The Hitch and Cambodia

It seems every time I tune in to Radio 4 these days I get to hear Christopher Hitchens - jousting with his brother, toe to toe with Germaine Greer, and so on.

I was pleased when, in conversation with William Shawcross, he called Shawcross on Indo-China. Shawcross was basically saying maybe the Vietnam war was right after all, and Hitch (apologising for disagreeing after Shawcross came to Hitch's support against Germaine Greer on the Iraq war) spoke about America's "war crimes" in Vietnam. Shawcross was equating Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge nightmare in Cambodia with Ho's Vietnam, suggesting that because the people of Cambodia suffered so badly under Pol Pot, it was right to fight Communism in Vietnam and Laos. This, of course, completely misses the point that, while America and China supported Pol Pot, it was Communist Vietnam that liberated the Cambodians from the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime.


I was similarly angered not that long ago when Oliver Kamm and Charles Krauthammer made a similar mistake. Krauthammer, in an article in the Washington Post, was writing about the late 1970s and early 1980s:
It was a time of one defeat after another. Vietnam invaded Cambodia, consolidating Soviet hegemony over all of Indochina. The Khomeini revolution swept away America's strategic anchor in the Middle East. Nicaragua fell to the Sandinistas, the first Soviet-allied regime on the mainland of the Western Hemisphere. (As an unnoticed but ironic coda, Marxists came to power in Grenada too.) Then, finally, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.
Oliver Kamm blogged the article, adding
I am no believer at all, but would not dissent from Krauthammer's judgement. The anti-totalitarian forces in the 20th century were a broad coalition, and in that breadth lay much of their strength. In the East, the movement included religious traditionalists such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn and liberal secular humanists such as Andrei Sakharov. Wherever we stand in relation to these men's beliefs, we should recognise both as heroes of the Cold War. Likewise the doctrinally-orthodox Pope from Poland.
While broadly sharing Kamm and Krauthammer's sentiments, I think they make some fundamental mistakes. Seeing Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia as a defeat, because it consolidated Soviet hegemony over all of Indochina, without regard for the lives of the Cambodians saved by the invasion, is both intellectually and morally short-sighted. If there was ever a case for regime change, this was it.


A nice post on Hitchens v Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: A Hot Chick called Lakshmi - Oh darling.


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