmer Rouge in the hearts and minds of Cambodian villagers, they have certainly made inroads into the hearts and minds of the Western press corps covering Cambodia.

The most objective sign of Nicaragua-type decay has been the explosive inflation, 400% in two years, after eight years of money management which kept the riel and price level relatively stable, a far better record than in Vietnam. Another matter of concern emphasized by the press has been the increasing power of an alleged ‘hardline’ faction opposed to ‘liberal’ Hun Sen and intent on wiping out the gains in personal and economic freedom which had slowly accumulated since 1979.[612]

As evidence of Hun Sen’s declining influence journalists have cited greater difficulty in obtaining interviews with him, and increasing prominence of Chea Sim in the local press.

At the end of November 1990 I was able, for the first time in two years, to visit Phnom Penh for a direct view of the changes which have occurred.

Pleasant surprises were in store. At the Cambodian consulate in Saigon I asked to drive to Phnom Penh rather than fly. On previous trips this had meant tedious discussion, calls to Phnom Penh for permission, requests for Vietnamese Foreign Ministry guides to the border where one was met by other guides sent from Phnom Penh to take the traveler to a designated hotel and an appointment with the Foreign Ministry Press Section. At times there was even a problem renting a car through the Vietnamese authorities.

Now it is a simple commercial operation. “No problem”, the consul said; “just tell me when you want to go and I’ll set up a car for you”. No guides either; just the driver and me, and on departure the consul remarked, “I haven’t phoned Phnom Penh about you, to save money. When you get there just check into a hotel and then go over to the Foreign Ministry to tell them you have arrived”.

Similar novelties waited in Phnom Penh. There was freedom to pick any of the several hotels newly opened since 1988, and competition has driven the price for a basic room with toilet, shower, fridge, and aircon down from the earlier rock bottom $17 at the Monorom to $7-8 in the now popular Asie and Santhipheap, the latter favored by emigre Khmer flocking back on visits from the US, Canada, and France.

The next morning at the Foreign Ministry was equally casual. “Glad to see you again, hope you have a pleasant stay”. There was no more need for an official car or guide unless I went outside Phnom Penh, which I had not planned in the short time at my disposal.

My first errand was to contact old friends from the 1960s, a project which in previous years meant an official request, car and Foreign Ministry guide. This time I just showed up at the Municipal Education Office where one of them worked to invite her, her husband, and another couple for dinner the following evening. No one at her office showed any surprise, as though strangers dropping in for a chat was no more controversial than in 1960 (and less so than after 1964 when Sihanouk’s regime hardened).

Three more lunch and dinner meetings with them and other prewar colleagues, whether in a restaurant or in their homes, were equally uncomplicated, and they all commented on the increased personal freedom compared with earlier years.

All of them have responsible middle-level official positions, make ends meet with combined salaries and family members in the private sector, are happy to have received legal title to the houses assigned to them after 1979, and are cautiously optimistic about the future in spite of the universal fear that the Democratic Kampuchea Coalition, including the Khmer Rouge, could be forced on the country again through misconceived Big Power plans.[613]

A research objective on this trip was to collect issues of the Front, Party, and Army newspapers for the past two years to complete my collection starting from 1979. This, also, used to involve a formal written request, a wait for permission, a car and guide.

This time I took a pedicab to each office, made an informal verbal request, and returned the following day to collect the bundle, without any sign of suspicion or surprise that a foreigner was maintaining a collection of the local Khmer-language press. This is not only an improvement in freedom under the present government, but also in comparison to the late 1960s when a foreigner collecting the Khmer press could inspire interest from the secret police, and an inopportune visit to a newspaper office caused near terror among the personnel.

As for the new economic freedom, its effects are visible in the improvements to housing, new shops, hotels and restaurants, consumer goods, and many more vehicles, which although not signs of productive investment or what a poor country needs in wartime, at least demonstrate increase of wealth in private hands, still lightly taxed, if at all.

Where, then, is the ‘hardline’ threat about which the Western press is so worried? Since late 1988 rights to private property have increased as has freedom for private business. There is more freedom of speech and for contact among Khmer and foreigners, with foreigners resident in Phnom Penh renting not only entire houses, but rooms and portions of houses in which they are in constant contact, sometimes sharing meals, with the local owners.

Are the ‘hardliners’ perhaps endangering the peace process, something which simple inspection could not reveal and in which concerned foreigners would have a legitimate interest?

Should one take seriously the rumors of a Red Solution, a deal between the internal communists in the Phnom Penh government and the external Khmer Rouge which would marginalize the Sihanouk and Son Sann groups and would be bitterly opposed by the Cambodian people?[614]

Comment on the ‘Red Solution’ (1994)

The “red solution” materialized like a goblin in press speculation about Cambodia in 1990-1991. At the time I considered that it emanated from sources who feared that peace with honor might really be achieved in Cambodia.

This fear appeared clearly in a 1991 journalist’s report that “Western analysts have speculated that the recent agreement among the four warring Cambodian factions to seek reconciliation in a supreme national council (SNC), and the fact that China and Viet Nam have agreed to go along with it, suggests that the two Asian communist countries are now working towards a ‘red solution’ ... a possible Sino-Vietnamese formula which would abandon the UN-sponsored peace plan and, instead, bring together the two communist factions ... under the leadership of Prince Norodom Sihanouk”.

This reflects a terror that Cambodians, with the aid of China and Vietnam, might find a road to peace and national unity without neo-colonial inter- ference.[615]

That this was the cause of terror, and not the nature of the solution, is seen in the precisely identical structure accepted by the interested capitalist powers in the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement when it could be achieved with their intervention.

A year earlier Raoul Jennar had described the ‘red solution’ as “trying to achieve peace through the reconciliation of the two rival branches of the Cambodian communist party ... organized and guaranteed by the communist regimes of Asia (China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea)”, “I think it would be as imprudent to simply reject such an hypothesis as to grant it excessive credit”, “It is obvious that ‘the red solution’ is progressively growing stronger as the military pressure of the Khmer Rouge and economic difficulties are increasing and that the chances to make a success of the Paris conference are withering”.[616]

And a British NGO official reported, “A senior member of the Phnom Penh delegation to Paris [Supreme National Council conference, 21-22 December 1990], told me unattributably that there was something in the idea of a ... Red Solution for Cambodia, whereby China and Viet Nam would act to reimpose communism on Cambodia ... This meant Viet Nam removing Mr. Hun Sen and the more pro-Western members of his cabinet, in return for China removing Pol Pot and the worst of his genocidal henchmen. The two Cambodian parties would then be fused together and the country run the way Viet Nam and China wanted. But my informant said that ... it was highly unlikely. It was talked about in NGO circles in Phnom Penh by those who knew little or nothing of Cambodia outside the capital ... it overlooked the degree of hatred between the Khmer Rouge and the former Khmer Rouge in governing circles in Phnom Penh [and] ... the hatred of the people for the Khmer Rouge”.[617]

As Raoul Jennar reported from a conversation with Hun Sen, the latter said that “barring the return of the Khmer Rouge to power, such a ‘red solution’ would be the worst of all catastrophes for Cambodia ... [a]lthough he agrees to the presence in Phnom Penh of supporters of such a solution, due to ‘war weariness’, he stresses the gap between men like Messrs Heng Samrin and Chea [Sim] and the Khmer Rouge leadership”.[618]

Nevertheless, there may have been more to it. In early 1989 Sihanouk said that the Soviet Union and China might impose a settlement to end “Vietnam’s occupation”, but he “warned it would lead to a prolonged civil war”. This was in reference to the recent Soviet-Chinese meeting on Cambodia, in which they had linked a Vietnamese troop withdrawal to a decrease and eventual termination of foreign aid to both the Khmer ‘resistance’ and to the PRK government. The Khmer Rouge said the two things must not be linked, and Sihanouk was worried that it meant victory for the PRK.[619]

Moscow would support a four-party provisional body under Sihanouk, but not a new four-party government, which is what China wants; Sihanouk then agreed to such an executive committee outside the PRK.

At the same time, and seen as in relation to the Red Solution, in May 1990 six members of the liberal wing of the KPRP (named on p. 356) and believed to be close to Hun Sen, were arrested after having attempted to form a Democratic Freedom Party in preparation for the elections projected for the near future. Transport Minister Ung Phan, and Kann Man, in particular, were close to Hun Sen; as was another friend of Hun Sen, Khieu Kanharith, editor of Kampuchea, an official weekly newspaper, who lost that position.

Although Western comment blamed the incident on ‘hard-line’ Communist conservatives, the timing of the attempt to form a new party was very bad, indeed it was provocative, and it tended to weaken Hun Sen, who was a major obstacle to the plans of those powers who favored the tripartite coalition in the ongoing peace negotiations. The FEER published an unattributed note that there was “concern among Indonesian officials that Thailand may be moving towards acceptance of Premier Hun Sen’s government in Cambodia”.[620]

The most intriguing comment on the ‘red solution’, came much later from Hun Sen, in his June 1994 letter to Sihanouk, in which he said he had faced untold dangers in searching for a political solution in Cambodia. He alluded to

“the influence of leaders of some countries exerted upon me to seek a red resolution [sic] which would have denied the roles to be played by Your Majesty and the non-communist resistance forces and which I did not accept was another kind of danger, which I would not reveal their names right now but would mention in the book to be published later on”.[621]

Chea Sim: the hardline leader (1991)[622]

In recent months there has been a veritable explosion of stories in the Bangkok and Western press about the new prominence of Chea Sim, an alleged ‘hardliner’, who is portrayed emerging as a counterweight to the 1989-90 liberalization associated with Hun Sen.[623]

The stories do not seem to be orchestrated, but rather the result of journalistic pack hunting. Their total effect, however, is to implicitly justify the Nicaragua strategy on the grounds that the alternative in Phnom Penh is the Red Solution. Even writers for ostensibly non-reactionary publications now treat ‘Cambodian intransigence’ as a particularly Phnom Penh phenomenon.[624]

It is difficult to determine what the stories are based on, for they have been vague both as to sources, which may be understandable, and as to the ‘hardline’ measures or policies which Chea Sim is supposed to favor. One certain source is the Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Phnom Penh, in particular reports by their diplomatic consultant Raoul Jennar, who although sympathetic to the Phnom Penh government, excitedly emphasizes the worst rumors about impending dangers.[625]

I asked one NGO head, whose own background as a onetime Marxist- sympathizing student in a western European country has immunized him against knee-jerk anti-socialism, why the NGOs were so concerned about Chea Sim. He answered that whenever there was an important public ceremony or meeting Chea Sim was there playing a prominent role, and suddenly I realized what might have happened.

In the last two years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of NGOs and foreign aid personnel in Phnom Penh, from a mere handful in 1988 to over 60 organizations and more than 200 people by the end of 1990. Few of the new personnel were familiar with Cambodian personalities. They of course knew Heng Samrin, if only because of the journalistic shibboleth ‘Vietnamese-backed Heng Samrin regime’, and Hun Sen would have been familiar to anyone reading, however casually, news of Cambodia.

But Chea Sim, until the latest anti-Phnom Penh press campaign, was hardly mentioned except in specialist studies.

Suddenly, on arriving in Cambodia in 1989 and 1990 our NGO innocents see another face appearing daily on Phnom Penh television and in public gatherings. They learn that he was one of the former DK officials in the present government and that he may object to the negative effects of economic liberalism, and the ‘hardline reaction’ is born.

Could it not, nevertheless, be true?

Is Chea Sim gaining in power and influence at the expense of Heng Samrin, and more importantly Hun Sen, or are the first two, ex-DK ‘hardliners’, countering Hun Sen’s supposed liberalism, perhaps even aiming for the Red Solution? A Kremlinological analysis of the Cambodian press does not support either hypothesis.[626]

A count of prominent appearances of all three in the Party newspaper Pracheachon during 1989-1990 and in 1986, Hun Sen’s second year as both Prime Minister and Foreign Minister after his ranking had been consolidated, shows Hun Sen given more prominence than either Heng Samrin or Chea Sim in both 1989 and 1990, whereas in 1986 both of them had appeared more often.

Moreover, the number of Hun Sen’s appearances increased from 1989 to 1990 (55 to 62), while those of both Chea Sim and Heng Samrin decreased slightly, from 44 to 41 and from 49 to 48.

Neither does Kampuchea, organ of the Front, Chea Sim’s own organization, help the ‘hardline’ case. Hun Sen is less prominent, perhaps only because that paper gives less attention to foreign affairs, but space devoted to him was steady in all three years and equal to Chea Sim in 1986 and 1990. Heng Samrin dominated overall, with greater attention given to Chea Sim only in 1989, the year of allegedly Hun Sen-inspired liberalization, and when Kampuchea was under an editor close to Hun Sen.[627]

The new public prominence of Chea Sim, ‘seen’ by NGO workers and transient journalists, seems really to be a result of their previous lack of familiarity with the country.

As for the Red Solution, it is the least plausible of all scenarios. The Khmer Rouge consider the Phnom Penh leaders traitors, and the latter have for too long rejected the Khmer Rouge both as traitors and as genocidal murderers. It is unlikely that even reconciled China and Viet Nam would press for such a solution, nor could they impose it, for in the eyes of the Khmer Rouge the worst treason of their former colleagues in Phnom Penh is friendship with Viet Nam, and Viet Nam would hardly collude in restoring their most bitter enemies to any degree of control in Cambodia.

The Red Solution is a canard which can only make sense to people locked in an early Cold War mindset, where ‘once a communist always a communist’, and of only one variety.

But supposing that behind the scenes Chea Sim (who after all is second- ranking member of the Politburo, President of the National Assembly, and President of the Front, and therefore a person of undoubted power and influence), really is showing his muscle, what precisely are the ‘hardline’ policies which he might wish to impose against Hun Sen?

The journalists love to prate about a Chea Sim-inspired suppression of the new liberal economic policies with which Hun Sen has been associated - increased private ownership of housing and land, the end of attempts to collectivize agriculture, more freedom for private market activities, in particular import of foreign goods via Koh Kong.

These measures have been popular, at least in Phnom Penh, and among those with extra cash or valuables to invest or spend on luxuries. Even state employees living on exiguous salaries were happy to receive title to the houses in which they had squatted with tacit government approval since 1979; and this new property ownership has already resulted in a speculative real estate market which has brought wealth to some people who previously had little but their salaries.

The other side of the coin has been the 400% devaluation which has hit all those on salary, has probably hurt farmers who are not in a position to receive a corresponding increase in prices for their products, has created a new group of conspicuously wealthy Phnom Penhites, and has widened the gap between city and country. As those who now worry about Chea Sim delighted in reporting all through 1989, one effect of economic freedom was widespread corruption and scandalous profiteering by some of those in power, extending, so they said, right up to the country’s top families.

Certainly these developments trouble Chea Sim, and no doubt others who are not at all ‘hardline’; in fact, all but the profiteers who flaunted their wealth in the new night spots until some controls were recently imposed on them.

Chea Sim may well be saying that certain of the liberal developments must be reined in. At the very least some of the new and largely unproductive wealth must be taxed. Before western journalists express shock at ‘hardline’ economic measures they might take note that so far no effective taxation has been applied on the imports from Thailand, Singapore, and elsewhere which pass through Koh Kong, and increased taxation, particularly in that sector, is in the cards for 1991.

Other ‘hardline’ measures were explicitly suggested by Chea Sim in a December 4th televised conference at which he addressed Health Ministry officials.

One of the problems he said must be solved is the vast quantities of outdated, fake, and dangerous medicines which have so far been imported untaxed, and sold without restriction in private pharmacies and street stands, a concern which health workers have voiced for 10 years. Chea Sim said that new regulations must be introduced to control the import and sale of medicines, and that none should be sold until certified by government experts. He was speaking to the right audience, for most of the private pharmacists are also Health Ministry officials.

Another problem Chea Sim emphasized was the attitude of doctors to patients. He complained that too often doctors were impolite or arrogant to patients, particularly the poor, and he said they must change their attitude.

A third problem was the scarcity of doctors in distant provinces. All graduates of the medical school, he said, want to stay and work in Phnom Penh, and the state should begin to take measures to require doctors to serve some time in rural areas. Incidentally, these are not problems unique to Cambodia within Southeast Asia.

These are some examples of Chea Sim’s ‘hardline’ ideas, suggesting policies and regulations which are normal throughout the world, but which have not yet been applied in the anarchically ‘liberal’ situation which Cambodia could not avoid because of the penury of trained personnel and state resources after 1979.

Among his audience were several NGO foreigners whose presence illustrates the new opportunities they have for association with local colleagues and observation of the Cambodian leadership, but which may lead to misunderstanding when, as in this case, they had no idea of what was being said. Perhaps, bored themselves, and noting the glum expressions of the conferees who were being chided for profiteering and shirking of duty, they may imagine they were witness to an example of ‘hardline’ repression of freedom.

Interestingly, Chea Sim linked the problems he cited and their solution to the coming free elections, the holding of which he treated implicitly as a foregone conclusion. He told his audience that if they, that is the Cambodian government and its officials, did not get the people’s support they would lose the election, and would thereby lose their present positions. Doctors and pharmacists, in order not to lose potential electoral support for the government, must henceforth insure that patients get safe medicines, are treated politely, and in distant provinces receive at least minimal care.

Chea Sim certainly knows what he is talking about. As one of the old guard of revolutionaries he was part of the Pol Pot-led revolutionary apparatus in the days when it was winning popular support among the poor and in the countryside, against a Phnom Penh which appeared increasingly as the home of the wealthy, arrogant, and exploitative. It was with such support that Chea Sim and his comrades withstood US bombing and conquered Phnom Penh in April 1975.[628]

He may well be more sensitive to the danger of social divisions than younger people, who only joined the revolution in the 1970s and who, since 1979, have emphasized the role of foreign influence in the Pol Pot regime rather than the popular support which that group once enjoyed. Chea Sim no doubt agrees with the remark of an Australian education adviser to his Khmer counterpart in November 1990 that “every imported Mercedes costs the government 10,000 votes”.[629]

Is Cambodia ready for liberalization? (1991)[630]

Pertinently, Hun Sen in his 29 November 1990 conference for the foreign press (which was immediately televised to the Cambodian public that evening), noted that the situation in Cambodia may be less serious than, for example, in the Philippines, where President Aquino declared a national emergency during the rebellion of December 1989.

Hun Sen said that his government had not yet felt obliged to declare a state of emergency which, he emphasized, could give them the right to enforce general mobilization and confiscation of property in order to maintain internal security and national defense. This observation may have been directed less at the foreign journalists who probably missed its significance than at his local audience, warning the profiteers and corrupt among them that norms of international practice, even in the capitalist and formally democratic states, permit a government to resort to dictatorial and confiscatory measures in times of great national crisis.[631]

No country can afford to indulge in political and economic liberalization in wartime, least of all the small and weak. Even in the US, far as it has been from any battlefield in the 20th century, wars have at times meant conscription, rationing, internment of supposed subversives, and censorship.

Demands for Phnom Penh to open up multi-party politics before the war is over are misplaced, and may reasonably be construed there as demands for them to commit political suicide. If a few people were detained earlier this year for insisting on formation of a new political party and pluralism as in Warsaw or Prague, it was a normal wartime measure and not necessarily a sign of a split between Hun Sen liberals and Chea Sim hardliners.[632]

And quite apart from Cambodia’s precarious situation, the view of Eastern Europe from Phnom Penh is shattering. Here were a group of industrialized socialist countries, who helped revive Cambodia after 1979, where thousands of Cambodian students have been sent for advanced university and technical studies, and whose living standards seemed ultra-modern to post-revolutionary Cambodians. Suddenly they embrace pluralism and capitalism and within a year seem to go down the drain both economically and socially.

Not even the new democracy and free speech cut much ice in Phnom Penh when children write home, as did the daughter of one of my friends, that many of the 500-odd Khmer students in former East Germany have had to interrupt their studies and flee from smaller towns where they were studying to the slightly greater security of metropolitan Leipzig, to escape being hunted down by neoNazi hoodlums.

If the Eastern European states, which appeared stable, prosperous, and progressive, could collapse so easily, a Cambodian does not have to be a ‘hardliner’, or a closet Khmer Rouge, to believe that political pluralism, beyond elections among the existing factions, is premature.

Even in Viet Nam, where the dangers of war are past and a new prosperity is evident, the leading pro-free market economist, Nguyen Xuan Oanh, recently (December 1990) answered a Western journalist’s question about political pluralism there with the observation that Korea had developed under Park Chung Hee, Taiwan under the Kuomintang, and Singapore under Lee Kuan Yew. So much for the attractions of political pluralism to, not just ‘hardline’ politicians, but hardheaded economists.[633]

The Cambodian hardline reaction, if that is what it is, must also be viewed against what has not happened in the West in response to the tentative steps toward perestroika and glasnost in Indochina during the past two years, and which really began there even earlier than in Eastern Europe. Since 1979 the problem had allegedly been Vietnamese troops in Cambodia; there were implicit promises that their withdrawal would bring relaxation of US and ASEAN pressures.[634]

They left, but except in Thailand nothing happened, and statements by US regime figures could be construed as meaning they want the Vietnamese to interfere in Cambodian affairs again to help secure US policy goals. In Viet Nam IMF and World Bank recommendations were followed, and the Cambodian economic liberalization in 1989 was similar. But even after the IMF in 1989 wrote a glowing report, and insisted Viet Nam deserved normalization of economic relations, investment, and aid, the US blocked all such plans.[635]

What is Phnom Penh to make of this, especially when, even more than in the Vietnamese experience, their liberalization has resulted in explosive inflation, a flood of destabilizing luxuries, and politically dangerous class disparities? The disastrous effects were to be expected, given Cambodia’s wartime weaknesses.

Even when the US finally got around to taking a minimally concrete decision against the Khmer Rouge, refusing to support further recognition in the UN, it was accompanied by a tightening of restrictions on travel and trade by Americans in Viet Nam and Cambodia; now in 1991 we see a new US blueprint for normalization of relations which takes an even harder line.

Coming when it did, 10 years too late, an obvious finesse of domestic criticism, and simultaneous with Big Power projects which are biased against Phnom Penh, Cambodians can easily view it with some degree of cynicism, as nothing more than an element in the Nicaragua Strategy.[636]

All of the so-called ‘peace plans’ have been designed to effect the dissolution of the Phnom Penh government, starting with the original Australian ‘Redbook’ of February 1990, whose authors thanked Congressman Stephen Solarz and Prince Norodom Sihanouk, and no one else, for inspiration.[637] No more ardent enemies of Phnom Penh, outside of the Khmer Rouge leadership, could be imagined.

Hun Sen’s adamant refusal to accede to the demand for dissolution, or surrender of authority to the UN, does not need to be blamed on Chea Sim in the background. He has the support of all those Cambodians within the country who still worry about a Khmer Rouge danger, and even hostile journalists agree that they are the majority of the population.

The week after I met them, the men among my Phnom Penh friends were scheduled to ‘go down to the base’. This means two weeks to a month in a distant village, living with the people in order to explain and gain support for government policies. It is a duty of all officials below Politburo level, but not of the free market operators who import luxury cars and fake medicines, and swill cognac with journalists in the Cambodiana hotel, perhaps regaling them with horror stories of Chea Sim-inspired taxation.[638]

The ‘base’ may be in Siemreap, or Koh Kong, regions of actual or imminent Khmer Rouge attack. This is a duty from which some do not return, but if there were times in the past when officials from Phnom Penh may have had to justify policies about which they were themselves less than enthusiastic, there can be little doubt that this time they will spare no effort to tell their more isolated countrymen about Hun Sen’s view of the peace process, Chea Sim’s statements on social and economic inequalities, and the dangers to Cambodia of siren calls for pluralism and lax economic organization before peace is secure.

If they had seen it, they might even cheer the observation of a “frustrated” UN official who pretentiously “warned that unless the Cambodians ‘get their act together’ and arrived at an early settlement to the conflict, ‘they risk being set aside’ by the world”.[639] If being set aside means nobody gives any more aid, sanctuary, privileged access, or diplomatic support to any faction, in particular the Khmer Rouge, this might be the ideal solution viewed from Phnom Penh.

One important result of the policy of ‘going down to the base’ was a change in the Phnom Penh government’s attitude toward Sihanouk. Soon after the Paris Peace Agreement was signed in October 1991, Sihanouk returned to Phnom Penh with all honors.

The shift in CPP attitude toward Sihanouk from contempt and accusations of selling out to the Khmer Rouge to full honors due a former king and chief of state was a direct result of PRK Marxism, one principle of which was keeping in touch with the people, both to propagate policies decided on by the state, and to determine reactions at the grass roots. In the early years they made anti-Sihanouk propaganda, but by 1988 those returning from the base reported that the anti-Sihanouk line was not selling well, and that grass roots peasants were demonstrating increasing support for him.

Along with their adaptation to international developments, the PRK leadership took cognizance of popular opinion and decided to change its line on Sihanouk, hoping, of course, that they could control him, and coopt him in their election campaign.[640]

Vagaries in Cambodian Journalism 1988-1991

At the time the above articles were written for The Nation, there had been much careless and misinformed journalism about Cambodia. Although the Chea Sim hardline interpretation was exaggerated, it is possible that the Cambodian government may have rethought the policy, associated with Hun Sen, of giving generous access to all and sundry journalists, many of whom have taken advantage of it to fill their columns with the trivial or scandalous with little regard for accuracy or relevance.[641]

At the end of 1988 there seems to have been a decision that Cambodia had made such progress that most news about the country reaching the outside world would be good news, whatever the preconceptions of the reporters, and journalists of all stripes were given easier entrance and greater access to ranking persons than at any time since 1980.

The first notable example was Hun Sen’s two-hour interview in November 1988 with Elizabeth Becker and Jacques Bekaert, both of whom had exerted their talents to undermine the PRK throughout the previous eight years.[642] The new policy was successful in turning Becker around. After that her writings on Cambodia became for a time supportive of Phnom Penh, and virtually indistinguishable in tone from the work of Cambodia specialists whom she had excoriated a few years earlier.[643]

In Bekaert’s case the results have been more nuanced, although his columns show more positive treatment of the Phnom Penh government than before. But he also seems to have been responsible for one canard which fits perfectly with the propaganda of Phnom Penh’s enemies. This concerns the alleged return of Vietnamese troops to Cambodia to counter an offensive in the northwest in early 1990.

Possibly the first mention of these troops was in Bekaert’s report in Le Monde, 9 Feb 1990, written from Battambang with the headline “Des soldats vietnamiens participeraient a la protection de Battambang” Most of the contents were devoted to the Vietnamese return, of which he claimed to have been informed by PRK soldiers, including the gem that they had to be paid “at least 100 dollars a month”. It is intriguing that in Bekaert’s articles in the Bangkok Post, 6 and 8 Feb 1990, also in part about Battambang, he was unwilling to give

the same emphasis to Vietnamese troops; they were mentioned in very low-key sentences toward the end of the reports.

Apparently the International Herald Tribune picked up Bekaert’s Le Monde story and a similar report in Jane’s Defense Weekly and published it on 21 February, but the story did not otherwise run in Bangkok until the Nation picked it up from the IHT on 22 February. It did not come forth in Bangkok from journalists in contact with coalition troops until 25 February (Nation), perhaps after the coalition had learned what their problem was from the international press.

Finally a Bangkok-based journalist, Richard Ehrlich, reporting from Phnom Penh, said that “several senior Western and Eastern diplomats in Cambodia and Viet Nam agreed there is ‘no evidence’ to support reports that Vietnamese troops have been secretly fighting against the resistance in Cambodia” (Bangkok Post 8 July 1990).[644]

Of greater concern is the new current of up-beat reporting about the reformed Khmer Rouge, in which Bekaert has had a hand, through his re-publication to the French and English-speaking world of KR radio claims of success which would otherwise be without influence, and unnoticed outside a narrow circle of specialists. His Bangkok Post columns have become the main western-language outlet for KR propaganda, which Bekaert himself admits is often untrue.[645]

Another example is James Pringle, who has lost no opportunity to pinpoint the faults of the SOC government and society. He found it newsworthy, after a visit to a Pol Pot camp near the Thai border, to announce that “Pol Pot turns over a new leaf and goes green”. The same theme was headlined a month later by Charles-Antoine de Nerciat in a visit to another Pol Pot camp, this time on Thai territory.

According to Pringle, orders have gone out to Khmer Rouge troops and villagers under their control to “protect endangered species”, for “wild birds and animals are an important part of Cambodia’s heritage”. Pringle contrasted this with the situation in an area 24 km distant “controlled by the Vietnam-backed Phnom Penh regime” where all sorts of wildlife are captured, sold, and eaten.[646]

Since concern for wildlife was not a part of traditional Cambodian culture, nor a policy of any previous regime, it would appear that the Khmer Rouge have been given some friendly western PR advice, which has quickly paid off in the writings of Pringle and de Nerciat.

It should be noted in their favor, however, that they also revealed on the basis of personal investigation that top Khmer Rouge leaders live in houses inside Thailand, and have lucrative business deals with Thai scrap metal and timber dealers, through which “their forces inside Cambodia are often flush with dollars”.

Pringle, moreover, noted that then “Prime Minister Chatichai Choonhavan ... probably opposes this Khmer Rouge presence in Thailand ... [b]ut factions in the Thai military still back the Khmer Rouge”; and those factions have now taken over control of the Thai government.[647]

It is unfortunate, but typical, that a Khmer Rouge PR ploy, designed to gain sympathy among naive westerners, was given emphasis over the valuable political information which these experienced journalists had obtained on a visit to a sensitive, isolated area.[648]

A more blatant example of the new KR-chic is found in the writing of Nate Thayer in FEER and The Washington Quarterly. Reporting that “Pol Pot goes all-out to build popular support”, Thayer describes “Khmer Rouge fighters, including many sons of the village, ming[ling] easily with peasants”, as in “hundreds of villages ... making a remarkable comeback with a sophisticated political campaign aimed at gaining power in the elections proposed in a UN peace plan”.

In contrast to their rivals, the Khmer Rouge, according to Thayer, are honest, disciplined, and “respectful of civilians”. They are volunteers, well-paid and equipped, unlike the Phnom Penh government draftees, whose impressment has “caused widespread resentment among the peasantry”. Thayer alleges “abuse of human rights at all levels of the Hun Sen government”, which he sets against Khmer Rouge discipline. For Thayer, internal SOC refugees from the ongoing conflict are all “civilians ... forced to move ... to deprive the Khmer Rouge of food and recruits”, or people who have fled from government areas to Khmer Rouge areas “complaining of conscription, indiscipline ... [and] corruption”.[649]

Much of this is the straight, undigested official KR line. Thayer has seen a few of their villages, but not “hundreds”. He has not claimed to have investigated the situation of the internal refugees, and his statement contradicts the reports of those who have, and who say that most of those people have fled on their own to escape fighting caused by KR attacks.

As for voluntary participation in the KR forces by a supporting population exercising free choice, there has been no lack of credible reports of forced mobilization and movement of people under Khmer Rouge control. As an example, in January 1990 officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross and United Nations Border Relief Operation told reporters that, “[i]nstead of allowing the refugees to return to their home villages, the communist [KR] guerrillas may move them into the [‘liberated’] zones, for use in military and diplomatic maneuvering or for contesting elections if peace comes”.

In 1989 they forcibly moved 4,000 people out of a UN camp and across the border, thwarting “UN plans to transfer them to a safer area. The “resistance wants ... to keep their hold on these people”; and this “seems to be a Libanization of Cambodia”. The Khmer Rouge “has used [UN] camps for recruitment and has diverted food, medicine and other supplies from them to the front”.[650] These seem to be as clear examples of human rights abuse and corruption as anything charged against Phnom Penh.

Thayer might argue that he is only doing his journalistic duty, reporting what he sees and hears in the area which he has chosen to study. This is not entirely true, for his articles, in addition to straight-faced repetition of official KR handouts, are laced with details sourced to anonymous ‘diplomats’, ‘Western intelligence officials’, and ‘analysts’ (at Western embassies, in Bangkok, etc.), whose pronouncements, at least so long as they are anonymous, are no more credible than official KR briefings.

It is worth noting that in trying to make a different point - that the KR had not been all that bad - Thayer acknowledged that “US and other foreign policy suffers from an extraordinary lack of effective intelligence and accurate information from inside Cambodia, particularly information regarding the KR”, and he was piqued that those agencies would not confirm his claimed observations.[651]

An interesting new propaganda twist is Thayer’s positive assessment of KR “political cadres [who] outrank military officers ... [and] whose job is to explain the organization’s political programme to peasants”. When reporting on the PRK

Western journalists have repeatedly damned such political cadres and their work.[652]

In spite of often uncertain sources, Thayer has become an on-the-spot KR specialist, and the information he transmits is ‘news’, even when its factual content may be low, or poorly substantiated.

The editors of the FEER, however, do not have that excuse. They receive material from a variety of sources, some of which directly contradicts the details offered by Thayer. Theirs is a studied choice to block out, or minimize, reporting favorable to the SOC, while emphasizing Thayer’s idyllic picture of happy villagers under the reformed Khmer Rouge.

Thayer’s influence may explain a remark in an article by Senator Kerrey which puzzled me at the time: that the announced US intention “to open discussions with the Vietnamese about Cambodia strengthens the political message of the Khmer Rouge [because] they have been organizing around a fierce nationalist, anti-Vietnamese, anti-corruption message ... , [while] the Cambodian people have intense feelings about the Vietnamese ... , [and] our ‘collaboration’ with the Vietnamese will become a battle cry for committed Khmer Rouge fighters”.[653]

In my answer to Kerrey I said the idea that improvement in US-Viet Nam relations could “strengthen the political message of the Khmer Rouge” can only have come from a disguised Khmer Rouge source, perhaps via one of our national security agencies which, Kerrey alleged, hide the real news about Cambodia.[654] Now it seems that Kerrey had been privileged with a prepublication copy of Thayer’s article, or with the type of research help from which Thayer may also have benefited.

In that letter, I continued, “on the contrary, peace between the US and Viet Nam would be of immediate help to Phnom Penh and to the Cambodian population suffering from the continuing war. The entire purpose of US, Chinese and ASEAN manipulations to form the coalition and support it for ten years was to bleed Vietnam, whatever the result for new Khmer Rouge strength”.

Thayer might not disagree with this, but he does not wish to help the Phnom Penh government, which he sees as inferior to the Khmer Rouge and too close to Vietnam.

Whatever the level of Cambodian antipathy for Vietnam - and such feelings, as Thayer emphasized, are widespread - it was not Khmer Rouge opposition to Viet Nam that brought them to power the first time.

At the beginning of their revolution, and until 1972, it appeared both to their friends and to their enemies that the Khmer Rouge were working with the Vietnamese communists. And it was their violent turn against Viet Nam after 1976 that brought about their downfall; not just because they attacked an enemy too strong for them, but because their war effort exasperated an already sorely tried population to the point where they preferred a historical enemy to a nationalist, but brutal, Khmer regime.

Both Heder, implicitly, and Thayer have taken on the role of defender of the anti-Phnom Penh forces. There are interesting differences between their positions. Heder takes as axiomatic that Viet Nam has a primordial and unalterable intention to absorb Cambodia, whereas Thayer claims only that this is a nearly universal Cambodian belief, even if it is not true.

Thayer thinks that the true saviors of Cambodia may be the so-called NonCommunist Resistance, but to secure their return to power it is necessary to do nothing to hinder the activities of the Khmer Rouge.

Heder went through that phase some eight years ago, and now recognizes the unviability and incompetence of the NCR. His tactic now, and a continuing theme from his writings of 1979-1980, is still to discredit the Phnom Penh leadership; but the result in his latest papers is that the only figures who emerge with any credibility are people who were among Pol Pot’s most bloody enforcers, Ta Mok, Kae Pok and Son Sen.

Other journalists have written endlessly, and pettily, about corruption in Phnom Penh, refusing to acknowledge that corruption inevitably accompanies the economic freedoms which the same journalists insist Phnom Penh should maintain in emulation of Eastern Europe.[655]

Just as in discussion of Vietnamese forces in Cambodia, noted in the articles above, mystification filled the estimates of the armed forces of the Democratic Kampuchea group after 1979. The powers concerned with manipulation of the peace process, and subservient writers, tinkered with statistics on the number of Khmer Rouge troops.

The reason for this was to maintain the excuse that the Khmer Rouge could not be dropped from the peace process because they were too strong. Once the election was over the estimated numbers dropped dramatically.

Khmer Rouge Troop Numbers (1979-1992)

For several years before the 1993 election western estimates of KR armed strength had been in the 30-40,000 range, which, so it went, made them too strong to exclude from the ‘peace process’.

Then, for the public who had followed the news, UNTAC head Yasushi Akashi’s startling May 1993 announcement that KR strength had increased by 50% would have meant that UNTAC had suddenly discovered that their true strength was in the 45-50,000 range, in fact alarming (see further below). That was what I thought he meant at the time. Suddenly, once the election was over, public estimates of KR strength plummeted to the 10-15,000 level, about where Hun Sen had always placed them, in his efforts to downgrade KR importance in negotiations leading up to the Paris Agreement.

Throughout the 1980s guesses in the Western press about DK strength were grouped around figures of 30-4000, whatever the political position of the writer, although Elizabeth Becker reported 50,000 in 1983, and a somewhat lower, and seemingly more precise, 28,000 “remained” [my emphasis] “the commonly accepted number for the Khmer Rouge armed force” in Nayan Chanda’s Asian Survey article for 1987.[656]

The anti-PRK Bangkok journalist, Paisal Sricharatchanya, writing in FEER in the fall of 1988, gave a figure of 13,000 “fighters” who were in “three Khmer Rouge divisions active along the Thai-Cambodian border”, as being “roughly a third of the group’s estimated total of 30-40,000 soldiers”.[657] Not long afterward Nayan Chanda from Washington offered a lower “US intelligence estimates Khmer Rouge fighting strength at 20,000 (with plans for expansion)”.[658]

More attention should have been paid this low figure (even though it might at the time have been as disinformative as any other) for we now know it was much closer to the truth. Higher figures, however, continued to enjoy more prominence. The relatively pro-PRK Oxford historian Peter Carey thought they had “nearly 40,000 men under arms”, with which “western diplomats in Bangkok” generally agreed (“30-40,000 guerrillas, about half of whom are in Cambodia”), although “officials in Phnom Penh [in agreement for once with US intelligence] say the [DK] group has only 20,000 fighters, with about 8,000 operating in the country.”