Friday, October 20, 2006

On a different note...

Yes, I have lots of gushing to do about the utter fabulousness of my vacation. LOTS. As in, when I get back to home base, I'm going to go day by day and treat you to pictures, musings, and perhaps even very crude sketches of all I saw. You will likely find it painful, but I can't help myself. I like written records, and I like having as many of them, in as many different media, as humanly possible.

But what I really want to talk about for a second is politics. It's all very tenuous, rather uninformed theory, but I'm reading The Killing Fields by Christopher Hurdon. The introduction reads:

"This is a story of war and friendship, of the anguish of a ruined country and of one man's will to live. With these words the American journalist Sydney Schanberg began one of the most extraordinary documents to have come out of the war in Indochina.

It opened in war-torn Cambodia in August 1973. Since as long ago as 1968 there had been thousands of American B-52 bombing raids over Cambodian territory -- an attempt to dislodge the Vietcong who had established forward bases in the jungle from which to strike across the border at Saigon. Despite blanket bombing, and the replacement of Prince Sihanouk by the U.S.-backed government of Marshal Lon NOl, the Communists were making headway. Aided by North Vietnamese troops, the fanatical Khmer Rouge had beaten back Lon Nol's army to the Mekong River.

It was at this stage of the war that Sydney Schanberg persuaded the foreign desk of his newspaper the New York Times to take on an official stringer -- his Cambodian assistant Dith Pran. What happened to Schanberg and Pran, when the Khmer Rouge rebels overran the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh and instituted a reign of terror, was the true story Schanberg had to tell."

Passages of this book just sound hauntingly like what is happening in Iraq/the Middle East right now. Schanberg, watching a reporter, recounts the man's dispatch: "But, as a senior U.S. official put it to me last night, 'We know very damned little about the Khmer Rouge.'" How much do American politicians really know about the machinations in the Middle East? How much do they understand regional warlords and the inability to control certain areas of countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq?

Another section explains, "The final, last-minute plan, conceived by the French and backed both here and by Graham Martin, U.S. ambassador in Saigon, had been the bring back Sihanouk to form a coalition government in Phnom Penh. Sihanouk was willing. But the dead hand of the Nixon Doctrine could not drop Lon Nol now. The plan and fallen through, and with it, any real hope of a controlled solution in Cambodia."

Bush is not in Iraq, but his policies are, for better or for worse. There has been a spate of articles comparing the current situation in Iraq to the Tet Offensive and stalemate in Vietnam, and it's just made me wonder. Not many people in the U.S. at the time knew what was happening in Cambodia, and Schanberg explains the difficulty of getting his stories to press -- not just because of logistical problems, but because of the perception that the reports would undermine U.S. interests. Are we destroying other countries to get to Iraq? What is the real story? Will it take ten more years for us to find out?

So many more questions than answers.

No comments: