First Published: The Worker, for Hawaii, Vol. 2, No. 4, March 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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“Peace came to Cambodia on the morning of April 17, 1975.” So begins an article in the February Reader’s Digest entitled “Murder of a Gentle Land.” The story claims to be the first true account of what’s really going on inside Cambodia since the US and its puppet regime of Lon Not were defeated. But the first sentence is about the only truthful statement in the article, which is made up of lies so massive and disgusting that this article in The Worker can only begin to set the record straight.
The two biggest lies in the article are these: that the liberation forces emptied the cities right after victory only to inflict an unspeakable cruelty upon the masses of people and that in the year following liberation the communists have coldly executed well over a million people.
Even the editors of Reader’s Digest are forced to concede that their story will be at odds with what the American people remember about those times. They include right at the beginning a photograph taken on the streets of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, the morning the guerilla army entered. The joy on the people’s faces is unmistakable. They call this a “terrible irony” and the story surrounding it proceeds to take the American people as fools.
In the final days of the Lon Nol regime the only way the city of Phnom Penh was being fed was by a massive US airlift of rice and other food. The TV news carried dozens of film stories about it.
At this time about half of all Cambodians lived in Phnom Penh. Most of them had been peasants, growing food in the countryside. But the US bombing and defoliation raids had driven them into the cities, increasing the urban population at the same time it slashed rice production. US strategists called this “war induced urbanization” and it was a conscious policy. Overall, the war, and especially the US air war, had totally disrupted the economy.
The victorious liberation forces were faced with a big problem. The city people could not feed themselves, there wasn’t enough rice production in the countryside, and the US, of course, had stopped its rice airlift. The popular forces did the only thing possible. They led million:; of Cambodians in an exodus to the countryside, where they could establish farms and work together to grow the food necessary to sustain life. This did involve great hardship, but it saved the masses from starvation.
Reader’s Digest doesn’t care to go into what effects the US bombing had on Cambodia, ignores the big food problems and generally acts as if the American people can remember nothing for longer than a few weeks. Does Reader’s Digest think it would be better to have let millions of people in the city slowly starve to death? That the hardships of the exodus to the countryside is unspeakable cruelty but starving to death is not? Their “concern” for the Cambodian people is touching!
To win the American people’s support for the wars in Indochina, the US rulers “promised” that there would be a bloodbath if the communists won. In the two years after getting kicked out of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia they have been anxiously searching for blood to “prove” they’d been right all along. True to form, Reader’s Digest has come to the ruling class’ rescue. After interviewing 300 refugees they have found a “bloodbath.”
To be sure, some Cambodian reactionaries have been put to death. Those who sold out their country to US imperialism and plunged the country into a long and devastating war, some ruthless landlords who have been riding the peasants backs for decades, the big dope pushers, and large scale pimps–they have received their justice. This is hardly a “bloodbath” of innocents. And one can’t help but wonder exactly who these “refugees” were. Do they include Lon Nol, former head of the puppet regime, now hiding here in Honolulu?
But, perhaps some of the grisly incidents the refugees describe may be true. But not at the hands of the Cambodian government! The incidents, as shown on a map provided by Reader’s Digest, all happened in a particular section of the country, a few provinces in the Northwest near the Thailand border. This area is the stomping ground of the CIA-led Khmer Serai, who have been shooting civilians and ambushing liberation army units in hopes of terrorizing the population and bringing back the hated rule of the big landlords. Just as they treated the previous gangsters, the people of Cambodia will eventually deal with these reactionaries and protect their government of workers and peasants.
Spreading lies about liberation movements is standard operating procedure for the US ruling class and its spokesmen. They are trying to do the same thing now with the liberation struggle against Rhodesia, with made up stories about “kidnapping children” and such. The purpose of all this is to divide the masses of Americans from the masses of people around the world who are fighting to throw oppression and exploitation off their backs, to make the American people support the US ruling class when it uses military force to crush struggles as in Cambodia or Vietnam.
We would like to ask the “morally concerned” Reader’s Digest; When the CIA helped bring Lon Nol to power he went on a rampage, killing tens of thousands of Cambodian civilians of Vietnamese descent. There was no need to interview “refugees” or let your imagination run wild. For weeks mutilated bodies floated down the Mekong River, passing through South Vietnam to the sea, by thousands of witnesses, past dozens of camera lenses. Where was your great concern? Where was your story then?