28 December 2005

Cambodia Democracy > Aired 28 Dec 2005

Democracy is too often discussed as though it were something's opposite, as though it were a single, monolithic thing. For the next two weeks, we're sampling a limited series from the BBC based on an intriguing concept. Robin Lustig visits 5 different countries that are all nominally democracies, but whose versions of democracy barely resemble each other. We begin with Looking for Democracy: Cambodia

On this week's show we also hear a short documentary about Cambodian Landmines from UNICEF Radio

Next week...we follow Looking For Democracy to the Ukraine to hear about life after the Orange Revolution.


fred veilleux said...

From: Frederick J Veilleux veill004@umn.edu
To: Dacia Herbulock
Subject: Cambodia
Date: 3Jan06 1:15pm

I am writing this paper because I was disturbed by the story you did
regarding Cambodia on 12/28/2005 entitled “Looking for Democracy” produced by the BBC.

I have four points that I find a problem.

Although the primary focus of the production and story is to look at
Cambodian democracy of today, and it’s short comings in the 21st Century, as well as the issue of landmines. The primary problem I have and issue of concern is the BBC’s highlighting of its discussion around the historical date of 1975, in a manner that ignores the United States role in Cambodia in the decade prior to 1975, and thereby ignores the U.S.role and responsibility for what happened after 1975.

According to the BBC narrator, he states about 13 minutes into the program that:

"you can't understand anything about Cambodia, unless you remember what happened here after 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took power and killed, some people say one and a half million, some people say two million, perhaps even three million of their own people."

First, to make such a statement and give no mention of the U.S. saturation bombing of Cambodia for five years beginning in 1969 and ending in 1973,the documentary does a grave injustice by ommitting the U.S. role and responsibility for actions which led to the rural peasant uprising of 1975. Also, many of the bombs did not explode and are scattered about the Cambodian countryside, along with unexploded orgnance, which attests to the United States contribution to the problem of landmines which is another aspect of your documentary’s ommission of facts regarding U.S. complicity in the strife of the Cambodian people.

The following is evidence of U.S. contribution to landmines and unexploded ordnance.

U.S. Firm Provides Cambodia Detailed List of 1970’s U.S. Bombing Runs
Excerpted article, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July, 2002 (AP) A U.S. defense contractor Monday provided the Cambodian government with computerized information detailing thousands of U.S. bombing runs on Cambodia in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, officials said. The information is intended to help Cambodian de-mining groups clear land for settlers and agricultural
development, officials said. The information came from the U.S. national archive, originally supplied by pilots after completing their missions during the Vietnam War.

Secondly, the numbers killed by the uprising given by the BBC narrator have also been proven wrong and are simply more porpaganda by those in the United States and their allies to decieve and mislead the American people into a falsified view of the reality in Cambodia following the U.S. assault as catalyst to the uprising. As well as the U.S. legacy of starvation and disease through their destruction of the agriculture and draught animals,the Waterbuffalo.

Below are the facts regarding the incorrect numbers as well as the details of the bombing.

Thirdly, your presentation alludes to the notion that the United States
tries to promote democracy and freedom throughout the world with the mention of Ahfganistan and Iraq as a segue to the BBC documentary as if U.S. intentions in Cambodia were to promote democracy and good will, you couple this with a quote from the present day advocate of lies and
distortion, George Bush, stating the same.

This too is a fallacy as the historical record shows.

To know and confirm this, just read the books mentioned below that reveal the facts of history and then couple that with a book written by David Schultz: “Thank God They’re On Our Side: The United States and
Dictatorship, 1921-1965”. David Schultz book provides in the U.S. governments own words, their rationales for continuing the role of deterring democracy throughout
the Third World, a role that continues to this day for the same
reasons - to control the resources and economic markets of the Third World.

The reason the United States does not promote democracy in the Third World is because democracy in the Third World would mean that the people of the Third World would have a voice in their country’s destiny and future and this would mean competition for resources the United States want to control !!!

Finally, there is no mention of the the long and exploitative history of
French Colonialism upon the people of Cambodia during the first half of the twentieth century, which one could conjecture might have a bearing on the ability of present day Cambodia to succeed at democracy. This ommission is also discussed below, briefly.

I find it obscene that the BBC would have the audacity to talk about
Cambodia and the tragic events after 1975 while ignoring the horrific
events that were the cause of the events of 1975, namely, United States actions as the chief supplier for the Cambodian army, a CIA sponsored right wing coup of its leader Prince Sihanouk in March 1970 replaced by Lon Nol, and the five years of carpet bombing Cambodia to suppress the peasant population and its movement for social and economic justice which stands as the primary contributing factor to the uprising of the rural peasants which is highlighted by the BBC narrator as

To allow a production like this to air on public radio does an injustice to the listening audience by presenting a distorted view of United States and Cambodian history by the deliberate act of ommitting U.S. actions in Cambodia.

The narrator never mentions the name of the United States anywhere in the

I consider this crime of ommission to be of the highest order.

It’s analogous to talking about the social economic status of African
Americans in the 1800’s while ommitting any mention of the whitemans system of slavery. Or talking about the social psychological status of the
Japanese people in the 1950’s while ommitting any mention of the atomic
bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In so doing, the BBC narrator subtely extricates the U.S. from the scene of the crime, and subtley erases in the mind of the listener these most significant facts of history.

For the listening audience to be aware of the BBC’s subtle slight of hand in their ommission of the U.S. role as cover up, one would need to have knowledge of the missing facts. To acquire the missing facts, one would actually have to take the opportunity to read those authors who expose us to the facts of history, without exclusion of the U.S. role.

Unfortunately most Americans don’t read those authors and are confined to believing the kind of biased, misleading “cover up” journalism and
academic discourse that is prevalent in American society and similar to
your BBC version of reality.

American Imperial ideology and the perpetration of crimes against humanity by the United States throughout the Third World, (for economic gain), continue and are perpetuated primarily because of the failure of the mass media and the academic world to expose the facts of history to the American people regarding U.S. imperialism and CIA interventions as the primary
source of responsibility for the tragic events in Southeast Asia - Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

And that these actions of the U.S. are primary contributing factors to the death and destruction throughout the Third World during the last century,from the Philippines in 1898, Central and South America to Vietnam, Laos,Cambodia, the Middle East and Iraq of today.

It is not surprising with Britain being a close ally of the United States that the BBC would not expose U.S. complicity and responsibility for the cataclysmic death and destruction in Cambodia. As well as other ommissions and misrepresentations of facts and figures as mentioned above.

This kind of presentation only serves to miseducate the American people and allows the United States faovernment to continue this kind of criminal behavior because the American people never learn the lessons of history,and take a stand against such crimes against humanity that continue to this day with impunity. The true history is always hidden and sanitized for the
American people, time after time, and your piece using the BBC documentary only carries on this tradition of keeping the American people ignorant of what their government does in their name. All of which is contrary to the
notion of democracy and the responsibility of a Free Press.

Because your piece ignored the most significant and primary history as a
causal factor in leading up to a discussion of the events after 1975, I am compelled to provide this history. And in so doing, reveal the commonly ignored story by the mainstream American media and academia regarding the U.S. role and responsibility in this crime against the Cambodian people.

The following information comes from Noam Chomskys and Edward S. Hermans
books: “The Washington Connection and Third World Fascism” and “After the Cataclysm: Postwar Indonchina & the Reconstruction of Imperial Ideology”

A former Foreign Service Officer in Phnom Penh, David P. Chandler, now a
senior lecturer at Monash University in Australia, testified at the May
Hearings before the Subcommittee on International Organizations of the
Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives,
Ninety-Fifth Congress, first session, 3 May 1977, he stated:

What drove the Cambodians to Kill? Paying off old scores or imaginary ones played a part, but, to a large extent, I think, American actions are to blame. From 1969 to 1973, after all, we dropped more than 500,000 tons of bombs on the Cambodian countryside. Nearly half of this tonnage fell in 1973...
in those few months, we may have driven thousands of people out
of their minds. We certainly accelerated the course of the revolution according to several accounts, the leadership hardened its ideology and got rid of wavering factions during 1973 and 1974...We bombed Cambodia without knowing why, without taking note of the people we destroyed...it is ironic, to use a colorless word, for us to accuse the Cambodians of being inifferent to life when, for son many years, Cambodian lives made so little difference to us. 57 May Hearings.

His remarks had little impact on subsequent proceedings.

To show in contrast that honest journalism remains possible, consider a report by Richard Dudman just after the fall of Phnom Penh. 87 Dudman was captured in Cambodia while serving as a U.S. war correspondent in Southeast
Asia, and wrote an important book on his experiences with the Khmer Rouge.88

Dudman writes that “the constant indiscriminate bombing, an estimated
450,000 dead and wounded civilians to say nothing of military casualties,and the 4,000,000 refugees were almost inevitable results of the short U.S.
invasion of Cambodia and the subsequent proxy war that ended in defeat for the United States as well as for its client regime in Phnom Penh.”

87.Richard Dudman, “The Cambodian ‘People’s War’,” Washington Post (24
April 1975).

88. Richard Dudman, Forty Days with the Enemy, Liveright, 1971. he reported here that “the bombing and shooting was radicalizing the people of rural Cambodia and was turning the countryside into a massive, dedicated, and effective revolutionary base,” p.69, referring to the U.S. attack, an insight that has been rapidly forgotten and is in fact denied in some of the more disreputable literature on postwar Cambodia.

In brief, let me explore the history of French coloialism in Cambodia from a paper by Laura Summers. She discusses the destructive impact of French colonialism, which violated the “corporate integrity” of the Khmer people; “its indigenous legal system, pattern of land possesson and natonal administration were dismantled.”

During the national uprising of 1885-1886, “French authorities with the aid of Vietnamese infantrymen succeeded in reducing the Khmer population of the Protectorat du Cambodge by 195,000 (20% of the entire Khmer population).”

The French were not concerned with the peasantry, “preferring to
reconstruct Cambodia’s ancient temples, nurture a small elite, and
modernize the economy to provide surpluses of rice and rubber.”

The French displayed little remorse over the fate of this people whom they believed doomed to extinction,”... The impact on the countryside was particularly destructive. While most peasants owned some land, vast numbers
of family holdings were insufficient for subsistence requirements by the
early 1950’s.

Moving ahead to the history of the 1950’s and 60’s I continue with the
ignored facts.

The “conservative ideology of Prince Sihanouks Sangkum party which
effectively ruled after 1955 ruled in accordance with its authoritarian
philosophy,” “natural leaders should rule,” namely,“the rich and powerful
who enjoyed such a situation in the present because of virtuous conduct in previous lives...The poor and unfortunate should accept their lot and try for an improved situation in the next life through virtuous conduct in the present.”

>From the election of 1955, won by Sangkum by a resort to repression and deceit, power “remained solidly in the hands of the old right”; the elite wasted the country’s wealth through “conspiculous consuption,” “expensive foreign products,” “frequent trips abroad, [and] hard currency bank accounts.” 232

Vickery gives a detailed account of how Sihanouk and his right wing
supporters proceeded to “rule alone,” with ample resort to represson. Lon Nol, later premier after the March, 1970 coup, sponsored by the CIA,“established himself solidly as a power figure” in Battambang Province bordering Thailand, assuming command of the region with the rank of colonel
after the withdrawal of French military forces in 1952; “During the next two years this area was the scene of operations by government forces against Issaraks and Viet Minh characterized by gratuitous brutality.” This is one the areas where the worst atrocities were later recorded after the 1975 uprising. Vickery continues:

As related to me by a participant, [government forces] would move into
villages, kill the men and women who had not already fled and then engage
in individual tests of strength which consisted of grasping infants by the legs and pulling them apart. These events had probably not been
forgotten by the men of that area who survived to become the Khmer Rouge troops occupying Battambang in 1975 and whose reported actions have
stirred up so much comment abroad.

The Issaraks were the inheritors of the tradition of warfare of the
colonial period, turning themselves into “fighters for independence against the French.”

Ponchaud writes: “During the reign of Sihanouk and then under Lon Nol,
methods used by the government forces in dealing with their Khmer Rouge enemies were no less savage than those subsequently employed by Democratic kampuchea: between 1968 and 1970 prisoners from Samlaut or Dambar, the cradles of he Khmer revolution, were bound to trees with their stomachs cut open and left to die; other, hurled off the cliffs of Bokor, agonized for days: enemy villages were razed and the villagers clubbed to death by local
peasants who had been set against them.” 140 This account is corroborated from other sources. The events elicited no reaction in the West, and are now generally dismissed or ignored as a possible reason for subsequent savagery. 140

140. Penguin, 1978, p. 92.

Lon Nol was the man the U.S. chose to put in power and be promoted in the CIA sponored coup that removed Prince Sihanouk and made Lon Nol Premier of Cambodia.

Sihanouk disapproved of the United States desire to extend their bombing beyond the Vietnamese-Cambodian border to the whole of Cambodia, Lon Nol did not.

The political and economic situation worsened through the 1960’s as the
right consolidated its power and repression and corruption increased, and with it, discontent among the peasants and some urban intellectuals:

The discontent was accompanied by repression, the secret police were omnipresent, people mysteriously disappeared, and by 1966 Cambodia, though still smiling and pleasant for the casual visitor, was a country in which everyone lived in fear.

“The first large peasant revolt broke out in western Battambang province in the spring of 1967 and was suppressed with bloodshed which was reminiscent of the 1950’s and prefigured that of 1975.”

The outright U.S. intervention sharply intensified the conflict,
particularly, with the escalation of U.S. bombardment of the countryside in 1973:

Particularly during the severe U.S. bombing which lasted throughout the
first eight months of 1973, and which produced no reaction in Phnom Penh 213 other than relief, it must have seemed to FUNK [the guerrillas] that their urban compatriots were quite willing to see the entire countryside destroyed and plastered over with concrete as long as they could enjoy a parasitical existence as U.S. clients. It is certain that FUNK policy became much harsher after the bombing...214

Now allow me to correct the figures given by the BBC narrator regarding the killing by the Khmer Rouge in 1975.

Consider the numbers game. What is the source of the figures invoked by the press? We shall see that the surces are obscure or misrepresented, though when
corrected, they continue to surface. Furthermore, there is considerably
more controversy among knowledgeable observers than the standard line of
the press would indicate.

For example, Lewis M. Simmons, the outstanding Washington Post correspondent, reported from Bangkok that “disease and malnutrition combined with a dropping birthrate are taking a greater toll of Cambodia’s population than Communist executions, according to some of
the latest analyses made here.” There is a major reversal in Western judgments of what had gone on inside Democratic kampuchea...
Most Westerners who make an occupation fo observing
Cambodia from Thailand are talking in terms of several hundred thousand
deaths from all causes. This is a marked shift from the estimates of just six months ago, when it was popular to say that anywhere betwen 800,000 and 1.4 million Cambodians had been executed by vengeful Communist rulers. 73.

Note also that the numbers killed were estimated by the leading government expert as in the “thousands or hundreds of thousands.” (Twinning, who adds
that “very honestly, I think we can’t accurately estimate a figure.”) His superior, Richard Holbrooke offered an estimate of “tens if not hundreds of
thousands” for “deaths” from all causes. 74 He offered his “guess” that “for every person executed several people have died of disease,
malnutrition, or other factors...” 75

To learn these facts of history one need only read authors like Noam
Chomsky and listen to Democracy Now radio on KFAI 90.3 FM Mpls.
106.7 St.Paul

my e-mail is: veill004@tc.umn.edu

Dacia Herbulock said...

Thank you for your comments. I will admit that one of the hesitations I had about this series was the sense that the BBC's presenter is practicing something a bit too akin to "parachute journalism" here. He is trying to cover a great deal of subject matter (5 different countries' democratic systems) and trying to speak with an authoritative voice about these systems. But he doesn't convince me that he knows enough about the places he is visiting to speak with the authority he adopts. He is prone to dramatic statements and simplifications in the drive to make a point. I certainly hope that our listeners will take the time to look deeper into some of the issues you have raised.

I will point out, however, that the scope of this particular documentary was never intended to cover all of the historical events that you mention here. In this installment, Mr. Lustig is drawing a parallel between the ongoing attempts of the US to "impose democracy" in Iraq/Afghanistan and the failure of the UN to impose a working democratic system in Cambodia. There is a subtle criticism of the US and UK's actions that underlies this series. If you will note, the music you heard in the piece's opening coupled with the George Bush quote is actually the fairly cynical theme song of this series (and not something Listening Lounge added).