Luke Hunt's review of Evan Gottesman's book (Dec 31 - Jan 13, 05, p. 13) was one
of the most dishonestly prejudiced things I have seen.
The first paragraph is not factual. In 1979 There was not yet an "elite"
and no warning was then issued about them being "blinded by wealth". "Rape
and violations against women" were probably fewer than at any time in Cambodian
history, except possibly under the KR, who, whatever their own sins, managed to keep
those things at an absolute minimum. Not only are Luke Hunt's statements inaccurate,
they are not even what Gottesman, who is often dodgy on his own, said.
As for Gottesman "stamp[ing] his credentials on a period [1978-79] few authors
have dared to touch," Luke Hunt here exhibits ignorance of the rather voluminous
literature on the period. In particular, the identity and role of Mat Ly, a Cham
leader, is well known to all students of the period and is described in existing
literature. Luke Hunt got it wrong again in calling him "the spiritual head
of Cambodia's Cham Muslims, the mufti Mat Ly." He was neither a spiritual leader
nor a mufti, nor does Gottesman say that. Mat Ly, as well as his father, were old-time
Cham communists, who earlier opposed the French and of course at first joined the
KR, just like everyone with leftist sympathies in 1975-76.
Again Luke Hunt goes beyond the facts with "The Vietnamese edited a new constitution
beyond any recognition of its Cambodian authors," which is non-factual, and
not what Gottesman's rather careful treatment of the constitution-drafting process
permits. It is true that Gottesman edits his sources to give as anti-Vietnamese picture
as possible, but his treatment does not permit Luke Hunt's conclusion.
Luke Hunt might take a look at my analysis of the three drafts of the constitution
in my book Politics, Economics, and Society in the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea,
which, to be sure, has long been unavailable (although Gottes-man knew it), but is
now available in my authorized paperback pirate version in the little bookstore on
the street between the Golden Gate Hotel and Tom's bar.
Even if one Cambodian told Gottesman in 1997, repeat 1997, (his page 110) that the
first draft was Cambodian and the next one "Yuon", the comparison I did
shows that was not true.
As for currency, whoever controlled it, they did a good job. The new currency quickly
replaced the Dong, was generally accepted in the markets, and maintained its value
better than the Dong until undermined in the post-1991 great leap into an uncontrolled
free market, and the impact of UNTAC.
French and English were not banned, although not introduced immediately into the
schools (although the medical school taught in French from the beginning), but private
tuition gradually developed, especially in English, and by 1984 there was an entire
street full of small, private English schools. The then Minister of Economy Meas
Samnang boasted to me in front of his Vietnamese adviser that one of his assistants
was spreading his knowledge of English to young people through such work.
Hun Sen "reading the charges" against Pen Sovan is ludicrous. Hun Sen did
not yet have such an exalted position. This is no doubt Pen Sovan's special pleading,
about which more below.
The "rumors about foul play" in Chan Si's death no doubt came to Gottesman
from Pen Sovan, and reveal one of the weak points in Gottesman's book. Gottesman
relied too much on interviews in the 1990s with people who revised their oral histories
of the early 80s. The worst is Pen Sovan, whose May 1999 interview with Gottesman
is one of his most important sources. One certain lie in Pen Sovan's late testimony
is his insistence (to, among others, Margaret Slocumb, The People's Republic of Kampuchea
1979-1989, pp. 143-144) that Chan Si was killed by Hun Sen at a banquet in Phnom
Penh in 1987, when the truth is that he went in 1984, very ill, to Moscow where he
died in a hospital, where one of my oldest Cambodian friends visited him before his
Gottesman's treatment of Chan Si's death is embarrassing. He obviously got the same
story from Pen Sovan, and apparently did not believe it. He wrote on page 134 that
"to this day, Chan Si's death ... is clouded by rumors of foul play." To
some extent this is true. There are people who think his death was not natural, but
I have heard of no one but Pen Sovan who denies he died in Moscow, but was killed
by Hun Sen in Phnom Penh. Gottesman could not treat this subject honestly because
it would have undermined Pen Sovan as a source, and thus undermined other details
which Gottesman needed. Another relevant reference in Gottesman to Chan Si, on page
204, is "in December 1984, as Chan Si lay ill, Hun Sen began speaking ..."
It is peculiar that Gottesman would not say "...lay ill in Moscow ...",
no doubt through misplaced fidelity to Pen Sovan.
Luke Hunt calls Chan Si "Hanoi-friendly Chan Si," but those who still think
his death was arranged impute it to his opposition to Vietnamese policies.
Calling the 1980s "not always unlike the decade before" is perverse exaggeration.
There were no serious "attempts to banish urban populations," although
it would have been rational to do more to limit rapid immigration into the city.
The K5 program was certainly unpopular and resulted in many deaths. But Luke Hunt
goes far beyond Gottesman in comparing it to the KR, and Gottesman himself relied
too much on the worst propaganda sources, such as Luciolli (see my review of her
in the Post 04/08, 1995). Moreover, no western, especially American, critic of K5
should speak of it without acknowledging that Cambodia, and its Vietnamese supporters,
were in fact forced to fight, even to the death, against enemies supported by the
US, China, Thailand, etc.
Luke Hunt's deepest descent into scurrility is "throughout the Vietnamese occupation,
Cambodia was a reclusive state that ranked alongside North Korea." Evidence
against that is in the writings of the numerous foreign, western, journalists, researchers,
and aid workers who traveled in, out and around Cambodia starting even in 1979, and
increasingly from 1980-81, with increasing freedom, including yours truly. In 1981
I was able to drive with a colleague and an aid worker in a private vehicle from
Phnom Penh to Battambang, then to Siem Reap, visit some of the temples there and
return, with three to fours days in each town, and in Battambang a long interview-conference
with the local governor, one of the Hanoi Khmer. Once more, the propaganda scam is
not from Gottesman, whose only mention of North Korea was with reference to the KR.
Gottesman, like many latecomers (1990s, especially mid-to-late 90s), has sucked up
stories from Cambodians with the anti-Vietnamese animus which has been growing in
the last ten years, forgetting or denying what Vietnam did for them when they were
just recovering from the KR. At its most extreme, this now leads some Cambodians,
and increasingly, to even blame the disasters of the KR period on the Vietnamese
(Khieu Samphan's line). Gottesman then, in spite of his extended research into genuine
PRK documents, which treating specific problems of the day are not always clear about
the total context, was able to interpret them as support for the anti-Vietnamese
scene depicted by his informants, most of whom he met in 1997-1999.
One example is on Gottesman's page 93. Writing of the refugee outflow in 1979, he
says: "Cambodians voted with their feet. The lack of food compelled tens of
thousands to head for the cities or for Thailand. ... Peasants too, had no choice
but to leave the cooperatives in search of food ..."
First, this is not what the refugees at the border were saying when I talked to them
in 1980; and second, the 1980 PRK document quoted by Gottesman, and which from my
research seems factually true in the details it reports, is not, however, evidence
for his statements. He has simply interpreted it to support oral information he got
from some unreliable source.
A technical problem with Gottesman concerns his sourcing. Lacking a bibliography
and without explanation of the locations of the documents he used, it presents great
difficulty to other researchers whom might wish to recheck the same situations.
Another dubious facet in Gottesman is his reliance on Why Vietnam Invaded Cambodia
by Stephen Morris, a longtime right-wing hack and proven falsifier of documents.
Whatever the problems in Gottesman's treatment, Hunt has gone far beyond him in pursuing
his anti-PRK and anti-Vietnamese line. His review in unworthy of even the Phnom Penh
- Michael Vickery