The People's Poet!

The People's Poet!
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Sunday, 9 February 2014

Bombing Cambodia

 The Khmer Rouge is celebrated in the West, the antics of Pol Pot and his mates are held up as shining examples of the only alternative to the unfolding disaster that is the Western social democratic experiment. The trouble with most Western narratives about Cambodia is they begin with the Khmer Rouge coming to power and they completely omit or gloss over the conditions which led to the ascent of Pol Pot and his cohorts.

 In an article for Yale's Walrus magazine, Bombs Over Cambodia, Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan discuss the massive US bombing campaign which led directly to the rise of the Khmer Rouge and ultimately the Killing Fields.

" In the fall of 2000, twenty-five years after the end of the war in Indochina,
Bill Clinton became the first US president since Richard Nixon to visit
Vietnam. While media coverage of the trip was dominated by talk of
some two thousand US soldiers still classified as missing in action, a
small act of great historical importance went almost unnoticed. As a humanitarian
gesture, Clinton released extensive Air Force data on all American
bombings of Indochina between 1964 and 1975. Recorded using a
groundbreaking ibm-designed system, the database provided extensive
information on sorties conducted over Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia."
          The bombing was on an unprecedented scale:
"2,756,941 tons’ worth, dropped in 230,516 sorties on 113,716 sites. 
Just over 10 percent of this bombing was indiscriminate, with 3,580 of the sites listed as having “unknown” targets and another 8,238 sites having no target listed at all. The database also shows that the bombing began four years earlier than is widely believed — not under Nixon, but under Lyndon Johnson."  
To justify the extent of the bombing apologists claim the sparsely populated border between Vietnam and Cambodia was where the bombing was primarily targeted, but the data provided by the US Air Force demonstrates quite clearly the preponderance of bombs were dropped on the densely populated outskirts of Phnom Penh - at its closest point still well over 50 km from the border. The original plan to bomb Cambodia was accepted by the US congress with the assurance that any bombing would take place within 50 km of the Vietnamese border:
After expressing to Kissinger his frustration that the US Air Force was being “unimaginative,” Nixon demanded more bombing, deeper into the country: “They have got to go in there and I mean really go in . . . I want everything that can fly to go in there and crack the hell out of them. There is no limitation on mileage and there is no limitation on budget. Is that clear?” Nixon’s order ignored his administration’s prior assurances to Congress that U.S. planes would remain within 30 miles of the Vietnamese border, and would not bomb within a kilometre of any village, as well as military assessments that the air strikes were like “poking a beehive with a stick.”

In an appalling attempt to minimise the effect the bombing had on the rural the Cambodian population Donald Jameson argues:
"As a Khmer language political officer in the US Embassy in Phnom Penh I also interviewed refugees from areas in Cambodia that had been subjected to US bombing. I heard almost the exact same stories about the earth shaking and explosions lighting up the sky, but with one major difference from what is reported in this article. No one mentioned B-52s, for the simple reason that Cambodian peasants had no knowledge that B-52s even existed. Beyond that they flew too high to be seen from the ground. The refugees I interviewed had no idea what had caused the explosions and trembling of the earth that they experienced. I am afraid that this critical part of the story is a complete fabrication and, as such, it undermined the whole point of the story. Terrible and inexcusable as it was, the bombing had very little effect on the propensity of Cambodian peasants to join the Khmer Rouge insurgents. Anyone who has even a slight knowledge of Cambodian peasants knows that they have virtually no concept of politics and have no awareness of Communism or any other political ideology." 
The sentiment expressed by Jameson was demolished in the article he critiqued:
Years after the war ended, journalist Bruce Palling asked Chhit Do, a former Khmer Rouge officer, if his forces had used the bombing as anti-American propaganda. Chhit replied: "Every time after there had been bombing, they would take the people to see the craters, to see how big and deep the craters were, to see how the earth had been gouged out and scorched.... The ordinary people sometimes literally shit in their pants when the big bombs and shells came. Their minds just froze up and they would wander around mute for three or four days. Terrified and half crazy, the people were ready to believe what they were told. It was because of their dissatisfaction with the bombing that they kept on co-operating with the Khmer Rouge, joining up with the Khmer Rouge, sending their children off to go with them.... Sometimes the bombs fell and hit little children, and their fathers would be all for the Khmer Rouge."
There is no excusing the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge, but the analysis carried out by Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan of US Air Force supplied data establishes that without the massive bombing campaign launched against rural Cambodia there would not have been a large scale uprising.

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