Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
January 20, 2004
HISTORY: What's Cambodian For "Chutzpah"?
So, Nuon Chea - second-in-command to Pol Pot with the Khmer Rouge -- makes a grudging admission of "mistakes":
I admit that there was a mistake. But I had my ideology. I wanted to free my country. I wanted people to have well-being . . . I didn't use wisdom to find the truth of what was going on, to check who was doing wrong and who was doing right. I accept that error.
Even with this tepid apology, however, the denial continues:
Nuon Chea said the number of people who died was not in the millions. He acknowledged that many did die but said it was impossible to say how.
The record, however, is out there for those who care to look. Cambodia from 1975-1979 wasn't Stalin's Russia or Hitler's Germany; it was much worse:
By far, the most deadly of all communist countries and, indeed, in this century by far, has been Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot and his crew likely killed some 2,000,000 Cambodians from April 1975 through December 1978 out of a population of around 7,000,000. This is an annual rate of over 8 percent of the population murdered, or odds of an average Cambodian surviving Pol Pot's rule of slightly over just over 2 to 1.
(See the chart here as well). You know, there's a lot bad that can be said of the Vietnam War, from any political perspective, a lot more than there's space to deal with here; it was a poorly conceived and run enterprise in many ways, and has led to many necessary reforms and refinements in American foreign and military policy. But it's just awfully hard to look with any trace of human compassion at what happened in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, as well as in Vietnam and Laos after the war, and say it wasn't worth fighting the spread of Communism in Southeast Asia at all. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the war, Americans were fighting a real enemy, one that was deeply evil and unalterably murderous. Let us hope that, in the present war, we never elect a government that repeats the mistakes of 1975 in abandoning the field to such an enemy. (Veterans of the Ford Administration's failed attempt to get aid from Congress for South Vietnam in its last need, like then-White House Chief of Staff Don Rumsfeld and then-Deputy Chief of Staff Dick Cheney, remember this). Cambodia can happen again.