Bush, Iraq, Vietnam, Cambodia, Absurdity

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 community’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 “protectors” 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 Cambodia’s couldn’t begin to breathe after years of genocide and war. Moreover, the United Nations accorded Cambodia’s seat to the overturned Khmer Rouge leadership. It was a round-about slap in Vietnam’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 — the candidate the people chose — was forced to share power with Cambodia’s long-term strongman, who rules to this day. And now: Cambodians don’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….

3 thoughts on “Bush, Iraq, Vietnam, Cambodia, Absurdity

  1. so much of your content is new to me and quite interesting … I was so much against the Vietnam war and now so much against Bush\’s Iraq War … but am surprised to find that I\’m now more emotionally involved in the Iraq disaster than I even was during the Vietnam disaster … I think because of the Web & it\’s Blogs by Iraqis, e.g. Riverbend\’s Blog from Baghdad relating not only her family\’s hardships, but also her family\’s daily life, like the food they ate, their customs, what their neighbors were like, etc as well as her close-up views & insights into the Iraqi politics, particularly the Gov, \’the Puppets\’ she called them… her last blog in April told of her family\’s decision to flee their native land, but not knowing where or how they\’d leave Iraq or where they\’d go … and that was the last I\’ve heard about her, and am fearful she may be dead … anyway, during the Vietnam war years, for me there was no such personal info with individual Vietnamese …

    and I\’ve always been appalled by what happened to Cambodia, Nixon\’s terrible bombing, then the terrible Khmer Rouge … at first I remember being so very uncritical of PolPot & his Khmer Rouge, having been lied to so often by the US Media & US politicians, before accepting what a scourge they really were … also the situation you describe in southern Thailand is new & interesting to me, particularly since I\’m a Buddhist …

    also appreciated your links to the photographers on your site … so very good to know that there are such very high-minded people in the world..

    anyway, was quite emotionally picked-up by your site today, particularly after hearing of Bush\’s speech today causally linking the Khmer Rouge genocide to US military withdrawal from Vietnam, then using it as a reason to not withdraw from Iraq … thanks … charlie

  2. Thanks, Charlie, for reading and thinking. It is appalling to see the after-effects of the US bombings in Southeast Asia (another of our projects is documenting UXO in Laos; you can find some of it on our website at http://www.redcoates.net). I have not been to Iraq, but it’s hard to fathom what will become of the place, whether the US pulls out or not. One thing we have learned is that the scars of war run deep, long after the rest of the world may realize, even when people are smiling on the outside.

    Thanks for your comments.

  3. (The following is a response to a reader who asked that his comments be removed. I have honored that wish, but I have kept my comments to him because he raised important points about the Khmer Rouge takeover of April 17, 1975, and the suffering of Cambodians who had supported Lon Nol in previous years.)

    As always, thank you.

    What happened to you and your family is utterly appalling. And I think it is beyond the scope of comprehension—true, visceral comprehension—for most Americans. Our president played on that lack of comprehension when he spoke this week. Certainly, obviously, atrocities occurred after American troops left Southeast Asia, and I don\’t mean to discount or trivialize what happened in any way. But such atrocities also began long before American troops left. And many of those atrocities, I believe, occurred because America was there in the first place. Likewise, if Bush is truly worried about a Khmer Rouge-style genocide in Iraq, he should have thought about that before taking the US to war there.

    What horrifies me most this week is that our president used the Khmer Rouge to further his political agenda. How many times has this happened? How many times has Cambodia been used as a tool, an excuse, for someone else\’s political gain? The complexity of war cannot be summed up in a paragraph. Cause and effect are not black and white. But people—thousands, millions—die just the same. When Bush referred to the killing fields as an excuse to keep troops in Iraq longer, I saw him using 2 million Cambodian victims as his tools in prolonging an unjust war. For him, Cambodians were a handy analogy for a paragraph of public speech, nothing more.

    Human beings always suffer the aftermath of war. Politicians make convenient analogies. We Americans are deeply entrenched in another senseless war, a mistake from the start, and people will die horribly no matter how we proceed. Our country put itself in Iraq. We owe our own soldiers and the Iraqi citizens more than an ill-formed analogy. And we owe the victims of Cambodia\’s genocide far more than mere lip service when justifying the American war machine of any decade. When history tallies the dead, it frequently forgets that every number reflects a human life.

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