Nixon’s Cambodian Shock Treatment


I recently stopped in at a Cambodian restaurant that I have been going to for many years.  Although eating the food for which a particular group is known is perhaps the most superficial of ways to communicate with people, I found myself involved in small talk with the people who staffed the restaurant on this particular winter day in Providence, Rhode Island.  The young men and women who staffed the business were indistinguishable from those of their peer group.  They were about my children’s ages. They spoke of their families, the holiday, and their dislike for the annoying reality program that played on the television meant to “entertain” those waiting for take-out orders.

When our conversations ended, I thought of the events of long ago that propelled me to become a war resister.  The incursions of Richard Nixon into Cambodia in April 1970, purportedly to stop the flow of troops and armaments traveling down the Ho Chi Minh Trail from North Vietnam into South Vietnam, unleashed consequences that even Nixon could not have foreseen, but needed to avoid.  National Security Archive transcripts just released relate interchanges between Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Regarding the dropping of millions of pounds of bombs on Cambodia by the U.S., Nixon responds to Kissinger: “That shock treatment [is] cracking them.  I tell you the thing to do is pour it in there every place we can…just bomb the hell out of them.”

Mass demonstrations broke out spontaneously on campuses across the U.S., students were killed at both Kent and Jackson State Universities, and I decided that I had had enough and became a resister to the war.  The attacks inside Cambodia weakened the government of that country and hastened the murderous regime of Pol Pot that resulted in the massacre and torture of over two million people. The governments of the world, knowing the lessons of Hitler’s Holocaust, did little or nothing to stop the carnage!

In the early 1990s I asked one of the owners of the same restaurant about a jar placed next to the cash register in the establishment that bore a label about an agency working to support relief efforts in Cambodia.  The owner spoke about her family members who had been killed during the Cambodian genocide.

What is the record of superpowers and world governmental organizations coming to the aid and stopping holocausts in the contemporary era?  Holocausts and genocide are not to be confused with “traditional” warfare that kills millions, but rather according to the United Nations (1948):

“any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, national, ethnic, racial or religious group, including: (a) killing a member of the group (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group (c) deliberately inflicting on the group on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Few are ever brought to justice for carrying out genocide. The history of modern holocausts, contemporary with, and just prior to, the Nazi Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews include:

Bosnia-Herzegovina: 1992-1995- 200,000 deaths; Rwanda: 1994- 800,000 deaths; Pol Pot in Cambodia: 1975-1979- 2 million deaths: Rape of Nanking: 1937-1938- 300,000 deaths; Stalin’s Forced Famine: 1932-1933- 7 million deaths; Armenians in Turkey: 1915-1918- 1.5 million deaths (The History Place, 2000).

Added to the above are the more than 400,000 deaths in Darfur cited by the Coalition for International Justice, a nongovernmental agency working for the U.S. Agency for International Development (The Washington Post, “Darfur’s Real Death Toll,” April 24, 2005).  Even in the present, the fact of a holocaust seems to draw attention for a short period of time and then fades from consciousness, both personal and official. The conclusion is that humanity hasn’t become any more advanced or humane in the 21st century in dealing with international crises and wars since the barbarian hordes of the ancient world!

For many years I worked with a woman in public schools who was instrumental in finding housing in Rhode Island for refugees as they entered the U.S. from Cambodia and resettlement camps outside of Cambodia.  Her work made a lot of sense to me.  It seemed more practical than my resistance to the Vietnam War had been, but people do what they can given their immediate circumstances.  That the world, governments, international organizations, and international laws have become little better at preventing mass murder against a particular group is of grave concern to those who value peace.

HOWARD LISNOFF teaches writing and is a freelance writer.  He can be reached at howielisnoff@gmail.com.




Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

November 25, 2015
Jeff Taylor
Bob Dylan and Christian Zionism
Dana E. Abizaid
Provoking Russia
Oliver Tickell
Syria’s Cauldron of Fire: a Downed Russian Jet and the Battle of Two Pipelines
Patrick Cockburn
Trigger Happy: Will Turkey’s Downing of Russian Jet Backfire on NATO?
Robert Fisk
The Soothsayers of Eternal War
Russell Mokhiber
The Coming Boycott of Nike
Ted Rall
Like Father Like Son: George W. Bush Was Bad, His Father May Have Been Worse
Matt Peppe
Bad Policy, Bad Ethics: U.S. Military Bases Abroad
Martha Rosenberg
Pfizer Too Big (and Slippery) to Fail
Yorgos Mitralias
Bernie Sanders, Mr. Voutsis and the Truth Commission on Greek Public Debt
Jorge Vilches
Too Big for Fed: Have Central Banks Lost Control?
Sam Husseini
Why Trump is Wrong About Waterboarding — It’s Probably Not What You Think
Binoy Kampmark
The Perils of Certainty: Obama and the Assad Regime
Roger Annis
State of Emergency in Crimea
Soud Sharabani
ISIS in Lebanon: An Interview with Andre Vltchek
Thomas Knapp
NATO: This Deal is a Turkey
November 24, 2015
Dave Lindorff
An Invisible US Hand Leading to War? Turkey’s Downing of a Russian Jet was an Act of Madness
Mike Whitney
Turkey Downs Russian Fighter to Draw NATO and US Deeper into Syrian Quagmire
Walter Clemens
Who Created This Monster?
Patrick Graham
Bombing ISIS Will Not Work
Lida Maxwell
Who Gets to Demand Safety?
Eric Draitser
Refugees as Weapons in a Propaganda War
David Rosen
Trump’s Enemies List: a Trial Balloon for More Repression?
Chris Gilbert
“Why Socialism?” Revisited: Reflections Inspired by Einstein’s Article
Eric Mann
Playing Politics While the Planet Sizzles
Charles Davis
NSA Spies on Venezuela’s Oil Company
Michael Barker
Democracy vs. Political Policing
Barry Lando
Shocked by Trump? Churchill Wanted to “Collar Them All”
Cal Winslow
When Workers Fight: the National Union of Healthcare Workers Wins Battle with Kaiser
Norman Pollack
Where Does It End?: Left Political Correctness
David Macaray
Companies Continue to Profit by Playing Dumb
Binoy Kampmark
Animals in Conflict: Diesel, Dobrynya and Sentimental Security
Dave Welsh
Defiant Haiti: “We Won’t Let You Steal These Elections!”
November 23, 2015
Vijay Prashad
The Doctrine of 9/11 Anti-Immigration
John Wight
After Paris: Hypocrisy and Mendacity Writ Large
Joseph G. Ramsey
No Excuses, No Exceptions: the Moral Imperative to Offer Refuge
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS Thrives on the Disunity of Its Enemies
Andrew Moss
The Message of Montgomery: 60 Years Later
Jim Green
James Hansen’s Nuclear Fantasies
Robert Koehler
The Absence of History in the Aftermath of Paris
Dave Lindorff
The US Media and Propaganda
Dave Randle
France and Martial Law
Gilbert Mercier
If We Are at War, Let’s Bring Back the Draft!
Alexey Malashenko
Putin’s Syrian Gambit
Binoy Kampmark
Closing the Door: US Politics and the Refugee Debate