This month marks the 49th anniversary of one of the most tragic mistakes made by the U.S. government in the twentieth century. I refer to U.S. support for the March 1970 coup that overthrew Cambodia’s Head of State, Prince Sihanouk. For me, it’s personal.
In the long term (after 1975), a huge price would be paid by the Cambodian people, who lost an estimated 25% of their population (some 1.8 million people) to “the Killing Fields.”
But in the short term, much of the price was paid by the Vietnamese residents (and citizens) of Cambodia. Anti-North Vietnamese sentiment was easily turned to a more general target, the local Vietnamese. The fact that they constituted much of the middle class in the cities made profit as much a motive as ethnic hatred.
What followed was what we call “ethnic cleansing” today, but we didn’t use the term back then. Cambodia’s Vietnamese population dropped from 450,000 to 140,000 within five months of the coup. Some 200,000 of them were forcibly repatriated to South Vietnam.
10,000 of these ended up in Bao Loc, Lam Dong Province, and were the reason I was sent to join MACV Team #38 there. I spent almost a year trying to aid in their reception and resettlement. Like so many other aspects of the Viet Nam war, this project began with high hopes but fizzled out well short of success.
I tell the story in my book “A Spear Carrier in Viet Nam: Memoir of an American Civilian in Country 1967, and 1970 – 72,” available from McFarland & Co. or Amazon, in either paperback or Kindle formats.
In my next post, I will discuss my encounter with Cambodian men being trained in Viet Nam for Lon Nol’s army,