D AVID Ashley's "The end justifies the means?" (Phnom Penh Post, 2-15 June, pg
6) is a pitiful example of a newly minted UNTAC Cambodia expert attacking
ideas he dislikes with scatter-gun innuendo because he lacks the knowledge to
present cogent arguments against them.
Presumably he would accept that
the "17 years of blanket socialist-communist propaganda in Cambodia" ended at
the latest with the 1993 election, placing the beginning of that period in the
second Pol Pot year, 1976 indicating that Ashley denies any change in 1979 - the
upper limit of ignorance or willful misrepresentation, and implicitly putting
Ashley in the camp of Stephen Morris who is trying to undermine the State
Department-financed Cambodian Genocide investigation through mischievous attacks
on its director Ben Kiernan. And I wonder what he knows about that propaganda,
since it was nearly all in Khmer. What was getting through to the
English-language public was a different kind of blanket propaganda to which I,
beginning in 1982, tried to offer some balance.
Ashley is not the first
to be irritated by what I wrote. Far better people than he, including some
Cambodian specialists, were also piqued, but none has been able nor, so far as I
have seen, have even tried to demonstrate that I was wrong. Like Ashley, they
can do little more than rant. My writings on the PRK/SoC have withstood the test
Evidence for this is that much of what I was one of the first to
write has become standard consensus, even finding its way into Ashley's screed
when he tries to get close to historical fact.
Thus, it is straight
Michael Vickery line to write that "the centrally-planned economy was far weaker
than in Eastern Europe", "already in the late 1980s, following the Vietnamese
example, free-market reforms had moved much faster and with much less opposition
than... in Eastern Europe". In fact, there was a large free-market area in
Cambodia already in the early 1980s, in advance of Vietnam.
It is also
the Michael Vickery line to deny that the internationally-organized election was
about democracy, but rather just to get a government that the great powers would
I would differ with Ashley, though, on some of the details.
The "war" was not "between Vietnam (Moscow) and the Khmer Rouge
(Beijing)". The Khmer Rouge were not revived by China alone but by a joint
effort in which the United States played a leading role, with enthusiastic ASEAN
cooperation. In the end, China pulled out before the US, when its interests were
no longer threatened, and it was US resentment of Vietnam which prolonged
The "achievements" of stopping the war and securing
a stable central government were not just "already largely in place in
late-1991". As to the first it had been brought down to the level at which it
still continues ("a low-intensity conflict against an out-dated Maoist
movement") by the late 1980s, and this was underscored by the Vietnamese
military withdrawal in 1989, ahead of the previously announced timetable. There
was a stable central government no later than 1985.
Another item which
started as the Michael Vickery line, at least in English-language writing, but
which has become the generally accepted view, is the critique of Sihanouk's
Sangkum from the left which Ashley, correctly, has adopted.
At the time I
first propounded this view, mainstream US criticism of Sihanouk treated him as a
Red Prince and it was trendy on the Western left to accept this
characterization, but consider it positively. (See Vickery, "Looking Back at
Cambodia, 1942-76", and in Ben Kiernan and Chanthou Boua's, "Peasants and
Politics in Kampuchea, 1942-1981," pp. 89-113. The first draft of this,
including a description of the Sangkum years, was written in 1973.)
Ashley knows of a signed agreement between CPP and Funcinpec in advance of the
election he could do us all a favor by publishing the evidence. But does he
realize what he is saying?
There certainly was a plan for cooperation,
and the CPP was obviously hoping to co-opt Sihanouk to their side; and if they
had succeeded a joint CPP-Funcinpec campaign would have led to a government much
like what now exists, but without the violence of the 1993 campaign and the
secession which followed the election.
Cooperation ended, as we know,
with violence against Funcinpec for which the CPP was blamed.
interests were most endangered by Funcinpec-CPP cooperation? The interests of
the Partie of Democratic Kampuchea, as Pol Pot fretted in his February 1992 talk
to cadres which has not yet received the attention it deserves, and of the
United States who hoped to see the CPP totally eliminated.
For the CPP it
would have been the best possible solution to their problem - how to retain the
largest share of power while cooperating in a free election. Violence against
Funcinpec to destroy the potential cooperation was entirely against their
No wonder Hun Sen protested that he was being set
Recall that the truth-seekers of the Western press in Cambodia and
UNTAC "information" specialists blamed two CPP figures in particular for
organizing the violence. Recall also that not long after the election both of
them received invitations to visit the United States, one of them incidentally
invited by a Senator who opposed an improvement of US-Vietnam relations, while a
Phnom Penh Post writer reported a State Department official as saying they had
done nothing which disqualified them from receiving a visa. That fearless
investigative reporter initially expressed shock at the invitations, then
loyally dropped the issue like the hot potato it was.
If those two
persons qualified for US visas, they were implicitly not guilty of the crimes of
which they had been accused a few months earlier; or else they were being
rewarded for their role in thwarting a Cambodian effort to form a new government
which was viewed as contrary to "the interest of the international community",
which Ashley correctly states was the paramount concern of the UNTAC process,
concealed behind a smoke screen of verbiage about "democracy".
- Michael Vickery, Penang.