By Deirdre Griswold, in Workers World
17 July, 1997
What U.S. News Reports Don't Say about Cambodia
By Deirdre Griswold, in Workers World,
17 July, 1997
Cambodia is in the news again with the unraveling of a coalition government set up largely under U.S. tutelage in 1993. And so the capitalist media pretend to inform the public about Cambodia's history.
But in the various "backgrounders" circulating on the news wires, there is a huge omission. Hardly a word is said about 1970-75, the period when the CIA ruled Cambodia through its agent Lon Nol.
This was the defining period in modern Cambodian history. It shaped all the forces still in struggle there. Before Lon Nol's coup in March 1970, Cambodian leader King Sihanouk had remained neutral and kept his country out of the war raging in Vietnam.
That didn't satisfy Washington.
The United States wanted to use Cambodia as a base from which to attack the Vietnamese liberation forces, who were gaining ground despite the all-out war the Pentagon waged against them. So the CIA conspired with Lon Nol, Cambodian army chief of staff, to take over.
According to U.S. Green Beret Capt. Robert F. Marasco, quoted in the International Herald Tribune of June 3, 1970, Cambodian mercenaries under his command were operating in Phnom Penh during the coup.
The coup sparked mass demonstrations in 17 of Cambodia's 19 provinces throughout the month of March. But Lon Nol's military, with U.S. might behind it, responded with brutal repression--executing hundreds of Cambodian progressives by beheading.
While this was happening, Lon Nol was hailed in the Western media as a friend of the "free world."
On April 24 and 25, representatives from the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the Pathet Lao and the Cambodian liberation forces met in an historic Summit Conference of the Indochinese People. They announced their unity in the face of imperialist aggression.
The coup leaders put in place by the CIA then welcomed in the United States, which launched a massive invasion of Cambodia on April 30, 1970.
That invasion touched off worldwide reaction. In the United States, National Guard troops shot and killed protesting students at state universities in Kent, Ohio, and Jackson, Miss.
For the next five years, the Cambodian people organized resistance to the U.S. occupation. Meanwhile the officer elite and a section of the merchants grew wealthy off war and corruption.
The March 16, 1975, New York Times described Phnom Penh: "Cabinet ministers ride to and from their air-conditioned villas in chauffeured Mercedes ... [while] refugees, crushed by food prices which have risen more than 1,000 percent ... stir the garbage in the gutter in search of something salvageable."
While starvation and war spread in the countryside, the war profiteers met with their U.S. and French contacts--France had earlier colonized all of Southeast Asia--around swimming pools in Phnom Penh's five-star hotels.
Before the coup, there was a relatively small left movement in Cambodia. But the coup and U.S. invasion thrust a war upon those who survived the executions. And by the end of that war, the resistance--known as the Khmer Rouge--found itself in power with the task of trying to put Cambodia back together again.
During the five years of war, at least a million Cambodians--out of a population of only 7 million--were killed and injured. More starved in the final months of the war.
Whenever it seemed clear that the Khmer Rouge was about to win, the United States would pour in hundreds of millions of dollars more worth of war materiel and money to prop up the Lon Nol regime.
Carpet bombings of the countryside by B-52s and Phantom jets became routine. So did the dropping of napalm.
It was U.S. policy to leave Cambodia in as devastated a condition as possible.
The Lon Nol regime crumbled in the middle of April 1975. As the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh, the streets were lined with thousands of people who greeted them as liberators. But in less than a month, the United States attacked again.
A U.S. warship, the Mayaguez, penetrated Cambodia's territorial waters and was detained by Cambodian authorities. The U.S. then launched a massive attack.
A-7 fighter bombers launched from the aircraft carrier Coral Sea bombed Cambodian cities and sunk ships in the Gulf of Thailand. Marines accompanied by a flotilla of 12 naval craft invaded Koh Tang Island.
It was after this incident that seemed to threaten a resumption of the war that the Khmer Rouge began to evacuate major cities in the area--a decision that ended in a bloody purge.
The U.S. media have devoted enormous attention to this last period, which they have dubbed the "killing fields." Yet they breeze over the years of pain and suffering that brought the Cambodian struggle to that point.
Most of all, they have tried to erase from the consciousness of people in this country and the world the Pentagon's horrendous war against the peoples of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. That war's effects persist today in all areas of life.