Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Daniel Burstein

On Cambodia: But, Yet

First Published: The New York Times, November 21, 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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CHICAGO–Everyone knows about the war waged by the United States in Cambodia from 1970 to 1975. But very few people know about or understand the war that it is waging today against that country, which now calls itself Democratic Kampuchea. The war is being fought on many fronts. But it is mainly a propaganda war, a consciously organized, well-financed campaign to spread lies and misinformation about Kampuchea since the victory of its revolution in 1975.

I was the first American to visit Kampuchea since April 17, 1975. What I saw has little in common with the stories told by so many journalists and other “authorities” who have never been there.

In eight days, I traveled more than 700 miles, spending time in Phnom Penh as well as the provinces of Siem Reap, Kompong Thorn, Kompong Cham and Takeo. Everywhere, I saw people hard at work building vast agricultural and water-conservation projects. These people do not have to be forced to work at gunpoint as some have suggested in the press here. These are peasants who could not put food on their tables before the revolution and now have enough to eat.

Some of the most outrageous stories that have been presented as so-called facts in the Western press were directly contradicted by what I saw.

For example, several American newspapers and one major television network have reported that the 1,000-year-old temple at Angkor has been destroyed or, alternately, that no foreigners are allowed to visit it. Yet I went to Angkor Wat. It hasn’t been destroyed.

The press has also repeatedly quoted refugee accounts that state that anyone who criticizes the Government is summarily executed. But when I interviewed peasants in the countryside, I heard people express reservations about the evacuation of Phnom Penh. I found the people very candid in their views, even in the presence of party officials.

The most slanderous of all charges leveled against Kampuchea is that of “mass genocide,” with figures often cited running into the millions of people. I believe this is a lie, which certain opinion-makers in this country believe can be turned into a “fact” by repeating it often enough.

In an interview with Deputy Premier Ieng Sary, I asked point-blank if there had been any such “mass genocide” in Kampuchea. He said absolutely not, that such stories were ludicrous. He pointed out that if there was any genocide, it was committed by the United States, which was responsible for the deaths of 800,000 people during the war.

This does not mean that there has been no violence or bloodshed since the revolution. The new Government has had to deal with many forces who oppose the revolution–former Lon Nol officials, as well as organized networks of American, Russian and Vietnamese agents trying to overthrow the Government. Such sabotage has undoubtedly been met with violent suppression. In the course of this, there may even have been some excesses, which no revolution is immune to.

But Ieng Sary’s point about the real perpetrators of genocide is a good one. The United States Government certainly never shed a tear for the 800,000 Kampucheans slaughtered in the war. When some of Lon Nol’s traitors are executed, however, Kampuchea became in Jimmy Carter’s words, “the worst violator of human rights in the world.”

The genocide myth is being fabricated in large part by a network that operates out of Bangkok, headed by In Tarn, one of Lon Nol’s old cohorts. He controls much of what goes on in the way of interrogating refugees as they come across the border, and has even paid up to $50 a shot for some refugees to tell good horror stories to foreigners visiting the camps. The fabrications have found their way into several American newspapers. In 1977, one paper printed what were supposed to be photographs of “executions” in Kampuchea. Even at the time they were printed, these photos had already been exposed in Thai newspapers as staged and faked.

It is not only American interests who are waging a “war” against Kampuchea today. The Soviet Union is, too. Why is it that both the United States and the Soviet Union are so antagonistic to Kampuchea? The answer is to be found in the fact that Kampuchea is pursuing a fiercely independent course, refusing to allow either superpower even a foot in the door of their country. Yet both superpowers want to find a way to penetrate Kampuchea, because of its strategic position in Southeast Asia.

Much of what I have written here may seem farfetched to those who have read so much information expressing the opposite viewpoint. But 15 years ago, not many people questioned the information that the press was providing about the American role in Indochina. The truth eventually came out about that war, and I believe it won’t be long before the truth comes out about this one.