Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Greens and the Khmer Rouge Part 1

Frogblog has posted about the evidence given by Rob Hamill at the trial of Duch, who operated the Tuol Sleng torture and murder prison in Cambodia. A chance, of course, to reflect simply upon the horrors of the Khmer rouge era. Estimates of numbers executed and starved to death by this regime range from 1.2 to 2.2 million people, between a quarter and a third of the population.

The easy target is to throw stones at Keith Locke. It is fairly well known that in his naïve youth he cheered on the Khmer Rouge victory in Phnom Penh as a liberation. Of course he was not the only one, the Lon Nol military dictatorship that had been overthrown was corrupt and brutal. Nobody missed it at the time, it was hoped things could only get better. Few paid any attention to stories coming out of Khmer Rouge occupied territory of the Maoist autarchy imposed on the local population, although images from the early 1970s showed the uniformity and order that they had imposed (ironically published approvingly by a Chinese state propaganda pictorial magazine).

However, my concern is not Keith Locke. He was young and naïve, better to forgive that and his statements about nuclear power only being safe under socialism, and cheering on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, than to dwell a quarter of a century or more later. My concern is also not Sue Bradford, who was cheerleading on Maoist China in the early 1970s, the Khmer Rouge’s chief source of funds, arms and ideology. Imagine if a senior National MP had cheered on Pinochet, Franco or Salazar in his youth and how that would be treated by the Greens, but I digress.

It is this statement

“For us in the West what we have to get our heads around is that the Khmer Rouge learnt their ideology in Paris and were able to seize power because Richard Nixon personally ordered a secret bombing campaign that killed half a million. And that US foreign policy, in particular their determination to never forgive anyone that drives them off, allowed the Khmer Rouge to occupy Cambodia’s UN seat until 1993 rather than the government installed by the Vietnamese invasion that ended their rule.”

This statement evades certain facts, and would make you think that it is all the fault of the West and the US that the Khmer Rouge came to power. This is, at best, a side effect of failed policies, and there are others who can carry far more blame.

Yes the Khmer Rouge learnt their ideology in Paris, at the Sorbonne, along with many other Marxists. Radical Maoism was de riguer among many academics, vile as it always has been. However, the Khmer Rouge was active before the US bombings. Why did the US bomb Cambodia in the first place? Because it was being used by the North Vietnamese as a bypass route to infiltrate South Vietnam. “Neutral” Cambodia was a staging ground for invasions of South Vietnam. The US response was to use bombing and then invasion to close the borders, and buy time. The bombing killed between 100,000 and 600,000 (half a million is a high estimate), and certainly gave the Khmer Rouge propaganda to attract illiterate peasants to fight for them. The US backed the overthrow of Prince Norodom Sihanouk (a very slimy long time friend of Kim Il Sung) and supported a corrupt and brutal strongman called Lon Nol. His antics also helped fuel support for the Khmer Rouge. However he achieved the primary goal, securing the borders of Cambodia and wiping out North Vietnamese forces in Cambodia.

The Khmer Rouge was backed solidly by Mao, China supplying explicit financial and material support. The USSR was more interested in Vietnam. So it was China that enabled the Khmer Rouge to fight against Lon Nol. However, it was Lon Nol himself who was so corrupt, incompetent and cruel that caused many Cambodians to join the fight against him. Note that Prince Sihanouk himself backed the Khmer Rouge as well – the “neutral” Prince backing radical Maoists so he could continue to enjoy the trappings of power. The US did not back the Khmer Rouge, it unfortunately backed its hopelessly incompetent and immoral opponents.

So the US was guilty of foolishness in Cambodia, because its goal in Vietnam propelled victims of its actions (and its friend’s actions) to support the Khmer Rouge. However, to say Nixon enabled the Khmer Rouge to seize power is evading two key points:

1. Had the Khmer Rouge not had Chinese support, it may well have failed to takeover, avoiding the massive loss of life its regime caused.
2. The US from 1970 to 1975 armed, funded and backed the Lon Nol military regime, which whilst bad, fought the Khmer Rouge. Had Lon Nol remained in power, it would have been corrupt, and far from free, but would not have been as murderous. A similar analogy is Korea, where South Korean dictatorships and military regimes ran the country from 1953 through to 1988, but which was far less deadly than North Korea for its people.

The truth is that China provided succour to the Khmer Rouge, the US lamely fought against it, but the biggest supporters of the Khmer Rouge were often Western academics.

The Greens skirt over the Khmer Rouge years. The years when umpteen Western academics embraced the Khmer Rouge, including the fool Malcolm Caldwell who decided to go visit them, and got murdered as a result. The years when leftwing pinup Noam Chomsky declared stories of mass murder and starvation from Democratic Kampuchea as CIA propaganda (the man has slithered in evasion of this statement ever since). This thesis talks of the "Standard Total Academic View on Cambodia" being "Democratic Kampuchea symbolized their wildest hopes and dreams. From the classroom to the politburo, the new Kampuchea was, to these scholars, theory becoming reality" says Sophal Ear.

You see the Khmer Rouge represented the idealistic vision of so many on the left. More on that in Part 2.

Vietnam invaded Cambodia for various reasons, including a border incident, concern over the Khmer Rouge treatment of ethnic Vietnamese (Vietnam knew only too well what was going on there), Soviet support for Vietnamese expansionism (as Vietnam was not backed by China – as was seen in a brief border war between the two in 1979).

You may find it odd that a party that opposed the US overthrowing the Saddam Hussein dictatorship, overthrowing the Taliban dictatorship and includes many who opposed the US kicking Iraq out of Kuwait, so warmly receives (or at least glosses over) Vietnam invading Cambodia.

Let me be clear, the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia was moral, purely because it ended the Khmer Rouge horror, even though nobody could dare claim that the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was free or respected individual rights, it fell short of the mass executions of the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge had been brutal to Vietnamese on both sides of the border. However, overthrowing the Khmer Rouge does not fit well with Green Party rhetoric against imperialism and war, particularly since the government installed by Hanoi was little more than an extension of its own.

The Greens claim the US allowed the Khmer Rouge to occupy the UN seat of Cambodia rather than the Vietnamese installed regime because of a fit of pique at losing the Vietnam War. This is an element of truth evading several facts and with the wrong motive.

The seat at the UN was held by the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea, shared by the Khmer Rouge, FUNCINPEC and the KPNLF, the latter two being royalist and anti-communist. This was maintained because China and the US both vetoed Soviet and Vietnamese requests for the seat to be taken up by the Hanoi led government. Of course when the Cold War ended, all of this fell away. Vietnam had withdrawn from Cambodia, and the pro-Vietnamese government engaged in a coalition with FUNCINPEC and the KPNLF, whilst the Khmer Rouge tried to continue fighting.

So why the history lesson? Well it is understandable to write about Rob Hamill testifying at Duch’s trial. It is a tragic NZ element to one of the most vile events of the 20th century. Indeed so vile it demonstrates that what is worse than war is government turning on its own people. However, the Greens couldn’t use the occasion to simply deplore the Khmer Rouge, deplore Maoism and condemn totalitarianism and communism. No. It was used to blame the United States, by selective use of the facts and evading the fundamental blame for the Khmer Rouge – Marxist scholars, Chinese Maoists and the embrace of the ideology that individuals only exist for the greater good.

The Greens implicitly endorse the Vietnamese invasion and conquest of Cambodia, because it overthrew a murderous tyranny, but don’t support the US doing the same in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So, why would the Greens selectively report history to bash the US? Why not bash China for providing the greater succuour to the Khmer Rouge? Why not bash communism generally? Why ignore the US backing of the Khmer Rouge's opponents over sustained periods? Why not slam the apologists of the regime from leftwing academia (which included your own)? Why not criticise Norodom Sihanouk for letting Cambodia be a vehicle for Vietnamese communist insurgency (attracting US attention), and then being a vehicle for the Khmer Rouge to have legitimacy?

Or better yet, why not shut the hell up about a party and government that represented an idealised vision of a society without any capitalism (money was abolished), without carbon based energy, where everyone was equal, there were no possessions, where peasantry had been raised to the highest level, where everyone was meant to get what they needed, and nobody was rich. Then ask yourself, before the consequences of this vision were obvious, would you too have supported it?

1 comment:

sharsJ said...


I asked about the personal Nixon connect to KR, too. No answer so far. Hence reading your response..

In the remaining absence of frogblog response mebbe a longshot question for your goodself..
regarding Nixon/China.. some arrangement.. at the time it could have been appropriate with actual US assets on the ground(locality) as it were.. anything likely..?

ps: in fairness the blog to which you responded was a 'guest' input rather than direct greens blogging material.. so mebbe a retitle of the above is due..