Today’s Vietnam Analogy (No. 3) by mattsteinglass
February 26, 2007, 3:39 pm
Filed under: Iraq, United States, Vietnam

Snuol, Cambodia after US bombing raid

Snuol, Cambodia after US bombing, 1970

Fallujah, Iraq, March 1970

Fallujah, Iraq, March 2005

I’m some days late on this, but Andrew Sullivan has an excellent post noting William Odom’s terrific (as usual) appearance on the Hugh Hewitt show, where Hewitt tries to make us believe that pulling out of Iraq now would lead to genocide in Iraq, just as pulling out of Vietnam (according to Hewitt) led to genocide in Cambodia. Odom makes mincemeat of the argument. Sullivan focuses on Odom’s extraordinary analytical claim that by the late ’60s, the U.S. in Vietnam was essentially carrying out the Soviet policy objective of containing China:

I’m saying the big scare in Southeast Asia was that there will be a whole group of countries that became pro-Soviet bloc, and pro-Chinese. Well, two more went communist, but they were not pro-Chinese. We were pursuing a war to contain China, the Soviet policy had become containing China. We were presenting a half a million U.S. troops in pursuit of Soviet foreign policy objectives. Right now, we are pursuing al Qaeda and Iranian foreign policy objectives in Iraq.

Matthew Yglesias picks up on Sullivan’s reference and pursues it to a new article in Canada’s The Walrus by the dean of Cambodia experts, Ben Kiernan. Kiernan notes that an analysis of Air Force records made public in 2000 shows that Cambodia was bombed far more heavily by the US than anyone had previously thought:

The still-incomplete database (it has several “dark” periods) reveals that from October 4, 1965, to August 15, 1973, the United States dropped far more ordnance on Cambodia than was previously believed: 2,756,941 tons’ worth, dropped in 230,516 sorties on 113,716 sites. Just over 10 percent of this bombing was indiscriminate, with 3,580 of the sites listed as having “unknown” targets and another 8,238 sites having no target listed at all.

Odom shares the view which all reasonable historians hold of the US’s role in the Cambodian genocide: massive, indiscrimate US bombing slaughtered large numbers of Cambodian peasants, forcing them off their land, turning them viciously against their government, and paving the way for the Khmer Rouge’s victory. So Odom might have responded to Hewitt by noting that they agree: Richard Nixon bears a large measure of the responsibility for the Cambodian genocide. (Hewitt, absurdly, thinks it happened because the US pulled out of Vietnam, which was Nixon’s policy. Odom and Kiernan, rightly, think it happened in part because the US carpet-bombed Cambodia, which was Nixon’s policy.)

As for the analogy, this time there’s no need for you to draw it yourself; Kiernan does it for you.

The data demonstrates that the way a country chooses to exit a conflict can have disastrous consequences. It therefore speaks to contempor­ary warfare as well, including US operations in Iraq. Despite many differences, a critical similarity links the war in Iraq with the Cambodian conflict: an increasing reliance on air power to battle a heterogeneous, volatile insurgency.


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Storey Clayton

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