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Nigel Harris

Nixon’s desert

(May 1970)

From Socialist Worker, 16 May 1970.
Reprinted in Chris Harman (ed.), In the Heat of the Struggle, London 1993, p.48.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THE TOWN of Snoul is lost under the holocaust. 4,000 corpses, most of them probably innocent Cambodians, have all been dutifully classified as ‘enemy troops’.

And countless nameless Cambodian villages are lost accidentally in shell holes. The American desert in Vietnam has begun to eat into the paddy fields of Cambodia.

The two invasions of Cambodia a week ago have now been extended to seven or eight separate invasion points. The 10,000 US and South Vietnamese troops have grown to something over 55,000.

The order – ‘hit anything which moves’ – ensures that few will remain to complain.

Rumour governs the tanks and the artillery. In the case of Snoul, it was rumour that the ‘Vietcong’ were there which prompted the order to ‘blow the town away’. After destroying it, the rumour can be checked.

But the sudden explosion of the anti-war movement in America has forced some verbal concessions. American troops will leave in ‘five or six weeks’ or by 1 July and will not invade Cambodia beyond a 19 mile limit.

In military terms, the two concessions are obviously absurd. If the ‘massive concentrations of enemy troops’ are 20 miles from the border on 2 July, Nixon cannot and will not withdraw his forces.

Nor has he said South Vietnamese troops will withdraw and they will need US air support. There are ‘no US troops’ in Laos officially, but it does not prevent a major US backed war taking place there.

Nor has the 19-mile limit prevented the launching of a flotilla of 100 vessels from South Vietnam up the Mekong River to Phnom Penh.

A third or a quarter of these vessels are US manned, but they are supposed to be carrying ‘medical and food’ supplies to the Cambodian capital and therefore are not subject to the 19-mile limit.

The overall invasion makes no more military-political sense than it did when it was launched. If it was to ward off possible attacks while US troops evacuated the South, the operation will have to be repeated every three to six months.

Despite wild claims and energetic efforts to manufacture ‘major enemy bases’ little of note appears to have been discovered in the invasion. If the NLF were there, they have long since gone beyond the 19-mile limit.

The Lon-Nol government has relinquished all claim to being neutralist and nationalist. In opening the door to US troops it has guaranteed its own destruction, whatever else happens.

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Last updated: 11 March 2010