News stories like this leave me angry, despairing . . . .

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by Neil Godfrey

Perhaps it’s because I’ve visited Cambodia a few times and have enjoyed some memorable conversations with some wonderful ordinary people-in-the-streets/villages there. Also no doubt because I’ve visited their horror sites, the places where the Khmer Rouge butchered countless people. Or is it because I’ve seen the many orphanages, the many maimed with stories to tell of the Khmer Rouge, the Vietnamese, the US bombing. Or is it because of the so many young people proportionate to old — you know why if you have the slightest knowledge of their history. The poverty, matched only by the friendliness, and the anxiety about criminals furtively working behind the scenes to take advantage of the vulnerable, especially children. Or is it the day I saw that group of “ugly American” tourists loudly demanding discounts at heritage sites because these fat, wealthy white intruders whose government bombed much of their land to a moonscape felt that as “seniors” they were entitled to entry-fee discounts! (I doubt most Cambodians can ever expect to live as long as most Americans anyway, but that’s beside the point.) But for whatever reasons, news stories like this provoke feelings of disgust in my stomach. . . .

US attempt to recoup Cambodian debt ‘cack-handed’: former Australian Ambassador

At the time, Hun Sen said the money his country owed the US was incurred by the Lon Nol government that came to power in a 1970 coup backed by Washington, and that it was spent on arms used against the Cambodian people.

The official US line was that the loan had been for agricultural development and that Cambodia had the means to repay.

Hun Sen raised the issue again this year, with Cambodian media reporting the PM as saying the US had no right to demand repayment of a debt that was “blood-stained” from the brutal US bombing of Cambodian territory during the Vietnam War.

Former Australian ambassador to Cambodia Tony Kevin said American activity in the early 1970s had done great harm to Cambodia, and it was well understood in foreign policy circles that it had contributed to rise of the Khmer Rouge.

Lon Nol was toppled in 1975 by the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge regime, under which an estimated 1.7 million people died in less than four years, plunging Cambodia into decades of poverty and political instability.

“At the same time the US was giving weapons to Lon Nol, it was bombing the Cambodian countryside into oblivion and creating millions of refugees fleeing into Phnom Penh and destroying all political fabric and civil life in the country,” Mr Kevin said.

“And all of this was simply to stop the supplies coming down to South Vietnam, as it was then, from the north.

“So the United States created a desert in Cambodia in those years, and Americans know this.”

. . . . . .”We all would have thought it inconceivable that the United States would be approaching Cambodia now in 2017, 50 years later, with such a bill,” he said.

A photo from that same news story that brought back powerful memories of my own:

My own recollection was of walking down a street that on one side for many hundreds of meters, perhaps even a few kilometres, were palatial mansions, high rises, exotic architecture, expensive cars in driveway; on the other side, dirt, faded grass planted with sticks and tin, torn canvasses and plastic for “homes” (shelters for sleeping at night), all the way along that same stretch of road: millionaires literally facing the beggars and destitute.

Of course the government protects corruption throughout society. That’s equally obvious to the casual visitor who cares to think for ten seconds about what he or she sees all around. (That’s most people, I’m sure, except for those “ugly Americans” and their ilk.)

And now Trump, and the demands for a paltry sum in the grand scheme of things.

What the hell is a white, western power doing over in this part of the planet in the first place, anyway?


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Neil Godfrey

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21 thoughts on “News stories like this leave me angry, despairing . . . .”

    1. From the same news story (“By Kerri Worthington and wires”) — I’ve bolded the Trump connection:

      “We all would have thought it inconceivable that the United States would be approaching Cambodia now in 2017, 50 years later, with such a bill,” he said.

      The current US Ambassador to Cambodia William Heidt was quoted in the Cambodia Daily newspaper as saying he had been involved in drafting a deal between the US and Cambodia two decades ago, but the issues remain unresolved.

      “I think that is unfortunate, I think that’s not in Cambodia’s best interest to keep letting that grow forever,” he was reported as saying.

      “It’s Cambodia’s interest not to look at the past, but to look at how to solve this because it’s important to Cambodia’s future.”

      Mr Kevin called the career diplomat’s credentials “impeccable” and said if Ambassador Heidt was raising the issue now, two years into his posting, it was most likely under direct instructions from the new Trump administration.

      “I can only say, if this is the case, it is absolutely cack-handed diplomacy, and I use those words with aforethought,” he said.

      “It’s entirely inappropriate for the United States to be asking Cambodia for any kind of loan recovery at this point.”

      “It’s unwise in terms of American foreign policy interests because Cambodia has been moving closer to China in recent years.

      “Nothing could be better guaranteed to lock Cambodia in behind China on issues like the South China Sea than to destroy any possibility for flexibility towards Cambodia on that issue than this demand for money. It’s just dumb.”


  1. This is just appalling. Here is the rationale, in language that could be spoken by any Mob boss, from testimony Sept. 30, 2010 before a US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs subcommittee on the topic of “Cambodia’s Small Debt: When Will the US Forgive?”, testimony of the Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, for the U.S. Department of State:

    (1) The risk of setting a bad example threatening collections of others, if governments of Third World countries today such as Cambodia are allowed to get away with not taxing their own people and cutting social services in order to pay debts to wealthy US- and other Western-world multinational creditors run up by past US-installed dictators in those countries:

    “The administration is concerned that creating a special statutory debt with option program for a country that is accumulating large arrears, despite payment capacity, sets a poor precedent for other countries in similar circumstances.”

    (2) Why squeeze Cambodia? As famous bank robber Willy Sutton explained quite logically when asked why he robbed banks, ‘because that is where the money is’:

    “I would say that the overriding factor on debt issues is the capacity to pay. And if you look where Iraq was, where
    countries like Egypt were, where they went when they had a debt program, they could not sustain the amount of debt they had, which was why debt reduction was possible for those countries. In the case of Cambodia, admittedly, they are a least developed country among them, but their capacity to pay is there in terms of foreign exchange earnings…”

    (3) What about the horrific bombing and deaths and destruction and havoc wreaked on Cambodia by the US at the time, resulting in the catastrophic deaths of huge numbers of Cambodia’s people with legacy including unexploded ordnance and maimed people continuing to the present day?

    “Mr. Chairman, in regard to that issue of what happens to the debt as it gets passed from one government to another, it is the policy of the U.S. Government and is standard international practice that whoever takes over the government assumes responsibility for all previous government…”

    There you have it Neil. Very logical.

    Words fail me. Powerful, eloquent post Neil.

  2. Personally, I think it’s all the fault of the royal astrologers who took Baby Sihanouk from his mother and sent him to live with his great-grandmother.

  3. Lest anyone suspect a tinge of anti-Americanism here, my snowflake sensitivities have been equally offended by certain aspects of the Australian government’s treatment of East Timor.

    1. Reading the latest news about the people the president is surrounding himself and how emboldened the nation’s racists (including many GOP leaders) have become, I don’t think calling the US a “white power” is inappropriate. I’m a heckuva lot more uncomfortable with the fact the US is becoming a “white power” than I am with anybody speaking up and calling it that.

      1. I get a bit tired of the ‘Trump is a racist’ meme. But it’s part and parcel of the whole mass hysteria surrounding Trump. The idea that the US is – just now – becoming a “white power” is laughable.

        1. Will “Western power” mollify the wounds? It’s just that when I visit those south-east Asian countries (and East Asian — including Japan and China) as an Australian/Westerner I do feel very “white” and “western” in the midst of everyone else. I cannot help but feel a racial kinship with the Anglo-Saxon world of the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, NZ….. — the reality is that I am a white westerner in the midst of a sea of Asian languages and body-types.

          Don’t take that as a racist thing. Racial, maybe, but not racist. I am, after all, married to one of those South-East Asians, am continually learning the language of her people/nation, and regularly visit and mingle with “them all” — as well as making regular trips to the regions of her neighbouring nations/languages, give or take a thousand kilometres or so.

          1. My comment is limited to Trump. The idea that he’s a racist in a meaningful sense – and not just, say, guilty of a metaphysical crime like ‘white privilege’ – isn’t borne out by the apparent facts. He’s a boorish New Yorker from Queens who spent most of his life as a Democrat, etc. But I’ve really no desire to debate the point, lost as it is in political hysteria.

            As to the other point, my issue is with the ‘becoming’. I take it as a given that the U.S. has acted – abominably – as a colonial power for more than a hundred years. And that this has very often been at the expense of non-whites. But the American population is blissfully divorced from any awareness of its own imperialism. Just look at all the cognitive dissonance still present when it comes to the Iraq War – or for that matter, 9/11, which to my mind is as mythical as the historical Jesus.

            Nonetheless, the notion that with Trump America is suddenly becoming racist is nonsense, especially in a period when there is more interracial marriage among poor whites and others than ever before.

            1. I certainly did not mean to suggest that “with Trump America is suddenly becoming racist” — I don’t believe I ever expressed such an idea. The powers driving US foreign policy or relations with other nations are way bigger than the person of Trump and long preceded him. I mentioned Trump because it does appear that a new twist of the knife has been ordered by him with respect to Cambodia.

              And yes, I also fully understand the blissful ignorance most Americans — and Australians, British, French, . . . — have concerning the harmful side of their impact on “less developed” nations of the world, both past and present.

              I hope you don’t find reasons to think my opinions are tinged with any form of bigoted or hostile “anti-Americanism”. I have also posted some historical information that is very critical of Israel’s history and it does frustrate me that some people are quick to accuse me of anti-semitism. And so it goes….

              1. Projecting a bit, Neil – I was replying to the comment above mine. As for anti-Americanism, I’m all for it when it’s accurate. Cheers.

        2. Trump may not be racist. But he has certainly used insulting language when speaking about certain ethnic groups. Such as his idiotic comments about Mexican immigrants in the U.S. Saying that Mexico is sending us their worst citizens, i.e. their rapists and murderers.

          And his assertion that a Mexican or Muslim judge couldn’t be fair or impartial in any matter involving himself.

          And no U.S. president in recent history has had as many openly white supremacists endorse him as Trump has. And I’m not suggesting that Trump is personally responsible for all of the idiots that choose to support him……but they apparently see something in his comments that they find admirable.

    1. And some of us were thinking the US is so very grateful to have such a faithful supportive ally that business was never for a moment on their mind when it came to blood-brother business.

  4. “What the hell is a white, western power doing over in this part of the planet in the first place, anyway?”

    Nothing you’d comprehend via scanning a corporate/political propaganda outlet and having kneejerk emotional reactions to stuff.

    Particularly kneejerk reactions installed and tweaked in you by the corporate/mainstream media for their own reasons and at their own leisure.

    Reactions that you believe are your own wonderful youthful idealism springing green and anew in your old heart.

    It amazes me how people who can be open minded and scholarly on just about every topic can suddenly turn into News Puppets when it comes to current events. I have to believe that you have no idea how thoroughly your reactions have been engineered…by people with their own reasons for doing so.

    FWIW, I did my Ph.D. at The Annenberg School (Penn). My first half dozen job offers while still a doctoral candidate included manipulating viewer trust for CBS’s research division in Manhattan and for CNN in Atlanta.

    The gullibility of otherwise intelligent people–and their desire to believe in themselves as saviors of others–have been manipulated endlessly in the past century. That you are blaming a “white, western power” for the activities of (((moneylenders))) as reflected by (((mass media))) lets me erase your blog from consideration. (I came here via Russell Gmirkin.)

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