29. Cambodia & Laos: Sideshow of Indochina War?

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Southeast Asian Countries: A common path to Independence/Self-Rule

Southeast Asia: “Sigh! Humans are so cruel to each other.

So many pages ago, we examined how the Aryans and their derivative civilizations conquered and enslaved indigenous peoples throughout Europe and India. Then starting in middle of the last millennium, they extended their nefarious influence to the Americas and my trade-based part of the world. Sigh again! In similar fashion to the rest of the world, they conquered and enslaved the Native Americans and my Southeast Asians. By this time in history, the members of this conquering race were called Europeans rather than Aryans.

However, it is important to remember that the European military aristocracy continued to enslave and exploit their own citizenry. It wasn’t the indigenous populations of Europe that forced my people to do their bidding and exploited my land. Instead it was their ruling class. Their subjects had little freedom of choice in the matter. The sailors and soldiers tended to be conscripts, who were frequently torn away from their families and friends to serve in the unholy wars of their military masters.

Then late in the 18th century, something unusual happened. One of England’s colonies threw off the chains of domination. This event, in and of itself, was not that remarkable. Military aristocracies are regularly overthrown. However before this time, one kingdom was generally replaced by another kingdom complete with a hereditary ruling class that subjugated the citizenry. This time it was different.

This brand new nation set up a democracy, where all landowners could vote on which direction their country should take. This was the first time in nearly 2 millennia, since Augustus replaced the Roman republic with an Empire, that the small landowners had an equal voice in government, at least in theory. Even more revolutionary, this new nation also had a written constitution that clearly delineated the permanent form and procedures of their government. Just as important, if not more so, the Founding Fathers also included a written Bill of Rights that definitively enunciated the inalienable rights of every citizen. These rights included many freedoms, including the freedom of speech, freedom of religious choice, and freedom of assembly. The new country named itself the United States of America.

Inspired by this ideal example, the subject peoples of every European kingdom eventually rose up, sometimes peaceably and sometimes violently, to establish a constitutional democracy in the decades and century to come. By early in the 20th century, most nations in Europe were democracies.

Although the European citizenry all belonged to democracies, their rulers did not extend this same privilege to their many colonies. My Southeast Asian cultures were no exception. In time-honored fashion, European military aristocracies and/or their international companies continued to exploit my people and their resources. These military leaders frequently accomplished this task by recruiting the ruling class of the subjugated territories to do their bidding.

However, sailors and students studying abroad came back with tales of a new type of country, where all citizens had certain inalienable rights. All people were free to pursue their own destiny, not just the ruling class. Encouraged by this fresh political model, my Southeast Asians began demanding self-rule accompanied by these same inalienable rights.

This agitation for independence began heating up in my part of the planet at the cusp between the 19th and 20th century. The people of the Philippines successfully threw off the Spanish yoke that had burdened them with the excesses of colonial rule for centuries. They were assisted in this task by democratic America with its free citizenry. What came next was a big surprise for the Filipinos.

Instead of instituting a democracy, the Americans simply replaced the Spaniards as colonial rulers. Their techniques for suppressing the independence movement and establishing political and military control were even more savage than their predecessors. Moreover instead of aligning themselves with the common citizen, they enlisted the ilustrados, the Philippine ruling class, to exploit the population. Unfortunately, this American strategy was a continuing pattern in the following century.

Why didn’t the Americans set up a democracy like they had back home? My people were confused. They came to realize that the American people despite having the vote did not control the behavior of their country in the global arena. Instead of the citizenry, the Company, i.e. corporate business interests, dominated U.S. overseas behavior. While the U.S. Company was somewhat tied to American corporations, it was but the primary branch of the International Business Cartel. Composed of the military industrial complex, the international banking community, and international corporations, the Cartel transcended individual countries. Betrayed, militarily suppressed and discouraged, my indigenous people retreated into their miserable lives and prayed for better times.

Then in 1917, the Russian people threw off the chains of their military aristocracy and established a new type of political system that attempted to take care of its people – both the industrial proletariat and the agricultural peasantry. This new political system was called communism. Motivated by the success of the Russian Revolution and discouraged by the lack of assistance in setting up a democracy, many of the independence movements in my diverse territories began exploring the possibility of a communist political state. Further unlike the Western powers, the Russians actively assisted my people in the process of establishing a political system such as they had. We would have preferred a democracy, but received no international assistance, only obstruction, in this regard.

In the 1940s, all the military overlords on the planet went to war with each other over who was to rule the world. This turf battle (WW II) between the emerging and entrenched warlords weakened them all. This struggle between the world rulers provided an opening for my Southeast Asian cultures. Empowered by the Japanese and employing the weaponry they left behind to fight the colonial powers, the process of self-determination began. One by one, my nations began throwing off their colonial overlords and establishing self-rule.

We’ve tracked this process in every one of my countries, with the exception of Cambodia and Laos.

Laos: the Pathet Lao’s Independence Movement (1950-1963)

France, the Company, not the people, established political, economic and military control of Vietnam in the late 1800s. Shortly thereafter, the Company also acquired both Laos and Cambodia under a treaty signed with Siam, later to be named Thailand. As a group, the 3 territories were called Indochina. From this point onward, the fates of these 3 political entities were destructively linked.

Japan took over control of Indochina from the French Company during WW II. After the war, the French Company attempted to reassert control. Unfortunately for them, a well-organized independence movement had established itself amongst the agrarian population. This predominant farming culture lived in small villages in each of these territories. These organizations, called the Pathet Lao in Laos, the Viet Minh in Vietnam and eventually the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, were people’s movements with definite communist overtones.

The Pathet Lao ("Land of the Lao") was initially formed in 1950. Led by Laotian Prince Souphanouvong, who had been trained by Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh, the Pathet Lao joined with the Viet Minh in opposing French rule.

After a brutal, nearly decade long war, the French Company was defeated and withdrew. By the end of hostilities, the Pathet Lao was in firm control of two of the country's provinces. Unfortunately for the indigenous people of Indochina, the American Company stepped in to take the place of the French.

The Geneva Accords of 1954, which brought the First Indochina War to an end, provided for national elections in Laos to establish national leadership, just as they did for Vietnam. While the US blocked the election in Vietnam, Laos held an election in 1958. To tilt the elections in their favor, the US supplied Laos with the equivalent of $150 per person in assistance to both support the military and elect pro-American, i.e. royalist, candidates.

While setting up a military dictatorship in Vietnam, the Company aligned itself with royal families in Laos and Cambodia, i.e. the ruling class. This strategy was a continuation of the French pattern. Their Company had regularly appointed a puppet monarchy to be in charge of the subject population.

Despite these ‘bribes’, the Pathet Lao won the majority vote and established their leader, Prince Souphanouvong, as president. The competing parties established a cooperative coalition government between liberal, moderate and conservative forces. Unfortunately, a coalition government led by the people-oriented Pathet Lao was not acceptable to the American Company – bad for profits.

The American ambassador to the country ‘struggled for 16 months to prevent a coalition’. The US provided abundant military assistance to the royal family, the leaders of the Kingdom of Laos. To prevent the king from including the Pathet Lao in a joint army to protect the citizenry from harm, the US threatened to cut off aid.

Split off from the peaceful coalition, the Pathet Lao army, whose support derived from the predominantly agrarian population, retreated and began an active rebellion against the royalist army that was totally funded by the US. Hostilities broke out in 1959. Thus began the so-called civil war between the peasant population and the Company-supported Kingdom of Laos.

Let us reiterate for emphasis. After the departure of the French, the Laotians seemed to be intent upon setting up a cooperative coalition government. Due to the divisive strategies of the US, this amicable governmental relationship, where all parties had a voice, dissolved into a repressive regime. To prop up what had now become a military dictatorship, the US provided the Kingdom of Laos with an estimated $500 million in military assistance between 1962 and 1971.

However, this exorbitant amount of blood money proved inadequate to the task of suppressing the people’s rebellion led by the Pathet Lao. Despite all the military hardware supplied to the Royal Lao Government, the Pathet Lao continued to make impressive gains. With the realization that their puppet government did not have enough popular support to remain in power, the American Company began secretly bombing Laos in 1964, even before Vietnam.

The Bombing of Laos (1964-1973)

Between 1964 and 1973, it has been reported that ‘Laos was hit by an average of one B-52 bomb-load every eight minutes, 24 hours a day’. Due to the regularity of the onslaught over so much time, US bombers released more destructive tonnage on Laos than was dropped during the entire duration of World War II. Because of the sheer volume, Laos claims the dubious distinction of being the most heavily bombed country per capita in the world. (Vietnam ranks as number 2.)

Traditional bombing would have been bad enough. Unfortunately, modern technology supplied even more devastating ways to torture and destroy one’s fellow humans. Saturation bombing, cluster bombs and napalm increased the human and ecological devastation to levels unknown before modern times. With no aerial resistance such as they experienced in Vietnam, the US Air Force was able to practice saturation bombing, i.e. the complete obliteration of every visible structure.

To better observe these buildings, the bombings included defoliants, such as Agent Orange, to denude the countryside. To better intimidate the residents, the Company hurled napalm at ‘insurgents’/civilians to burn the victim’s skin to the extent that the wounded was left with permanent physical and emotional scars.

Just as savage, if not more so, the US bombers also dropped cluster bombs. This innocuous sounding technological achievement had another name, ‘fragmentation bombs’. To understand what this meant, let’s hear from an eyewitness to the carnage. A French correspondent for Le Monde reports what he witnessed in 1968 – just the middle of the bombing.

“Everywhere enormous craters; the church and many houses were demolished. In order to reach the people who might be living there, the Americans dropped their all-too-famous fragmentation bombs. Here lay a ‘mother bomb’ disemboweled by the side of the road. All round, over a dozen meters, the earth was covered with ‘daughter bombs,’ little machines that the Vietnamese know well, unexploded and hiding hundreds of steel splinters.” (p. 267, The Chomsky Reader, 1987, article written in 1970)

In other words, the ‘daughter bombs’ have the potential to explode at any time. These unpredictable explosions regularly leave anxiety-provoking destruction in their wake. There were some 80 million of these unexploded bombs left in Laos after the Company called off the US Air Force. The carnage went on for years, even decades, after the war was over – certainly a deadly American legacy. Due to this fatal experience with cluster bombs, Laos hosted an international convention in 2010 that was devoted to reaching an agreement on how to completely ban this type of repulsive weapon.

French assist Cambodian Monarchy to suppress Peasant Rebellions

After the ‘successful’ North Vietnamese Tet Offensive in 1969, the American Public began to realize that the Vietnam War wasn’t ending any time soon. Rather than risk the lives of the country’s youth, all of whom were subject to conscription by the US Armed Forces, the Public voted to end this ‘unjust war’ by electing Nixon as president. In his election campaign, he had ‘promised’ to deescalate the war and end the draft.

To appease the American public, Nixon deescalated American troop involvement. Simultaneously his administration increased the bombing and its scope. Cambodia’s agrarian population now became an integral part the Company’s ‘killing field’. Although fewer Americans were at risk, the destructive feature of the war was actually escalating for all residents of Indochina. A little historical background is in store.

Recall that Cambodia only became a European colony after France ‘saved’ the country from Siamese aggression in the mid-1800s. Whatever else could be said for colonial rule, this political move saved Cambodia from being absorbed by her more aggressive neighbors.

Aligning themselves with the Cambodian king, the French allowed the kingdom a great deal of autonomy. They even assisted the ruling class to suppress some peasant revolts. Due to the increasing intransigence of the ruling class and appalled by their barbarous treatment of their citizenry, the French took official control of Cambodia in the late 1880s. Seeing their traditional authority undermined, regional officials revolted. This rebellion was easily squelched by the French.

Although they were in complete control, the French didn’t abolish the Cambodian monarchy, but instead employed it as their tool. After the royal officials realized that cooperation brought wealth and security, they assisted the French to both exploit the land and the peasantry. There were no more revolts during the 40 years before World War II. Roads were built and rubber plantations planted.

Cambodian Independence & Prince Sihanouk’s rule (1953-1970)

In 1941 with the Japanese as their colonial overlords in Indochina, the French placed Prince Sihanouk on the Cambodian throne. Although a willing puppet during the war, he began to increasingly exert his will after the Japanese retreated. At the end of their rule, Japan encouraged Cambodia to proclaim its independence to weaken its enemies. Prince Sihanouk accommodated their request. This was his first taste of political power, but not his last.

After the war, the French Company asserted their control of their Indochina income property. As increasing problems with Vietnam, their primary wealth generator, consumed the Company’s attention, multiple factions vied to be the ruling power of Cambodia. In 1952 Sihanouk seized control.  Although opposed by some, he was able to remain the leader of Cambodia for almost 2 decades. Multiple factors contributed to his success: his royal prestige, his popularity with the people due to his support of traditional culture, and his moderation. All of these elements defused the power of the more radical elements of society, both the repressive right and the communist left.

In the 1954 international Geneva Accords, Sihanouk's government was recognized as the sole legitimate authority within Cambodia. Faux elections were held the next year. Amid widely reported abuses by the police, Sihanouk's political party won every seat in the National Assembly.

Although communists and democrats opposed the increasing authoritarianism of his regime, these opposition parties were unsuccessful in generating the broad-based peasant support that they had in Laos and Vietnam. There were 2 primary reasons for the lack of success of the communist party in particular. The police force and the military suppressed political dissent and Sihanouk continued to enjoy wide spread popularity. This was presumably due to his independence from foreign control and because of his ability to protect the peace.

In 1963 due to political repression, Saloth Sar, the secretary of Cambodia’s Communist Party, fled to the forests along the Vietnamese border. From there he began organizing the peasantry into a force that was to assume eventual control of Cambodia – the Khmer Rouge.

Prince Sihanouk feared US supported Thailand and South Vietnam as the greatest threats to the survival of his government and Cambodia as an independent nation. Multiple South Vietnam/American clandestine attempts to overthrow his regime supported his viewpoint. He was equally afraid of a communist uprising. As such he attempted to maintain a policy of neutrality in the escalating Indochina War.

In 1965 after US soldiers entered the war after the Gulf of Tonkin ‘incident’, Sihanouk broke off relations with the US and entered into secret negotiations with Vietnam’s communist forces. He allowed their armies to congregate along his border as long as they didn’t interfere with the agrarian peasant population. This strategy acted to place a military buffer between Cambodia and the combined might of the South Vietnamese/American army. Unfortunately for the agricultural peasantry, this unfortunate political tactic led to their ultimate demise and the rise of the Khmer Rouge.

Sihanouk’s balancing act pleased no one. His break with the U.S. alienated the conservative elements, i.e. the royalists and the military, and his internal economic policies were too rigid to satisfy the populace. Then a communist inspired peasant revolt broke out in one of the provinces. Sihanouk responded with repressive measures. With his popularity fading amongst the people, he was particularly vulnerable.

After a rigged election in 1970, General Lon Nol replaced Sihanouk as the Cambodian leader. Shortly thereafter, he established a dictatorship that was propped up with U.S. military aid. Lon Nol was no stranger to political terror. In the late 1940s, he led royalist forces in the independence movement. To ‘impress’ the rural population with his might and presumably discourage dissent, Lon Nol’s army carried out savage massacres in the villages, including ‘individual tests of strength’ such as ‘grasping infants by the legs and pulling them apart.’

Indochina’s agrarian population: innocent victims of US bombing

As the Cartel’s club, Lon Nol promised to eliminate the Vietnamese communists from the Cambodian border. In support of these aims, the US/Vietnamese army invaded eastern Cambodia in May of 1970. Simultaneously, Lon Nol’s army attacked the communists in the west of the country. Despite superior firepower, his army met defeat at the hands of the communist independence movement. After this embarrassing loss, Lon Nol’s repressive regime retreated into a defensive posture, just attempting to survive amidst the rising power of the peasantry.

The American branch of the International Business Cartel was disappointed by the abject failure of land-based missions for the purpose rooting out the rising communist rebellion. To augment the land invasion, their military arm, presided over by the Nixon administration, initiated a massive aerial bombardment of the Cambodian countryside in the same year - 1970. This saturation bombing included the usual inhumane elements – defoliants, napalm and fragmentation/cluster bombs. Although begun much later than the bombings initiated against the peasantry of Laos and Vietnam, it immediately reached the same level of intensity, resulting in the same devastating outcome. These brutal bombings persisted through 1975.

By the end of the conflict, 539,129 tons of the complete variety of bombs had fallen on Cambodia, 257,465 tons in the last 6 months, at the estimated total cost of $7 billion. In comparison, 160,000 tons were dropped on Japan, not including the atomic bombs, over the entire duration of WWII. Three million refugees fled to the cities to escape the massive destruction midway through the conflict. By the end, some have estimated that half of the agrarian population were refugees.

The US Air Force inflicted this frightful onslaught on the countryside despite the fact that there had never been an official declaration of war between Cambodia and the US. Further the Cambodian army never threatened American soldiers or territory in any way. The same circumstances held true for Laos. War had never been declared and the Laotian army posed no threat to American soldiers or soil. In similar fashion, war had never been declared between the US and Vietnam. The Vietnamese army never attacked or threatened the American homeland. The only reason that the Vietnamese attacked the American army was because they were on Vietnamese soil in support of an undeniably repressive military dictatorship that was attempting to undermine traditional Vietnamese culture. In other words, the US superior military forces waged a technologically brutal war on all of Indochina despite no declaration of war and no threat of attack on the American homeland.

Even more suspicious, the bombings targeted the peasant population in each of these countries, specifically their villages, rice fields, bridges and irrigation systems.   While there were some military targets, the bulk of the cruel and devastating bombings were aimed at the relatively defenseless agrarian populations. The ruling class in each of these countries had exploited the same peasantry for generations. As such, they were never a formidable military force. For these reasons, it is safe to say that Indochina’s farmers and their families were the innocent victims of these savage bombings by the US Air Force. Reiterating they posed no threat whatsoever to American territory.

The Cartel’s justification for their Atrocities

To understand this curious and perplexing aggression, let us interview the Cartel. In this way we can come to better understand the ‘feel good’ official stance, which continues to be the standard historical perspective.

What was the justification for this massive aerial bombardment of agrarian populations in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia?

Cartel: “The US bombers only targeted the communist armies of Vietnam that were hiding on the borders of Laos and Cambodia. They were using these areas as staging grounds for their rebellion. Of course there might have been some collateral damage to the civilian population.”

If your US Air Force was only targeting the Vietnamese Communists, why were 350,000 Laotians (according to the New York Times) and upwards of 500,000 Cambodians (according to the Independent Finnish commission)killed by the onslaught of these devastating bombs. These numbers represent close to 10% of the entire population in each of these countries,

Cartel: “Obviously these individuals were aiding and abetting the enemy. The Pathet Lao of Laos and the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia were known communist insurgency groups that were working with the Vietnamese communist guerilla forces to overthrow the government. In other words, these Indochinese communist organizations collaborated against us. As enemy allies, they all deserved to be destroyed.”

How about the villages, rice fields, bridges and irrigation systems that your bombers obliterated into dust? The agricultural features of these primarily agrarian countries certainly don’t pose a military threat to anyone. A rice field supplies food, not armaments.

Cartel: “That’s the point. The peasantry was feeding the enemy soldiers as well as sheltering and hiding them. They too were aiding and abetting the communist rebels against our administration in each of the 3 countries of Indochina. Because they were assisting the enemy, the farming community also became our enemy. If we were to win the war, it became necessary for us to destroy the support system of the communist forces. Besides the actual soldiers, our bombers also targeted the ‘rebel economy and social fabric’, as the New York Times euphemistically reported. It just happened that the ‘economy and social fabric’ of the communist guerillas was the agri-culture of Indochina, i.e. the rice growing community that had sustained the population of these countries for millennia.” 

Let me get this straight. Your primary enemies were Vietnam’s communists, both the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese. But the Laotian and Cambodian communists collaborated with the Vietnamese freedom fighters against you. In this way, this mutual interlocking support group became your enemy as well.

Cartel: “Exactly. Laos and Cambodia were just the ‘sideshow of the Vietnam War’ as our media and future historians have dutifully reported – the ‘wart on the side of the hog’ as Secretary of State Dean Rusk stated so poetically at the time.”

In similar fashion, the farming community of Indochina became your enemy as well because they were providing food and shelter to the communist military forces. Because of this collaboration with rebel forces, you instructed the US bombers to obliterate the entire traditional agrarian society of Indochina.

Cartel: “Of course! Destroying the supply lines and food sources of the opposing army is a typical military strategy, not uncommon at all. As we carpet-bombed their once fertile land, turning it into an arid lunar landscape, 10% of the civilian population was killed. Collateral damage. But this mass killing was a major unintended side benefit of the bombing. With fewer and fewer people on their side, the communist insurgency found it increasingly difficult to fight a ‘people’s war’. In Indochina we finally found the obvious answer to these annoying ‘people’s wars’ that were increasingly waged by the communists. Eliminate the people.”

The entire population of Indochina?

Cartel: “No, of course not. Not the business interests, nor the city folk. We pretty much have them under our control. Just the agricultural community. Let me use a metaphor to assist you to understand our position. The farming culture was the ‘ocean’ in which the communist ‘fish’ swam. Because the ‘fish’ needed an ‘ocean’ to survive, we decided to destroy the ‘ocean’, i.e. the Indochinese agrarian population. ‘Better dead than red’, i.e. communist, was an expression that we bandied around at the time.”

Let’s see if I have this right. Because the agrarian population was the ‘ocean’ in which the ‘communist fish swan’, US bombers destroyed 10% of the Indochinese population and agricultural land with napalm, Agent Orange and cluster bombs.

Cartel: “Exactly. I don’t understand what the protestors are so upset about. We only bombed enemy positions, including the collaborators – a normal military strategy.”

For clarity, let’s back up a bit. The agrarian countries of Indochina are relatively backward technologically, especially militarily. What kind of threat did they pose to the US that justified employing these weapons of mass destruction against them?

Cartel: “You are dense. Our corporations inherited Indochina as an income property from the French. As legitimate property owners, we have the right and freedom to develop and exploit the flora and fauna of the land as we see fit. The communists were threatening our property rights. They were fighting for the human rights of our human fauna against the property rights of our corporation. As such the communist insurgency was a totally illegal uprising that we were forced to suppress in order to save the world for international corporations everywhere.”

Thank you so much for your time. This interview has been quite illuminating.

 

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