Accessed 01 August 2001
Undergraduate Political Science Honors Thesis:
The Khmer Rouge Canon 1975-1979:
The Standard Total Academic View on Cambodia
[The footnotes were incorrectly coded and I have not had time
to correct them all. If you are reading the whole of this thesis it would
be best to print out the footnote page.] Footnotes
Part 1 Part
2 Part 3 Part
4 Part 5
Department of Political Science
University of California, Berkeley
Ronald E. McNair Scholar
Academic Achievement Division
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
CHAPTER 2: ROMANTICIZING THE KHMER REVOLUTION
CHAPTER 3: THE CHOMSKY-LACOUTURE CONTROVERSY
CHAPTER 4: BEYOND THE STAV
CHAPTER 5: CONCLUSION
There can be no doubt but that this thesis would not have been
possible without the contributions of the following people. I
am delighted to acknowledge their contributions to this thesis.
For help in the early research phase of this thesis, I would like
to thank Professor Ben Kiernan of Yale University, Professor Laura
Summers of the University of Hull, and University of California
Indochina Archive Director Douglas Pike.
For research suggestions, materials, and references, I am eternally
grateful to Professor David P. Chandler of Monash University and
my dear friend Bruce Sharp. They were both always ready to help,
and only an e-mail away.
I am especially grateful to archivist Steve Denney of the Indochina
Archive for showing me the Cambodian vault and referring me to
the Chomsky-Lacouture Controversy over a year ago. Steve's great
advice was ubiquitous throughout this project.
For constructive criticism on an earlier draft of this thesis,
I am indebted to Dr. Marc Pizzaro and Andy Lei.
Last, but not least, this political science honors thesis would
not have been possible without the great inspiration of my advisor,
political science Professor Anthony James Gregor.
Although each of these contributors helped the final product,
they are in no way responsible for the views expressed or the
mistakes made by the author. The author alone is solely responsible
TO CAMBODIANISTS OF ALL PARTIES
How many of those who say they are unreservedly in support
of the Khmer revolution would consent to endure one hundredth
part of the present sufferings of the Cambodian people?
--François Ponchaud, 1977
So concludes François Ponchaud's Cambodia: Year Zero,
the first book to detail the "assassination of a people"
being perpetrated in the name of socialist revolution in Cambodia.
Hundreds of other books and articles on Cambodia have been published
since 1977. Many have focused on the period during which the Red
Cambodians or "Khmer Rouge" controlled the country which
they renamed "Democratic Kampuchea" between 1975 and
1978. Under the Khmer Rouge, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians
died from execution, forced labor, disease and starvation. Since
it will never be possible to ascertain the exact number of deaths,
estimates fall on a range. Michael Vickery estimates 750,000 deaths,
while Ben Kiernan adds to that another 800,000. Karl Jackson puts
the figure near 1.3 million,
while the Campaign to Oppose the Return of the Khmer Rouge (CORKR)
claims at least 1.5 million deaths. The Khmer revolution was perhaps
the most pernicious in history; reversing class order, destroying
all markets, banning private property and money. It is one worth
studying for the ages, not for what it accomplished, but for what
The idea for this thesis grew from research into Cambodia's economic
development and history for a simultaneous economics honors thesis.
In particular, a 1979 book entitled Kampuchea: Rationale for
a Rural Policy by Malcolm Caldwell, was my first glimpse into
a community of academics, I had no idea existed. To be sure, this
community was not some extreme "fringe" faction of Cambodian
scholars, but virtually all of them.
In other words, their view of the Khmer revolution ergo the Khmer
Rouge, became the Standard Total Academic View on Cambodia or
the STAV. These scholars, many
of whom worked for the Berkeley-based antiwar Indochina Resource
Center, became the Khmer Rouge's most effective apologists in
the West. While they expressed
unreserved support for the Khmer revolution, fully twenty percent
of the Cambodian population may have perished due to execution,
forced labor, illness, and malnutrition during the period 1975-1979.
From periodicals such as the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars
and Current History to books like Cambodia: Starvation
and Revolution and Kampuchea: Rationale for a Rural Policy,
an unequivocal record of complicity existed between a generation
of academics who studied Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge.
Reading Karl Jackson's Cambodia: 1975-1978 (1989), a footnote
revealed that debate among scholars of contemporary Cambodia in
the West, during the late 1970s, included "sympathetic treatment"
of the Pol Pot-Ieng Sary regime, namely the Khmer Rouge. The unassuming
footnote, reprinted here, came from Timothy Carney's essay entitled,
Some representative points of view on the Pol Pot regime would
include, on the critical side, Shawcross 1976a and 1978a and Lacouture
1977a, 1977b, and 1978. Sympathetic treatment is in Porter
and Hildebrand 1976 and Summers 1975 and 1976. Also of interest
is Chomsky and Herman 1977. Works by authors with greater background
or better judgment in Cambodian affairs include Ponchaud 1976
and 1978 and Chandler 1977. Since 1979, in any case, few have
remained sympathetic to the Democratic Kampuchea regime, as incontrovertible
evidence has detailed its brutality, dwarfing even Stalin's
excesses. [Emphasis added.]
The list took on a life of its own, as the pieces to the puzzle
of "Who, in academia, supported the Khmer Rouge?" came
together. Here was, in effect, the origin of the "Khmer Rouge
Canon". When Jean Lacouture published a book review of Ponchaud's
Cambodia: Year Zero in 1977, he touched off an intense
debate with American academic cum activist Noam Chomsky. Chomsky,
who is a distinguished linguist, found erratas in both Lacouture's
review and Ponchaud's book. In a series of polemical exchanges
that were sometimes public, other times private, Chomsky referred
to these mistakes as examples of deception and fraud that fueled
anti-revolutionary propaganda against the Khmer Rouge by the media.
Together with Edward S. Herman, Chomsky published an article in
mid-1977 in the Nation, entitled "Distortions at Fourth
Hand" that became the centerpiece of his argument against
the media's frenzy over Pol Pot.
Two years later, after the Pol Pot-Ieng Sary regime was toppled
by Vietnam, the Nation article was followed by a book that
continued to express doubt about the truthfulness of "alleged"
Khmer Rouge crimes.
Between 1975 and 1979, "the movement of solidarity with the
peoples of Kampuchea and Indochina as a whole"
as described by of one of its members, Gavin McCormick, vociferously
defended the Kampuchean revolution and its perpetrators. To be
sure, there have been very few articles or books on this topic,
since it is so unpleasant for those Ponchaud bluntly characterized
as "unreservedly in support of the Khmer revolution,"
to be reminded of their responsibility in what Jean Lacouture
has called "the murder of a people." The study of this
movement is considered by some, especially those who continue
to support Chomsky, to be wholly outside Cambodian studies. They
suggest that it is more in line with American studies since Chomsky
attacked the Western media's propaganda machine as it gravitated
around the "evils of communism."
This thesis seeks to dispel this mitigating advance in favor of
a wider Canon for pro-Khmer Rouge literature published between
1975 and 1979. "The Khmer Rouge Canon 1975-1979," unlike
other canons, is not an official list of works in this
case, since no one has ever agreed to one (Carney's list is a
small exception). For a work to be listed and reviewed in the
"Khmer Rouge Canon" requires that it have been written
in the period 1975 to 1979 and, of course, have supported, whether
explicitly or implicitly, the policies of the Khmer Rouge (hence
the inclusion of Chomsky's and Herman's work). A second criterion
involves the nature of the publication, namely print; the work
must have been published in a reasonably well-known English-language
periodical (Current History, the Nation, etc.),
a monograph (Malcolm Cadwell's South-East Asia by Cook
University), or a book (Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution
and After the Cataclysm). Beyond this requirement is the
obvious need for the author of this thesis to have read that particular
work in order to be able to review it. Of course, there are countless
dissertations, newsletter articles (such as those in News from
Kampuchea and News from Democratic Kampuchea), and
other journal articles (from the Journal of Contemporary Asia)
that will not be covered because they were unavailable or would
have required extensive treatment or for lack of time. The Khmer
Rouge Canon is by no means exhaustive, far too many other Indochina
scholars deserve to be canonized, yet because of circumstances
will have to wait.
This partial Canon offers a glimpse into the assumptions and logic,
evidence and arguments that a generation of Western scholars used
to defend the Khmer Rouge or rationalize their policies during
the mid-to-late 1970s. Together, they created the standard total
academic view. This glimpse, whether representative or not, is
in and of itself a testament to Khmer Rouge's charm over academia.
This thesis seeks to answer the following questions on the STAV:
First, in what military-political context did it develop? Second,
what are examples of STAV scholarship, who made them, what arguments
did they make, and why? Third, how does the Chomsky-Herman thesis
fit in, differ from or was similar to the standard total academic
view? Fourth, beyond the STAV, what were the counter-arguments,
and for the members of the STAV scholars, Summers, Caldwell, Hildebrand,
Porter, Chomsky, and Herman, what was the continuity and change
in their political thinking (using Vickery's STV typology)?
In sum, this thesis deconstructs the standard total academic view
on Cambodia and constructs the foundation for the Khmer Rouge
This foundation to the Canon is composed of, among numerous other
works, Laura Summers' "Consolidating the Revolution"
(December 1975) and "Defining the Revolutionary State in
Cambodia" (December 1976) in Current History, George
C. Hildebrand's and Gareth Porter's sine qua non of the
STAV: Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution (1976), Torben
Retbøll's "Kampuchea and the Reader's Digest"
in the Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars (July-September
1979) and Malcolm Caldwell's towering essay "Cambodia: Rationale
for A Rural Policy" in Malcolm Cadwell's South-East Asia
(1979). To this list chapter 3 will add Noam Chomsky's and Edward
Herman's masterful "Distortions at Fourth Hand" in the
Nation (June 25, 1977) and After the Cataclysm (1979),
though Chomsky and Herman are mindful to state that they are by
no means defending the Khmer Rouge nor "pretend to know where
the truth lies," though most of what they do is to rehash
the Hildebrand and Porter line in a more palatable design. Together,
they are a significant body of scholarship from the STAV.
Three works come to mind with respect to how different facets
of the STAV has been explored previously, William Shawcross' essay
"Cambodia: Some Perceptions of a Disaster," in Revolution
and its Aftermath in Kampuchea (1983),
Stephen J. Morris' essay "Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, and Cornell"
in the National Interest (Summer 1989), and Geoffrey C.
Gunn and Jefferson Lee's Cambodia Watching Down Under (1991).
Shawcross and Morris, two individuals one would expect to find
on separate divides, essentially agree that the Left failed--for
one reason or another--to become a moral force with respect to
Cambodia until 1979. This while some on the Left, particularly
those in STAV, zealously defended the Khmer revolution. Shawcross
focuses on the Chomsky-Herman thesis, while Morris tackles Cornell's
ties to the Khmer Rouge. Gunn and Lee offer a exhaustive though
curiously insensitive view of the Australian connection to Democratic
The context within which Khmer Rouge support incubated was the
Vietnam War. To understand how students and scholars, presumed
to be detached from peasant concerns, could have found solidarity
with the peoples of Kampuchea and Indochina as a whole, one must
first bear in mind the political atmosphere and conditioning from
which grew the yoke of radical revolutionary support. It would
be facile to strip the words of these academics from the context
of history, a practice not unlike that being undertaken by current
revisionists. But at the same time, these same activists cum academics
must accept responsibility for how they reached their conclusions--namely
the validity and credibility of the evidence they unceremoniously
attacked when at the same time they (quite hypocritically) accepted
Khmer Rouge leaders Ieng Sary's or Khieu Samphan's utterances
as words to live by. Notwithstanding the pro-revolutionary ideological
framework from which they were taught to think, including the
strife-ridden 1960s and 1970s, one must still wonder how those
who studied Cambodia and ostensibly loved her most in the West,
became supporters of her worst enemy?
By the 1970 Kent State killings of four students, these more extreme
elements of the STAV saw U.S. intervention not only as a mistake
that had to be stopped and stopped now, but increasingly inched
toward the maquis. After the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia
in 1979, many of these activists, scholars, and academics were
forced to choose between supporting their old friends, namely
the Vietnamese communists or Democratic Kampuchea, which would
have implicitly meant supporting the Khmer Rouge to varying degrees.
That was what Gunn and Lee have called the "two-sided switch."
Yet even before that split, there was already division in the
antiwar movement. Gunn and Lee describe it:
The first was the split within the left-liberal camp in the US.
This was symbolized by the action of singer and civil rights activist
Joan Baez in supporting a full page advertisement in the New
York Times condemning Vietnam's re-education camps and human
rights abuses. Her sources of information included recently resettled
refugees in America who had undergone incarceration despite their
anti-American activism and NLF sympathies in the pre-1975 period.
The result was splintering of the Indochina Lobby with pro-Hanoi
hardliners increasingly condoning Vietnam's slide into the Moscow
Douglas Pike, Indochina Archive director at UC Berkeley, fondly
recalls a conference of antiwar activists not long after the New
York Times advertisement appeared which turned into a shouting
match between doves who now could not agree with one another on
whether to support or condemn Hanoi. He may have been facetious,
but Pike, who became famous for being an outspoken State Department
hawk, saw more fury between them than he had ever seen between
hawks and doves. There was no lost love between either side, to
be sure, but one would perhaps have expected more civility from
"pacifists." As lines were drawn and crossed in the
Third Indochina Conflict (the invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam),
similar lines were drawn in the West as well, where a distinctly
pro-Hanoi faction critical of the Khmer Rouge formed, leaving
behind only the truest believers in Pol Pot (i.e., the last of
STAV scholars). Like F.A.
Hayek's dedication of his classic 1944 treatise The Road to
Serfdom to "Socialists of all parties," this thesis
is about some of these same socialists.
Those who romanticized the Kampuchean revolution and upheld the
standard total academic view in the years following "liberation"
as they always referred it (covered in chapter 2), were young,
idealistic scholars, like Laura Summers and Gareth Porter both
from Cornell's South-East Asia Program (Albert Gore and Bill Clinton
are from their generation), all of whom were baby boomers who
had grown-up in the postwar era to a quagmire in Vietnam. This
generation of Indochina academics, specialists on Cambodia, were
very peculiar from those of the preceding generation, because
they were far more mesmerized by the idea of a peasant revolution.
Chapter 2 of this thesis, entitled "Romanticizing the Khmer
Revolution" is about the STAV scholars on Cambodia. It includes
a brief review of Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan's conclusions
in his economics doctoral dissertation: "Cambodia's Economy
and Problems of Industrialization,"
as a backdrop to why they may have gotten attracted to the Khmer
Rouge. For instance, Laura Summers, who partially translated the
thesis in 1976 for the Berkeley-based antiwar group Indochina
Resource Center (later renamed Southeast Asia Resource Center,
then eventually disbanded) had already expressed unflinching support
for the revolution in late 1975 and 1976. Her articles in Current
History, titled "Consolidating the Revolution" and
"Defining the Revolutionary State" are reviewed. An
overview of the arguments in Gareth Porter and George C. Hildebrand's
Cambodia: Starvation and Revolution, published in 1976
by the Marxist Monthly Review Press, follows Summers' articles.
Also discussed in chapter 2 is Malcolm Caldwell, a scholar Gunn
and Lee bestow the dubious distinction of being "Democratic
Kampuchea's leading academic supporter."
His life cut short by a Khmer Rouge's bullet (in a strange twist
of fate), Caldwell was the founder of the Journal of Contemporary
Asia, a periodical explicitly committed to supporting revolutionary
movements in Asia and the author of Cambodia in the Southeast
Asian War (1973) and several long essays on Cambodia's post-revolutionary
development, such as "Cambodia: Rationale for a Rural Policy,"
published posthumously in 1979. The reader will see that the mistake
made by each of these authors is academic. They question the validity
of sources Khmer Rouge critics are using, but hypocritically take
prima facie the claims by Khmer Rouge leaders like Ieng
Sary and Khieu Samphan. They romanticize the revolution in the
theoretically palatable thesis of Khieu Samphan, or Hou Youn,
but do so at arms-length. Blinded by their own ideological biases,
they believe themselves to be objective despite employing some
very poor sources and methods.
In chapter 3, the Chomsky-Lacouture Controversy is reconstructed.
It is more a Ponchaud- Barron-Paul-Lacouture-Chomsky-Herman Controversy,
to be sure, but that would sound tediously long. In early 1977,
François Ponchaud wrote the first book detailing the struggle,
under socialism, of the Cambodian people. That year, Barron and
Paul published their own book, Murder of a Gentle Land
(1977) an equally if not more damning broadside against the Khmer
revolution and the Khmer Rouge. Ponchaud and Barron-Paul were
among the first to see to sound the alarm on Cambodia. In 1976,
Ponchaud had written in Mondes Asiatiques about the nature
of the Khmer revolution. After
publishing his book, it was reviewed favorably by Jean Lacouture,
but that review got a broadside from the leading, most intellectually
formidable member of the antiwar movement, Noam Chomsky. At the
May Hearings in 1977 on Human Rights in Cambodia, Gareth
Porter trashed Ponchaud his uncritical use of refugees in Cambodia:
Year Zero. A polemical exchange ensued among Chomsky, Lacouture, Ponchaud, and Bob Silvers, then editor of the New York Review
of Books which had translated the Lacouture review titled
"The Bloodiest Revolution."
The Porter-Chomsky-Herman objections were numerous, but still
Chomsky and Herman admitted that Ponchaud's book was "serious
and worth reading" though full of discrepancies and unreliable
refugee reports which were contradicted by other refugees (who,
for instance, had said that they had walked across the country
and seen no dead bodies). This was vindication of the Khmer Rouge--reports
of having seen no evil nor heard any evil. The Porter-Chomsky-Herman
logic in a nutshell: Refugees are run away because they are displeased,
thus will exaggerate, especially over time, if not lie about "alleged
atrocities" altogether. Chomsky and Herman call for "care
and caution," nothing short of patronizing to today's refugees
from Guatemala, or El Salvador, or yesterday's from Auschwitz.
Chomsky and Herman latched onto a number of media mistakes which
include three fake photographs, a fake interview with Khieu Samphan,
and a handful of misquotations. A little more fairly treated was
Ponchaud's book, but the erratas first discovered by Ben Kiernan
were blown out of proportion in Chomsky and Herman's review of
the Ponchaud book for the Nation and repeated verbatim
two years later in After the Cataclysm (1979).
Chapter 4 of this thesis, titled "Beyond the STAV,"
analyzes the aftermath of what amounted to a parenthetical note
in the history of Western academia. Counterevidence is presented
in three successive rounds: (1) Accuracy in Media's analysis of
human rights in the news for 1976, (2) positive and negative coverage
of Cambodia from a variety of news sources for 1977, (3) William
Shawcross' test of the Chomsky-Herman thesis for 1975-1979. Following,
the continuity and change in political thinking for each canonized
STAV scholar is reviewed. To give a sense of possible outcomes,
Michael Vickery's Standard Total View typology is used, namely
that they (1) accepted, or (2) partially accepted, or (3) mostly
rejected the idea that the STV that Ponchaud-Barron-Paul-Lacouture
It is within this context that the conclusion, in chapter 5, attempts
to weave common threads in the arguments of Summers, Caldwell,
Hildebrand, Porter, Chomsky, and Herman. Only after having fully
absorbed their impact can the reader pass judgment on the significance
of their contributions to the "Khmer Rouge Canon." What
will emerge from this is the picture of a community of academics
too consumed by the need to prove their theories supporting peasant
revolutions to realize the consequences of their actions.
Universities are based on the illimitable freedom of the human
mind. For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may
lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free
to combat it.
Our story begins, fittingly so, in the ivory towers of some of
the world's finest universities. At the Sorbonne (University of
Paris), for instance, where would-be Khmer Rouge leaders like
Khieu Samphan, Hu Nim, and Hou Youn acquired their ideological
training courtesy of the French communist party, and at Cornell
University, where a generation of Cambodianists were increasingly
attuned to revolutionary causes and movements. Stephen J. Morris
reveals the legacy of the South-East Asia Program's (SEAP) at
Cornell in his National Interest essay entitled "Ho
Chi Minh, Pol Pot, and Cornell."
A cursory look at Morris' article shows the enormity of his thrust.
He unravels a sordid tale of revolutionary fanaticism at Cornell's
SEAP from the 1960s though the 1970s. Morris's censure starts
at the very top with politics Professor George McTurnin Kahin
and ends with Kahin's students. Some of his milder critics argue
that his article lacks historical context. In order to avoid this
pitfall, the following section discusses this context.
The Political Context
In the late 1960s to the early 1970s, while the United States
was still in Vietnam, American B-52s began massive "secret"
bombings to eliminate North Vietnamese sanctuaries in Cambodia.
In The Rise and Demise of Democratic Kampuchea, Craig Etcheson
The fact is that the United States dropped three times the quantity
of explosives on Cambodia between 1970 and 1973 that it had dropped
on Japan for the duration of World War II. Between 1969 and 1973,
539,129 tons of high explosives rained down on Cambodia; that
is more than one billion pounds. This is equivalent to some 15,400
pounds of explosives for every square mile of Cambodian territory.
Considering that probably less than 25 percent of the total area
of Cambodia was bombed at one time or another, the actual explosive
force per area would be at least four times this level.
This gave rise to a slew of American and Australian critics early
on such as Noam Chomsky and Wilfred Burchett.
Later, British journalist William Shawcross made quite a name
for himself for his Far Eastern Economic Review article
entitled "Cambodia: The verdict is guilty on Nixon and Kissinger"
and his acclaimed Sideshow: Nixon, Kissinger, and the Destruction
of Cambodia (1978). In both, Shawcross advances a "cause
and effect" hypothesis that in essence condemns "Nixinger"
foreign policy for creating the Khmer Rouge. Gunn and Lee (1991)
offer insights into this bent, they write, "But if the mainstream
press and academic interest had turned away from Cambodia in the
wake of US retreat, leftist interest had been passionately ignited
by the violence of the US saturation bombing of Cambodia."
Those who became "passionately ignited," grew ever more
eager to see the maquis triumph in Cambodia.
Before constructing the Khmer Rouge Canon, we must first deconstruct
the ideological framework "thought" to have guided the
Khmer Rouge once they took power. Surely, had the world known
of what would become of postwar Cambodia, few scholars or academics
would have sympathized with the Khmer Rouge cause. What drew the
young, idealistic students of Cambodia to it? It was the duality
of peasants driven by academic cum revolutionary concerns. Additionally,
any struggle against neo-colonialism would have made friends of
STAV scholars who shared these values. At least part of the awe
expressed for the Khmer Rouge leadership by the STAV scholars
lay in its equally educated background. Khmer Rouge would-be leaders
like Khieu Samphan, Hu Nim, and Hou Youn (who, like Trotsky, would
be eliminated in purges) all received doctorates in economics
or law from the University of Paris. These were, of course, the
intellectual figureheads, not the anti-intellectual masterminds
like Saloth Sar (known by his nom de guerre as Pol Pot),
Son Sen, Nuon Chea, Ke Pauk, Mok, and Ieng Thirith.
Professor Chandler points out the "old canard" one too
easily falls into every now and then, when one assumes that because
of intellectuals like Khieu Samphan and Hou Youn, the Khmer Rouge
were somehow an intellectually driven bunch. He writes,
The idea that a Ph.D. thesis forms the basis for a revolution
is an example of academic folie de grandeur, from which
I suffer occasionally myself. What built the Cambodian Communist
party in my view was the phenomenon of continuing warfare in Indochina
between 1945 and 1970. The party enjoyed Vietnamese patronage
throughout this period. Those trained in France inhaled fumes
from the French Communist Party. Mao helped. But the Khmer Rouge
were never intellectually based. Khieu Samphan was and is, to
his metaphors, the dog running in front of Pol Pot and other anti-intellectuals
who wield power in the CPK [Communist Party of Kampuchea].
Also, it seemed that their developmental strategy for Cambodia
matched those of French-trained Marxist theorists like Amin Samir,
one of the eminence to the World-Systems theory that called for
autarkic development in the Third World. In this heretofore exploitation-exploited
schema, where underdevelopment grows from the yoke of capitalism
and international integration, a less-developed country can expect
to develop only if it severs itself from the World-System (that
is, the world itself). For Khieu Samphan, autarkic development
was renamed "conscious, autonomous development" to make
it appear more palatable. Later, conscious, autonomous development
was re-christened "self-reliance."
In September 1976, over a year after the Khmer Rouge took power,
the Berkeley-based Indochina Resource Center (IRC) published a
partial translation of Khieu Samphan's 1959 economics dissertation.
At the time, it was meant as a vision into the new Kampuchea.
Virtually no one recognizes that vision as the master plan for
Cambodia, but the standard total academic view held that it was.
In this sense, what the Khmer Rouge actually did or thought does
not matter--at least not for our purpose here--since this is a
study of the STAV on Cambodia, thus a study of Cambodian studies.
Summers' abridged translation intended to offer the world a peek
into the mysterious Khmer Rouge and their plans for Cambodia.
Khieu Samphan's dissertation is unrevolutionary in most instances,
though it exudes the same young, graduate student's "humanitarian
socialist ideals" that inspired other graduate students studying
the Cambodia years later. For our purpose, what IRC circles believed
was a plan for the postwar years, is sufficient to represent the
standard total academic view. Of course, the dissertation being
tame relative to the Kampuchea's reality shows how far they off
the mark. Yet, from that dissertation, of which the conclusion
follows, the reader can see how the STAV perceived the Khmer revolution.
Khieu Samphan's conclusion states that:
The task of industrializing Cambodia would appear above all else
a prior, fundamental decision: development within the framework
of international integration, that is, within the framework of
free external trade, or autonomous development.
International integration has apparently erected rigid restrictions
on the economic development of the country. Under the circumstances,
electing to continue development within the framework of international
integration means submitting to the mechanism whereby handicrafts
withered away, precapitalist structure was strengthened and economic
life was geared in one-sided fashion to export production and
hyperactive intermediary trade. Put another way, agreeing to international
integration means accepting the mechanism of structural adjustment
of the now underdeveloped country to requirements of the now dominant,
developed economies. Accepting international integration amounts
to accepting the mechanism by which structural disequilibria deepens,
creating instability that could lead to violent upheaval if it
should become intolerable for an increasingly large portion of
the population. Indeed, there is already consciousness of the
contradictions embodied in world market integration of the economy.
Self-conscious, autonomous development is therefore objectively
necessary. . . .
In the first instance, Samphan offers two possible paths: "international
integration" or "autonomous development". Because
of conditions imposed on the country by the "international
integration" method of development, Samphan argues, atavistic
modes of production are amplified. How does he reach that particular
finding? By going back to the late 19th century, when the industrialized
French penetrated the pre-industrial Cambodian economy, Samphan
asserts that this disruption stopped the course of development
for Cambodia. In other words, French colonization derailed the
Cambodian economy. Using balance of trade and composition of trade
analysis, to make his case, Samphan concludes that exploitation
takes place when Cambodia and France trade, and that peasants
too are exploited by urban elite who buy imported luxury goods
which deplete foreign exchange reserves. Hence, the contention
that "structural disequilibria" from "international
integration" would lead to "social upheaval ... for
an increasingly large portion of the population." In other
words, revolution. It seemed to make sense to the person who translated
the thesis, Laura Summers, and still others who admired it, Malcolm
Caldwell and Ben Kiernan, just to name two others.
Thus, the conclusion "objectively" reached, meant that
"self-conscious, autonomous development", i.e., autarky
or "self-reliance" was the answer. It would be facile
to ridicule this notion in this day and age, but in the context
of economic history, autarkic development cast a spell on young,
idealistic students who had grown increasingly critical of the
"neo-colonial world", in their words. As they looked
elsewhere for space to forge ahead, their eyes stopped on Cambodia,
where a fresh revolution had taken place, and its charming leaders
had closed the country to the rest of the world. They were in
love. As professor Chandler says, it is an "old canard"
to place too much emphasis on Khieu Samphan's thesis as the master
plan, since, of course, the Khmer Rouge followed their own anti-intellectual
national development policy of slavery; but for our purpose, what
matters here is not what the Khmer Rouge thought or actually did
vis-à-vis the economy, but what the STAV scholars believed
was happening. Equally inspiring to these scholars was Hou Youn's
dissertation, "Kampuchea's Peasants and the Rural Economy."
Like Khieu Samphan, Hou Youn stressed the exploitative dimensions
of trade, not just between countries, but urban and rural regions.
Siding with the peasant's plight, Hou Youn decried the "thievery"
that took place when "The tree grows in the rural areas,
but the fruit goes to the towns."
With this in mind, we turn momentarily to the military context
of how the Khmer Rouge came to power.
The Rise of Democratic Kampuchea
Cambodia is the transliterated name of Cambodja, the remnants
of a once mighty Khmer empire that stretched out over much of
Southeast Asia. Cambodia's contemporary history began with its
colonization by France in 1883. Independence came after World
War II, in 1953, and until 1970, Cambodia was a constitutional
monarchy. The coup d'etat which deposed Prince Norodom
Sihanouk on March 18, 1970, brought to power the pro-American
prime minister Lon Nol. Sihanouk, who has never been known to
give up easily, immediately began a crusade to regain his country.
Believing, like General Motors, that "What's good for GM,
is good for America," Sihanouk believed that "What was
good for Sihanouk, would be good for Cambodia." He created
the resistance/maquis known as the National United Front for Kampuchea
(FUNK) soon after his overthrow. FUNK was a coalition of communists
and royalists. For the next five years, Cambodia was mired in
wars on several fronts, both internally and externally.
[The] FUNK joined Vietnamese and Laotian communists on the "single
battlefield" to struggle against "U.S. imperialism"
under the banner of the United Front of the Three Indochinese
People (UFTIP). Militarily, this entailed combined military operations--that
is, guerrilla, conventional or proxy military action as was expedient
and/or possible--conducted from "liberated" areas of
These "liberated" areas grew as it became clear that
America would pursue a "retreat with honor" policy with
respect to South Vietnam. By 1973, when the bombings on Cambodia
had reached their zenith, PFLANK, the military wing of FUNK, "launched
its first full-scale `solo' offensive." Though
was by no means a success, the "real significance of this
offensive was political."
This was significant politically in the sense that Pol Pot's no-compromise
policy, according to Etcheson, took center-stage for the communists
who were becoming the real brains behind FUNK.
The Rise of the Standard Total Academic View on Kampuchea
The rise of Democratic Kampuchea paralleled that of a new consensus
among scholars who studied Cambodia. Many had grown hysterical
against the war and destruction of 1970-1975, and looked forward
to the FUNK's victory. As increasing specie-speculation and corruption
combined with large infusions of U.S. aid brought the economy
into hyperinflation, the national product: rice, became increasingly
scarce because of the war-destruction of agricultural capacity.
Shells reigned down on Phnom Penh for two months before April
1975, the beginning of a new lunar year for Cambodians, and the
start of Year Zero for the Khmer Rouge. "Two thousand years
of Cambodian history have virtually ended," declared Phnom
Penh Radio in January 1976.
Cambodia's rebirth into Democratic Kampuchea would make heavy
use of self-reliance. To almost all the scholars who had studied
Cambodia, this made sense. Not just for its economics, which had
been "objectively" proven by Khieu Samphan, but for
its international politics too. David Chandler who briefly toyed
with the standard total academic view, wrote in April 1977, "In
the Cambodian case, in 1976, autarky makes sense, both in terms
of recent experience--American intervention, and what is seen
as Western-induced corruption of previous regimes--and in terms
of Cambodia's long history of conflict with Vietnam."
That foreign policy dimension to self-reliance, became the justification
for closing Cambodia's doors to all foreigners. Toward that end,
Laura Summers, a lecturer in the politics department at the University
Lancaster, England, began her apologia for Khmer Rouge activities.
A graduate of the South-East Asia Program at Cornell, Summers
authored two articles in Current History about Cambodia.
These articles, entitled "Cambodia: Consolidating the Revolution"
and "Defining the Revolutionary State in Cambodia,"
were published in December 1975 and December, 1976, respectively.
She was in England during these years, a point which will undermine
her work and that of many other STAV scholars canonized in this
thesis. She did not fieldwork, interviewed no Cambodians for either
articles. Summers' first article "Cambodia: Consolidating
the Revolution," ranks among the first attempts by scholars
of her generation to justify the Khmer revolution that was achieved
with the April 17th, 1975 fall of Phnom Penh to the FUNK.
The Khmers could not be certain about whether the [alleged American
intelligence] document [regarding sabotage operations] contained
authentic plans or speculative, contingency proposals. What was
certain was the tenacious and frequently violent insistence of
American governments upon controlling the course of Khmer politics.
First, she makes no distinction between "Khmers," FUNK,
Khmer Rouge--presumably they are one and the same. She takes at
face value Khmer Rouge vice-premier Ieng Sary's explanation that
documents of American sabotage were authentic. Becoming a virtual
mouthpiece for the Khmer Rouge, she writes,
For Khmers who survived [the legacy of U.S. policies -- 600,000
killed, prolonged suffering and incidental charity], the awesome
task was to transform accumulated bitterness and suffering into
impetus for socio-economic reconstruction of the country all while
normalising the country's foreign relations to prevent further
Praising the Khmer Rouge for their rice farming techniques, as
Porter and Hildebrand would do in Cambodia: Starvation and
Revolution in 1976, and justifying the need for the evacuation
of Phnom Penh based on the fact that 3 million people would now
have to be fed by the new regime, Summers contends that "[the]
heavy [U.S.] bombing deterred many from voting with their feet
until the day of liberation."
There is, she writes authoritatively, "little evidence of
famine" although "food allowances in the solidarity
groups are small." On
the positive side, "rice substitutes" are being grown,
and the "end of war also means greater security for fishing
and livestock industries."
Her analysis of Cambodia's agricultural and industrial prospects
leave much to be desired too. She does not cite any sources, official
or otherwise, which would certainly cast doubt on how she procured
her information. Despite this, she concludes that in Democratic
Kampuchea, "Life is without doubt confusing and arduous in
many regions of the country, but current hardships are probably
less than those endured during the war. It is mistaken to interpret
postwar social disorganization or confusion as nascent opposition
to the revolution."
Laura Summers, who had been to Cambodia once before 1975, on a
brief visit, knew very little of the hardships before "liberation"
much less afterwards. She explains that,.
Thus far, few Khmers have left the country and many of these are
former officers from Lon Nol's army or former civil servants who
fear prosecution for wartime activities. No war crimes trials
have, in fact, come to light probably because of an RGNU [Royal
Government of National Union, i.e., the Khmer Rouge] decision
to avoid deepening internal socio-political conflicts and bitterness
in a time of reconstruction.
Her naïveté is mind-boggling here, Summers assumes
that those who wished to leave were actually allowed to do so,
not to speak of the total and unnecessary use of tribunals for
which the Khmer Rouge could very easily have simply been judge
and executioner at once.
In discussing Cambodia's foreign policy, the French Embassy and
the Mayagez Affairs, Summers, of course, sides with the FUNK whom
she knew were the Khmer Rouge. For our purpose here, a brief discussion
of the French embassy incident will suffice. Before the Khmer
Rouge "liberated" Phnom Penh, the French government
had already discussed normalizing relations with them. Thus, the
French did not intend to leave their embassy. "Hundreds of
Frenchmen who had earlier refused to leave the country, journalists
of several nationalities, Cambodian officials of the defeated
military regime and diplomats from other foreign missions including
the Soviet embassy, sought and received shelter from the French."
This infuriated the Khmer Rouge, with whom she concurred. Diplomatic
protocol would have forced the French to close down the embassy
and re-open after the re-establishment of relations. Why had the
government of France attempted such fraud? She explains, "Unhappy
over the prospect of losing its remaining neo-colonial privileges,
France hoped to maintain its large cultural mission in Cambodia
and sought compensation for nationalized rubber plantations."
Again, one must wonder how she arrive at such creative and perceptive
Throughout the article permeates a sense of disproportion. For
instance, Summers speaks of massive resettlement as though it
were a normal affair. Her nonchalant treatment of evacuations
stands in stark contrast to the seething sarcasm she expresses
towards French and American actions with respect to the Royal
Government of National Union (RGNU), the regime name for FUNK
(which took power). "Cambodia: Consolidating the Revolution"
ended on another of many positive notes. The overall foreign policy
of Democratic Kampuchea is praised, and its impact on the region
assessed. "Among Asians, if not among other [sic],
Khmer desires for peace and respect have been recognized and reciprocated."
Laura Summers' defense of the new Kampuchea is multifaceted. From
domestic to foreign policy, the Khmer Rouge could do no wrong.
She does a fantastic job of rationalizing away the more awkward
Khmer Rouge policies such as expelling all foreigners. They were
expelled, she argues, for historical reasons. After years of abuse
by her neo-colonial master, who could blame Cambodia for wanting
to kick the foreigners out? Her apologetics obfuscate the fragmentary
reports coming of refugees who were, in fact, fleeing the country.
Later, she suggests that they have reasons to lie: collaborators
with the ancien regime perhaps? or worse, the discredited
Americans! What emerges from this first English-language essay
on the new Kampuchea is the picture of a still idyllic revolutionary
State, divorced from reality.
Defining the Revolutionary State
In her second Current History article regarding the new
Kampuchea, published in December 1976, Summers is more reserved
in her alacrity to praise Khmer Rouge accomplishments. One might
call it cautious but very optimistic. In contradistinction, David
Chandler, who felt the obligation to give the new leaders of Cambodia
the benefit of the doubt, put it this way:
Can the regime recapture the grandeur of Angkor [in which the
great temples were built in the 12th century] without duplicating
the slavery (and by implication, the elite ) that made Angkor
what it was? Is the price for liberation, in human terms, too
high? Surely, as a friend of mine has written, we Americans with
our squalid record in Cambodia should be "cautiously optimistic"
about the new regime, "or else shut up." At the same
time, I might feel less cautions and more optimistic if I were
able to hear the voices of people I knew in the Cambodian countryside
fourteen years ago, telling me about the revolution in their words.
The reverse is perhaps true for Laura Summers, who upon reading
the comments of "emissaries" to Kampuchea, decides that
all must be fine. Having acquired new material to propagate, she
quotes, without so much as a single qualification (with respect
to the controlled nature of the visit), the Swedish ambassador
to China's observations while visiting Democratic Kampuchea as
an invited guest of the new regime. Believing perhaps that the
ambassador was free to visit all places yet saw "no signs
of starvation," Summers generalizes this finding to contradict
refugee claims of atrocities and starvation. But she goes too
far, however, when she admonishes the ambassador for not recognizing
what she insists is an obvious bomb crater in Siem Riep, caused
by American bombs dropped some time during his visit of 1976.
Of course, she was not an eyewitness nor an expert on bomb craters,
not to speak of American-made ones.
On the status of Prince Sihanouk, who founded FUNK, but was subdued
by the Khmer Rouge, she writes, "Since his retirement, Sihanouk
continues to live in Cambodia, where, according to another visiting
emissary, he enjoys the respect and affection befitting his status
as an eminent nationalist."
The title of his memoirs Prisonier des Khmer Rouges (1986)
is self-evident in contradicting that emissary's observations.
Here, the mistake she makes is to believe too easily in emissaries.
Far from being randomly selected, the emissaries who visited Cambodia
were not chosen for their critical bent. It took the regime three-and-half
years to invite Western journalists, a total of three to be exact.
One of them was Malcolm Caldwell, a lecturer in Southeast Asian
economic history at the University of London, and author of occasional
essays, one book on Cambodia in the Southeast Asian war,
and newspaper articles in support of the Khmer revolution. He
writes, in 1977 for the London Times, "Profound changes
were needed, changes which could be brought about only by revolution..."
Caldwell, who, like Summers, is canonized in this thesis, was
understandably biased towards the Khmer Rouge. One would think,
given all this, that scholars like Laura Summers and Malcolm Caldwell,
both of whom held the standard total academic view on Cambodia
(see no evil, hear no evil), would turn to fresh sources of information
or at least do some fieldwork where they could interview refugees
and the like, but that apparently ranked low on their list of
Regarding the refugee accounts of atrocities, Summers for example,
dismisses them for having received more attention than they literally
"deserved." In a series of apologetics, she rationalizes
their overuse by the Press as having "served to harden Phnom
Penh's attitude towards Western journalism even as the government
welcomed a few Asian journalists into the country."
Not only were the Americans at fault for causing starvation and
thus the evacuation of Phnom Penh, as her colleagues would argue,
but the negative press was making them uncomfortable. Their no
comment, closed doors policy was thus understandable! Laura Summers
attributes everything the Khmer Rouge do to knee-jerk reaction
to French and American malfeasance and imperialism.
Summers then outlines, quite favorably, the constitution of Democratic
Kampuchea with its radical collectivist ideas. After describing
the elaborate process of writing the Democratic Kampuchea Constitution,
which she concludes is a mixture of Leninist and peasant customs,
she sings the preamble in obvious admiration, "happiness,
equality, justice and true democracy reign without rich or poor
people, without exploiting or exploited classes and where people
live in harmony and the greatest national unity."
This preamble was republished onto the fifth page of Long Live
the 17th Anniversary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea,
a propaganda booklet published by "Group of Kampuchean Residents
in America" or G.K. Ran. The booklet contains a translation
of Premier Pol Pot's speech commemorating that 17th anniversary.
In France and England, similar groups published press releases
from the Royal Government of National Union of Democratic Kampuchea.
These were the "Comite des Patriotes du Kampuchea Democratique
en France" and the "British Kampuchea Support Campaign,"
which, until 1991 lingered on.
Summers, who no doubt belonged to one, was by herself, a virtual
think-tank. She did not have to take orders from anyone in order
to formulate her justifications, but she did need considerable
official information from official organs, to be so keen.
The evacuation of Phnom Penh, which was roundly criticized by
the rest of the world as "barbaric" was really justified
according to the standard total academic view which she supported.
As her justification, she writes "By all accounts, however,
universal conscription for work prevented a postwar famine,"
but admits that "It also appears that some work groups, in
lieu of other forms of reeducation, are obliged to work harder
and longer than others."
One must wonder how she knows this, given that she has not been
inside the country. Does she have a reference? No source is listed.
With respect to statements from refugees and Khmer Rouge defectors
sponsored by resistance groups abroad, Summers dismisses them
entirely. She writes:
These public pleas for support and the public concern raised by
sensational, but false, documents finally provoked the Paris Mission
of Democratic Kampuchea to protest that some journalists were
degrading their profession and that the French held a major share
of the responsibility for allowing these activities to continue.
Some of the documents to be discredited were, for instance, several
faked photographs and interviews which between 1976 and 1977 were
published in newspapers from Australia to America.
The issue of the photographs, in particular, will be summoned
when the Chomsky-Herman book, After the Cataclysm, is discussed
in the following chapter.
In "Defining the Revolutionary State in Cambodia," Summers
does admit, albeit sparingly, that life was difficult. As in her
first Current History article, Summers compares the Khmer
revolution with other historical revolutions, proposing that "Like
the puritan revolution in England the Khmer revolution is the
expression of deep cultural and social malaise unleashed by a
sudden and violent foreign assault on the nation's social structure."
Her concern for the "difficulty" of life in the new
Kampuchea is so disingenuous as to discount its value altogether.
The urban "elite" were having problems because they
were simply not used to farming the land! A remarkable discovery
that took a year to reach. Summers throws that glimpse of sympathy
away, however, when she adds, "What the urban dwellers consider
'hard' labor may not be punishment or community service beyond
human endurance ... Such associations [with memories it invokes
of Russian history] take what is happening in Cambodia out of
its historical and cultural context."
One must wonder what specific context she means, when she says
that hard labor may not be punishment. In any case, Summers' article
proposes an embryonic theory of the Free Press that Chomsky and
Herman would elaborate in 1979, and again as recently as 1988.
To be sure, that theory was more sophisticated than the conceptual
framework alluded to by Summers, but still it contained all the
elements of this tragedy. She asserts that:
The United States press, not to be outdone, produced dramatic
news reports and editorials based on refugee and unnamed intelligence
sources. In retrospect, these reports were partly inaccurate and
are still largely unverified. The flap illustrates the powerful
and potentially dangerous force that is generated when the political
machinations of a few capture the attention of a concerned and
Like Chomsky and Herman, Summers dismisses the refugee accounts
as bearing little evidentiary validity. Perhaps it is hubris that
prevents her from paying more attention to these refugees, but
that does not excuse her from taking them seriously. Therefore,
as in other instances, she works these into a lather of ever-less
reasonable justifications for why they would have unpleasant things
to say about the new regime. Consistent with the STAV, she writes:
Clearly, they [the reported incidents] reflect the fears and expectations
arising from the exile's position in the old society. Most Cambodians
leaving the country in 1975 managed to do so without much difficulty
as if the regime were acknowledging that they were among the few
whose values could not be accommodated in a people's state.
Summers concludes, in the same fashion as her first article, "Cambodia:
Consolidating the Revolution," by returning to the realm
of foreign policy and Kampuchea's position vis-à-vis its
historical enemies. She notes that the new regime's posture towards
Vietnam is cool, but that with its "Indian" brothers
to the west and north, Thailand and Laos, respectively, relations
The Khmer revolutionaries have actively contributed to the post-war
regional integration of Southeast Asia while consolidating Cambodia's
position as a nonaligned [meaning socialist] state. Despite these
signs of the growing acceptance of Cambodia's revolution, Phnom
Penh has not yet relaxed its guard against hostile foreign powers
who might still attempt to disrupt the people's state.
This cautious but optimistic ending suggests that she grew more
wary from December 1975 to December 1976 of what was in store
for Democratic Kampuchea. In her first Current History
article, Summers was cautious but very optimistic about every
facet of the new regime's policies. By 1976, however, she had
to defend the regime's increasingly battered record on human rights.
Laura Summers, it must be said, did not know for certain what
was really going on in Cambodia. From her vantage point in Lancaster,
England, she saw very little. However, she chose to write on Cambodia's
revolution nonetheless. For other scholars whose canonical contributions
are covered in this chapter, the standard total academic view
reigned supreme. Like so many other students and scholars of her
generation, Laura Summers was a romantic of revolutions. Self-reliance
and non-alignment were code-words that suggested breaking away
from the World-System, i.e., imperialism, the same imperialism
which she blamed for destroying Cambodia during the first half
of the 1970s. Combined with this STAV on Cambodia was her incredibly
low suspicion of official RGNU explanations for why certain policies
were undertaken. Instead, she hypocritically exercises a "healthy"
skepticism towards the media. What emerges from these two contributions
to the "Khmer Rouge Canon" is the picture of an academic
far too obsessed with rationalizing every objectionable Khmer
Rouge action, to realize that the more severe and numerous the
objections, the more likely some grain of truth was in them.
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