Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist)

U.S. Reporters refute horror stories about Kampuchea

First Published: The Call, Vol. 8, No. 1, January 8, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

Two widely-respected American journalists have just returned from a two-week visit to Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia), failing to find evidence to support the horror stories about “terror” and “genocide” in that country.

In fact, their reports confirm in many respects the conclusions of earlier visitors, including The Call’s own delegation last April, that the people of Kampuchea are making rapid progress in rebuilding and developing their country just three and a half years after liberation.

Richard Dudman, chief Washington correspondent of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Elizabeth Becker, the Washington Post’s resident correspondent in Cambodia in the early 1970s, travelled more than 1,000 miles across 11 of the country’s 19 provinces. Conducting first-hand interviews and investigations throughout, the, two non-communist reporters provide a number of insights into the revolution in Kampuchea.

Becker arid Dudman, who both held many negative opinions about the Kampuchean revolution, admit in their reports that many of the lies about that country just aren’t true. Here is a small sample from the reporters’ articles:

Starvation? “I saw no evidence of starvation,” reports Dudman: “My observation ... suggests that they get an adequate diet if a plain one.”

Further, “Hundreds of adults, observed close up throughout our travels, showed the alertness, vitality and spontaneity that bespoke generally good health.”

Both Dudman and Becker confirm that despite the worst flooding in 70 years, Kampuchea can actually boast a surplus of rice, which it exports to various countries in Africa and Asia.

“From all I had heard before my trip about how poorly the new system in Cambodia was working,” concedes Becker, “I was a bit surprised by the general level of production throughout the country.” Becker admits that the economic system “seems to be working.”

Both Becker and Dudman reported advances in transport, rubber production and light industrial manufactures of all types. Heavy industry, however, is still mostly undeveloped.

Forced labor? “Workers here appear to be operating under their own direction,” says Dudman. “There was no sign of government cadres giving orders or armed guards to enforce the working hours.”

Both Dudman and Becker describe a relaxed scene at the various agricultural and construction projects they visited. This supports the previously reported facts that the people voluntarily take part in labor and support the government’s modernization plans.

“I did not find the grim picture painted by the thousands of refugees who couldn’t take the new order,” acknowledges Dudman. He goes on to cite “much improved housing, regular issuance of clothing, and ... adequate food.”

Genocide? Both Dudman and Becker admit that nowhere did they see any signs or hear accounts from Kampucheans of large-scale massacres by the revolutionary government against the people.

Despite this, however, the reporters refused to accept the statements of leaders like Deputy Prime Minister leng Sary that while some killing could not be avoided – especially of saboteurs and war criminals – the Communist Party of Kampuchea had made the transition to socialism “in good condition” and “had avoided many more killings.”

A related charge levelled against Kampuchea is that hundreds of thousands died during a “forced evacuation” of Phnom Penh shortly after liberation. These and similar slanders are meant to portray the leaders of Kampuchea as “worse than Hitler.”

But here’s what Dudman had to say: “Two weeks’ observation indicates at least that the new leaders are not the fanatical madmen that they are sometimes pictured (to be) in refugee accounts and Western analysis. The mass evacuation of Phnom Penh may wen have been essential to resume food production and avert mass starvation the first year.”

In addition, Kampuchean leaders have pointed to the existence of secret sabotage networks in the capital, necessitating again the evacuation of the city.

The two reporters pointed to many of the country’s problems. These included the still very poor economy, the insufficient amounts of books, magazines, and media, the situation where children must work besides studying part time, etc.

Despite the generally favorable reports – which earned for Becker and Dudman the criticism of their New York Times colleagues – the journalists also made a number of criticisms of the situation inside Kampuchea. For instance, Becker and Dudman disagreed with what they felt was a “lack of freedom” and “regimentation” in the country.

Both reporters found it difficult to accept the fact that the concrete war conditions of Kampuchea today, as well as the backward economy, make certain freedoms impossible at the present time.

Becker herself admits this, describing how she at first doubted their guides’ reasons for restricting the reporters’ efforts to wander off by themselves. Saying she thought t heir guides’ expressions of concern for their safety were just excuses to hide something, Becker later admits that they had good cause to be concerned. This was after enemy agents assassinated their fellow journalist Malcolm Caldwell in the heart of Phnom Penh.

Still, Becker’s and Dudman’s accounts of their visit to Kampuchea will have the overall effect of cutting-away at many of the lies being spread about that country.