Meas Lorn lives in Ta Sous, Cambodia. She survived numerous U.S. airstrikes as a child and wonders why the bombings between 1969 and 1973 happened. Lorn lost her brother, uncle, and cousins during the raids.
I still wonder why those aircraft always attacked in this area. Why did they drop bombs here?
The man who many hold responsible, Henry Kissinger, will turn 100 on Saturday.
Heinz Alfred Kissinger was born on May 27, 1923, in Fürth, Germany, and immigrated to the United States in 1938, escaping Nazi rule. He became American in 1943 and fought in the U.S. Army during WWII.
A thorough investigation by Nick Turse from The Intercept shows just how Kissinger still refuses to admit responsibility until this very day.
Survivors from 13 Cambodian villages near the Vietnamese border informed Turse about assaults on their family and neighbors carried out under Kissinger’s command during former President Richard Nixon’s term. The Intercept’s exclusive interviews with more than 75 Cambodian witnesses and survivors shed new insight into the long-term trauma faced by survivors of the U.S. aggression.
The incidents documented in the records and eyewitness testimonials include both intentional airstrikes within Cambodia and unintentional or careless strikes by U.S. soldiers operating on the border with South Vietnam.
According to records, no severe punishment was meted out to U.S. forces who murdered and wounded civilians.
Greg Grandin, author of “Kissinger’s Shadow” expressed that the “covert justifications for illegally bombing Cambodia became the framework for the justifications of drone strikes and forever war. It’s a perfect expression of American militarism’s unbroken circle.”
According to Ben Kiernan, former head of Yale University’s Genocide Studies Program, Kissinger is culpable for the death of as many as 150,000 civilians, up to 6 times the number of civilians killed in U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen.
Blood of 3 million on Kissinger’s hands
Grandin adds that Kissinger had the blood of at least 3 million people on his hands as he helped extend the Vietnam War, assist with genocides in Cambodia, East Timor, and Bangladesh, and further escalate civil conflicts in southern Africa, and support coups and death squads across Latin America.
During his Senate confirmation hearings to become Secretary of State in 1973, Kissinger was asked if he supported intentionally withholding information regarding Cambodian assaults, to which he replied,
I just wanted to make it clear that it was not a bombing of Cambodia but of North Vietnamese in Cambodia.
The claim is contradicted by U.S. military documents and eyewitness testimonies.
In his 2003 book “Ending the Vietnam War,” Kissinger believed that 50,000 Cambodian civilians were killed as a result of U.S. attacks during his participation in the conflict. According to documents published by The Intercept, the bombing of Cambodia was one of the most extensive air attacks in history.
From 1965 through 1973, the U.S. conducted approximately 231,000 bombing operations over Cambodia. U.S. jets dropped 500,000 or more tons of bombs while Kissinger held the position of advisor.
Turse asked Kissinger how he would amend his testimony before the Senate at a 2010 State Department conference on U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia from 1946 to the end of the Vietnam War.
“Why should I amend my testimony?” he responded.
I don’t quite understand the question, except that I didn’t tell the truth.
Nixon ran on a promise to stop America’s participation in the Vietnam War but instead escalated the fight into neighboring Cambodia. Kissinger and Haig planned an operation hidden from Congress, top Pentagon officials, and the American public.
Kissinger and Nixon were also solely to blame for assaults that killed, injured, and displaced hundreds of thousands of Cambodians, laying the framework for the Khmer Rouge genocide. The Khmer Rouge was the common name given to members of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) led by Communist Party of Cambodia general secretary Pol Pot.
Kaing Guek Eav (nicknamed “Duch”), who supervised the Khmer Rouge’s Tuol Sleng jail in the late 1970s when thousands of Cambodians were tortured and executed, told an UN-backed tribunal that Nixon and Kissinger allowed the Khmer Rouge to “grasp golden opportunities.”
Deposed monarch Prince Norodom Sihanouk said in the 70s that “Mr. Nixon and Dr. Kissinger are the “only two men responsible for the tragedy in Cambodia.”
“The Trial of Henry Kissinger,” a book-length accusation written by Christopher Hitchens in 2001, advocated for Kissinger’s trial for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and violations of common, customary, or international law. Hitchens blamed Kissinger.
Cambodians called Huey Cobra attack helicopters “lobster legs” for their skids, while small bubble-like Loaches became “coconut shells”. Turse describes how, upon visiting Cambodia in 2010, Cambodians were astonished to learn that an American was aware of the attacks on their villages.
The Defense Department has made it obvious that it is not interested in investigating its past civilian harm accusations, and the chances of the Defense Department investigating civilian injury in Cambodia 50 years later are virtually non-existent.
Kang Vorn, the former village chief in Doun Rath 2, remembers how “sometimes we were bombed every day. Once, it was three or four times in one day.”
Those who survived the B-52 bombings describe the event as horrible and catastrophic. Vuth Than, 78, and her sister, Vuth Thang, 72, were away from their home in Por when a B-52 bombardment murdered 17 of their family members. Vuth Than expressed to Turse how everything, including her entire family, was lost.
At a 2010 State Department conference, Kissinger had at the time told Turse, “That was in essentially unpopulated areas and I don’t believe it had any significant casualties.” This was at the 2010 State Department conference titled “The American Experience in Southeast Asia, 1946-1975.” In a 1979 NBC News interview, British journalist David Frost accused Kissinger of setting in motion a series of events that would “destroy the country.” NBC later published the interview but gave Kissinger the opportunity to change his comments.
We did not start to destroy a country from anybody’s point of view when we were bombing seven isolated North Vietnamese base areas within some five miles of the Vietnamese border, from which attacks were being launched into South Vietnam.
In a typical manner, he seized on discrepancies and muddied disputes, rightly denying Frost’s claim that Base Area 704 was bombed during the covert B-52 operations—a mistake caused by a typographical error in a Pentagon document—noting that “base area 740” was really struck. He stated that target suggestions were accompanied by the remark “that civilian casualties were expected to be minimal.”
Prior to the arrival of Nixon and Kissinger, U.S. commandos carried out 99 and 287 missions, respectively. The figure had climbed to 454 by 1969. Between January 1970 and April 1972, when the program was formally discontinued, commandos conducted at least 1,045 clandestine operations throughout Cambodia. Others, ostensibly initiated by Kissinger, may have existed but were never publicized.
Haig was the Army’s vice chief of staff from January to May 1973, in between stints as deputy assistant to the president for national security and White House chief of staff. Retired Army Brig. Gen. John Johns informed Turse that he was in Haig’s office at the Pentagon at the time when an important call came in. “I was briefing him on something, and the red phone rang, which I knew was the White House,” Johns recounted.
I got up to leave. He motioned me to sit down. I sat there and heard him tell them how to cover up our intrusions into Cambodia.
Roger Morris, a Kissinger assistant, recalls to Turse how “a lot of the time, he was authorizing the ongoing covert excursions into Cambodia.”
We were running a lot of covert ops there.
The Intercept’s follow-up reporting revealed how U.S. helicopter gunships raided a Cambodian village in May 1971. The “high bird” commander, Capt. David Schweitzer, spoke about rocketing and strafing the region and ordering the deployment of South Vietnamese, or Army of the Republic of Vietnam, troops to look for suspected enemy positions.
Capt. Thomas Agness, the pilot of the helicopter that carried Brooks and some of the ARVN, told Turse that ARVN Rangers looted the village. He detailed how “they were stealing everything they could get their hands on.”
When Henry Kissinger prepared his plans for the clandestine bombing of Cambodia, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge numbered around 5,000 persons. According to a 1973 CIA cable, the Khmer Rouge’s recruiting efforts largely relied on U.S. bombing.
In 1973, the U.S. bombed Cambodia more than in the previous 4 years combined. According to a study published by the United States Agency for International Development,
The intense American bombing in 1973 increased the cumulative number of refugees to nearly half of the country’s population.
A ‘murderous scumbag’
These attacks emboldened Pol Pot’s forces, allowing the Khmer Rouge to grow into the 200,000-man army that took over the country and massacred over 20% of the population. After the government took control, the political winds shifted, and Kissinger privately advised Thailand’s Foreign Minister, saying,
You should also tell the Cambodians that we will be friends with them. They are murderous thugs, but we won’t let that stand in our way. We are prepared to improve relations with them.
Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia in late 1978 to depose the Khmer Rouge, forcing Pol Pot’s men to the Thai border. The United States, on the other hand, rallied behind Pol Pot, pushing other countries to join his forces, channeling supplies to his friends, assisting him in keeping Cambodia’s seat at the United Nations, and resisting efforts to investigate or prosecute Khmer Rouge officials for genocide.
In 1978, Kissinger published “White House Years”; a memoir in which the author failed to mention the bloodshed in Cambodia with which his hands were tainted, because, according to journalist William Shawcross,
for Kissinger, Cambodia was a sideshow, its people expendable in the great game of large nations.
Turse says that the late Anthony Bourdain expressed views held by many in which he states that after a visit to Cambodia, one will never want to stop beating Henry Kissinger to death.
“You will never again be able to open a newspaper and read about that treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag sitting down for a nice chat with Charlie Rose or attending some black-tie affair for a new glossy magazine without choking,” Bourdain expressed.
Turse followed up with Kissinger in 2010 when he pressured him about the inconsistency in his assertions about solely bombing “North Vietnamese in Cambodia” while killing 50,000 Cambodians, according to his figure.
“We weren’t running around the country bombing Cambodians,” he claimed.
Turse pointed out to Kissinger that the evidence strongly suggests otherwise, which angered him and, according to Turse, made him ask,
What are you trying to prove?
Kissinger ended the conversation by telling Turse, “I’m not smart enough for you, I lack your intelligence and moral quality,” before he turned away, leaving his crimes behind him.
And still, Kissinger was never indicted or convicted for any crimes.