Cambodia under Pol Pot, etc.
The original claim that the Khmer Rouge had "boasted"
of having killed 2 million people was by Jean Lacouture in the New York Review,
quickly taken up by Anthony Lewis and others. Lacouture was reviewing a French
book by Francois Ponchaud, a priest who had lived in Cambodia. I was curious,
obtained Ponchaud's book from a friend in France, and read it (it was being
widely quoted all over the place on the basis of L's review; I wouldn't be
surprised if I were the only person in the country who had actually seen it
-- it had just appeared).
What Ponchaud actually wrote was that the US war had killed
800,000 people (which seems to be a considerable exaggeration) and that according
to the US Embassy, 1.2 million had died since (that would be from April 75
through 1976 -- the statement was flatly denied by the Embassy). Adding these
two (incorrect) figures, we get two million. The boast comes free. A few weeks
later, in "corrections" (which I brought to his attention, privately),
L. says that maybe there were only thousands killed, but asks whether it really
matters -- a position for which he has won great acclaim. When Ed Herman and
I responded to his challenge to me by saying that we thought that a factor
of 1000 did matter, that aroused huge outrage, which still continues ("nit-picking,"
it's called on the left). Oddly, no one has taken the same view when we said
we thought it also mattered whether the US killed thousands or millions in,
say, Operation Speedy Express. In dealing with US atrocities, facts matter.
For official enemies, anything goes.
Since that time figures of all sorts have been bandied
about. In January 1979, the Far Eastern Economic Review (the main business
journal covering Asia, now part of the Dow Jones system) claimed that the
population of Cambodia had risen to 8.2 million under the Khmer Rouge (that
would be an increase of about 1 million). The next year they said it had fallen
to 4 million. The actual figure, by census count, was about 6.7 million. The
CIA, in its demographic study in 1980, claims that Pol Pot killed 50-100,000
people and attributes most deaths to the Vietnamese invasion, also denying
flatly the atrocities of 1978, which were by far the worst (that's the source
of the famous piles of skulls, etc.; these became known after the Vietnamese
invasion in 1979, and were certainly known to the CIA). Michael Vickery has
written about the CIA study, suggesting that it was tailored to fit the fact
that the US was tacitly supporting Pol Pot in '78 and later.There's a careful
analysis in Vickery's "Cambodia." He's a very serious Cambodia scholar,
and his analysis is taken seriously by other reputable scholars (e.g., Australian
scholar Robert Cribb, in his standard scholarly work on the Indonesian massacres
with comparative evidence). Vickery estimates about 700,000 deaths "above
the normal" in the Pol Pot years -- which, if accurate, would be about
the same as deaths during the US war (the first phase of the "Decade
of Genocide," as 1969-79 is called by the one independent government
analysis, Finland). For that period, the CIA estimates 600,000 deaths. The
Yale Genocide project (Ben Kiernan and others) gives higher estimates, about
1.5 million.In fact, no one knows. No one ever knows in such cases, within
quite a broad range. When numbers are put forth with any confidence, and without
a big plus-or-minus, you can be sure that there is an ideological agenda,
in any such case. Demographic analyses are very weak.If we wanted to be serious,
we would also ask how many of the post-1975 deaths are the result of the US
war. The predictions by US officials, doctors in Phnom Penh, and others were
that there would be a huge toll in the coming years; people were dying in
Phnom Penh alone at 100,000 a year when the KR took over (no one has a clue
as to what was happening in the heavily bombed countryside). The figure of
1 million potential deaths was reported by the highly respected correspondent
of the FEER, Nayan Chanda, attributed to a high US official.
But these are ideological footballs. Only a few of those
who write about the topic are interested in such boring things as truth --
as the original 2 million figure indicates.Incidentally, these numbers are
from memory. I've quoted them exactly in print, and could check if you like
-- or you could check originals. I think they are accurate, or close to.
Chomsky: more on
Atrocities in Cambodia
I didn't quite understand the first comment,
which reads: "Quick response: Kiernan cites a figure of 1.5 million. He criticizes
Vickery's population figures as too low by about 700,000--which explains the difference
between the two estimates."
Remember that the relation is reciprocal. Vickery criticizes
Kiernan's figures as too high. And there are various other differences in (highly
uncertain) estimates. As I think I may have mentioned, leading specialists go both ways:
thus Robert Cribb, in the standard scholarly study of Indonesian and comparative genocide,
takes Vickery's figures.
It's true that the KR (not just Pol Pot, I believe) were rabidly
racist, and had support for that. There was an element of what Vickery calls "poor
peasant chauvinism." How large an element it was is another point of dispute. Vickery
thinks a lot; Kiernan thinks less. Not easy to determine. We can't answer questions like
that easily even for far more familiar and intensively studied societies: our own, for
On "casualities resulting directly and indirectly from the
bombing of Cambodia," estimates are even more uncertain than for the Pol Pot period.
The topic isn't studied, for the obvious reason (just ask who will be blamed). The Finnish
government study "Decade of Genocide: 1969-1979," the only independent
governmental study, recognizes that the "genocide" had two phases, but devotes
only a few pages to the first phase, because there is so little information. US reporters
on the scene (like Sydney Schanberg, called "the conscience of the press"
because of his dedication to exposing Pol Pot terror) literally refused to interview
refugees fleeing into Phnom Penh. That didn't require trekking into the jungle (which
reporters were happy to do to interview refugees who could expose Pol Pot terror): just
crossing the street from their hotel. Ed Herman and I documented this in detail in
"Manufacturing Consent." It's standard. I saw it myself, first-hand, in Laos in
1970. I happened to be there just when the CIA mercenary army had drive a flood of
refugees from the Plain of Jars to encampments about 20 miles out of the capital city,
which was then hosting leading journalists from all over the world, who flew in because of
fraudulent US claims of a North Vietnamese invasion (everyone knew it was a fraud, and
there was much ridicule in the hotel bar where the journalists hung out, but they reported
it soberly). The Plain of Jars had been subjected to the most intense bombing in history
(later exceeded by US bombing in Cambodia); in fact, thousands of people are still dying
every year from unexploded "bomblets," mostly children and farmers, while the US
refuses to do anything about it and it isn't reported here though it is known -- another
horror story. To get back to the point, I spent maybe 20 hours during the few days I was
in Vientiane interviewing refugees to learn something about what had been going on in the
Plain of Jars (I was taken by a Lao-speaking US volunteer, Fred Branfman, who had been
trying desperately to get Western reporters to have a look at the facts, with no luck).
Virtually no US reporters wanted to find out; they preferred the 5PM handouts at the US
Embassy, which all knew were absurd. The story gets much worse. I wrote about it in
"At War with Asia" (1970); Fred has a much more detailed account in his
"Voices from the Plain of Jars." There's more in my "For Reasons of
State" and later.
Same in Vietnam. Millions of people were fleeing into the slums of
Saigon from US saturation bombing of the densely-populated Meking Delta. How many
interviews can you find? Americans estimate the deaths in Indochina at about 100,000;
journalists sometimes report that figure too; official figures are over 3 million. If we
discovered that ordinary Germans estimated Holocaust deaths at a few hundred thousand,
there would (properly) be an outcry. Have you heard one here?
It's easy to continue. US crimes are off the agenda.
To get to your question (finally), the little evidence is something
like this. The CIA (in its postwar demographic study) estimates deaths in the first phase
of the "decade of genocide" at 600,000 (of course, they don't regard the US as
responsible). In 1975, just before the Khmer Rouge takeover, Western doctors in Phnom Penh
were estimating deaths at 8000 a month -- what was going on in the countryside, where the
bombing was in progress, no one tried to estimate. They also predicted that there would be
a "lost generation," as a result of the horrendous attack on the countryside.
The only extensive study of this that I know is Gary Porter and George Hildebrand's book,
but since it is a heavily documented study of US atrocities, it is undiscussable here.
Progressives, like "Progressive" editor Matthew Rothschild, regard it as
outrageous even to say that the book is well-documented (though it transparently is);
written in 1976, it is mostly devoted to US crimes, therefore even to cite it is criminal.
We have to agree that before the KR takeover, Cambodia was a "gentle land" of
happy people: to question that is another outrage, according to standard doctrine, going
as far to the dissident side as Rothschild and "In These Times."
To continue, high US officials cited by the highly-respected Asia
correspondent of the (eminently respectable) Far Eastern Economic Review predicted that 1
million would die as a consequence of the US bombings. US aid officials leaving Phnom Penh
when the KR took over predicted that two years of "slave labor" would be
necessary to overcome the effects of the bombing.
Whether these estimates are right or wrong, no one knows, and no one
cares. There is a doctrine to be established: we must focus solely on the (horrendous)
crimes of Pol Pot, thus providing a retrospective justification for (mostly unstudied) US
crimes, and an ideological basis for further "humanitarian intervention" in the
future -- the Pol Pot atrocities were explicitly used to justify US intervention in
Central America in the '80s, leaving hundreds of thousands of corpses and endless
destruction. In the interests of ideological reconstruction and laying the basis for
future crimes, facts are simply irrelevant, and anyone who tries to suggest otherwise is
targeted by a virulent stream of abuse. That runs pretty much across the spectrum, an
instructive phenomenon. But one consequence is that no one can give a serious answer to
the question you raise, because it is about US crimes.