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B-52s Litter Cambodia

by becca on November 15, 2009

US bombing in Cambodia

The United States dropped over 2.75 million tons of bombs in Cambodia between 1963 and 1975. Intended to attack the North Vietnamese troops along the border, more tons than all bombs used by the Allies in WWII, including the nuclear bombs used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombing started under Lyndon Johnson and was continued and increased by Nixon, who was decieving the American public about the situation in Southeast Asia. This information was only revealed in 2000 when President Clinton gave Cambodia the Air Force data to help assist with locating the unexploded ordinance that now litters the country and still devastates families more than three decades after the fact.

“There are no American combat troops in Cambodia. There are no American combat advisers in Cambodia. There will be no American combat troops or advisers in Cambodia. We will aid Cambodia. Cambodia is the Nixon doctrine in its purest form….” – President Richard M. Nixon, November 1971 to the American people

“They have got to go in there and I mean really go in…I want everything that can fly to go in there and crack the hell out of them. There is no limitation on mileage and there is no limitation on budget. Is that clear?” – Nixon to National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger

“He wants a massive bombing campaign in Cambodia. He doesn’t want to hear anything. It’s an order, it’s to be done. Anything that flies, on anything that moves. You got that?” – Kissinger relaying Nixon’s orders

This bombing instead of killing the Vietnamese Communists and halting the Ho Chi Minh Trail, just drove them further into Cambodia. It also helped the Khmer Rouge to recruit villagers by uniting them against the American bombing and killing. Innocent people were dying, their villages being blown up, their rice fields and other farms destroyed. Where else could they turn? The Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975 when the US backed government was overthrown and the four-year reign of terror began.

Have we learned from our mistakes? Have we stopped bombing the innocent to get to the enemy?

Between bombs, land mines, genocide and the continued fighting of the Khmer Rouge from the jungle until 1998, Cambodia had been in a state of war for 40 years. Today, over 50% of Cambodia’s population is under 18.

How does a country of scarred adults and children, many orphaned, poor or permantly injured from the war’s leftovers, rebuild itself? Tourism is helping and Japan and Korea are pouring in investment money. There are NGOs like Sak Saum changing the country by investing in individuals. But is it enough? The Cambodian people are beautiful and resilient but the devastation has been great and I fear it’s a long road to full recovery.


S-21 and the Killing Fields

by nate on November 12, 2009

The day we arrived in Phnom Penh we visited two of the cities most dramatic remnants of the Khmer Rouge‘s bloody reign of terror: Tuol Sleng (S-21), and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields.

The experience was chilling. The torture rooms were golden with sunlight pouring in through the windows yet in the middle lay the rusty bed and chains the victims were shackled to, with an image on the wall of the last victim found in the room, dead. The whole museum was very raw and honest in this fashion, with hundreds of b&w photos of the prisoners filling some rooms, and cracked skulls filling another. Just a few reminders of the past.

A Little Background

The Communist Party of Kampuchea, also known as Khmer Rouge, became the ruling party of Cambodia in 1975. They began a structure of “social engineering” in which all citizens were forced into fields as slaves. If you didn’t work, you were shot, or killed with the blunt end of a shovel. Education was a waste of time and agriculture was the key to wealth and prosperity for Cambodia. They reset the year to 1, and began a bloody reign that claimed 2 million lives of its own people.

From 1975 to 1979, an estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng (some estimates suggest a number as high as 20,000, though the real number is unknown). At any one time, the prison held between 1,000-1,500 prisoners. They were repeatedly tortured and coerced into naming family members and close associates, who were in turn arrested, tortured and killed.

Prisoners were routinely beaten and tortured with electric shocks, searing hot metal instruments and hanging, as well as through the use of various other devices. Some prisoners were cut with knives or suffocated with plastic bags. Other methods for generating confessions included pulling out fingernails while pouring alcohol on the wounds, holding prisoners’ heads under water, and the use of the waterboarding technique.

By the end of 1979, cadres ran out of burial spaces, the prisoner and their family were taken to the Choeung Ek extermination center (killing field), fifteen kilometers from Phnom Penh. There, they were killed by being battered with iron bars, pickaxes, machetes and many other makeshift weapons owing to the scarcity, and subsequent price of ammunition.


War Remnants Museum

November 4, 2009

After exploring Vietnam for 7 weeks, the War Remnants Museum in Saigon is perhaps the only museum I would truly recommend as a must-see, especially as an American. The museum is well curated and the most comprehensive collection of artifacts and documentation of the entire ‘American War’. Traversing my way through the two story museum […]

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Cu Chi Tunnels

November 3, 2009

As a day trip out of Ho Chi Minh City, we went to visit the premier Cao Dai temple (a religion in Vietnam that combines Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism), a crafts and tobacco factory, and the Cu Chi Tunnels. The Viet Cong’s base right outside of HCMC (Saigon) and sometimes right under American camps, […]

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‘Doc’ Bernie Duff

October 28, 2009

We met Doc randomly in Sa Pa, during a short taxi ride to the train station. He made an impression on Becca and I, so we met in Nha Trang 3 weeks later, where he now lives with his wife Bao An. Doc Bernie Duff was a medic,  stationed in Phu Tai, Vietnam in 1969 […]

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Quy, a Hue Rider

October 12, 2009

We met Quy (pronounced “Quee”) one night while eating dinner at a small, local place. We seated ourselves next to some barefoot drunk guys from Scotland who in the course of 30 minutes, had drunkenly fallen on Becca, kicked a cement block and were leaving trails of blood, and pissed off everyone in the establishment. […]

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Vihn, a Vietnamese Vet

October 6, 2009

This is Vihn. A 65 year old Vietnamese Vet. He led us around the DMZ for a day and shared with us his story and perspective. Vihn was 18, living in Hue south Vietnam when the US involvement escalated and he joined the American forces as an interpreter. From 1965-1975, Vihn worked directly with top […]

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Exploring the DMZ

October 6, 2009

Nate and I took a small tour to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in Central Vietnam. It was just us, a couple of German guys, a driver and a Vietnam War vet as our guide. We had hoped to feel brought back in time understand a bit more what the war was like, but instead we […]

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