Andrew Sullivan highlights General William Odom making the mistake of agreeing to appear on the Hugh Hewitt show and wrestling with one of the media most intellectually dishonest fixtures. I note that one thing Hewitt tries to do is a move I’ve seen more and more recently; attempt to pin the blame for the Cambodian genocide on the anti-war movement of the 1970s. Nothing, really, could be further from the truth. Benedict Kiernan is director of the Genocide Studies Program at Yale. He “is the author of How Pol Pot Came to Power: Colonialism, Nationalism, and Communism in Cambodia, 1930-1975 (1985, 2004), Cambodia: The Eastern Zone Massacres (1986), The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-1979 (1996, 2002), and Le Génocide au Cambodge, 1975-1979: Race, idéologie, et pouvoir (1998). He is the co-author of Khmers Rouges ! Matériaux pour l’histoire du communisme au Cambodge (1981), Peasants and Politics in Kampuchea, 1942-1981 (1982), and Cambodge: Histoire et enjeux (1986), and has published numerous articles on Southeast Asia and the history of genocide.”
What’s more, “He was founding Director of the Cambodian Genocide Program (1994-99) and Convenor of the Yale East Timor Project (2000-02). Kiernan’s edited collection Conflict and Change in Cambodia won the Critical Asian Studies Prize for 2002. He is also the editor of Genocide and Democracy in Cambodia: The Khmer Rouge, the United Nations, and the International Community (1993), and Burchett: Reporting the Other Side of the World, 1939-1983 (1986), and co-editor of Revolution and Its Aftermath in Kampuchea (1983), Pol Pot Plans the Future: Confidential Leadership Documents from Democratic Kampuchea, 1976-1977 (1988), and The Specter of Genocide: Mass Murder in Historical Perspective (2003).” In short, the guy knows a thing or two about Cambodia. Read this article he wrote:
The still-incomplete database (it has several “dark” periods) reveals that from October 4, 1965, to August 15, 1973, the United States dropped far more ordnance on Cambodia than was previously believed: 2,756,941 tons’ worth, dropped in 230,516 sorties on 113,716 sites. Just over 10 percent of this bombing was indiscriminate, with 3,580 of the sites listed as having “unknown” targets and another 8,238 sites having no target listed at all. The database also shows that the bombing began four years earlier than is widely believed—not under Nixon, but under Lyndon Johnson. The impact of this bombing, the subject of much debate for the past three decades, is now clearer than ever. Civilian casualties in Cambodia drove an enraged populace into the arms of an insurgency that had enjoyed relatively little support until the bombing began, setting in motion the expansion of the Vietnam War deeper into Cambodia, a coup d’état in 1970, the rapid rise of the Khmer Rouge, and ultimately the Cambodian genocide. The data demonstrates that the way a country chooses to exit a conflict can have disastrous consequences. It therefore speaks to contemporary warfare as well, including US operations in Iraq. Despite many differences, a critical similarity links the war in Iraq with the Cambodian conflict: an increasing reliance on air power to battle a heterogeneous, volatile insurgency.
So in short, no, neither the American bombing of Cambodia nor the Vietnam War in general were humanitarian operations well-suited to protecting Cambodian civilians from the Khmer Rouge. But, then again, you knew that already, didn’t you? Hewitt’s busting this out more in the spirit of “no talking point left behind” than as part of some kind of good-faith effort to understand the origins of political mass killing.