Mr Eugenides comments:
Though his lawyers will no doubt bring it up as an issue, it's doubtful that too many Cambodians will have qualms about seeing an octogenarian going on trial. The absence of any formal judicial proceedings against the Khmer Rouge leadership has, moreover, made it possible for the likes of John Pilger to use the tragedy to push his own worldview (in which the US - who else? - bears primary responsibility for the genocide), and for Noam Chomsky to go one better and spend the past quarter century downplaying and minimizing the scale of the Khmer Rouge terror, most notably by comparing it, grotesquely, with French vigilanteism after the end of the Second World War - thus neatly equating the fate of the innocent victims of these horrific crimes with Nazi collaborators.Much as I have come to hate Pilger, his role in informing the world of Pol Pot's genocide was vitally important. I, for one, vividly remember Pilger's broadcasts, which certainly opened my eyes. And he is right to point out that the West's blindness to the genocide was because of Cold War realpolitik: Pol Pot's Peking-affiliated version of Communism was an ally against Vietnam's Moscow-affiliated version.
Hunting down and trying old men for the crimes of the past is not without its problems, but no full and proper accounting for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge has ever been possible. Perhaps, after Milosevic, Pinochet and Hussein, it's fanciful to imagine that this heralds a new accountability for old tyrants; Nuon Chea may never make it to the dock. But it's something, after all.
Pilger was right to draw attention to the Faustian bargain Nixon and Kissenger made with Pol Pot, which Thatcher and Reagan renewed. He was right to draw attention to the obscenity of America (under George Bush Sr) and Beijing forcing the UN to allow the Khmer Rouge back into Cambodia, indeed back into a coalition government.
Pilger also highlights Nixon and Kissinger's bombing campaign on Cambodia, during Operation Menu, as part of the Vietnam war. He is right to condemn this as a war crime.
However, Pilger is wrong in blaming this campaign for Pol Pot's genocide. Pilger writes that
In dropping the equivalent of five Hiroshimas on a peasant society, Nixon and Kissinger killed an estimated half a million people. Year Zero began, in effect, with them; the bombing was a catalyst for the rise of a small sectarian group, the Khmer Rouge, whose combination of Maoism and medievalism had no popular base.His logic is flawed here. The Khmer Rouge was morally responsible for its actions - blaming America is like blaming Hitler on the financial speculators who drove the inflation wave of the 1920s. But America, and its then new friend China, then proceeded to prop up the new regime, for which it is morally culpable.
As I have written before (somewhere), if 9/11 taught us something, it should have been that propping up lesser evils (Osama was deemed better than the Soviet Union, Saddam was deemed better than the Ayatollahs) can come back to haunt you. The post-9/11 shift from realism to idealism in British and American foreign policy was a half-learning of that lesson - but it's only been half-absorbed, and if the Decent Left scorn Pilger for making a similar point then we lose our moral high ground.
Chomsky, on the other hand, can rot in hell.
See also: Jim D on losing respect for Pilger
Previous: Hitchens and William Shawcross on Cambodia; Chomsky on My Lai and Pol Pot; Chomsky the revisionist.