M uch of 1995 saw anniversary recollections of "the fall of Saigon", "the
betrayal of South Vietnam", "the end of the 'Vietnam' War", and so
on. Rarely is the abandonment of Laos and Cambodia mentioned. This is not surprising
considering the history of how Cambodia has been subjected to territorial amputation
at various times in the past, with Vietnam being the most covetous of Khmer land.
Therefore, the outcry being voiced over recent Vietnamese incursions is justified.
Unfortunately, there is little chance that the global community will react as it
did when Iraq invaded Kuwait.
We only have to go back to the end of World War II to verify the violation of Cambodia's
sovereignty and the apparent willingness to pander to Annam's desires. The legitimization
of the dismemberment of Cambodia was carried out, despite official protestations.
The victors in World War II turned a deaf ear to Cambodia's appeal for justice.
Witness Cochinchina. Cochin-china was, from the time of its inception, never anything
more than an attempt to create a "Hong Kong on the Mekong", first by Portugal,
then by the more determined French. The French predilection to seed the zone with
Chinese merchants and numbers of Vietnamese settlers was not without purpose. Neither
had the bond to the land that was characteristic recollection of this affront to
the Cambodian "Lic Tuk", could serve well as an instrument in the recruitment
of Cambodians and Khmer Krom by U.S. Special Forces during the Vietnam War. After
all, the Khmer were fighting for their ancestral lands as much as they were fighting
the communist forces.
The Cochinchina colony/Republic, would prove to be a valuable focus of motivation
for Ho Chi Minh's propaganda machine. The old Nam-Viet objective of peninsular subjugation
was to continue, this time it would be carried out under the banner of revolution,
the Nam Tien, or southward movement" would hide behind a red flag with a gold
The whittling of Cambodia began in earnest during the decline of the Khmer Empire,
which included a perimeter confederation of tributaries in the north of the Southeast
Asian peninsula that served as outposts for the nuclear nation-state, which, over
time was known in succession as Funan, Chenla, and Angkor. It would be the direct
descendants of the Yueh/Lac Viet meld who would hone the war-waging skills they utilized
to break from their Chinese relative overlords in the 1500's, who would in turn,
beginning with Le, formalize the Nam Viet scheme to eventually consume the Southeast
Asian peninsula. That quest would be sustained in an almost genetic-like continuity
over the years, albeit in the form of various guides of convenience and cunning.
On more than one occasion Cambodia has provided sanctuary to various refugees of
conflict in the region over the past several hundred years. Most notable among those
refugee groups were two in particular. One being Chams, the inhabitants of the former
Kingdom of Champa, an Islamic entity that occupied an area that was located in what
is approximately the middle-third of today's Vietnam. The fishing and merchants trades
supported the society that also had its own unique culture, whose ruins may still
be found on rare occasion today. It was Champa that would fall to the relentless
Vietnamese aggression in the late 1500's. Cambodia's Kompong Cham province, with
its significant Cham descendant population, stands as testimony to wholesale eviction
of a people.
Oddly enough, one other significant refugee group to be harbored by Cambodia was
the occasional flight of Vietnamese Christians. It was a recurring event in which
a Vietnamese ruler would attempt to suppress the religious inroads made by Portuguese
and French missionary programs. The Catholic minority was a regular target of purges
meant to dissuade potential converts.
Regional and global turbulence in the 20th century has seen Cambodia relegated to
the stature of a "victim" in Southeast Asia. Her molding as a French Protectorate
as interrupted in World War II when Japan swept across Indochina. Cambodia was at
that time being dictated to by two foreign powers at the same time by virtue of the
"working relationship" between Paris and Tokyo. After the war, France was
handed back the reins of power over Cambodia. A chance for Cambodia's reclamation
of her territory would have presented itself had the suggestion in a memo from the
U.S. State Department's Division of Far Eastern Affairs, dated 21 April 1945, been
made a reality. That memo proposed that Indochinese border and territorial issues
be dealt with by "an impartial international commission." No such commission
has been formed. For Cambodia's claims, the only thing approaching such a forum was
a series of orchestrated conferences in France in November and June of 1948. As expected,
Paris did in 1948 as it had done in 1856, 1870, 1883, 1904, 1914, and 1932... in
spite of documentary evidence, and the obvious wealth of cultural and archaeologically
historic evidence, the pandering to the Vietnamese by the French, Bao Dai in particular,
would continue. A U.S. wink was as good as an endorsement.
As the Vietnam War boiled up, Ho Chi Minh, the standard-bearer of the Indochinese
Communist Party, would take up the masquerade of claiming the Mekong River Delta.
His pledge to "unite the Nam Bo, a welding of Cochinchina and Annam, was indicative
of the centuries-old Nam Viet mind-set. In making that pledge, Ho not only committed
to expelling the French, and later the Americans, he would also be mounting a purge
of Khmers/ Cambodians and the other non-Communist minorities in the Delta, among
them being the Montagnards, Jarai, and Rhade.
The fact that the Delta was rightfully Cambodia's must have been given some consideration
by the U.S., not in such forthright language, but rather in a more inferentially-laden
diplo-speak, such as is often utilized when dealing with "hot-button" issues.
Early on in the aftermath of World War II, the U.S. awareness of Khmer/Cambodian
disdain for Vietnamese occupation of the Cochinchina area was evident. In April of
1945, State Department official G.H. Blakeslee prepared a memo intended for President
Franklin D. Roosevelt, in which such Khmer-Viet animosity was noted as one premise
for accepting France's continued quasi-governance of her former colonies. It was
thought that by doing so, France could regain some of her lost "face",
and therefore be more amicable in other global matters where French involvement would
Further, in a somewhat prophetic statement in a telegram to Secretary of State George
C. Marshall (21 July 1947), U.S. Vice Consul in Hanoi, James L. O' Sullivan stated
that: an "independent Viet Nam, whether Soviet-oriented or not, and absence
of a protecting power (for Cambodia and Laos) such as French, could be expected to
resume encroachment upon Mekong Delta which was interrupted by French occupation
in 1860. Vietnamese "migration" to southern plains has gone on for ten
centuries and probably will continue".
And as thus predicted, after the abandonment of Cambodia and Laos in 1975 to the
communists, the Vietnamese hegemony would resume. The December 1978 invasion of Cambodia
was ostensibly for the purpose of "liberating" the population from the
tentacles of Pol Pot and the genocidal Khmer Rouge. It turned out to be something
more akin to a bamboo version of the Trojan horse tactic.
In a strange twist, the U.S. and others soon lent tacit support to a coalition army
and its handful of compliant Cambodian officials. As a member of the coalition, the
Khmer Rouge forces were, not surprisingly, the most effective against their former
communist allies. Allies that was, until 1974, when the communist Vietnamese cover
of unity with their Cambodian contemporaries began to thin and the age-old Nam-Viet
persona surfaced and laid bare the falsity of Ho chi Minh's Indochinese Communist
Not until the negotiations that led to the 1992 Paris Accords on the Cambodian "civil
war", did Vietnamese troops begin to roll back to the east to a Vietnam that
is, in the opinion of many, no more geographically legitimate now than it was at
the time of the so-called "unification" in 1975 when the U.S. withdrew
from the region.
Before Ho Chi Minh city was Saigon, it was Prey Nokor, the true name of the ancient
Khmer town. and to this day that name is used by the Khmer who live under oppression
of the Vietnamese regime. In their historical home in the Delta, Cambodians are discouraged
from speaking their native Khmer language, worshipping in customary fashion, and
forbidden from partaking in traditional festivals and rights of passage. No, today
the Khmers are not being bled of their cultural soul by a foreign authority in Hanoi.
It is perhaps a gradual "bleaching" form of ethnic-cleansing.
And as stark evidence that Vietnam, no matter what version of name it may adopt,
is still driven to consume its neighbors, the past three years have seen Cambodia
loose parcels of land to what is called "midnight annexations".
The tactic utilizes the well established diversion of first, filtering-in groups
of "farmers" into the targeted area of Cambodian territory just across
the Vietnamese-Cambodian border. As of late, the prime areas have been in Cambodia's
Svay Rieng, Prey Veng, Kompong Cham provinces.
Gradually, over a period of months, the area is expanded deeper into Cambodian territory.
Eventually, small military units are introduced and any existing border markers are
moved appropriately and the "annexation" is accomplished, most often under
the protection of darkness. The most recent and flagrant attempt at this practice
of acquisition occurred already this year (January 1996), resulting in a Cambodian
threat of military response and an official protest expressed by Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
The likelihood of Hanoi's response being anything more than a typical diplomatically-worded
statement regarding the numerous incidents, and a hollow call for "discussions",
No doubt, these incidents will continue at any number of places on the Cambodian-Vietnamese
border on some moonless night in the not too distant future.
So, if anyone has the desire to write about a people truly "struggling to gain
sovereignty over their soil" and liberating their national soul" .....
it is Cambodia they should look to. Cambodia deserves what is rightfully hers.
- Jim Yost, Texas, USA.