Lessons from Cambodia

Cite this Article
Larry Ribstein, Lessons from Cambodia, Truth on the Market (July 27, 2010), https://truthonthemarket.com/2010/07/27/lessons-from-cambodia/

This is a little off-topic, but it’s something I gotta say.

Last month I visited Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh and came away deeply impressed with the importance of confronting the consequences of abandoning civilians to ruthless and lawless regimes. The linked website has a picture of a sign at the school converted into a horrendous prison that has the new playground rules (I stared long and hard at the real thing last month and took my own picture of it):

1. You must answer accordingly to my question. Don’t turn them away.

2. Don’t try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that, you are strictly prohibited to contest me.

3. Don’t be a fool for you are a chap who dare to thwart the revolution.

4. You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect.

5. Don’t tell me either about your immoralities or the essence of the revolution.

6. While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.

7. Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders. If there is no order, keep quiet. When I ask you to do something, you must do it right away without protesting.

8. Don’t make pretext about Kampuchea Krom in order to hide your secret or traitor.

9. If you don’t follow all the above rules, you shall get many many lashes of electric wire.

10. If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric discharge.

Here’s a picture I took inside one of the cells.

Bret Stephens, writing in today’s WSJ, juxtaposes the angst concerning the Afghan war in the wake of WikiLeak with the recent first conviction in the Cambodian genocide trial:

The Cambodian genocide is especially worth recalling today not only for what it was, but for the public debates in the West that immediately preceded it. “The greatest gift our country can give to the Cambodian people is peace, not guns,” said then-congressman, now senator, Chris Dodd, by way of making the case against the Ford administration’s bid to extend military assistance to the pro-American government of Lon Nol.

In the New York Times, Sydney Schanberg reported from Cambodia that “it is difficult to imagine how [Cambodian] lives could be anything but better with the Americans gone.” Mr. Schanberg added that “it would be tendentious to forecast [genocide] as a national policy under a Communist government once the war is over.”

A year later, Mr. Schanberg was awarded a Pulitzer Prize, though not for tendentiousness.

All in all, America’s withdrawal from Southeast Asia resulted in the killing of an estimated 165,000 South Vietnamese in so-called re-education camps; the mass exodus of one million boat people, a quarter of whom died at sea; the mass murder, estimated at 100,000, of Laos’s Hmong people; and the killing of somewhere between one million and two million Cambodians.

In Phnom Penh I was hearing figures upwards of 3 million.

As Stephens says, the argument for exit from Afghanistan “is an argument based on a bloodless tabulation of economic and strategic costs and benefits, an argument about whether * * * the U.S. really has a dog in this fight.”

That might or might not be right. I wonder whether it takes fully into account the long-term costs, both globally and to the U.S., of permitting genocide. It’s ironic that many of those making the argument scream the loudest when an evil corporation ignores “externalities” in favor of its bottom line. In any event, the Nazi era is still too recent for me to accept this type of argument. I at least hope that some of the people who are making the argument could visit Tuol Sleng.