I was interested to read the criticism by Sophal Ear and Geoffrey Cain of Stuart Alan Becker’s article on Noam Chomsky (October 18), but a little perplexed at the seeming dismissal of Hilderbrand and Porter’s book Cambodia, Starvation and Revolution because it contains a “propaganda picture” of a Khmer Rouge hospital operating room.
My copy of the book, published in 1976, contains a small photograph of an operation in what is said to be an NUFK rural clinic. Things look pretty basic.
Medical staff, one of whom is holding a syringe, wear masks and work by the light of a hand-held electric light.
That, however, is as far as modern equipment goes, and I doubt anyone looking at it would think it had any propaganda value at all.
The general tenor of the book is predictable, which is not surprising as it came from the socialist Monthly Review Press, which was, and is, devoted to what has been called “committed left publishing”.
Nonetheless, the first chapter, “The Politics of Starvation in Phnom Penh”, gives a graphic and fair overview of the situation in Phnom Penh before it fell.
The sources are mostly drawn from United States official publications and major newspapers, and international organisations like the IMF.
Whatever view is taken of the obvious bias in the rest of the text, the authors should be given credit for this chapter, at least.
The evacuation of Phnom Penh after the Khmer Rouge took over was such a dramatic event that the terrible conditions prevailing before April 1975 are sometimes overlooked. And they were terrible, particularly for the children of poor families who did not have access to food aid and could not afford black market prices.
Let the record speak for itself. With Lon Nol still in power, the Office of the US Department of State Inspector-General of Foreign Assistance made this comment about the condition of the thousands of starving and malnourished children in Phnom Penh: “It requires little imagination to picture these wretchedly frail and sickly little bodies, borne away in their weak mother’s arms, carried to an alley somewhere, to die; certain to suffer, untreated, unhospitalised, unfed.”
It does no service to the victims of the Khmer Rouge to gloss over this situation and ask why it occurred. Hilderbrand and Porter gave their opinion and it is worth considering.
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