The Khmer Rouge and Cold War Geopolitics
The Khmer Rouge was surely one of the most brutal and barbaric regimes of the 20th century. According to Ben Kiernan, a genocide scholar who has spent many years in Cambodia and can speak the Khmer language, the death toll for the years that the Khmer Rouge were in power “was between 1.671 and 1.871 million people, 21 to 24 percent of Cambodia’s 1975 population.”1 According to an Amnesty International report, the Khmer Rouge was responsible for “extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, torture and forced labour on a massive scale” and they “executed hundreds of thousands of people to eliminate perceived opposition; they purged educated groups, and summarily executed leaders and members of religious and ethnic communities.” The same report also stated that “starvation and disease were widespread” under Khmer Rouge rule.2
The Khmer Rouge turned Cambodia into a “concentration camp of the mind, a slave state where absolute obedience was enforced on the killing fields.”3 The policy of going back to “Year Zero”, where there would be no connections with the modern world, “no families, no sentiment, no expressions of love or grief, no medicines, no hospitals, no schools, no books, no learning, no holidays, no music, no song, no post, no money; only work and death”, ripped “apart the fabric of [the] whole [of Cambodian] society.”4
Why did the world allow this to happen? Because Cambodia was so caught up in Cold War politics. A British diplomat in Thailand said of Cambodia: “It’s only 8 million people. Our ties with China and our ties with the U.S. are much more important than these 8 million people.”5
There are two different ways that powerful countries affected the Khmer Rouge. The first is through direct involvement. This would include Chinese military aid given to the Khmer Rouge and American and British training of Khmer Rouge Guerrillas. The second is through indirect involvement. This would include the adoption of an ideology based on Maoism by the Khmer Rouge and the transformation of the Khmer Rouge into a movement with a large base due to peasant anger over the American bombing. In this essay I will look at both direct and indirect involvement.
The aim of this essay is to assess where the Khmer Rouge fits in to the geo-political framework of the Cold War. It seeks to assess how the great powers affected Khmer Rouge ideology, how they affected or responded to Khmer Rouge actions, to what extent they supported or opposed the Khmer Rouge and how the Cambodian tragedy was cynically exploited by the great powers to achieve their Cold War aims. This essay assumes that the Cold War didn’t end in Indochina until 1995, when the U.S. embargo on Vietnam was lifted and Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia had all been integrated into the capitalist economy.
Phase 1: The growth of the Khmer Rouge
Maoism and Khmer Rouge Ideology
From the beginnings of the Khmer Rouge it was obvious that their ideology was based on Maoism. In 1967 Pol Pot wrote a letter to the Chinese Central Party Committee, which lavished “fulsome praise on the cultural revolution,” which he claimed that the Cambodian communists had “studied, are studying and are determined to go on studying continuously without let-up”6. Much of the Khmer Rouge revolution was based upon the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward in China. Pol Pot’s “Year Zero” programme can be viewed as an extreme version of the Cultural Revolution. Pol Pot believed that after Year Zero Cambodian society would be “purified”. “Capitalism, Western culture, city life, religion, and all foreign influences were to be extinguished in favour of an extreme form of peasant Communism”, much like the Cultural Revolution in China.7 Much of the cultural repression under the Khmer Rouge found it’s predecessor in the “cultural repression of Tibet” that was instituted in the Cultural Revolution.8
In 1976, the Khmer Rouge instituted a campaign very similar to the Great Leap Forward in China, which they initially called the “Great Leap Forward.” But by 1977 it was the “Super Great Leap Forward”. According to Ben Kiernan: “Two major ideological features of China’s Great Leap era, crash collectivism and the concept of a ‘communist wind,’ prefigure [the Khmer Rouge’s] own leap.” During the Great Leap Forward in China, a Chinese official urged “unified uprising, eating, sleeping, setting out to work, and returning from work.” This policy of extreme collectivization was later followed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.9
The repression of family was an important policy in Mao’s Great Leap Forward and this was copied with even more extremity by the Khmer Rouge. In 1958 Mao proclaimed that “the family, which emerged in the last period of primitive communism, will in future be abolished”. “Long after the Chinese had abandoned such ideas, Pol Pot took up Mao’s gauntlet.”10 In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge forced women “to marry [men] they did not know” and “only a camp controller could sanction marriage”11.
In 1960, Mao said that “we must disperse the residents of the big cities to the rural areas”. In China, “100,000 urban enterprises were closed down, and by 1961 ten million people had been moved from urban to rural areas, and another ten million by 1965.”12 During this period Pol Pot went to China to see the Chinese Revolution for himself. The evacuation of Phnom Penh on April 17th 1975, the forced marching of all city dwellers into the countryside and the creation of “Year Zero” by the Khmer Rouge all have their roots in this Chinese “over-correction” of the urbanization policies of the Great Leap Forward. The Khmer Rouge also applied the Chinese policy of extermination of ethnic minorities, intellectuals and city dwellers.
U.S. Bombing and the Growth of the Khmer Rouge
The Khmer Rouge was, for the most part until about 1970, a small revolutionary group with little base. They needed a catalyst. This came in the form of the American bombing of Cambodia, a “sideshow” to the war against Vietnam. The bombing was initiated in October 1965 and ended in April 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia. Between 1965 and 1970 “475,515 tons of ordinance” was dropped on Cambodia. In 1969 the bombing was stepped up to carpet-bombing and “beginning in 1969, the [U.S.] air force deployed B-52s over Cambodia.”13 On December 9th 1970 Richard Nixon further stepped up the bombing of Cambodia, saying that he wanted “everything that can fly to go in there and crack the hell out of them”, and that there was “no limitation on mileage and there is no limitation on budget”14. In 1973 the bombing of Cambodia was “increased to a scale that might truly merit the term ‘genocidal’”, and in the five-month period after the signing of the Paris peace accords, the bombing matched the level of the preceding three years.”15 “During one six-month period in 1973 B-52s dropped more bombs in 3,696 raids on the populated heartland of Cambodia than were dropped on Japan during all of the Second World war: the equivalent, in tons of bombs, to five Hiroshimas.” This bombing “provided a small group of fanatical Maoists, the Khmer Rouge, with a catalyst for a revolution which had no popular base among the Khmer people.”16
The Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) regime, led by Pol Pot, “profited greatly from the U.S. bombing. It used the widespread devastation and massacre of civilians for recruiting purposes, and as an excuse for its brutal policies and its purge of moderate Khmer communists.”17 The Finnish Inquiry Commission estimates that about 600,000 people died from the bombing while about 2 million became refugees.18 The Khmer Rouge used this suffering for propaganda purposes. There are many cases where Cambodian villages were bombed, and directly after the bombing the villagers went to join the Khmer Rouge. In 1979, a young man who at the age of 20 had become a CPK company commander told journalists how “his village in Pursat had been bombed eight years before, killing 200 of its 350 inhabitants and propelling him into a career of violence and absolute loyalty to the CPK.” In 1973 a group of peasants told journalists that “they wanted the bombing stopped whatever the consequences for the Phnom Penh government.” The Khmer Rouge told peasants that “the purpose of the bombing was to completely destroy the country” and that joining the Khmer Rouge was the only way to be protected from further bombardment and protect Kampuchea.19
This table was put together by Ben Kiernan and it shows the “relationship between U.S. bombing and CPK armed forces growth”20:
CPK Armed Strength
(June) c. 220,000
a) to March 1970 b) to May 1970 (B-52s only) c) July 1970 to Feb. 1971 d) US and Saigon sorties
The rise of the Khmer Rouge clearly went hand in hand with the US bombardment, which also affected the very nature of the Khmer Rouge.
U.S. Bombing and Khmer Rouge Extremism
Milton Osborne, a Cambodia scholar, concludes that Khmer Rouge terror was “surely a reaction to the terrible bombing of communist-held regions”. Another Cambodia scholar, David Chandler, comments that the bombing “provided the CPK with the psychological ingredients of a violent, vengeful, and unrelenting social revolution”. Philip Windsor observes that “American ruthlessness … turned Communists into totalitarian fanatics.” It was in 1973, at the same time as the U.S. bombing was being increased to “genocidal” levels, that the Khmer Rouge “decided to accelerate its programme to alter Khmer society”. “At just this time, Khmer Rouge programmes became extremely harsh.”21
Starting in 1973, the Khmer Rouge began to develop a “tendency to punish alleged culprits [of the bombing] who were simply more accessible than those actually performing the raids.” A CPK subdistrict cadre in Kompong Chhnang claims that after B-52s bombed his village “people were very angry at the imperialists” and “the CPK’s political line hardened significantly” in that area. It was in 1973 that the Khmer Rouge started to round up dissidents, who “were taken to a worksite and forced to perform hard labour before being executed.” “On 20 May 1973, as the US bombardment was approaching its height, “paranoia began to plague the Khmer communist movement as never before.” It was also in 1973 that the CPK started to fully implement the “democratic revolution”. In the Kompong Thom region, which had been captured by the Khmer Rouge, “the Organization [CPK, was] led by some very severe men … Their discipline was terrible; there were many executions … there were camps for women, children, young women and young men … children were forbidden to respect their parents, monks to pray, husbands to live with their wives”. The Khmer Rouge had not practiced this much savagery before 1973. In 1980, Chhuong Kau said that “the killings began in 1973, as the bombs were falling. Also some prisoners of war were executed, and others were put in re-education centres.” One CPK soldier tells how “persecution began in 1973-74”. It was reported that in early 1973 the Khmer Rouge “entered the harsh new phase of their campaign in which all rules were strictly enforced … with stiff penalties for non-compliance”22.
Considering that the harshening of Khmer Rouge policy came at the same time as the bombing of Cambodia was greatly stepped-up, it would be an extraordinary coincidence if the two were not related. Some have even argued that some of the Khmer Rouges harsh policies, such as extremely hard slave labour and small rations, were necessary because of the conditions left by the American bombing. “As the war ended, deaths from starvation in Phnom Penh alone were running at about 100,000 a year, and the U.S. airlift that kept the population alive was immediately terminated.” The final U.S. AID report observed that the country faced famine in 1975, with 75 percent of its draft animals destroyed by the war, and that rice planting for the next harvest would have to be done “by the hard labour of seriously malnourished people.” The report predicted “widespread starvation” and “slave labour and starvation rations for half the nation’s people” for the coming year.23
It is almost inescapable that the American bombing of Cambodia was the catalyst that allowed the Khmer Rouge to gather enough support to take over Cambodia as well as one of the main reasons that Khmer Rouges policies were so brutal. It may even have been the ultimate cause of the genocide that the Khmer Rouge perpetrated in Cambodia (ignoring the fact that the bombing could also justifiably be described as genocidal). After all, it was in 1973 and 1974, when the bombing was the most intense, that the most extreme leaders took control of the Khmer Rouge by purging most of the “moderate Khmer communists”24. The effect that the American bombing had on Khmer Rouge propaganda was revealed on April 17th 1975 when the Khmer Rouge evacuated Phnom Penh. They said “Do not take anything with you. The Angkar is saying that you must leave the city for just three days so that we can prepare to defend you against bombing by American aircraft.”25 This was the first day of “Year Zero”.
Phase 2: Genocide and cynicism
Genocide and Brutality Under the Khmer Rouge
The horror started as soon as Phnom Penh was evacuated. Not that the bombing of Cambodia was not horror, no reasonable person would deny that it was, but now everything began to change and the horror became even more engrained in everyday life. Starting at one o’clock on April 17th 1975 “soldiers went from house to house telling the inhabitants that they must leave”. The people were given a few hours to leave and were told not to bring anything with them because they would only be gone for “2 or 3 days”. A Cambodian who survived the Khmer Rouge remembers of the evacuation: “Sick people were left by their families at the roadside. Others were killed because they could walk no further. Children who had lost their parents cried out in tears, looking for them. The dead were abandoned, covered in flies … Women gave birth wherever they could: in the road or under trees. We didn’t have the energy to think about eating. At night we fell down from weariness and slept with everyone else on the edge of the highway. When we awoke at dawn we realised that we had been sleeping next to the bodies of some soldiers who had been killed the previous day.”26
Once the Cambodians got to the countryside their “slave state” began. A confidential memorandum to the President of the United States in 1976 reported that “virtually everyone has been made a member of a ‘production cooperative’ and forced into agricultural work … should any one member flee, the remaining members of [their group] may be executed”, and that “work hours are from dawn to dusk and sometimes even longer.”27
Khmer Rouge torture practices were barbaric. In Tuol Sleng, a former primary school, a Gestapo-like unit called the S-21 “divided the classrooms into an ‘interrogation unit’ and a ‘torture massacre unit’”. When John Pilger and David Munro visited Tuol Sleng in 1979 they found “blood and tufts of hair still on the floor.” In Tuol Sleng “whole families were confined in small cells, fettered to a single iron bar. They were kept naked and slept on the stone floor, without blanket or mat, and on the wall was a school blackboard, on which was written: 1. Speaking is absolutely forbidden 2. Before doing something, the authorisation of a warden must be obtained. Doing something might mean changing position in the cell, but without authorisation the prisoner would receive twenty to thirty strokes with a whip.” One of the only 19 survivors found told Pilger that “for a whole week [he] was filled with water, then given electric currents.” Another survivor whose fingers had been crushed in a vice, and whose only crime was to be an engineer before Year Zero, wept as he told Pilger that his wife, his sons, his daughter were all gone.28
The Khmer Rouge exterminated ethnic Vietnamese and the Cham Muslim minority. Liai Duong writes that “immediately after their victory, the Khmer Rouge sought to expel the Vietnamese from Cambodian territory … In May 1975, Pol Pot and Nua Chea proclaimed their official plans to expel Vietnamese” and “in a matter of months, approximately 150,000 Vietnamese were driven from Cambodia.” Then “in mid-1976, the Khmer Rouge’s policy towards the Vietnamese changed … the regime massacred [the] ethnic Vietnamese who remained in Cambodia.”29 But this was not the only reason that the Khmer Rouge executed people. “Anyone who spoke a foreign language or knew foreigners was liable to be killed” and “people with glasses were among the first to be killed.” John Pilger wrote that it was unusual in Cambodia to “meet a person who lost fewer than six of his or her immediate family.”30
Even though the Khmer Rouge regime was barbaric on a level that would justify a comparison to the Nazis and nearly a quarter of the Cambodian population reportedly died under the Khmer Rouge31, the Khmer Rouge was still courted by the large powers when it suited them and the suffering of the Cambodians was cynically manipulated in order to achieve Cold War aims.
Chinese Support for the Khmer Rouge
The Chinese supported the Khmer Rouge during their time in power in Cambodia. Philip Short writes in his biography of Pol Pot that in June 1975 Pol Pot flew to Beijing, accompanied by Iend Sery, Ney Sarann and Siet Chhe to meet Mao who began the meeting by “declaring his approval of the Cambodian revolution”. This was after Phnom Penh had been forcibly emptied and the Khmer Rouge was already expelling all ethnic Vietnamese and executing all opponents of the regime as well as people they found to not be “pure”. Mao said that the Khmer Rouge revolution was “better than ours [the Chinese revolution].” During the meeting “China offered Cambodia large-scale economic aid, technical training, military supplies and a market for its meagre exports”32.
But “China had already decided to give [Pol Pot’s] regime all-out support.” Military supplies had been going from China to Cambodia at least since April 19th 1975, two days after the Khmer Rouge captured Cambodia, when “Ieng Sary had flown … to Beijing to ask that military supplies henceforth be channeled through the [Cambodian] port of Kompong Som, rather than through Vietnam.”33“In June, following his encounter with Mao, Pol [Pot] had a series of meetings with Deng Xiaoping in Beijing and Shanghai to discuss Cambodia’s aid requirements. Deng told him that military assistance would be provided free and that ‘it will be up to the Cambodian government to decide how the military equipment and supplies are allocated and used. China will not interfere, nor impose any condition, nor demand or privilege.’” In other words, China gave the Khmer Rouge Carte Blanche to do whatever they wanted with military aid. “In September , diplomatic sources in Beijing reported that the Chinese commitment exceeded a billion US dollars (equivalent to 3.4 billion dollars in today’s money).”34
But why did China support the Khmer Rouge so extensively? The answer is most likely Vietnam. Philip Short writes that “by 1975, the Chinese military leaders saw Vietnam as a Soviet bridgehead to Asia … [and] Cambodia [was] the one country on Vietnam’s western flank which might be expected to resist the expansion of the Vietnamese, and hence the Soviet Union.”35 Short has been known to greatly exaggerate the relationship between Vietnam and the Soviet Union so this isn’t to be trusted too much. But the Asia times also reported that “Beijing's generous support for revolutionary armies all over Asia rose during the Cultural Revolution when China's rivalry with the Soviet Union intensified and they competed for influence in the region”36. In a secret meeting with General Suharto, the then dictator of Indonesia, in 1975, President Ford said that he had the impression of a “Chinese foreign policy directed at meeting the challenge of Russia and Vietnam.” In the same meeting Henry Kissinger said that “The Chinese want to use Cambodia to balance off Vietnam”37. In is unlikely that the Vietnam factor in Chinese foreign policy was only to do with the Soviet Union. After all, Vietnam and China had been rivals for hundreds of years. But it is almost inconceivable that the Chinese support for the Khmer Rouge was not about keeping dominance over South East Asia and staying ahead of the Soviet Union. Thus, China aided and supported genocide in order to exert its influence in South-East Asia and gain a political advantage over the Soviet Union.
U.S. Covert Support for Khmer Rouge
The official U.S. policy towards the Khmer Rouge is explained in two formerly secret, but now declassified, documents.38 One of these documents records a meeting between the U.S. Department of Sate and the Foreign Ministry of Thailand.39 The other records a meeting between Gerald Ford, Henry Kissinger and General Suharto in Jakarta in December 1975.40 In the first document Henry Kissinger says to the Thai Foreign Minister, Chatchai Chunhawan, the he “should tell [the Khmer Rouge] that we bear no hostility towards them. We would like them to be independent as a counterweight to North Vietnam”, and that he “should also tell the Cambodians that we will be friends with them. They are murderous thugs but we won’t let that stand in our way. We are prepared to improve relations with them.” Kissinger also said that “we are aware that the biggest threat in Southeast Asia at the present time is North Vietnam. Our strategy is to get the Chinese into Laos and Cambodia as a barrier to the Vietnamese.”41 This is all very telling. The phrase “independent counterweight to Vietnam” almost certainly says a lot more than it first seems since the Khmer Rouge were not independent of Vietnam, but openly hostile and violent towards them. Assuming that Kissinger knew of Khmer Rouge racial policies against ethnic Vietnamese and the border attacks on Vietnam, and it would be quite surprising if he didn’t, then his offer to be friends with them is most likely a way to punish Vietnam for defeating the U.S. and straying from the role that the U.S. selected for them. After all, the U.S. was already trying to punish Vietnam with an embargo and if Vietnam was sufficiently punished then other countries would be too scared to defy the U.S. in the future, surely one of the major reasons behind the Vietnam war in the first place.
In the other document Kissinger told Suharto that “the government [of Cambodia] is in many ways worse than Vietnam, but we would like it to be independent. We don’t discourage Thailand and China from drawing closer to Cambodia.”42 Viewing ‘Independent’ as a codeword for ‘hostile to Vietnam’, this reads as: ‘We would like to see the Khmer Rouge supported because they help to punish and isolate Vietnam but we cannot do it ourselves because they are too brutal so we are having our allies do it.’ This is the essence of American policy towards the Khmer Rouge while they were in power. Because they hated Vietnam for defeating them and wanted to scare other countries away from defying them in the future, the U.S. supported the Khmer Rouge through their allies. Cambodia was thus declared expendable.
But even though American policy was to tacitly support the Khmer Rouge, many Cold Warriors and elites in the U.S. used the brutality of the Khmer Rouge to show the evil of communism.43 When the media was referring to Khmer Rouge atrocities they usually called them “communist atrocities”. This says a lot. Especially considering that following their recent defeat in Vietnam, Americans had found new fervour in the ideological war between communism and capitalism. If there was another factor it was most likely the Vietnam War. The U.S. elite was seeking to write a history of Vietnam that showed them in the best possible light and showing the brutality of the communists was a great way to achieve this.
So on the one hand the U.S. supported the Khmer Rouge through their allies so as to continue punishing Vietnam, and on the other they used the brutality of the Khmer Rouge to prove the brutality of communism and thus justify all of their foreign policies and stay ahead in the ideological war.
Phase 3: How the Khmer Rouge nearly returned to power
The liberation, the Embargo and Aid to the Khmer Rouge
On Christmas day, 1978, the Khmer Rouge was kicked out of Cambodia by the Vietnamese. Vietnam was responding to the border attacks on Vietnamese villages. After the fall of Pol Pot, Ben Kiernan interviewed Cambodian refugees at length and came to the conclusion that “when they arrived, the Vietnamese troops were welcomed, and did not mistreat the people. There was a feast; the Vietnamese distributed food and medicine, and re-established freedom of travel.”44 In 1979, John Pilger reported that Vietnam “had already sent 25,000 tons of food” to Cambodia although Vietnam “itself was facing famine”45. The Vietnamese installed Hun Sen as prime minister of Cambodia. He did remarkably well by any account. He pulled Cambodia out of a famine and by “1988 rice production and distribution gave the nation self-sufficiency.” Literacy and education programmes were “established without [any] trained teachers.” Nearly all of them had been killed.46 But Vietnam was on the wrong side in the Cold War and Cambodia suffered grim consequences for this.
An embargo was placed on Cambodia, a nation in a famine. Like Vietnam, “Cambodia [was] classified as ‘Category Z’ by the US State Department”. Because of this embargo, Cambodia was the “only country in the world to be denied United Nations development aid … [which] provides such essentials as a clean water supply, decent sanitation, medical books, hospital equipment, vaccine, irrigation pumps [and] tractors.” The extent of the damage done to the Cambodian people by the embargo was such that “in 1983 the World Bank listed Cambodia as the poorest county in the world”, and in 1989 “one in five” children died of preventable illnesses.47
While Cambodia was being starved as punishment for being liberated by an enemy of the United States and China the Khmer Rouge was being “fattened” on western aid. “For the years 1980 to 1986 inclusive the United States gave 85 million dollars to the Khmer Rouge.” This is admitted in a Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the US, which concluded that “during the years 1980-86 [the Khmer Rouge] received the following [85 million dollars] for development assistance, food assistance, economic support … and military assistance.” When the Red Cross and UNICEF were allowed a joint mission in Cambodia, after huge outcry in Britain over the embargo, both agencies said they would not go “unless the Phnom Penh government accepted a long caravan of conditions, guarantees and strings.” These conditions were mostly designed to “structure aid to Cambodia in such a way as to give … maximum help to Pol Pot.” Most of the international relief organisations, under pressure from the U.S. “shipped huge quantities of food to the Thai Army without preconditions”, knowing full well that “the Thais were doing everything in their power to restore the Khmer Rouge as a military force.” This aid was “promptly handed out to Khmer Rouge troops.” According to an internal UNICEF report, “84 percent of the food supplied to the Thai border during 1979-80 never reached those for whom it was intended.” In other words, 84 percent of Aid to Cambodia went to the Khmer Rouge. In 1983 “Western governments pledged $70 million for work on the Thai border and less than $2 million for all of Cambodia”48.
Military Support for the Khmer Rouge
But this was not the only support that the great powers gave to the Khmer Rouge. The British SAS had been secretly training the “non-communist resistance” – mostly the Khmer Rouge – “since 1983.” According to a report by Asia Watch the SAS had been secretly training the Khmer Rouge in "the use of improvised explosive devices, booby traps and the manufacture and use of time-delay devices"49. These mines were used efficiently by the Khmer Rouge to target civilians in the civil war that was now raging between the Khmer Rouge and Hun Sen’s government. “The Cambodian Mine Action Centre estimates that there may be as many as four to six million mines and unexploded ordinances in Cambodia” and “it is generally accepted that more than 40,000 Cambodians have suffered amputations as a result of mine injuries since 1979.”50
“From 1979 to 1982 the Khmer Rouge continued to hold Cambodia's seat [at the United Nations] alone, using the name 'Democratic Kampuchea,'”51 and they continued to occupy the UN seat, under different names, until 1992, on the request of the US and China. In 1989 negotiations on Cambodia were moved from the Jakarta regional forum to Paris and “the talks were expanded to include the Great Powers. China's presence brought the Khmer Rouge back to centre stage.” “The terms of the negotiations, requiring unanimity for any agreement, also effectively gave the Khmer Rouge a veto”, which they keenly used. “The Paris Agreement was signed in this form in 1991. Under the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia from 1991 to 1993, the Khmer Rouge were allowed to establish a political presence in Phnom Penh for the first time since 1979, in a new compound behind the royal palace. Under U.N. auspices, Khieu Samphan and Son Sen, president and deputy prime minister in the genocidal regime, were appointed to the Supreme National Council, a body that now enshrined Cambodian sovereignty.”52
This inclusion of the Khmer Rouge came after pressure from the US and China. In August 1989, US Secretary of State, James Baker “supported Prince Sihanouk’s call for the Khmer Rouge to be part of a future Cambodian government.”53 Eric Falt, the UN spokesman in Cambodia, told John Pilger that "the peace process was aimed at allowing [the Khmer Rouge] to gain respectability.” "The consequence of the UN's involvement was the unofficial ceding of at least a quarter of Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge”54.
It is extremely lucky that the Khmer Rouge did not capture all of Cambodia after this after this. In 1993 a UN sponsored election in Cambodia returned the Hun Sen government to power as the head of “a new coalition between the royalists and the former communists”55. The Khmer Rouge continued to fight but by this time they had lost international backing and were defeated by the Hun Sen government with the support of the Cambodian people.
The Cold War and “Bleeding” Vietnam
But why did the US, Britain and China try to get the worst mass murderers since the Nazis back in power in Cambodia? The answer is Vietnam. Since the Vietnamese had forces involved in Cambodia until 1989 to protect against the Khmer Rouge coming back to power, the US devised a policy designed to “bleed Vietnam white on the battlefield of Cambodia.”56 This meant that the Khmer Rouge would be supported because they killed Vietnamese soldiers and continued the punishment of Vietnam. It was only when, in the early 1990s, Vietnam followed China’s path and fully integrated itself into the world economy as a source of cheap labour and raw materials for the rich countries, that the US, Britain and China stopped supporting the Khmer Rouge, a sure indication of the underlying goals of the operation.
Thus, a nation of harmless peasants was bombed back to the Stone Age, a quarter of its population was allowed to die under the Khmer Rouge, it was placed under an embargo while in a famine and its children died in huge numbers for want of food and medicine, and the worst mass murderers since the Nazis were almost given a second chance in power. And all for a little game of power politics. The Khmer Rouge now stands trial for genocide, and all the politicians who supported the Khmer Rouge or helped destroy Cambodia should be on trial with them.
1: Ben Kiernan: The Demography of Genocide in South East Asia http://www.yale.edu/gsp/publications/KiernanRevised1.pdf
This figure is taken by looking at population demographics before and after the Khmer Rouge regime so it does not give an entirely accurate number of Cambodians who died as a direct result of the Khmer Rouge. A significant portion of the population most likely died from starvation left over from the American bombing. This said, it is still one of the most reliable figures.
3: Phillip short: Pol Pot The History Of A Nightmare - from the back cover
4: John Pilger and David Munro: Year Zero – The Silent Death Of Cambodia (documentary)- Quoted in Anthony Hayward: Breaking The Silence: The Television Reporting Of John Pilger
5: Quoted in John Pilger and David Munro: Cambodia Year 10 (documentary)
6: Phillip Short: Pol Pot The History Of A Nightmare
7: Ben Kiernan: External and Indigenous Sources of Khmer Rouge Ideology http://www.yale.edu/cgp/resources.html
In this essay Kiernan discusses at length the similarities and differences between Khmer Rouge policy and the policies of the great leap forward and the Cultural Revolution in China
11: John Pilger: Heroes
12: Kiernan: External and Indigenous Sources of Khmer Rouge Ideology
13: Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan: Bombs over Cambodia http://www.yale.edu/cgp/Walrus_CambodiaBombing_OCT06.pdf
14: Mr. Kissinger/The President (tape) http://www.gwu.edu/%7Ensarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB123/Box%2029,%20File%202,%20Kissinger%20%96%20President%20Dec%209,%201970%208,45%20pm%20%200.pdf
15: Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky: Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy Of the Mass Media
16: John Pilger: Tell me no lies: Investigative Journalism and its Triumphs
17: Ben Kiernan: The American Bombardment of Kampuchea, 1969-1973
In this essay he gives examples of peasants who joined the Khmer Rouge after the U.S. bombing destroyed their villages or killed their loved ones. He also goes into detail about how the Khmer Rouge used the U.S. bombing for propaganda.
18: Cited in Manufacturing Consent
19: Kiernan: The American Bombardment of Kampuchea, 1969-1973
21: Herman and Chomsky: Manufacturing Consent
22: Kiernan: The American Bombardment of Kampuchea, 1969-1973
23: Herman and Chomsky: Manufacturing Consent
24: In The American Bombardment of Kampuchea, 1969-1979, Ben Kiernan discusses the changeover of leadership of the Communist Party of Kampuchea from 1972-1974. In this he shows that the more moderate elements of the CPK were either killed or demoted and the extremists ended up with almost complete control over the party.
25: Pilger: Tell me no lies
26: Short: Pol Pot
27: Declassified Memorandum for the President http://www.ford.utexas.edu/library/exhibits/vietnam/760510a.htm
28: Kiernan: The American Bombardment of Kampuchea, 1969-1973
29: Liai Duong: Racial discrimination in the Cambodian Genocide http://www.yale.edu/cgp/resources.html
This article also discusses the Khmer Rouge genocide against the Muslim Cham minority in Cambodia.
30: Pilger: Heroes
31: Kiernan: The Demography of Genocide in South East Asia
32: Short: Pol Pot
36: Antoaneta Bezlova: China haunted by Khmer Rouge links – Asia Times http://www.atimes.com/atimes/China/KB21Ad01.html
37: Declassified document from the Department of Sate from Decmber 5th 1975 http://www.gwu.edu/%7Ensarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB62/doc4.pdf
38: These documents are available on the website of the Cambodian Genocide program at Yale. http://www.yale.edu/cgp/us.html#readings
39: Declassified document from the Department of State from November 26th 1975
40: Declassified document from the Department of Sate from Decmber 5th 1975 http://www.gwu.edu/%7Ensarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB62/doc4.pdf
41: See note 39
42: see note 40
43: Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman give examples of US media propaganda relating to the Khmer Rouge, such as fabricated stories, exaggerated atrocities etc. in The Political Economy of Human Rights II and Manufacturing Consent
44: Ben Kiernan: Vietnam and Cambodia – Bulletin of concerned Asian Scholars http://www.yale.edu/gsp/publications/
45: Anthony Hayward: Breaking the Silence: The Television Reporting of John Pilger
46: Pilger: Heroes
47: Ibid - The effects of the embargo on the people of Cambodia are discussed in a series of Documentaries by John Pilger. These are all available in the box set called Behind the Façade
48: Pilger: Heroes
49: John Pilger: How Thatcher Gave Pol Pot a Hand – New Statesman http://www.newstatesman.com/200004170017
50: Landmines in Cambodia http://www.mekong.net/Cambodia/mines.htm
51: Ben Kiernan: Cambodia’s Twisted Path to Justice http://www.historyplace.com/pointsofview/kiernan.htm
53: Pilger: Heroes
54: Pilger: How Thatcher Gave Pol Pot a Hand – New Statesman
55: Kiernan: Cambodia’s Twisted Path to Justice
56: Pilger: Heroes