Some Khmer readers were mum over my last article, “Khmer people’s 1970 revolt,” for its implications for the Khmer monarchy and the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk, whom Khmers revered. As one in three Cambodians are between 15 and 29 years old, Premier Hun Sen has little problem keeping the nation ignorant of the country’s history so he can hang on to power.
Long-held erroneous views, assumptions and misimpressions need to be corrected.
A few years ago, a doctoral student asked me skeptically about my assertion in the Pacific Daily News about a 1965 Chinese military aid agreement by which “neutral” Cambodia allowed Vietcong-North Vietnamese sanctuaries on her soil in their war against the Americans. He was thankful I referred him to my 1980 doctoral dissertation at The University of Michigan.
A Khmer expatriate in Europe recently wrote to thank me in the name of “many overseas Khmers” for my regular columns and urged me to circulate a Khmer translation of the article: “Young Khmers deserved to be informed,” especially as Hun Sen twists history.
After an exchange of emails, I learned that his late father, a Khmer air force general, and I had crossed path for a few years under the Khmer Republic. The young man introduced me to the Khmer air force website, which carries the photo of Cambodian Gen. Lon Nol and China’s People’s Liberation Army Gen. Lo Jui-ching signing the military aid agreement I mentioned in the PDN article. Behind both dignitaries stood Ambassador Troung Cang (Khmer legal expert) and Khmer delegation members, and then-Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and Chinese delegation. I secured permission for the PDN to run the photo with this article.
Cambodian Gen. Lon Nol, seated left, and China’s People’s Liberation Army Gen. Lo Jui-ching, seated right, sign a military aid agreement. Ambassador Troung Cang (behind Cambodian flag) and then-Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai (behind China flag), are among other members of the Chinese delegaton. (Photo: Courtesy KhmerAirForce.com)
The website states that upon arriving in China, Gen. Lon Nol received instructions from Prince Sihanouk to “discreetly confirm” Khmer authorization to use “Kompong Som (Sihanoukville) port facilities for arms and supply transit” for the VC/NVN in Cambodia.
“Disappointed, Lon Nol informed members of his delegation: ‘This accord makes us lose our neutrality. Our prince allowed the ‘thmils’ to come into our country.’”
Cambodians must remember the adage: “In politics, there is no permanent friends or enemies, only permanent interests.”
Cambodia’s “permanent interests” in the Cold War, and in the Vietnam War that ended in 1975 with communist takeover and the United States’ withdrawal from the region, should be “strict neutrality, national sovereignty, independence.” Cambodia’s chief of state opted for a zig-zag foreign policy course of action.
The United States defined its interests to include a U.S. withdrawal from the region; the Chinese and Vietnamese, to remove the U.S. from the region. As such, Cambodia was of value only as long as she served their respective interests in their struggle.
Prince Sihanouk’s foreign policy course of action was carefully thought out: Heaven destined Vietnam Cambodia’s eternal neighbor. On Feb. 21, 1964, Sihanouk wrote in Les Paroles de Samdech Preah N. Sihanouk (January-March): “In all frankness, it is not to our interest to deal with the West which represents the present but not the future. … Our interest is to deal with the camp which will one day dominate the whole of Asia — and to deal with it before its victory.”
In March, demonstrators sacked the U.S. Information Service Library, besieged the U.S. Embassy, tore up the U.S. flag and burned parked cars. In June, Sihanouk told a press conference in Paris: “The four-fifths of our frontiers with South Vietnam are occupied, in a permanent or occasional fashion, by the troops of the National Liberation Front.” In 1968, Sihanouk declared “no objection” to a U.S. presence in the region as a “counter-weight” to China, which “inspired and directed “local communist activities.”
March 18, 1969, marked the first U.S. B-52 bombing strike, called Operation Menu — launched over a 25 square kilometer area where the VC/NVN sanctuaries were located three to five miles inside Cambodia. Menu lasted until May 26. The total civilian population was reported to be 4,247.
On March 28, Sihanouk showed reporters a detailed map of the location of Vietnamese communist forces “by entire battalions and regiments” along the Khmer border from northwestern Rattanakiri to the southern sea.
On March 18, 1970, Cambodia’s Parliament voted unanimously to strip Prince Sihanouk of power. On March 23, the angry Sihanouk called on Cambodians to join him and the Khmer Rouge against the Lon Nol government. In 1973, the U.S. bombing ended. On April 15, 1975, the Khmer Republicans surrendered to the Khmer Rouge.
‘Complicit in the mass murder ’
Award-winning freelance journalist Nate Thayer, known for his interviews with Pol Pot, wrote on his blog on Feb. 15, 2016, that “at least one million” Cambodians had died in the wars that “preceded and succeeded Pol Pot’s tenure,” and that during Pol Pot’s rule for three years, eight months and 20 days, “at least 1.7 million” people were killed. Thayer said an estimated 30,000 to as high as 150,000 Cambodians were killed by U.S. bombings.
A self-declared fan of U.S. presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, “save when he makes ignorant, goofy, uninformed declarations” accusing Henry Kissinger for responsibility for the U.S. bombing that resulted in Pol Pot’s mass murders, Nate Thayer also hit hard at ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Ey San for calling Sanders’ statement “correct.”
“No, Mr. Sok Ey San, Sanders is not correct,” Thayer wrote, “And, you sir, are the mouthpiece for a gaggle of ex-Pol Pot loyalists who were complicit in the mass murder of your own people. Cambodia’s suffering and Cambodia’s failure is the fault of Cambodians.”
Gaffar Peang-Meth, Ph.D., former deputy chief of general staff of the Khmer People’s National Liberation Armed Forces, taught political science at the University of Guam for 13 years. Retired in 2004, he now lives in the U.S. mainland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was originally released for publication by the Pacific Daily News
April 8, 2016