Philip Short accuses me of "unworthy tactics" (Phnom Penh Post, February 25 - March 10, 2005) because I expressed some criticism of his book about Pol Pot, although I had qualified it as "fascinating". I still do. It is a master-piece of journalism and so fascinating that it tends to overpower the reader's critical sense.
A basic criticism to apply to any work concerns the author's choice of sources. Mr. Short disqualifies Ieng Sary, Pol Pot and other leaders of Democratic Kampuchea as liars. Yet he often quotes them. Just one example. He writes that Ieng Sary told him that on April 17, 1975, Politburo member Le Duc Tho had asked for free passage through Cambodia for Vietnamese troops on their final offensive on Saigon (p. 4). But why should their armies make a detour into Cambodia, when they were already approaching Saigon? The roads lay open after they had taken Ban Me Thuot in March, and the Saigon army was on a panicky retreat. Mr. Short accepts Ieng Sary's statement unreflectingly. But it should invite reflections, as Democratic Kampuchea's leaders draw an important conclusion of their victory preceding that of the Vietnamese communists by 13 days: They were the first in the world to defeat U.S. imperialism, and they were a model for the world. This hubris became an important element in their thinking.
Mr. Short disqualifies me as unable to discuss Cambodia's history calmly and rationally. I am sorry, but I cannot see the rationality in explaining the atrocities of the Pol Pot regime by a Khmer "national character" and slumbering "savage forces and disconcerting cruelties which may blaze up in outbreaks of passionate brutality." Shall we tell the traumatized survivors of the "killing fields" that they are part of a culture of "appalling cruelties"?
Maud Sundqvist, Stockholm (Sweden)