Have a Nice War,
Return to Ground Zero,
A Faustian Pact
excerpted from the book
by John Pilger
Vintage Books, 1993, paper
HAVE A NICE WAR
On Veterans' Day last week, the Walt Disney
company announced it was building a new theme park near Washington,
devoted to a 'serious fun celebration' of American history. 'This
won't be a Pollyanna view of America,' said Disney vice-president
Robert Weiss. 'We want to make you feel what it was like to be
a slave. We want to make you a Civil War soldier. We're going
for virtual reality. And, look, we'll be sensitive about the Vietnam
The Vietnam War, which was America's longest
war, will be part of a permanent exhibition entitled 'Victory
Field'. Just how the war will be 'sensitively' depicted is not
explained in Disney's handouts. Neither is there reference to
other colonial wars and invasions, such as the assaults on civilian
populations in Latin America, the Caribbean and the Philippines.
These events are largely eradicated from primary and secondary
education in the US, while the Vietnam 'experience' is taught,
if at all, as a costly, well-intentioned 'mistake', even a 'noble
The 'cost' is frequently represented in
mawkish, self-serving terms that concentrate on America as victim
and the relatively few American casualties of the war (compared
with the Vietnamese) and the fraudulent saga of Americans missing
in action, which was the device for maintaining an 18-year embargo
against Vietnam. Hollywood, thankfully, has tired of Vietnam angst
and moved on to other box office concerns, leaving the sustenance
of myths to others.
Last Friday, the Washington Post devoted
almost all of its front page to the Disney announcement and to
a story headlined: 'Our place for healing'. This was the unveiling
of a $4 million Vietnam War women's memorial by Vice President
Al Gore. 'We never listened to the women's story,' said Gore,
'and we never properly thanked them. This memorial does that.
The bronze memorial shows three American
women helping a wounded soldier. In fact, most of the women who
served in Vietnam were seldom near the fighting, contrary to what
is now being suggested. They were nurses, secretaries, clerks,
air traffic controllers and intelligence analysts. Eight were
killed in fifteen years of war.
During the same period more than five
million Vietnamese died, a disproportionate number of them women.
These women died beneath a rain of American bombs and 'antipersonnel'
devices that made Vietnam a laboratory for the new technology
of 'civilian wars'. They died in the paddies and fields, in fragile
bunkers, trying to protect their children from the Napalm that
struck their villages in great blood-red bursts. In North Vietnam,
they died in all-woman militias, courageously putting up a curtain
of small-arms fire as American F105s and Phantoms came in at 200
feet; and they died on hillsides such as Dong Loc, where I found
the graves of an entire anti-aircraft battery, of young women...
Vo Thi Than, aged 22, Duong Thi Than, aged 19. And they died in
prison 'tiger cages', tortured to death, and from drug overdoses
in brothels and bars that served the invader.
And they are still dying from the effects
of the American programme of defoliation, which was known as Operation
Hades until it was changed to the friendlier Operation Ranch Hand,
and which destroyed almost half the forests, and poisoned the
earth and food chain. As a result of the chemicals used, countless
Vietnamese women continue to give birth to babies without eyes
So Gore is right when he says 'we never
listened to the women's story'. In America there is no 'place
for healing' for the women of Vietnam, just another reminder of
how the historical truth can be manipulated in an open society.
President Bush may have been right when he announced in 1991 that
his 'victory' in the Gulf had extinguished the 'Vietnam syndrome',
which is the euphemism for the deep misgivings of many Americans
for what their government did in Vietnam.
I happened to be interviewing a former
US government official, who served in South East Asia the day
after the Disney announcement and the memorial unveiling. A troubled
man, he spoke about the killing of a third of the population of
East Timor by the Indonesian dictatorship, which was armed and
encouraged by the same Washington group responsible for the devastation
of Vietnam; he mentioned Henry Kissinger's name a great deal.
Looking out at the falling leaves in Connecticut Avenue, he said,
'You know, I walk past these [Vietnam] memorials and I think it's
a real shame people are not aware that our dead are a fraction
of those we killed or whose deaths we oversaw. This distance between
myth, the big lie, and truth, is amazing to me, even after all
There will be no tableau for East Timor
in Disney's 'Victory Field'. And I doubt if El Salvador will be
represented, even though the truth of what happened there - and
is still happening - made a brief public appearance last week.
Some 12,000 official documents, released under pressure from Congress,
revealed that Presidents Reagan and Bush conspired with the tyrants
running the death squads in El Salvador. Some 75,000 people were
killed between 1980 and 1991, most of them murdered by death squads
and by government 'security forces', equipped, funded and often
trained by the US. Today, El Salvador is said to be a United Nations
'peace triumph'. In fact, friends of Reagan and Bush are still
running the death squads. In August, they killed 271 'suspected
leftists'.' This is their contribution to the election next month,
in which the left and popular forces have been persuaded by the
UN to take part. President Clinton has promised to restore $11
million in aid to the new El Salvador regime.
And will the 'sensitive' treatment of
Vietnam by Disney extend to Operation Restore Hope in Somalia?
The similarities are striking. The American 'gunship' attacks
on civilians are little different from Vietnam, where the helicopter
'gunship' was developed as an effective means of 'pacifying' people
on the ground. And Clinton, who is said to have opposed the war
in Vietnam, has strongly backed its rapacious echo in Somalia.
Most of the dead are, of course, 'local' - a Washington term.
In Vietnam, they were known as 'mercies', short for 'merely gooks'.
In the second half of the twentieth century,
the Vietnam War provides us with a unique historical context;
it remains the touchstone for understanding modern imperialism.
Those who were seduced into believing that George Bush sent the
marines to Somalia for charitable purposes would have been spared
their present disillusionment had they referred to the 'saviour'
role of the marines in Vietnam in 1965. The places, personalities
and immediate goals may change; the presumptions of power do not.
I think Disney should not be too 'sensitive'
in its approach to Vietnam. It should proclaim that the war was
at least a partial victory for America. Most of the American objectives
were met. Vietnam was physically ruined and the 'virus' of its
alternative development model stopped from spreading to the region.
An American-led blockade forced the Vietnamese to all but abandon
the gains of their system, such as universal health care and education,
and to welcome the IMF and the World Bank, which are presently
busy 'restructuring' the country to fit into the 'global economy'.
After a half century of repelling invaders, the Vietnamese now
advertise themselves as 'the cheapest labour in Asia'. I have
never quite understood why Hollywood failed to acknowledge this
achievement. Surely, in the 'virtual reality' of Disney's Victory
Field, the time is right.
RETURN TO GROUND ZERO [CAMBODIA & POL POT]
New evidence from US government documents, declassified in 1987,
leaves no doubt that the bombing of Cambodia caused such widespread
death and devastation that it was critical in Pol Pot's drive
for power. 'They are using damage caused by B52 strikes as the
main theme of their propaganda,' the CIA director of operations
reported on May 2, 1973. 'This approach has resulted in the successful
recruitment of a number of young men. Residents [...] say the
propaganda campaign has been effective with refugees in areas
that have been subject to B52 strikes. What Nixon and Kissinger
began, Pol Pot completed.
The United Nations has provided Pol Pot's vehicle of return. Although
the Khmer Rouge government ceased to exist in January 1979, its
representatives continued to occupy Cambodia's seat at the United
Nations. Their right to do so was defended and promoted by the
United States as part of their new alliance with China (Pol Pot's
principal underwriter and Vietnam's ancient foe), their cold war
with the Soviet Union and their revenge on Vietnam. In 1981 President
Carter's national security advise; Zbigniew Brzezinski, said,
'I encouraged the Chinese to support Pol Pot.' The United States,
he added, 'winked publicly' as China sent arms to the Khmer Rouge
By January 1980, the United States had
begun secretly funding Pol Pot. The extent of this support - $85
million from 1980 to 1986 - was revealed six years later in correspondence
between Congressional lawyer Jonathan Wine; counsel to a member
of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Vietnam Veterans
of America Foundation. Winer said the information had come from
the Congressional Research Service.
... Two American relief aid workers, Linda
Mason and Roger Brown, later wrote, 'The US Government insisted
that the Khmer Rouge be fed... the US preferred that the Khmer
Rouge operation benefit from the credibility of an internationally
known relief operation. 112 Under American pressure, the World
Food Programme handed over $12 million worth of food to the Thai
Army to pass on to the Khmer Rouge. '20,000 to 40,000 Pol Pot
guerrillas benefited,' according to former Assistant Secretary
of State Richard Holbrooke.
A FAUSTIAN PACT
As each of the principal speakers rose from his chair in the ornate
Quai d'Orsay, a silver-headed man a dozen feet away watched them
carefully. His face remained unchanged; he wore a fixed, almost
petrified smile. When Secretary of State James Baker declared
that Cambodia should never again return to 'the policies and practices
of the past', the silver head nodded. When Prince Sihanouk acknowledged
the role of Western governments in the 'accords', the silver head
nodded. Khieu Samphan, Pol Pot's face to the world, is a statesman
now, a peacemaker; and this was as much his moment as Sihanouk's;
for without his agreement - that is, Pol Pot's agreement - there
would be no 'accords'. When a French official offered him his
hand, the statesman stood, respectful, fluent in diplomatic small-talk
and effusive in his gratitude - the same gratitude he had expressed
in the two letters he had written to Douglas Hurd congratulating
the British Government on its policy on Cambodia .135 It was Khieu
Samphan who, at one of Pol Pot's briefing sessions for his military
commanders in Thailand, described his diplomatic role as 'buying
time in order to give you comrades the opportunity to carry out
all your [military] tasks'. In Paris, on October 23, 1991, he
had the look of a man who could not believe his luck.
Some 6,000 miles away, on the Thai side
of the border with Cambodia, the Khmer people of Site 8 had a
different view of the world being shaped for them. Although supplied
by the United Nations Border Relief Operation (IJNBRO), this camp
had long been a Khmer Rouge operations base
and, since 1988, had been made into a
showcase by Pol Pot. Its leadership was elected; the Red Cross
and selected journalists were allowed in. Whisky was produced.
Faces smiled, much as Khieu Samphan smiled. The object of this
image-building exercise was clear: to persuade Western governments
that the Khmer Rouge have 'changed', are now following a 'liberal
capitalist line' and could be legitimised as part of a 'comprehensive
As Khieu Samphan raised his glass in Paris,
a nightmare began for the people of Site 8. The gates were closed,
and foreigners told to stay away. A few days earlier the camp's
leaders had been called to a 'meeting' with senior Khmer Rouge
officials and were not seen again. The camp library, central to
the showpiece, was closed and people were told they must no longer
be 'poisoned by foreign ideas' as they prepared to return to the
'zones'. From here and in the 'closed camps' run by the Khmer
Rouge along the border, the forcible, secret repatriation of hundreds,
perhaps thousands of refugees had begun.
They crossed minefields at night and were
herded into 'zones of free Kampuchea' in malarial jungles without
UN protection, food or medicine. Even as the UN High Commission
for Refugees announced that an orderly return of all 370,000 refugees
was underway, there were as many as 100,000 refugees in Khmer
Rouge border camps and more were trapped in the 'zones', to which
UN inspectors had only limited access or none at all.
If the 'peace process' was proving a theatre
of the macabre, Prince SIhanouk provided his own theatre of the
absurd. As decided in Paris, he returned to Phnom Penh in November
1991 to head the transitional 'supreme national council', made
up of representatives of his followers, the KPNLF, the Hun Sen
Government and the Khmer Rouge. 'I am returning to protect my
children,' he said. 'There is joie de vivre again. Nightclubs
have reopened with taxi dancers. I am sure soon there will be
massage parlours. It is our way of life: it is a good life. 1137
He brought with him four chefs, supplies of pâté
de foie gras hurriedly acquired from Fauchon, one of Paris's most
famous gourmet shops, a caravan of bodyguards and hangers-on,
including two sons with dynastic ambitions. (With their father
ensconced in his old palace, Prince Ranariddh and Prince Chakrapong
have set their private armies on each other. 'Anyway,' said Ranariddh,
'my brother has run out of troops.' Prince SIhanouk described
this as 'just a small clash.., they are good boys, but as brothers
there is bickering. They never got on as children.'
Many Cambodians were pleased to see the
'god-king', and the elderly struggled to kiss his hand. It seemed
the world had again located Cambodia on the map. The cry, 'Sihanouk
is back' seemed to signal a return to the days before the inferno
of the American bombing and the rise of the Khmer Rouge. Sihanouk's
presence even suggested to some that the Khmer Rouge had surrendered.
For them the Paris 'accords' meant that the United Nations would
protect them. They could be pardoned for failing to comprehend
the perversity of an agreement which empowered the United Nations
to protect the right of the genocidists to roam the cities and
countryside free from harm and retribution, and which had appointed
two of Pol Pot's henchmen to a body, the Supreme National Council,
on which they could not be outvoted. This was described by Congressman
Chet Atkins, one of the few American politicians to speak for
the Cambodian people, as 'the consequence of a Faustian pact'
with Pol Pot.
At one of his many press conferences,
Sihanouk was asked about the Khmer Rouge. 'In their hearts', he
said, 'they remain very cruel, very Maoist, very Cultural Revolution,
very Robespierre, very French Revolution, very bloody revolution.
They are monsters, it is true... but since they decided to behave
as normal human beings, we have to accept them... naughty dogs
and naughty Khmer Rouge, they need to be caressed.' At this, he
laughed, and most of the foreign press laughed with him. His most
important statement, however, caused hardly a ripple. 'Cambodians',
he said, 'were forced by the five permanent members of the UN
Security Council... to accept the return of the Khmer Rouge'.
The following day Khieu Samphan arrived
to join the prince on the Supreme National Council. Suddenly,
the gap between private pain and public fury closed, and the people
of Phnom Penh broke their silence. 141 The near-lynching of Khieu
Samphan might have been influenced by the Hun Sen Government,
but there could be no doubt that it was heartfelt. Within a few
hours of landing at Pochentong Airport, Pot Pot's emissary was
besieged on the top floor of his villa. Crouched in a cupboard,
with blood streaming from a head wound, he listened to hundreds
of people shouting, 'Kill him, kill him, kill him.' They smashed
down the doors and advanced up the stairs, armed with hatchets.
Many of them had lost members of their families during the years
that he was in power, at Pot Pot's side. One woman called out
the names of her dead children, her dead sister, her dead mother
- all of them murdered by the Khmer Rouge. The mob dispersed after
Hun Sen arrived and spoke to them. Khieu Samphan and Son Sen (who
had escaped the attack) were bundled into an armoured personnel
carrier and taken to the airport, and flown back to Bangkok.
On April 17, 1975, the first day of Year
Zero, the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh and marched the entire
population into the countryside, many of them to their death.
Generally, people did as they were told. The sick and wounded
were dragged at gunpoint from their hospital beds; surgeons were
forced to leave patients in mid-operation. On the road, a procession
of mobile beds could be seen, with their drip-bottles swinging
at the bedposts. The old and crippled soon fell away and their
families were forced to go on. III and dying children were carried
in plastic bags. Women barely out of childbirth staggered forward,
supported by parents. Orphaned babies, forty-one by one estimate,
were left in their cradles at the National Paediatric Hospital
without anyone to care for them. The Khmer Rouge said that the
Americans were about to bomb the city. Many believed this, but
even among those who did not, defeatism, fear and exhaustion seemed
to make them powerless. The haemorrhnage of people lasted two
days and two nights, then Cambodia fell into shadow.
... According to the Cambodia specialist Raoul Jennac the Khmer
Rouge were given 'the perfect ally... time'. 'They are not prisoners
of a calendar they would impose on themselves,' he wrote. 'They
have succeeded in eight months of "peace" in reinforcing
their military positions without having conceded anything, while
the other parties, respecting their promise [at Paris], have begun
a process which puts then, a little more each day, in a position
of weakness. This is, to date, the real result of the IN operation
in Cambodia. As Jennar and others pointed out, those running the
UN operation in Cambodia were so committed to the 'peace plan'
working, they 'hide the truth'.
The truth is that the Paris agreement
gave the Khmer Rouge a long-term advantage, having already caused
'Lebanonisation' of the country. Although a principal sponsor
of the 'accords', the United States continued to give unilateral
aid to the so-called 'non-communist' factions. The US government
aid agency, USAID, spent several million dollars building a strategic
road and facilities across the Thai border into the KPNLF headquarters
at Thmar Pouk . The Thai Army were, as ever, zealous collaborators
in such ventures. At one crossing, Thai soldiers escorted Thais
to work in the gem mines controlled by the Khmer Rouge: the source
of great wealth for both the Khmer Rouge and the Thai generals.
In Phnom Penh under the UN unreality persisted.
Echoing Neville Chamberlain, the head of UNTAC, Japanese diplomat
Yasushi Akashi, 'publicly rebuked' the Khmer Rouge for their lack
of co-operation. 1-17 General Sanderson said, 'It's outrageous
... them stopping our people'. 158 One of his officers, a Dutch
colonel, complained about dealing with the Khmer Rouge, 'One day
a nobody is a somebody,' he said, 'then a somebody is a nobody.
A corporal becomes a colonel. They are friendly one day and unfriendly
the next.' A Western diplomat said he 'hoped' the Khmer Rouge
'will take a pragmatic approach'.
In the meantime, the Khmer Rouge stepped
up their attacks. During the first half of 1992 their immediate
aim was to gain control of two strategic highways leading to Phnom
Penh and so cut off the northern provinces from the capital. But
Khmer Rouge commanders were also securing and expanding their
'zones'. They did this by laying minefields around villages so
as to deter people from leaving the areas they control. This is
known as 'population control'. People who try to escape or stray
into a mine-infested paddy, as children frequently do, become
a 'strategic drain on the community': that is, a burden on the
Government in Phnom Penh.
Cambodia has long been a war of mines; all sides use them, and
refer to them as 'eternal sentinels, never sleeping, always ready
to attack'. In September 1991 the leading American human rights
organisation, Asia Watch, published a report entitled 'Land Mines
in Cambodia: The Coward's War'. Even for those who have known
Cambodia's suffering it is a shocking document - all the more
so for its expert attention to the aims and techniques of mine-laying
and its effect on an impoverished peasant people.
One of the authors is Rae McGrath, a former
British serviceman who is director of the Mines Advisory Group.
What McGrath and his colleagues found was 'the highest percentage
of physically disabled inhabitants of any country in the world...
the highest percentage of mine amputees of any country... Surgeons
in Cambodia perform between 300 and 700 amputations a month because
of mine injuries... for every victim who makes it to hospital,
another will die in the fields.' 'These grim statistics', says
their report, 'mean that the Cambodian war may be the first in
history in which land mines have gained more victims than any
I have seen many of the victims. They
are usually civilians, such as 23-year-old Rong, a beautiful young
woman lying in the hospital at Kompong Spen with her three-year-old
infant beside her. When she stepped on a mine she fell into water
and lay for three hours, bleeding. When her father found her,
he applied a tourniquet, carried her to the road and flagged down
a motorcycle taxi. He took her to a first-aid post; it was seven
hours before she reached hospital. In Cambodia direct transport
is always difficult to come by; a twenty-mile excursion by bicycle,
motorcycle taxi and horse may take a day. The mine that Rong stepped
on had driven dirt and bacteria deep into the wound, causing infection
to spread fast. The blood vessels had coagulated and there was
thrombosis high up her leg. Had she been able to get to the hospital
quickly, her leg might have been saved. 'I knew there were mines
around,' she said. 'Every day I was in fear of them. But the work
has to be done.'
Her story is typical. There is little
hope for her future. Describing the after-effects of amputation,
the Asia Watch researchers wrote:
Nearly every aspect of a Cambodian's life
is set to the rhythm of rice cultivation - the flooding, the planting,
the re-planting and harvesting. It is very labour intensive...
And a person who is physically disabled can become a burden. There
are no rehabilitation centres, and Cambodia has no laws to protect
amputees against discrimination or exploitation. Female amputees
are less desirable as wives because they cannot work in the fields,
and male amputees are now allowed to become Buddhist monks. Many
amputees drift to Phnom Penh and become beggars or petty criminals.
The laying of mines in Cambodia, said
Colonel Alan Beaver, '( the first UN officer responsible for mines
clearance, 'is probably one of the worst modem, man-made environmental
disasters of the century'. 163 The United Nations repatriated
tens of thousands of refugees back to countryside made uninhabitable
by mines and without even a strategy for a major mine-clearing
operation. The Khmer Rouge refused to allow UN cartographers to
assess the extent of their minefields, and the UN said it could
not begin large-scale mine clearance 'until the necessary cash
resources become available'. In 1991-2 the UN was $800 million
in arrears, half of which was owed by the United States. Cambodia
would be cleared of mines, said the sceptics, by people stepping
From 1979 to 1992 UN Development Programme (UNDP) in New York
withheld development aid from Cambodia as a result of pressure
from the United States, China, Britain and Singapore. Development
aid comes in the form of tools, materials and expertise, with
which poor countries can make a start at developing themselves.
It provides such essentials as a clean water supply and decent
sanitation. Cambodia has neither. Jim Howard of Oxfam estimated
that less than 5 per cent of the country's drinking water was
uncontaminated. In 1988 Thames Water sent a team to Phnom Perth
and found that as the level of water in the city's pipes rose
and fell, it spilled into the streets and drew in drainage and
raw sewage. They recommended that an entirely new system be installed
urgently. This has not happened, of course. There are still no
resources and most of Cambodia's engineers were killed. In any
other Third World country, the UNDP would fund such a priority
In 1988 a senior diplomat at the British
embassy in Bangkok told-Oxfam's Eva Mysliwiec 'Cambodia is a country
of about seven million people It's of no real strategic value.
As -far as Britain is concerned, it's expendable." Cambodia's
expendability, and punishment, are exemplified by its children.
Whenever I went back, I visited the National Paediatrics Hospital
in Phnom Penh, the most modern hospital in the country, and I
invariably found seriously ill children lying on the floors of
corridors so narrow there was barely room to step over them. A
relative would hold a drip; if the child was lucky, he or she
would have a straw mat. Most of them suffered from, and many would
die from, common diarrhoea and other intestinal ailments carried
by parasites in the water supply. In hospital after hospital children
died like that, needlessly and for political reasons; and they
are still dying.
The international embargo ensured that
hospital drug cupboards were depleted or bare; there were no vaccines;
sterilisation equipment was broken; X-ray film unobtainable. At
Battambang Hospital in the north-west I watched the death of an
eleven-month-old baby, while her mother looked on. 'Her name is
Ratanak,' she cried. Had there been a respirator and plasma, the
child would have lived. A light was kept shining on her face to
keep her temperature up. Then the hospital's power went down and
In the north-west most of the children
fall prey to epidemics of mosquito-carried diseases - cerebral
malaria, Japanese encephalitis and dengue fever. 'Our particular
tragedy', Dr Choun Noothorl, director of Battambang Hospital,
told me, 'is that we had malaria beaten here before 1975. In the
1970s the World Health Organisation assisted us with training,
medicines and funding. I remember the statistics for April 1975;
we had only a handful of malaria cases; it was a triumph.'
In April 1975, when Pol Pot came to power,
Battambang Hospital was abandoned, its equipment and research
files destroyed and most of its staff murdered. When the Vietnamese
drove out the Khmer Rouge, the World Health Organisation refused
to return to Cambodia. Malaria and dengue fever did return, along
with new strains which the few surviving Cambodian doctors were
unable to identify because they no longer had laboratories. Today
two-and-a-half million people, or a quarter of the population,
are believed to have malaria. The same estimate applies to tuberculosis,
which was also beaten in 1975. Most are children.
During the 1980s former senior Foreign
Office official John Pedler met many of the world's foreign-policy
makers in his capacity as representative of the Cambodia Trust.
He later wrote to me: 'Specifically, I was told in Washington
at the top career level that "the President has made it clear
that the US will not accept the Hun Sen Government" and "we
are working for a messy sort of situation with a non-Hun Sen government,
but without the Khmer Rouge, who will continue to lurk in the
jungles" i.e. for a state of affairs which will favour the
destabilisation of Hanoi. This is the 'better result' that Washington's
ideologues have sought in Indo-China.
Their hope is Sihanouk, who can no longer
afford to trust his own people and moves among them behind a phalanx
of ten North Korean bodyguards. It is Sihanouk who personifies
the gap between extreme rural poverty and the better-off in the
towns. As Catherine Lumby reported, 'It is a class distinction
which the Khmer Rouge has traditionally been quick to exploit
- paying the peasants double for their rice crop and often feeding
villages in return for shelter during the civil war.
According to William Shawcross, only Sihanouk
and 'a huge foreign presence and dollars in the countryside' can
provide 'the best guarantee' against the return of the Khmer Rouge
to power. But what will happen when there is no longer a foreign
presence? Who will catch the fluttering dollars as they fall upon
the villages and hamlets? And how will the dollars get further
than other, deeper pockets? Such an exquisite colonial solution
brings to mind again Emory Swank, the American ambassador who
passed out $100 bills to relatives of those killed by American
bombs - $100 then being the going rate for a Cambodian life.
These days, the Khmer Rouge would not
object to such a raw show of capitalism. After all, they now advocate
a 'liberal capitalist line'. Neither are they insincere, according
to the historian Michael Vickery. 'They consider it [free-market
capitalism],' he wrote, 'the fastest route to the type of destabilisation
which will most favour their return to power.
As for Sihanouk, now astride the Trojan
Horse, he is seventy-one years old; if necessary the Khmer Rouge
will wait for him to die on his throne, or dispose of him quietly.
They are not rushed. Everything is going to plan. Pol Pot has
told his commanders to 'remain in the jungle' until they 'control
all the country'. And then they will be ready."
All of this was preventable. Had the great
powers kept their distance following the defeat of Pot Pot in
1978, there is little doubt that a solution could have been found
in the region. In 1980 the Indonesian and Malaysian Governments
- fearful of Pol Pot's chief backer, China - acknowledged that
the Vietnamese had 'legitimate concerns' about the return of Pot
Pot and the threat from China. In 1985 Australian Foreign Affairs
Minister Bill Hayden was told by Hun Sen, 'We are ready to make
concessions to Prince Sihanouk and other people if they agree
to join with us to eliminate Pol Pot.'"' Four years later,
reported The Economist from Paris, a Sihanouk-Hun Sen alliance
against the Khmer Rouge was 'torpedoed' by the US State Department.
Perhaps the most alluring promise of peace
came when Thailand's elected prime minister, Chatichai Choonhaven,
invited Hun Sen to Bangkok, and Thai officials secretly visited
Phnom Penh with offers of development aid and trade. Defying their
own generals, the reformist Thais proposed a regional conference
that would exclude the great powers. Prune Minister Chatichai's
son and chief policy advise; Kraisak Choonhaven, told me in 1990,
'We want to see the Khmer Rouge kicked out of their bases on Thai
soil.' He called on 'all Western powers and China to stop arming
the Cambodian guerrillas'.
This represented an extraordinary about-turn
for America's most reliable client in South-east Asia. In response,
Washington warned the Chatichai Government that if it persisted
with its new policy it would 'have to pay a price' and threatened
to withdraw Thailand's trade privileges under the Generalised
Special Preferences."' The regional conference never took
place. In March 1991 the Chatichai Government was overthrown and
the new military strongman in Bangkok, Suchinda Krapayoon, described
Pol Pot as a 'nice guy', who should be treated 'fairly'. (It was
Suchinda who turned the army on pro-democracy demonstrators in
Bangkok, killing hundreds. He was forced to resign.)
At the same time Japan proposed that the
United Nations exclude from a settlement any group that violated
a ceasefire. Japan also proposed the establishment of a special
commission to investigate the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. US Assistant
Secretary of State Richard Solomon rejected the proposals as 'likely
to introduce confusion in international peace efforts'.
Index of Website