Cambodian Civil War (1967-75)


Figure 1.--Here we see Cambodian refugees in Vietnam during April 1973. The press caption read, "Just waiting: A group of Cambodians who fled the fighting in their troubled land, sit waiting for the war to go away in a camp at Chau Doc, South Vietnam. Fighting continues in Cambodia where insurgents have rejected a cease-fire proposal by the Phnom Penh regime."

Cambodia and its people became caught up in the Vietnam War. The Kymer Rouge conducted a low-level insurgency during the 1960s. The Khmer Rouge fought in alliance with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. There goal was to overthrow the Royal Cambodian Government, after October 1970, the Khmer Republic). The United States and the Republic of Vietnam (ROK) spported the Government forces. The North Vietnamese used Cambodia as a safe area to set up safe havens and base areas as well as to move supplies south. For a time this proved useful to the North Vietnamese as the United States could interdict supply routes in North and South Vietnam. President Johnson was aware of the Cambodian santuaries, but refused to authorize bombing in Cambodia in an effort not to widen the War. This policy changed with the election of Richard Nixon (1968). It was clear to President Nixon that the War had become deeply unpopular with the American people and could not be continued. He attempted to devise a policy that would allow the ROK to survive even after the American withdrawl. President Nixon authorizing the bombing to help protect its allies (both Cambodia and ROK) as the U.S. forces withdrew from Vietnam. President Nixon shortly after assuming office issued secret orders to bomb Base Area 353 in the area known as the Fishhook) opposite South Vietnam's Tay Ninh Province) (March 18, 1969). This was the first of a series of massive strikes on the Cambodian sanctuaries through May 1970. A Cambodian general, Lon Nol seized control of the Government (May 1970). The Kymer Rouge with increased support from North Vietnam escalated the Civil war. Beginning in 1970 the fighting in Cambodia escalated as did Khmer Rouge violence on their own people. The result was massive casualties, the destruction of the economy, destruction of crops leading to food shortages, and terrible atrocities. Refugees fled the fighting, many crossing the border to Thailand and Vietnam. As much of the fighting was in eastern Cambodia, quite a number of refugees sought santuary in Vietnam. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, after years of struggle, defeated the Cambodian military and seized the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. The Khmer Rouge proiceeded to close the country off from the rest of the world. What followed was one of the most sinister and senceless acts of genocide ever committed by a government on its own people--the Cambodian Genocide.

Kymer Rouge

The Kymer Rouge (KR) is the name for both the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) and the Party militia that fought the Civil War. The Cambodian communist movement, like the Vietnmese Communist Party, emerged from the countryís struggle against the French colonial regime. Some of the Cambodians and Vietnamese seeking education and work in France were exposed to the vibrant French Socialist and Communist movements. Communist influence prived most pronounced in Vietnam, and this influenced the Cambodians. Communist influence in Cambodia grew somewhat during the First Viertnamese War against French colonial rule, mostly fought in northern Vietnam (1950s). The KR took roots, largely in the countryside, and slowly grew. Prince Sihanouk and his royal government attempted to pursue a neutral stance in the Cold War. This proved difficult becuse the North Vietnamese extended the Ho Chi Minh trail into western Cambodia and use it to funnel men and material south. Sihanouk's neutralism involved turning a blind eye to North Vietnamese military activities on Cambodian territory. Th United States pressed th Cambodians to take action.

Low-Level Insurgency

Cambodia and its people became caught up in the Vietnam War. The Kymer Rouge conducted a low-level insurgency during the 1960s. The Khmer Rouge fought in alliance with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. There goal was to overthrow the Royal Cambodian Government. The North Vietnamese used Cambodia as a safe area to set up safe havens and base areas as well as to move supplies south. For a time this proved useful to the North Vietnamese as the United States could interdict supply routes in North and South Vietnam. President Johnson was aware of the Cambodian santuaries, but refused to authorize massive bombing in Cambodia in an effort not to widen the War. Some strikes were, however, permitted as soon as the major American involvement in Vietnam began (1965)

Prince Sihanouk

Marshal Lon Nol, a Cambodian general and politician who had previously served as one of Prince Sihanouk's prime ministers, along with other anti-Communist Cambodians conducted a coup to depose Prince Sihanouk (March 1970). By this time the KR had built its ranks and had received weapon from the Vietnamese. The Khmer Republic). The United States and the Republic of Vietnam (ROK) spported the Government forces.

American Bombing (1970)

American policy changed with the election of Richard Nixon (1968). It was clear to President Nixon that the War had become deeply unpopular with the American people and could not be continued. He attempted to devise a policy that would allow the ROK to survive even after the American withdrawl. President Nixon authorizing the bombing of Cambodian sanctuaries to help protect its allies (both Cambodia and ROK) as the U.S. forces withdrew from Vietnam. President Nixon won the 1968 presidential election. The new president shortly after assuming office issued secret orders to bomb Base Area 353 in the area known as the Fishhook (opposite South Vietnam's Tay Ninh Province) (March 18, 1969). This was the first of a series of massive strikes on the Cambodian sanctuaries. Operation Menu was the codename given to covert United States air strikes by the Strategic Air Command (SAC) bombing campaign. The American bombs hit North Vietnamese staging, base, training, and rest areas in eastern Cambodia and Laos (March-May 1970). The impact of the bombing campaign on the NVA and associated KR and Viet Cong forces is widely disputed by historians, depending largely on their political orientation. Some of the higher casialty rates, especially on civilians are unlikely as the taegeted areas were not heavily populated. We have seen estimates ranging drom about 40,000-150,000 NVA and allied combatants and civilians. Higher estimates because of the low population density seem unlikely, but there is now way of knowing with any surity. Histories of the Vietnam War and the Cambodian Civil War tend to be highly politicized, often strongly influenced by the author's political orientation. Many authors critical of American interventiin in Vietnam contend that it was only the Americam intervention that allowed the KR to seize power and radicalized them. There is little doubt, however, that the KR would not have seized poer once America withdrew from Vietnam. Nor is there any evidence that the American bombing had any fundamental impact on Ankar. Their outlook amd revolutionary vission was formed well before the American intervention in Vietnam. Some authors contend that that the bombing may have increased the success of KR recruitment efforts. [Dy] This may be true, but it was largely rural peasant conscripts, not the Ankar leadership that ordered the attricities and killing after their victory.

Kymer Rouge Ecalation

The Kymer Rouge with increased support from North Vietnam escalated the Civil war. At first the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) played a major role. The fighting in Cambodia escalated as did Khmer Rouge violence on their own people. The result was massive casualties, the destruction of the economy, destruction of crops leading to food shortages, and terrible atrocities. Refugees fled the fighting, many crossing the border to Thailand and Vietnam. As much of the fighting was in eastern Cambodia, quite a number of refugees sought santuary in Vietnam. The Khmer Rouge aided by the Vietnamese gradually began to defeat Lon Nolís American aided in the fighting. The Morth Vietnmaese began to withdraw from Cambodia (late-1972). By this time the fighting was largely turned over to the KR (late-1972).

Kymer Rouge Regime (1975-78)

Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, after years of struggle, defeated the Cambodian military and seized the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh (April 17, 1975). The Khmer Rouge proceeded to close the country off from the rest of the world. What followed was one of the most sinister and senceless acts of terror in history--the Cambodian Genocide. It was the most massive crime ever committed by a government on its own people. The KR murdered abut 20 percent if its own people and enslaved most of the remaining people . The population became state slaves and because of the incoptent of the leadeship, the harvests wre so poor that wide-spread hunger and malnutition followed. The brutality and hunger only ended with a Vietnames invasion.

Sources

Dy, Khamboly. A History of Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979).







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Created: 10:11 PM 4/26/2006
Last updated: 9:44 PM 2/15/2015