Skip to Content

Pol Pot and his friends from the West

In early June came news that Pol Pot, the butcher of Cambodia and responsible for perhaps two million deaths, was dead. No doubt there are many who are hoping that this is one death that is not exaggerated and who would personally like to thank the mosquito that killed him. It is likely that many books will now appear relating to his "legacy", as well as hundreds of obituaries that chart his rise and fall.

What we are less likely to see is analysis that uncovers the complicity of western governments in the "genocide" he perpetrated and how Pol Pot was in fact a Frankenstein created by, principally western, power politicians.

Following independence from France in 1954, Cambodia came under the increasing influence of Washington which financed much of the French operation in Indo-China. The US really began to interfere during the Vietnam War and especially after the right-wing pro-US Lon Nol regime was established in 1966. Not only were all anti-Americans expelled from political office, but over half-a-million Cambodians were unceremoniously conscripted to fight America's war with the North Vietnamese.

In l969, President Nixon ordered the US airforce in. In the following four years, B-52s and F1–11s dropped almost 280,000 bombs on Cambodia—the equivalent of 25 Hiroshimas. A quarter of this total and five times more than was dropped on Japan during the whole of World War Two was dropped between February and August 1973. Although the targets were supposed to be North Vietnamese supply bases, the vast majority of the imaginary sort, the devastation left 750,000 Cambodians dead, killed 75 per cent of livestock, destroyed 40 percent of roads and 30 percent of bridges and almost wiped out the country's small industrial sector.

Land that had been used for growing the country's basic diet of rice became punctuated with bomb craters. The rice crops suffered and famine ensued. The regime back in Phnom Penh immediately ordered the confiscation of peasant food stocks to feed the now starving towns and cities, to the dismay and bewilderment of the long-suffering peasantry. It is often said that Pol Pot's faction of the Khmer Rouge were Marxists, inspired by Mao, and intent on taking Cambodia to a mythical harmonious pre-industrial past. In truth, the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot were ultra-nationalists who rose in direct response to government confiscation of their food and the dire effects of America's war with the North Vietnamese. Neither were their numbers made up of trained "communist guerrillas". The Khmer Rouge initially consisted of disgruntled peasants and the orphaned of US carpet-bombing who felt they had little to lose.

The mass murder and utter insanity that followed as Pol Pot rose to power was a pathetic attempt to punish those town and city dwellers thought responsible for backing the government that 'invited' the US in and a vain bid to repopulate the countryside and replace the tens of thousands who had fled as refugees.

With the war over in Vietnam and the US nursing its bruises and recovering from the biggest humiliation in its history, the west watched on from the sidelines until the North Vietnamese army, fed up with Pol Pot's incursions into their territory, invaded and ousted him in 1979. Again the west saw an opportunity to have another go at the "communist threat". The CIA despatched high-ranking personnel to assist Pol Pot and Britain sent the SAS to train the Khmer Rouge in various tactics of war, including mine- laying.

Back at the UN, China and the US mounted pressure to ensure that Pol Pot would have a seat on the General Assembly. The British delegate, Lord Carrington, told the UN that Britain endorsed Pol Pot as the legitimate ruler of the Khmer people. Only the Soviet Union voiced disapproval. With a Hanoi-backed regime in Phnom Penh and the North Vietnamese army preventing Pol Pot returning from his base across the Thai border, the UN posed a total embargo on Cambodia, barring the country from all agreements on international trade and commerce. In addition, development aid was withheld and the World Health Organisation were barred from the country.

All of this would rather be kept quiet by western governments. Indeed, Douglas Hurd, the former British Foreign Secretary once publicly declared: "we have never given and will never support the Khmer Rouge"—this in face of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. However, so long as Pol Pot was anti-Vietnamese and anti-Soviet Union, the west was prepared to put up with any of his excesses. As the saying goes: "he might be a bastard, but he's one of our bastards".

In the dangerous game of globo-politics, it has been proved time and time again that western capitalists will court any madman, so long as it furthers their interests. Adolf Hitler, Stalin, Papa Doc, Nicolae Ceausescu, Idi Amin and presently President Suharto of Indonesia, amongst countless others, have all found favour with the western capitalist elite. No doubt the future will throw up many more instances.