OK, this one isn’t about food either, except that it involves mass starvation in a country the United States bombed decades ago. Today, President Bush told an audience of veterans in Missouri that a speedy withdrawal from Iraq could spur the sort of bloodshed seen in Southeast Asia after American troops left Vietnam three decades ago. He pointed to the millions of Cambodians who died under the Khmer Rouge.
Absurd. Pure absurdity! Our leaving Vietnam did not lead to Cambodia’s genocide. It was everything that happened in our presence that perhaps contributed to the Khmer Rouge rise in power.
From my book:
While many may argue it is not the international communityâ€™s responsibility to rebuild Cambodia, the international community is in many ways responsible for the appalling state of Cambodia today. Cambodia suffered for ninety years under its French colonial â€œprotectorsâ€ who favored the people next door, installing Vietnamese bureaucrats in Phnom Penh. And the United States: The United States entangled Cambodia in its war with Vietnam, for years bombing Cambodia to rid the country of Viet Cong. The United States dumped 257,465 tons of explosives on this country in a carpet-bombing campaign that lasted seven straight months in 1973. Those bombs killed scores of people, demolished thousands of homes, made travel through the country nearly impossible. The bombing sent hundreds of thousands of people to Phnom Penh, cramming the city. People camped where they could. Diseases spread. It was no longer safe to work the fields. People starved. While there is no single explanation for what followed, the Khmer Rouge rise to power, the seeds of that regime were undeniably scattered through the seared fields of American bombs. And then, the United States and other Western powers determined the Vietnamese ouster of the Khmer Rouge amounted to an illegal invasion, a move that needed punishing. They stopped international lenders and donors from giving to either Vietnam or Cambodia. Just when Cambodia needed it most, help was denied. The Vietnamese economy nearly suffocated and Cambodiaâ€™s couldnâ€™t begin to breathe after years of genocide and war. Moreover, the United Nations accorded Cambodiaâ€™s seat to the overturned Khmer Rouge leadership. It was a round-about slap in Vietnamâ€™s face, which still stings Cambodians today. And then: More than a decade later the United Nations arrived in Cambodia, offering to bring peace and democracy through the elections it sponsored in 1993. But it brought neither. Fighting continued another five years and the victor â€” the candidate the people chose â€” was forced to share power with Cambodiaâ€™s long-term strongman, who rules to this day. And now: Cambodians donâ€™t trust elections.
If you are interested in learning more about the sticky, tangled mess of Cambodian society, for reasons that have nothing to do with US troops leaving Vietnam, you’ll find further answers in Cambodia Now.
And I promise, more on food the next time….