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Old 04-27-2010, 00:30
freemanjud freemanjud is offline
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The US, the Cambodian Genocide, and Options (due Thu Apr 29)

Reading: Samantha Power, “A Problem from Hell”: America in the Age of Genocide, chapter 6, pp. 87-154.

They said, “Never again,” after the Holocaust.

But the Cambodian genocide was the first large-scale genocide to occur after the Holocaust and World War II and it was “again and again and again.” Some people argue whether or not it was a genocide. Was a particular group targeted for who they were? Maybe—if you consider a target to be anyone who wasn’t liked or “pro” the Khmer Rouge. Does it matter what word we use? Killing innocent people in mass numbers is killing innocent people in mass numbers.

The superpower most closely active in the region was the United States. We had played a role in seating the government that, ultimately, the Pol Pot regime unseated. We had bombed Cambodia in the late 1960s-early 1970s to such a degree that the people and whole swaths of the country were devastated. Is it any surprise that they were enticed by a regime that promised a new beginning, a Year One?

Samantha Power talks in her powerful chapter about the failure—indeed the disinterest, in some quarters—of US policymakers (and others around the world, the UN included) to do anything significant to intervene. Human rights abuses and the deaths of hundreds of thousands did not seem to move this country to pay much attention. And maybe we had “Vietnam fatigue.” Ask your parents and others who were adults at this time. How much do they remember about a genocide in Cambodia? Have they heard of Pol Pot? Probably yes. The Khmer Rouge? Maybe. What happened in Cambodia and what has, or hasn’t happened much since? And what’s the story with the latest news—the fact that the head of the Tuol Sleng prison, the most terrifying torture/death site in all of Cambodia—was some 30+ years later on trial. You tell me.

So here’s the (fairly big!) task for you in this post. Surely there are lessons from Cambodia. Surely we should have a menu of things we ought to do when we see genocide on the horizon, in the works, or even in its waning stages. Should we act? If so, when should we act? And how? Make sure you reference specifics from the reading by Samantha Power in your response (in other words, make sure you read it!).
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Old 04-28-2010, 20:18
Blue10 Blue10 is offline
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Lessons from the Cambodian Genocide

After the Holocaust, the world looked at genocide and said it would never happen again. We signed legislation that specifically stated that we, as a country, would join in and prevent genocide once we saw it beginning. And yet the Cambodian genocide happened, that cannot be denied. I tried to talk to my mom about the Cambodian genocide and ask her what she recalled about the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot. While she was only young in the 1970s, she did recall hearing about the Khmer Rouge but everything else sounded foreign to her.
To say that this was horrible is almost repetitive. Of course this was awful. That doesn't change the fact that it was allowed to happen. Many of the signs were there. Samantha Power speaks a lot about it. After the discussion today, what immediately jumped out at me was the sentence "...the only burden the KR cadres carried was that of swiftly executing orders from their higher-ups...". If anything is a prelude to genocide, it is this mindless obedience. This practically screams Nazi, and at this moment in time, it was the Nazi regime that set the precedent for what "ethnic-cleansing" and genocide were.
Clearly, the foreigners who were living in Cambodia saw the danger unfolding. This is apparent because the American Embassy was evacuated and the American backed Cambodian leader, Lon Nol was evacuated as well. Another American supporter, Prince Sirik Matak, was encouraged to leave and offered money, but he refused due to his loyalty and patriotism and he criticized the fact that the Americans were abandoning the Cambodians, who had "chosen liberty". Soon after this, Cambodia was utterly abandoned. The French Embassy at first harbored refugees who remained in Cambodia, but the Khmer Rouge threatened the French into giving up these people, who were among the groups targeted by the Khmer Rouge. Later, during the genocide, those who were able to be evacuated were blindfolded and what they when they dared to peek over those blindfolds was utter desolation as well as roads littered with bodies.
These signs pointed to a horrible outcome. Reporters and U.S officials reported some of what they saw as well, but for whatever reason, these signs were ignored. I hate to plead the case that this was understandable, seeing as our country was involved in the aftermath of a long drawn-out war and a Presidential scandal. But the American public knew this information! Reporters like Elizabeth Becker continued to write heart-wrenching pieces abut the Khmer Rouge and the state of things in Cambodia. President Ford even predicted a bloodbath. Yet nothing was done. The Khmer Rouge had shut off all outside contact.
There are many horrifying details revealed by refugees, such as the Tuol Sleng prison, the hard labor, food shortage, restriction on rights and complete isolation. But these cannot even begin to paint a picture of what life was like during these times. The Khmer Rouge was bold, they asserted themselves and went virtually unchallenged until the Vietnamese gained control of Cambodia, and found evidence of these mass murders.
So what can we do? What should we have done? I believe that we should have intervened. I know our country was facing its own turmoil, but at this time we had the UN and the power to stop an event like this from happening. When the Khmer Rouge came to power, the United States was wary because they were Communist. If the "domino-theory" was reason enough to invade Vietnam, certainly we could have used this to justify further investigation into Cambodia. Instead, many people died in cruel torture and inhumane conditions.
What sickens me is that I can't look back at the world's history and say we learned from our mistakes. I think that is something that needs to be seen. History does repeat itself, in very clear steps, and we have the power and the responsibility to stop genocide. If we have this ability, we should use it. And we should do everything we can to help those being targeted. Because no matter how many times we say "never again", it won't mean anything until our actions prove the serious nature of our intentions.
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Old 04-28-2010, 21:04
KomputerKid617 KomputerKid617 is offline
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I think in the situation of the Cambodian Genocide, there were two different sides that didn’t act for different reasons. These two sides being the U.S. and the Cambodian people themselves. At first, the Cambodians do not react because even though the Communist Khmer Rouge resisted at first because they hated the authoritarian rule of Prince Sihanouk, they eventually adapted him into their campaign. The Cambodian people loved Prince Sihanouk, and as a result of this, Samantha Power makes it clear that the Cambodian people did not particularly mind that the Khmer Rouge was trying to take over, since Prince Sihanouk was on their side. Samantha Power states that they trusted Sihanouk because he had brought them independence. Power also quotes Sihanouk as saying: “I do not like the Khmer Rouge and they probably do not like me. But they are pure patriots… Though I am Buddhist, I prefer a red Cambodia which is honest and patriotic than a Buddhist Cambodia under Lon Nol, which is corrupt and a puppet of Americans” (p 93). It is possible that many Cambodians themselves felt this way as well, and as such did not stop the overthrow of Lon Nol by the Khmer Rouge; after all, the Americans had dropped a bomb on their country and had started taking over. If the Cambodians had so loved Sihanouk for making their country independent, there must have been some frustration from the Cambodians that the Americans had inserted their puppet government, which was not even for the benefit of the Cambodians but for the Americans. Power even mentioned a quote by an ex Lon Nol ally, Prince Sirik Matak, who warned the U.S. officials: “If the United States continues to support [the Lon Nol regime, you help the Communists” (p 95). It is obvious that Cambodians were sick of American intervention; they just wanted Prince Sihanouk back. This leads me to why I think that the Americans at first did not act: the only reason that the Americans entered Cambodia in the first place was to stop North Vietnamese strongholds in Cambodia. The Americans wanted to stop more possible Communist attacks on American troops in Vietnam. The Americans were not looking out for Cambodia at all; they were looking out for themselves in Vietnam. I think when the U.S. saw that their puppet government in Cambodia was failing they had no more interest in Cambodia. Although the Americans were fighting off the Khmer Rouge, they were fighting them off to keep their government in place to help themselves in Vietnam.

Next, the reason that both of these groups didn’t act is best summed up by a quote: “We knew the KR had done some very brutal things. Many reporters went missing and didn’t come back. But we all came to the conclusion—it wasn’t a conclusion, more like wishful thinking—that when the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh, they’d have no need to be so brutal. There’d be some executions—of those on the Khmer Rouge’s “Seven Traitors List”—but that was it. We were talking to people—talking to our Cambodian friends who want to believe the best. Nobody believes they will get slaughtered. It is unthinkable and you don’t wrap your mind around it” (Schanberg p. 102). Neither of these groups (the Americans or the Cambodians) acted because they thought the worst was over. The Khmer Rouge had taken over, and brutalized in order to get their point across (such as burning villages and making people move into communal housing), but people hoped that they were not going to be any more brutal. They were completely wrong.

I of course think that the U.S. should have acted more in order to stop this imminent genocide. Everyone knew of the destruction that the Khmer Rouge was causing, there were plenty of reporters in Cambodia, like Quinn and Becker, who were reporting on the brutality of the Khmer Rouge. But in the end, the U.S. was obviously thinking for itself. As Samantha Power mentioned in the reading, most Americans (as well as many other countries) were convinced that all Communist groups were in “cahoots” with one another. If the Americans had helped out the Cambodians against their Communist leaders, who is to say that their communist “allies” were not goings to attack the U.S. as well? The U.S. saw the warning signs, many times may I add, but they still continued to do nothing. We needed to act at the first sign of danger, but again, the American’s fear for their own safety took over. It would have been easier to stop the reign of the Khmer Rouge if they had been taken out at the beginning. Once they grew stronger, they were harder to fight. Yes, the Americans did try to fight them off in the beginning, but as I mentioned, it was not for the benefit of the Cambodian people at all. I hate to say it, but I think whether or not we had had Lon Nol in the puppet government or any American involvement at all, the Khmer Rouge still could have possibly done the same things, or at least tried to. Their success probably would not have been as great, however, and may not have been able to take over. The Khmer Rouge was angered, as Samantha Power says, by Prince Sihanouk. She does not mention the Khmer Rouge being angered at anything the Americans did. I think the Americans may have fueled the fire by placing Lon Nol in power. If Sihanouk had stayed in power, the Cambodian people would have continued to support him and him alone, instead of the Khmer Rouge with Sihanouk on their side. I think the Americans pretty much screwed everything up the beginning, and they did not work hard enough to try to clean up the mess they made because, at the end of the day, they were not the ones being harmed.
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Old 04-28-2010, 21:53
CamiellaT CamiellaT is offline
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The US, the Cambodian Genocide, and Options

As if the Vietnam War was not upsetting enough during the war itself, afterwards it has scarred the American mindset. After the epic bloody war in Vietnam the U.S. is not even a little bit interested in rushing in to another war. And this is one of the sole causes for the we-are-involved dance around the genocide in Cambodia. It is clear that after the Vietnam War the Nixon doctrine was not called upon.

From Ch. 6 of Samantha Power, it is upset me the lenghts people will go to ignore the problem. "Government officials" were universally acknowledged as being executed, with their wives and families, and yet it was understandable to get rid of the old regime. The old regime which no one mentions happened to have been backed by the U.S. And while the U.S. is happy to meddle in other country's business when it benefits our economy or trade or sphere or influence, when the U.S. or any intervence is actually needed, the U.S. stays away. It is shocking the lengths people will go to remain in inaction. The argument against helping the Cambodian people was that the reports were false. An Indo-China specialist was very passionate about how the numbers of deaths are "greatly exaggerated". In fact many of the opposition focus on this one point that the estimates are off instead of responding to the actual issue that people, innocent people, were being murdered and tortured.

It's actually quite easy for us to judge those officials who refused to do anything, but then again hindsight is 20/20. Now we know what happened, we have seen the footage, the photos, the bones and remains of countless Cambodians. There is irrefutable evidence that a genocide has occurred. But during the time, it's difficult to have any proof when the intercepted radio messages seem strict but do not mention murder and also that no foreign press or anyone is let into or out of Cambodia. It's actually surprising to me that some reporters have gone "missing" who were presumably killed by the Khmer Rouge, these reporters most likely American and yet nothing was really done about that. It's that a huge problem when reporters are killed for researching in a foreign country "no longer at war"? If the signs were hidden (which they weren't really) of genocide were disguised, isn't the murder of reporters after the civil war a sign that there are somethings the Khmer Rouge do not want the world to know?

The more I learn about our world history the more disgusted I am with everybody. No one really seems to have a history completely without genocide. Everyone seems to have skeletons, fields of killing that are simply glossed over with time and neglect. If what happened in Cambodia, 1 to 3 million people killed while the world watched and passively went on, in the 1970s, what are we capable of ignoring now? As a generation we have already let Cambodia and Darfur happen. Why are we always too late? The Genocide Convention is not always the fastest means in which to motivate change. There should be something in the United Nations can ratify that will intervene in any country if genocide is occuring, not sweep up after the bodies have already been broken. What good is any pretty literature about freedom and democracy when our democractic system makes sure that we will always be too late to save people from genocide.

Most our of time is wasted trying to convince politicans that things must change that we cannot keep waiting for the next genocide that we must establish a system with which we can detect and prevent genocides. We have a duty to humanity to prevent such crimes against it. Furthermore we cannot let corruption rule the convictions of war crimes against genocide leaders. If an American can go to jail for life for killing one person, a leader who killed thousands shouldn't have less than a life sentence. How can someone serve 10 years, the amount of time you can serve if you smoke crack, and equilivate that with justice?

I feel that all we can do know is learn about the mistakes we made in order not to repeat them. I don't understand why the Cambodian genocide and Darfur and Unit 731 and the Rape of Nanking and the Herero Genocide and all these other atrocities are not in our text books. This is what our children should be learning, not about how Europe lived in the Dark Ages, our children should be taught the valuable lessons across the globe and not simply of the English and the French and there monarchy systems and knights but of real people who have suffered because we as a world civilization have dropped the ball. I'd like to think that we are compassionate human beings who will stand up for each other and that genocide cannot happen in this modern world. But while we are caught up with facebook and twitter and celebrities people are starving all around the world, running out of resources while we, Americans, consume 4 X the world average.

We are selfish people and clearily cannot be relied on as the leader against genocide so the United Nations should enforce a policy, a system, to detect and prevent genocide and use the world's troops to go into that region and stop the killing.
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Old 04-28-2010, 23:02
flyinpopsicles flyinpopsicles is offline
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It seems like there should be things that the United States immediately does when faced with the prospect of genocide, but I think that by learning more about the circumstances surrounding these atrocities, it becomes more clear how complicated things truly are. I think that most people are quick to say that the United States should have dropped what they were doing and gone to the aid of those who were suffering in Cambodia, but realistically, there were so many other things happening that it wasn't that simple (although I know almost everyone wishes it were).

In the case of Cambodia, I can see the rationale for the United States not feeling it was appropriate to intervene. I think its interesting that Blue10 brought up the idea of the Domino Effect. I had a similar question. But as far as I can tell, the main reason the United States did not intervene was "Vietnam Fatigue" and the fact that they knew little about the Khemr Rouge. As far was Vietnam Fatigue goes, the country had just lost countless young people in a war they had lost, fighting to protect democracy and put an end to communism in Southeast Asia. Samantha Power mentions that both the Nixon and Ford administrations were wary of entering Cambodia. They had just failed at combating communism in Vietnam, and they were not about to put themselves in the situation again. The KR were very secretive, according to Power, and I can understand where the Government was coming from. Not that any of these reasons justify the US's willingness to avoid the growing problem of the KR, but it helps to give background to their rational.

I think that as far as preventing future genocides, there can never really be a set protocol per say, but there should be a set of goals that the United States should aim for. For example, it don't think we can say step one is x and step two is y, but we should say that we need to do everything in our power to protect the targeted population, provide aid to refugees, and combat the aggressors. I think that all genocides, although in their simplest forms are the same, are different. We need to be able to address each case in a way that best suits the culture and people involved.
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Old 04-28-2010, 23:36
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OMGWTFBBQ OMGWTFBBQ is offline
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What happened in Cambodia undeniably is genocide. The U.S. had no excuses not to act. They were partially at fault for putting the Khmer Rouge regime in power in the beginning. It is understandable the reluctance of the U.S. government of deploying more troops into another South East Asian country due to the scar on the mentality of the U.S. from Vietnam. But as Camiella T said, the U.S. only gives support or intervenes when political or economic gains are in sight and not when they are needed.

As the book stated, Cambodia under the rule of Lon Nol was extremely corrupted and that citizens at first supported a new regime that was honest even though communist. The regime under Lon Nol was supported by the U.S. the same country which had been bombing the countryside and killing civilians. Of course when a new power steps up and promises stability and an end to corruption, people would be more willing to accept them.

The "disappearances" of reporters should have been a huge tip off to that something troubling was happening in Cambodia, but nothing was done about it. The news definitely traveled to American ears as reporters like Quinn and Becker were in Cambodia reporting.

I don't understand why the U.S. didn't use fighting Communism as a way to step foot and end the Khmer Rouge regime. Khmer Rouge was communist after all. It would be hitting 2 birds with 1 stone.

When the signs of Genocide appears, the U.S. needs to acknowledge it and do something about it. The time for being self centered and acting only in terms of economic interests is over, it is truly one world. Every one is connected, if the U.S. lets one regime get away with genocide, people will continue to accrue power and commit atrocities. The Clinton administration has dodged using the word genocide and instead uses the phrase acts of genocide. They're basically the same thing. When the government knows that people are being systematically murdered for who they are, they need to step up and intervene. If the US government can use CIA agents to start a coup in a foreign country, they can use the same power to stop genocide. Legalities and red tape aside, the US can deploy troops as peace keepers in addition to rallying the UN to intervene. After all, what would be more appropriate to stop a government gone out of control than nations that are united? That way no one country feels that they have to do everything, or that they are superior compared to others. The best thing to do is reform the policies that are established already in order to act faster. There's too much red tape that by the time everything's cleared, the damage has already been done. Red tape like that has always impeded help to people that needed it, like the Kobe Earthquake in Japan in 1995, where the government was too slow in helping the victims. The Yakuza near Kobe instead were quicker than the government in providing relief for the victims. This is a world where organized crime families could help civilians faster than the government.
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Old 04-29-2010, 00:04
catinthehat catinthehat is offline
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While I think it is unfortunate and was, in retrospect, a grave mistake that the United States did not intervene in the Cambodian genocide, it is also understandable given the time period. I agree wth flyinpopsicles that the country did have Vietnam Fatigue; "the country had just lost countless young people in a war they had lost, fighting to protect democracy and put an end to communism in Southeast Asia." They weren't about to do what could be the exact same thing again. Despite the fact that, as KomputerKid617 mentioned, reporters such as Quinn and Becke were making the murder of innocent civilians in Cambodia quite public information, it is important to take not of what Samantha Power says on page 109: "many now assumed that American horror stories were designed to justify the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and Vietnam." The country was not ready to be pulled into what appeared to be a similar war so soon after the devastating losses in Vietnam.

Despite these understandable reasons for avoiding intervention, I do ultimately agree with KomputerKid617's statement that "in the end, the U.S. was obviously thinking for itself." There is no arguing with that. The US did not get involved because it was not willing to make sacrifices to stop a genocide. Vietnam fatigue or not, the US was a bystander to this genocide despite the promise of "never again" that had been echoed over and over again for the thirty years since the Holocaust. Despite the ideas that these were only rumors, there were people high up in the US military that did know what was going on and Cambodia, and could have ordered their soldiers, fatigued though they were, to go in there and do something about the genocide. The fact that this was happening right after Vietnam made it harder for the US to get involved--but who said stopping a genocide was easy? It is one's duty, as a citizen of the world, to stop the killing of innocent people in mass numbers.

I think that in order to stop this genocide we should have enlisted the help of the UN as Blue10 suggested. Military intervention would have been necesary, but not all the troups would have to come from the US. The US would hopefully have sent less troups than Vietnam and most importantly--be fighting to end a genocide. Hopefully this could have ended up distinguishing it from Vietnam as being a worthwhile act of upstanderness and no a useless war.

The phrase "never again" has absolutely no meaning if we refuse to act on it. Since the Holocaust ended there has been the Cambodian genocide, the Rwandan genocide, and now the genocide in Darfur. We can't keep being bystanders as innocent civilians are murdered in millions! The US along with every other country in the world needs to act to stop genocide whenever it becomes apparent that there is one anywhere in the world.
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Old 04-29-2010, 00:22
ilikecookies ilikecookies is offline
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It seems unbelievable that the words “never again” don’t really mean anything sometimes. Genocide, like the one during the Holocaust, was supposed to be “never again,” yet the similar mass murders happened in Cambodia just thirty years later. Why? Did people not learn? However, I do think that the stemming of this genocide was partly due to the Americans. The United States wanted to “help” the Cambodians by putting Lon Nol in as their ruler. Although it may seem like the Americans were out to help the Cambodians by protecting them, they were really all in it for themselves. Like KomputerKid617 mentioned, the only reason that the Americans went into Cambodia in the first place was to stop more North Vietnamese from entering.

Under the American-chosen Lon Nol, the Cambodians were unhappy. Thus, when the Khmer Rouge began emerging as a potential power, people quickly jumped on board. Samantha Powers states that “Having watched their leaders cozy up to the United States and the United States repay them by bombing and invading their country, Cambodians longed for freedom from outside interference.” (102). The Cambodians were looking for something different and on their own; they no longer wanted to the under something from the United States. People thought that the Khmer Rouge would come to power and become less brutal than they seemed to be, but that wasn’t the case. When the Khmer Rouge did come to power, the people suffered. The Americans should have seen something like a genocide happening, yet the Americans were too selfish to care for the Cambodians. Cambodia was just another country in the midst of America’s quest to control communism.

Of course I think that we should have acted when we saw possible warning signs of genocide. In the case of the Cambodian Genocide, the Americans barely did anything. “Nothing could be done, State Department and White House officials assumed, and virtually nothing was done.” (127). With a mentality like that, it seems pretty obvious that there was no help going toward stopping the human rights abuses in Cambodia. The US really should have taken action. I think that we should involve the UN in the prevention of genocide. I agree with CamiellaT that something in the UN should be ratified about being able to intervene in any country where genocide is occurring. “Never again” really doesn’t mean anything if we don’t help the people that are being persecuted. Without help, people will continue to be killed, like the Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge regime.
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Old 04-29-2010, 01:21
NEVADA NEVADA is offline
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The US had a responsibility to the Cambodians, because we basically lit the match for the genocide by supporting Lon Nol as the ruler. I liked CamiellaT’s remark, saying “while the U.S. is happy to meddle in other country's business when it benefits our economy or trade or sphere or influence, when the U.S. or any intervention is actually needed, the U.S. stays away.” We intervened in Cambodia when we wanted to exert our own influence and stop the North Vietnamese; however, when our help was actually needed to fix the situation we created, the government was a bystander.

There were countless warning signs of extremism. Similar to Germany, the economy collapsed with inflation at 275%, a new leader took over and ousted the old one, and we had many journalists and investigators in Cambodia who fervently tried to get the US’s attention.

Maybe the US thought intervention was unnecessary because the “KR didn’t discriminate on racial grounds – they ordered entire capitol emptied”, as Powers said. By saying this wasn’t a genocide, we could avoid the complicated moral issues surrounding our post-Holocaust ‘never again’ mentality. It was “politically unthinkable to intervene militarily and emotionally unpleasant to pay close heed to the horrors unfolding, but it was cost-free to look away”. With our country sapped of energy after Vietnam, and not wanting to enter a situation that might have a similar outcome, we were bystanders.

When the facts come out about Darfur, I’m sure we will be shocked by the number of people who died. In the near future, our children will take world history and learn about genocide; perhaps they’ll come home and ask us what we know about the Sudan. Like our parents’ reaction to Cambodia, our immediate reaction to Sudan will be “Darfur”. Our children will be shocked by our inaction, or war crimes in the Middle East – parallels to our own experiences with our parents’ generation today. I really wish this weren’t true but sometimes it seems like this is a never-ending cycle. “Never again” really hasn’t had any significance.

The 4th paragraph of CamiellaT’s post said exactly what I wanted to, and I couldn’t agree more. As Samantha Power said, Nixon believed we were the greatest country in the world, and it was our duty to stop totalitarianism and anarchy. But how can we set an example for the world when we have so much hypocrisy in our ideals of freedom and justice?

The US was definitely too weak militarily, post-Vietnam, to be the only country to intervene in Cambodia. But with the help of the UN, as several people have said, or even a few other large countries, we could have worked together to save the millions of lives that ultimately were lost. Being a bystander doesn’t just mean a lack of direct physical involvement. It also means a lack of emotional involvement, and by not issuing an appeal for aid to the Cambodians, we enabled another genocide to occur. And many other countries are to blame as well! The US can’t be counted on as the conscience of the world, though we do have a large responsibility because of our influence upon world culture.
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Old 04-29-2010, 02:57
rubberducky rubberducky is offline
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Change

It’s always difficult to fully understand something we’re not a part of. And the truth is, we don’t fully understand how politics work. It could be harder than it seems, or it might not be. We’re quick to criticize because the solution from an outside perspective seems so clear at times. I still think it’s a tough situation to argue.

I do, however, see many situations where the U.S. seems to only act when it’s going to benefit America. The U.S. would have wanted to keep the political control in Cambodia, and it does seem like America dropped out when it seemed unlikely that we would profit. There have been situations where it’s rumored that the government acted simply because they would profit, for example Bush going into Iraq.

In a way, it may have been a little harder to accept what was going on in Cambodia at the time. Power writes, “War legitimizes such extreme violence that it can make aggrieved or opportunistic citizens feel licensed to target their neighbors. For outsiders, war between armies can also mask genocide, making it initially difficult to discern eliminationist campaigns against civilians and inviting customary diplomatic efforts” (91). And what happened in Cambodia did start with trying to hold to “diplomatic efforts.” However, when it soon became clear that those diplomatic efforts would not work, the U.S. should have stepped in to stop the genocide. The UN should have done something. Someone, the point is, should have done something.

A lot of people have been talking about how the Vietnam War affected the way the American government and Americans in general. And although this was true on many fronts, there were still those did try, like Lemkin did, to mobilize the American people. Though many of the human rights groups we are familiar with were not very strong, or did not exist yet, at that time, there was still a lot of response to Lemkin’s call. According to the reading, “Lemkin enlisted a panoply of American civic organizations, churches, and synagogues” (72). People were just starting to talk about the Holocaust. And people were somewhat becoming aware.

But the Cambodian genocide, most definitely a genocide, still occurred. Nothing is going to change that fact. But there are still genocides occurring today. And that we can change.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned about the world of media, it’s that the media will report what we want to hear. If we want to hear what’s happening with Britney Spears and her weight gain/loss, that’s what the media will talk about. If we want to hear about MIT students and their BO problems during finals, that’s what they’ll talk about. So knowing that the media can be stupid (often a reflection of stupid people), we should be able to be better than that. Let’s WANT to hear about genocides possibly happening, and let’s get more people to care. We have to make it an issue for it to be recognized.

I do agree with OMGWTFBBQ about how it’s truly one world now. We’ve gone so international that we all kind of depend on one another. A lot of people are a lot more accepting of others, and it’s those people who have to spread that ideal.

I don’t think it’s right to condemn people (@ CamiellaT), partially because I don’t believe it can be true that nobody cares, and partially because it takes away hope. However, a friend once told me that the difference between innocent hopeful and naïve hopeful is that the innocent will see what’s wrong and go try to do something about it. The naïve won’t. And because we have these feelings and because we’ve been so lucky to learn about this when we did, we should go do something about it. It’s easier said than done, but not impossible.
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Old 04-29-2010, 03:04
xavito xavito is offline
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Unhappy *sigh*

After the atrocities of the Holocaust the world tried to promise itself that something like this would never happen again. Sadly this is not the case, Cambodia happened following the war in Vietnam, and following this there have been numerous other genocides, Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, etc.

All was looking good for the world after WWII. For now we had formed the UN, a system in which the nations of this earth would work together to try and promote peace. A seemingly impossible task, but another Holocaust was not happening, at least for the time being. That is until Cambodia, but having this system all set up the world, in theory, should've come together to stop such an atrocity from happening again. But the UN just like its predecessor, the League of Nations, failed to bring peace to this ever warring world.

So Cambodia was taken over by the Khmer Rouge, under Pol Pot. While this was happening the world sat and watched or turned away from the Cambodia in danger. The UN along with everyone else did nothing to try and stop another Holocaust in the making.

The main thing I think we learned from the Cambodian genocide is that mass killings on par with the Holocaust can and do happen again and again. Millions of people died in the Cambodian genocide while the American government refused to act. I think we should have learned from this genocide that ideally we should take action before murder on such a large scale begins. More realistically, once we realize that what is going on is a genocide we should act.

We were asked: when should we act? This, I believe can be really hard to determine, for there are wars happening all over the world, so how do we separate the wars that are racially targeting people and then killing them from those of a conventional war. In the book, (unless I read this somewhere else) someone said that all wars have some aspect of genocide involved in them, pointing out the examples of WWI with the Armenian genocide, and WWII with the Holocaust. So if this is true with all the wars going on, how are we supposed to stop all them? Or how do we determine who to save and who not to save?

So once we figured this out. Then how do we act? Do we just go in and hope for the best, and pray that we'll be able to stop the madness or do we do what this world has been doing since God knows when and just watch from the sidelines. It’s really something we should all feel ashamed about.
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  #12  
Old 04-29-2010, 03:22
Ophelia Ophelia is offline
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What struck me the most in Power’s survey of the genocide was how the genocide was very clearly borne of the violence used by the United States in Cambodia – and how that same violence prevented US popular opinion from supporting action against the perpetrators. Power tells us that in a period of only four years 540,000 tons of bombs were dropped onto the Cambodian countryside – countryside that became the stronghold and foundation of the Khmer Rouge. The bombing raids killed thousands of civilians. Should it be a surprise that in these conditions an extremist, anti – American faction gained extraordinary strength? Should it be a surprise that brutality breeds nothing but brutality? Like Ms. Freeman said – “killing innocent people in mass numbers is killing innocent people in mass numbers”. US officials should have – should – recognize that wherever there is widespread violence, no matter the source or motivation, an environment that makes genocide possible is created. And wherever they see that violence, even if they themselves created it, they should take the initiative to halt it and to rebuild the structures of society that are destroyed by such violence.


I think the lesson the US should learn from Cambodia is that in order to prevent genocide, major reevaluation of foreign policy needs to be put in place. How can we effectively respond to genocide – an event with long – term causes and long – term effects – when in general our foreign policy is dominated by short term political interests? US leaders did not have the swing to intervene or even investigate genocide in Cambodia because, not without reason, they lacked public support. The policies of the US during the Cold War were dominated by reactionary shows of strength and myopic paranoia. It was reasonable, after the senseless bombings of innocent civilians, for Americans to speculate that “the ‘threatened bloodbath’” of the Khmer Rouge might be less than “a continuation of the continued bloodletting” by US military aid, just as it is reasonable today for Americans to suspect involvement in Darfur might make matters worse as we struggle with a distant war no one seems to understand. CamiellaT rightly questions; “What good is any pretty literature about freedom and democracy when our democractic system makes sure that we will always be too late to save people from genocide?”.


The US government has all the resources it needs both for recognizing the signs of coming genocide and preventing that genocide at its fingertips. Human rights scholars have identified the patterns of genocide and the characteristics of a country that make it more vulnerable to genocide (i.e. poverty, an unstable government, etc). We have the intellectual, financial, and military power to prevent potential genocide and stop ongoing genocide. The responsibility of the US government is to lead the country in a shift in political vision, in order that these resources can be used to their full potential for preventing genocide in a timely fashion. If our foreign policy addresses the long term problem of genocide, we can stop going in cycles; we can stop repeating history.
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  #13  
Old 04-29-2010, 03:28
Bob Stewart Bob Stewart is offline
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Never Again (?)

The United States, and indeed the world at large, has an alarming tendency to ignore genocides, although we repeatedly claim that we would “never again” let them occur. On the other hand, the US often involves itself in other countries’ affairs when it would benefit us politically. As Samantha Power explains, “Geopolitics trumped genocide” (142).

I believe one of the main problems with our policy in Cambodia was the fact that we got involved for the wrong reasons. As the reading says, “US interest in Cambodia during the civil war was completely derivative of US designs on Vietnam” (94). Initially, the US installed Lon Nol as leader of Cambodia, but citizens soon grew disillusioned with his corrupt rule. This, coupled with US bombings, led many citizens to accept and support the Khmer Rouge, despite rumors of the atrocities they were already committing. They figured that once the KR came into power, such atrocities would end and they would be able to return to their regular lives.

Later, the Americans showed a similar numbness to reports of the atrocities in Cambodia. As flyingpopsicles and catinthehat say, Americans were simply tired of the problems of South East Asia after the Vietnam War. Although some US government officials warned that the Khmer Rouge would instigate mass murders if they gained power in Cambodia, people accused the government of exaggerating and working for their own agenda. I was surprised to read about the lack of media coverage the atrocities in Cambodia received. Without public support, the government did not feel compelled to do anything about the reports of the horrors happening in Cambodia. Involvement would have been “politically unthinkable” for the US government, and “emotionally unpleasant” for the US citizens; it was much easier just to “look away” (91).

Of course the US government should have acted. They should have acted as soon as they suspected that there might have been a genocide occurring. People were dying, and it was their duty, as human beings, to stop the needless slaughter. When the government began to hear reports about the slaughter from people like Quinn and Becker, they should have investigated these claims. I realize that Cambodia soon closed itself off, but I am sure the US government had the means to investigate. I was very surprised to learn that while the Cambodian Genocide was taking place, the US still had not ratified the Genocide Convention and therefore was not technically obligated to act even if we declared the crimes a genocide. (The US ratified it in 1988.)

As information about the horrors is coming in, it is important that the general public also learns about what is happening. I was appalled that the American public did not care about Cambodia because of the long, and seemingly useless Vietnam War. If the public realizes the extent of the horrors, then they will convince their representatives to act.

If there is a genocide happening then the government needs to admit there is a genocide happening. There were groups and individuals who labeled the events in Cambodia a genocide. For example the National Security Council fact sheet referred to the Holocaust when discussing the killings. Once they accept that there is a genocide, rather than not doing anything, the US along with the UN should intervene, as OMGWTFBBQ suggests.

They should condemn the actions of the country in question, and if the genocide persists, they have no choice but to invade. There are some instances when war is inevitable and this is one of them. People associated Cambodia with Vietnam, and therefore balked at the idea of intervention. However, as McGovern, who opposed the Vietnam War, aptly says, “But to hate a needless and foolish intervention that served no good purpose does not give us the excuse to do nothing to stop mass murder in another time and place under vastly different circumstances” (135). Through the intervention, we need to remove the party committing the atrocities.

When a genocide is taking place, there are signs and a fixed pattern of events that tend to occur. Instead of ignoring the signs, we need to intervene. Looking at our inaction and the sheer number of people who repeatedly die because of it, it is important that we make sure “never again” are not just empty words.
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  #14  
Old 04-29-2010, 11:35
JohnQSample JohnQSample is offline
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What I found especially arresting in Samantha Power's chapter on the Cambodian genocide was her description of the actions of Kenneth Quinn, the State Department reporter who discovered the atrocities being committed by Cambodian communists even before they came to power. It seems to me that flares should have shot up the moment Quinn returned to Washington and described the forced expulsions, burnings, and purges of Vietnamese citizens.

Moreover, the United States government passed up a fantastic foreign policy opportunity by its failure to realize that the Khmer Rouge and the Vietcong were not allies. In fact, Pol Pot's "vision" was a revival of the Angkor empire, and included invasions of Thailand and Vietnam to unite the Southeast Asian peninsula. Pol Pot was deposed by Vietnamese forces after many years of guerilla raids on Thailand and threats at Vietnamese territory.

As high school students, it might seem easy to prevent genocide. But as rubberducky pointed out, we're not completely sure of the actual politics involved in taking on the greatest crime of humanity.

We were in "Vietnam fatigue." No one wanted another war, even for a just cause. But can we really say that it would have been prudent to send in troops to fight another guerilla war in a jungle? How many American lives would we have lost? Considering the catastrophe in Vietnam, a victory was not even a guarantee. Pol Pot was already strengthened by Chinese aid, and interference from America might have brought Russian resources into play.

The real problem with American policy towards genocide is that we are too aggressive. The Vietnam War was fought in the name of protecting democracy. It was an overreaction to a communist takeover. In Cambodia, we inflamed the wrath of the population by installing an American puppet -- and just as in Germany after World War I, the people turned to an extremist.

All the bloodshed that has occurred throughout history and persists today might be prevented if more people admired the American model of democracy and individual liberty. If we cast ourselves as a benefactor rather than a war machine, people in other countries will be encouraged to mimic our system of government.

Preventing genocide is not a short term problem. It will no doubt take many generations. But please don't say that "never again" means nothing. It is the spirit of that phrase which will lead the world to a more peaceful and tolerant age.
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  #15  
Old 04-29-2010, 12:29
Giovanna Giovanna is offline
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In terms of America’s position on a world level, we were not very popular in Asia during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Clearly, by the end of the 70s, most Cambodians did not trust us. We dropped bombs on their country and destroyed what they called home in our operation against northern Vietnam. We had no interest in the welfare of the Cambodian people. As a government, we thought that money fed directly into Lon Nol’s mouth was enough to keep the Cambodians appeased.

I agree with KomputerKid617’s position that America used Cambodia to protect itself. As the puppet government in Cambodia failed, America lost its interest in investing any more money or aid in Cambodia. After Lon Nol fled, the Cambodians had no one/no other form of government to rely on. I understand why they wouldn’t trust Americans.

On that note, let’s move back to the western hemisphere. Nixon and Ford both screwed up in the Vietnam War and Americans didn’t trust the American government themselves. After you’ve been lied to for the second or third time, why should you believe the fourth and fifth allegation? I do appreciate those who were upstanders, however, but I feel like those people were just outstanding in terms of humanitarianism. I think the general consensus is that America had the financial as well as intellectual means of intervening during the genocide. And I agree. Despite the weakened morals of our population, we were capable of doing something as a country.

I absolutely agree with Senator George McGovern (he was mentioned about halfway through the chapter). He ran for president with a platform against war, yet he believed that the Cambodian genocide partly due to American withdrawal from southern Asia. I feel like in most wars that America is ever involved in—we always make some really stupid decision and screw up, but never ever fess up or clean up the mess (Hello? we're about headed the same way with the Afghan War). I strongly believe that America should have stayed longer in Vietnam in conjunction to protecting Cambodians affected by the Red Khmer. After all, weren’t we there to end Communism? What’s the point of losing so many of our men, then retreat and achieve absolutely nothing? We could have stayed and acted. We should have continued to act during the early 70s. Leaving Vietnam was a big mistake. I think that it gave way to the Khmer terror in Cambodia.

“Geopolitics trumped genocide,” says Samantha Powers. Oh America, you have disappointed yet again.
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  #16  
Old 04-29-2010, 23:22
Zlatan Zlatan is offline
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I never even knew that there was a Genocide in Cambodia, which goes to show how much in depth we are taught concerning history in the eastern hemisphere. After reading from Samantha Power’s account, there was a lot of coverage on this issue back then, but its just that not a lot of people reacted to it in the same way because they didn’t believe that it was credible and doubted the evidence that was given. It does not matter to me what word we use, the only problem is recognizing and accepting what is going on. I feel that the best way to categorize it is by using the word Genocide however. The book made it very clear that governments care more about their own interests than human rights in other countries. This is not surprising, nor can it be entirely considered a bad thing. It’s clear that the United States government would only act to prevent genocide in Cambodia if it was in our best interest in the Cold War, and the sad thing is, it wasn’t. I completely agree with Blue10 when he says, ‘If the "domino-theory" was reason enough to invade Vietnam, certainly we could have used this to justify further investigation into Cambodia. Instead, many people died in cruel torture and inhumane conditions. What sickens me is that I can't look back at the world's history and say we learned from our mistakes. I think that is something that needs to be seen. History does repeat itself, in very clear steps, and we have the power and the responsibility to stop genocide. If we have this ability, we should use it.’ Even the Vietnamese, who eventually ended the genocide, only did it out of personal interest. Governments should agree to step in and stop genocide, simply as a humanitarian work. But they won’t. There’s just no way a government is going to agree to do a selfless act that wastes it’s country’s resources and can cause a mess similar to Iraq. The only way to really get a government to do this is by lobbying it. The people have to insist on intervention. There’s simply no way the United States, or any country for that matter, could have realistically been expected to intervene in Cambodia without it’s citizens insisting on it. It is clear that all nations are looking out to the best of their interests, they wont do something if it doesn’t benefit them; its just a major flaw in human nature where we see ourselves as citizens of the United States rather than citizens of the World where imaginary borders give us special rights than people on the other side. I think we have a really long way to go, where we must change ourselves and our motives through education and move forward from there…then again how can this happen when stuff like this are barely known to the common public? Like me.
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  #17  
Old 05-01-2010, 13:35
reedyroo reedyroo is offline
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I, as others have said, was surprised to learn that the Cambodian genocide seems to have at least partially been caused because of the actions that the United States took in Cambodia during the Vietnam War. The United States bombed Cambodia in 1969 because they believed that the Vietnamese and the Cambodians were “united.” Then, in 1970 President Nixon ordered ground troops into Cambodia. This violence was what eventually led to the increasing power of the Khmer Rouge. As Samantha Power says, “The U.S. bombing did little to weaken the Vietnamese or the Cambodian Communists. Instead, it probably had the opposite effect” (94). The Cambodians who disliked what the United States was doing were drawn toward the Khmer Rouge. In a way, the strength of the Khmer Rouge was caused by the United States’ actions.

When the Khmer Rouge came to power and began to commit genocide, the United States had a responsibility to help the Cambodian people. For many reasons, however, they did not do this. The biggest problem seems to be that the Americans “assumed” too much. The American people assumed that the warnings of government officials in 1975 were not true or were exaggerated. They assumed that the evidence of the genocide was incorrect. They assumed that some American’s reports of what was happening in Cambodia “were designed to justify the U.S. invasion of Cambodia and Vietnam” (109). Many assumed that the refugee’s claims were exaggerated or untrue. Also, press coverage of Cambodia decreased greatly in 1975

It seems as though most Americans tried to avoid the issue of Cambodia as much as possible. They did not want to be involved in it even though they had a responsibility. Their “assumptions” were excuses for not becoming involved.

I believe that the United States should have acted and done much more to stop the genocide in Cambodia. There was a lot of evidence of what was going on, but many Americans refused to believe it. It is understandable that Americans did not want to get involved in Cambodia, especially after the Vietnam War. They, however, were partially the cause of what was happening in Cambodia and had an obligation to act. As others have said, the United States could have asked for aid from the UN. This would have allowed them to be more powerful in standing up to the Khmer Rouge. There are many ways that the United States could have acted and helped the victims of the Cambodian genocide, but they chose not to do so.

I think that it is important for us to act, especially when we see signs of a genocide beginning. If countries act as soon as they see evidence of a genocide occurring, it will be easier for them to prevent the genocide. Regardless, I believe that we should act when we learn of the genocide, even if it has already been occurring. This is better than doing nothing.
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  #18  
Old 05-04-2010, 12:27
BARBIEH BARBIEH is offline
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hard question to answer

We should definitely when we can tell that genocide is on the horizon but the problem is it difficult to tell exactly when we can be sure that genocide is indeed on the horizon. The other problem is it’s hard to tell a country to jump in to help another country with their problems when the country just recently came out of a war of their own. The holocaust made the Unites States regret the fact that they did not react sooner to help the people of Germany sooner but after losing so many lives in the Vietnam War, the US was very hesitant about involving themselves in another crisis that wasn’t necessarily their “problem.”
The more I write the less I know what side I’m on. It’s very easy for us to sit here now and talk about what should have been done but maybe we would have thought differently if we were living in that time. If you had just lost members of your family because they were fighting a war in a whole other country, I’m pretty sure you’d be a little hesitant about shipping off some more of the people you love to another foreign country to fight some more. I can see why the US decided not to intervene but that still doesn’t mean it was the “right” thing to do.
There might not be a protocol to prevent genocide or a specific time when a country should act if they know genocide is taking place but what I do strongly believe is that if there is mass killing occurring in a country without the power or means to do so then all the more fortunate countries should do at least a little to help. No effort to stop genocide is too small,
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  #19  
Old 05-05-2010, 23:19
cleanwindows cleanwindows is offline
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Looking back, it is certainly clear that the United States could have done something other than ignore the mass murder in Cambodia. But I feel like at the moment of any genocide, realistically, the United States probably won't do much. All the United States seems to be able to do is ignore, and then apologize when it is too late. Like how Bill Clinton apologized for not acting during the Rwandan genocide where 800,000 people died within a mere 100 days. Nothing was done when people were being slaughtered, but the U.S. tried to apologize afterward. And after the Holocaust, people said "never again" but that has not been enforced, and I believe that the phrase has essentially lost its meaning over time. It seems as though these past genocides should provide a warning for us to know how to act in the face of genocides now and in the future, but really, we continue to follow the same choice that we had chosen in the past: just ignore. During the time of the Cambodian genocide, people did not pay attention, and even today, during the genocide in Darfur, people do not care to understand or do anything.The U.S had just had been so deeply engulfed in the Vietnam War, losing over 58,000 soldiers. The U.S. citizens were so tired of war that they did not want to involve themselves in anything at that time except to recover. Looking back, although I wish we did do something about Cambodia, realistically, I do not think that anything could have been done. I'm sure that if people cared enough, then we could have done something to stop the genocide. But people did not care. And I don't think that anything could have been done to make people care.

But the main problem with us is that most people do not care enough to learn about the problems in distant places that do not pertain to them, and I think that that is the key part to stop genocide. People can push their own government to push for the end to genocide, but that won't happen if people don't care. I feel like we should act whenever we know that we can prevent or stop any genocide. We have all the necessary tools that can do this, and we have the power to enforce legislation and if we step up to help stop, then I feel like other countries might follow. We could do a lot, but we don't.
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  #20  
Old 05-09-2010, 23:03
surfbud surfbud is offline
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Samantha states that the lack of response on that part of Americans to the Cambodian genocide was an attempt to forget the nation’s failure in other parts of the world. However, that should not have deterred us from acting. The accounts Twining reported to the United States should have been heavily publicized in the national media; instead, the U.S. merely requested that Amnesty International investigate. There was evidence there that the genocide was occurring, and attention should have been drawn to that. Samantha Powers insists that we could have branded Pol Pot’s actions as genocide. For diplomatic reasons, I think it would have been unwise to explicitly state that, but certainly printing accounts from refugees would have had a similar effect. We could have also appealed to the International Court of Justice.
The United States should not have been hesitant to act, because the British brought up Cambodian human rights issues to the United Nation; the United States could have easily defended Britain’s arguments. The nation should have taken steps prior to 1976, when there were reports of mass murder. Furthermore, more attention should have been drawn to the first visit to Phnom Penh, especially when Caldwell was killed. His death was a clear indication that Pol Pot had something to hide.
As an overview, we should react as soon as we hear accounts of people who have escaped or see images that suggest anything unusual. Governmental censure of the media and isolation from other nations are also signs that we should respond to. We should raise awareness of the situation within our country through our own media. Then we need to bring up the issue to the global community, to the United Nations.
I am not sure military intervention is the right approach, however. I think the most important thing is to raise awareness so that many nations pressure the government in question so that that government can no longer act destructively.
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