​Revisit and revise | Phnom Penh Post

Revisit and revise


Publication date
15 November 1996 | 07:00 ICT

Reporter : Michael Vickery

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The Editor,

A lthough I agree that Craig Et-cheson and Ben Kiernan must start providing hard

answers to some hard question about the Cambodia Genocide Program, as demanded by

Steve Heder (Post, 5/21, pg. 6), Heder's choice of Etcheson's answer to Julio Jeldres

was the wrong occasion to bring this up. In his letter which Heder used as a text,

Etcheson was only answering Jeldres, not reporting on his project, and it was the

best type of answer possible. Jeldres was so incoherent and hysterical that satire

was an entirely appropriate way to deal with it. It may have been a waste of time

to try to dissect it with some seriousness (as in my response, Internet, [email protected],

23 September 1996).

Heder's reaction makes one wonder if he is not more interested in getting Kiernan

and Etcheson than Ieng Sary. After all, once upon a time Heder condemned the PRK

for passing death sentences on Pol Pot and Ieng Sary (Amnesty International, Kampuchea

Political Imprisonment and Torture, June 1987, pgs 8, 69), and so far as I can determine

he and his UNTAC component never announced to the Cambodian or UNTAC international

public that by January 1993 they had discovered that KR/PDK policy since October-November

1992 was indiscriminate targeting of all Vietnamese for murder - the first solid

proof of genocidal policy which any investigator had found (Heder and Judy Ledgerwood,

Propaganda, Politics, and Violence in Cambodia, pgs 92-96, nn. 41-44). Why was this

kept under wraps? Perhaps there is where The Genocide Program should start looking

for the evidence against Ieng Sary and comrades which they apparently have not found


Treating Jeldres' remarks as "anguish" (Heder) or "calm arguments"

(Shawcross, Post 5/21, Pg. 6) is hilarious. Jeldres' letter was true to his form

over the years as a hatchet-wielding assassin of character of all who did not follow

his line on the PDK-bulwarked Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea, under

the clairvoyant leadership of you-know-who, hatcheting especially those who wrote

sympathetically of the PRK-SoC and criticized Great Power support to the CGDK, one

of the major reasons why there is still an Ieng Sary problem today. Back in 1994

Jeldres, in his opposition to the anti-KR law, allegedly to promote democratic debate,

was supporting the return en bloc of the entire PDK, not just a few breakaway leaders.

Shawcross would not be sensitive to this, given his equally peculiar record. Shawcross,

remember, achieved fame as the author of Sideshow, a hard-hitting book against the

US war in Cambodia and Henry Kissinger, and exhibiting much sympathy for the embattled

revolutionaries, who became DK. His passage on the effect of American bombing on

the KR troops is one of the most moving anywhere. For this book Shawcross took a

lot of heat from the far right, and at first he answered them honorably (American

Spectator 14/7, July 81, Pgs 7-13). The spirit was maintained in his first reporting

from the Cambodian-Thai border, when he exhibited the same critical attitude as Chomsky

and Herman. He found that refugee accounts "suggest that the Khmer Rouge is

finding it hard to govern... except by coercion", but refugees "did not

appear to be in a sorry condition", even though they complained of "rigor

and hardship", and he concluded that "it is impossible, on the basis of

talking to some refugees... to say how a country is being run", and if an "atrocity"

was being perpetrated, "Kissinger must bear some responsibility" (Far Eastern

Economic Review, 2 January 1976).

Compare this with his more recent emanations. There he has denied himself, perhaps

even thrice, and claims that Sideshow was written to expose the evil of the Khmer

Rouge. Passing recent Cambodian history in review, he no longer puts heavy blame

on Kissinger's policies, claiming rather that Cambodia was "drawn into the inferno

of war, partly as a result of careless [my emphasis - MV] White House policies, including

the destruction of Cambodian villages by heavy bombing". He then renounces sympathy

for opposition to the war, wailing "those of us who were opposed to the American

effort in Indochina should be humbled by the scale of the suffering inflicted by

the Communist victors - especially in Cambodia, but in Vietnam and Laos as well"

("From Beyond the Grave", The Scotsman, Glasgow, 14 December 1992; and

"A New Cambodia", New York Review of Books (NYRB), 12 August 1993). Somewhere

between the end of the 70s and the early nineties Shawcross experienced a real Pauline

(St. Paul, that is, not a nurse in Kompong Thom in 1980) epiphany, and he has finally

achieved the equivalent of what I facetiously predicted several years ago, an autocritique

of Sideshow in Commentary.

Evidence of Shawcross' recantation was already becoming clear by 1979, when his writing

became hostile to the PRK and to Vietnam, even to the extent of going soft on DK.

In "The End of Cambodia?" he chided "some of the international relief

agencies [who] have accepted without question all the details of the anti-Khmer Rouge

propaganda issued by the Vietnamese client government"; and pontificated "whether

there was an 'Asian Auschwitz' in this particular place [Tuol Sleng] and with these

precise methods remains uncertain" (NYRB 24 January 1980). He accepted "reports

that the [Vietnamese] are treating the Cambodians with almost as much contempt as

the previous regime did", and that they are "now conducting a subtle 'genocide'

in Cambodia" (which sounds just like what one might expect from Ieng Sary).

Four years later Shawcross had another go at Cambodia. He rediscovered Tuol Sleng,

not any more to imply it was a Vietnamese-built Potemkin village, but to introduce

the theme that there was suppression of documents by the PRK and Vietnamese in order

to conceal the PRK leaders' previous activity and the nature of the "Khmer Rouge"

regime ("The Burial of Cambodia," NYRB 10 May 1984). His "Burial"

was thus a sequel to "End" in his campaign to make the Vietnamese and PRK

appear even worse than Pol Pot. This was the interest Shawcross and a number of others

had in the first proposals for what was to become the Cambodian Genocide Project,

and they probably cannot forgive Kiernan for not allowing it to be steered in that


Neither of course, can Shawcross forgive Kiernan for the rare piece of criticism

which Kiernan managed to smoke past Shawcross' guardian editor (NYRB 27 Sept 1984),

or for the merciless review of Quality of Mercy (Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars

18/1, Jan-March 1986), detailing Shawcross' shiftiness in first falling for the US

line that a famine was imminent in Cambodia in 1979, and then when the famine proved

mythical, blaming Vietnam for the false prognosis. This goes far to explain Shawcross'

animus against the Kiernan-Etcheson Genocide Project.

Nevertheless, there is a valid question in all this, even if Jeldres, Heder and Shawcross

are not the ones to put it. What is Ieng Sary's genocide guilt, and since most assume

he must have been guilty, why has the Genocide Project not said more about it just

now when there is a movement afoot to forgive him? Heder, from his own work on the

records, probably understands the answer - they have not come up with anything from

their masses of documents, and this makes his blast at Etcheson doubly suspect. And

if the pundits who are retrospectively downgrading Ieng Sary's role in DK (he wasn't

really Number 2, that was just Vietnamese propaganda) are right, perhaps he really

was not in a position to bear responsibility for mass murder. That hindsight repositioning

of Ieng Sary, though, when it is not just academic one-upmanship, is very much less

related to the historical record than to what different circles hoped for in the

ultimate resolution of the KR problem, and to which Cambodian government faction

they think will most benefit from the current KR split.

Did they want the KR completely defeated, and if so did they hope the defeat would

strengthen the CPP, or Funcinpec? Of did they hope for some kind of accommodation

which would put another faction in Phnom Penh to maneuver against or between the

present government parties?

If Ieng Sary was not really very important, then certain people may still hope to

use the PDK for pressure on Phnom Penh. If he was very important, really brother

number 2, then his split may mean the PDK is finished. But whoever gets credit for

engineering his defection will be accused by their enemies of conspiring to conceal

genocide, or to get back to where this all started, of concocting a new "Red


- Michael Vickery, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang.

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