Archive: The Strange Silence

Why are we shutting our eyes and minds to the murder of millions of Cambodians?

A Call to Christian Conscience

By James V. Heidinger II, Pastor, Drummond United Methodist Church, Cadiz, OH
Member, Good News Board of Directors
Chairman, East Ohio Evangelical Fellowship

In mid-April 1978, NBC’s made-for-television movie “Holocaust,” depicting the slaughter of six million Jews during World War II, had a dramatic impact upon the American people. After previewing the special, Frederick and Mary Ann Brussat, editors of Cultural Information Service, wrote “’Holocaust’ makes us look at history, our beliefs and our deeds afresh. The result of this experience is the unavoidable resolve to make sure that such an atrocity never happens again.

There is now overwhelming evidence that another such atrocity has been and still is happening in Cambodia. Every American, and especially every concerned Christian, needs to be aware of this tragic story of what has happened in Cambodia.

During the first week in May, syndicated Columnist Jack Anderson devoted an unprecedented three columns to reports of genocide in Cambodia since April of 1975. Anderson wrote, “The communists swarmed over the capital city of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. The wholesale slaughter began on the same day. It was not the ravages of undisciplined troops gone wild. Rather, it was the calculated, cold-blooded policy of the communist conquerors to eradicate all vestiges of the existing social order.”

He continued, “The death toll from beatings, shootings, starvation, and forced labor may have reached 2,500,000 victims since April 17, 1975, when the communists seized control of Cambodia. Ignored by the outside world, perhaps one-third of the Cambodian people have been annihilated. It is as if the entire population of Kansas has been eradicated.”

Anderson continued, “Officers of the former army were the first to die. The KCP (Khmer Communist Party) simultaneously began executing all wealthy farmers, prostitutes, high-level monks, teachers, fortune tellers, former enlisted men and civil servants. Nor were families spared. An intelligence report states grimly: ‘Entire families were ordered executed because the surviving spouses and children would harbor resentment toward the government and would only create problems in the future!'”

Anderson claims that he has compiled intelligence reports, refugee accounts, medical records, smuggled photos, and eye-witness accounts over two-inches thick documenting the charges of genocide. The Khmer Communist Party set out systematically to execute all who were not from the poor farmer-working class.

An article in the January 23, 1978 issue of Newsweek confirms Anderson’s accounts. In that issue was a three-page story, “Land of Walking Dead,” written by Kenneth Labich and Holger Jensen in Bangkok, and Lars-Erik Nelson in Washington. Their story cited the same refugee accounts of wholesale slaughter immediately after the Khmer Rouge took power.

It is unbelievable that the television networks have not given attention to this story in their news coverage. On Jan. 20, 1978 there was a Washington press conference for Pin Yathay, a civil engineer who survived 26 months in communist Cambodia before escaping into Thailand. Not one of the three major networks even sent a correspondent to that press conference, though they had been specifically invited. The Associated Press ran an excellent article, carried by the Washington Star. But only Jack Anderson put the story on television, giving it an extended piece on the March sixth, “Good Morning America.”

More recently, the New York Times in the May 13, 1978 edition ran a lengthy story by Henry Kamm detailing the same gruesome accounts. Finally, after thousands of refugees flooding into Thailand with their stories of horror, and after the above-mentioned reports, CBS gave an hour to a special documentary entitled “What’s happened to Cambodia?” on Wednesday, June 7.

In the CBS Special, the testimony was the same from refugees, from former Khmer Rouge officers who had fled, and from various experts on Cambodian affairs. The authorities, representing Australia, Britain, Italy, Holland, and West Germany, were nearly unanimous in attesting to the consistency and integrity of the refugee accounts. It would appear that there has been wholesale slaughter in Cambodia as communist “liberation” forces attempted to remake the society from the ground up. Apparently, only the poor, working-class peasant farmers have survived the revolution.

The New York Times noted that “Of more than 5,000 refugees confined in the places visited … fewer than 10 were found who spoke basic French. The absence of French-speaking people and the generally peasant character of recent refugees lend credence to reports that the communist regime was methodically killing the educated classes and that the great majority of the millions of people driven from cities and towns after the communist conquest had withstood the rigors of the new life even less well than the rural people.”

Americans and the entire Christian world community need to join as one voice in condemning what has happened in Cambodia. The White House, Congress, State Department, and the United Nations need to be urged to call for condemnation of Cambodia as a criminal state. Demands need to be made for a United Nations team to be sent to thoroughly investigate these disturbing reports.

It is obviously too late to help those who have been butchered. However, expressions of outrage, of condemnation, and revulsion, along with economic sanctions and trade boycotts against the communist violators of human rights may help prevent a repetition of this kind of barbaric killing. Such action might, at least, cause the world’s next Khmer Rouge Party or Ide Amin to give second thought about needless slaughter of innocents.

One further question still remains. Why have the television networks been so silent for so long on this issue, when reports have been coming in and appearing in magazines and other places for months? Why was no correspondent sent from ABC, NBC, or CBS last January when a news conference was called in Washington, D.C., for a refugee to report of slaughter and genocide in his homeland of Cambodia? Why, at that same press conference, did a Washington Post reporter walk out, refusing to believe what the Cambodian refugee was saying?

Compare this reaction to the excited and extensive coverage given the freeing of editor Donald Woods from South Africa. On Jan. 2, both ABC and CBS ran extended stories of how editor Woods had escaped. On Jan. 8, ABC, which could not send a correspondent three blocks to hear Pin Yathay in Washington tell about genocide in Cambodia, dispatched its “Issues and Answers” team 3,000 miles to interview Donald Woods in London. Patrick Buchanan, in the News Watch section of TV Guide, raised these questions and then asked, “Why do the networks largely ignore the national atrocity transpiring in Southeast Asia to focus their cameras and concerns on the inequalities in South Africa?”

As we viewed “Holocaust,” many were responding that “If we had been living in Germany in those years, we would have done something about it!” Today, we do know that something horrible is happening in Cambodia. There are reports from thousands of refugees, and yet we are doing nothing about it. The networks did not give it any attention until they were nearly forced to.

If the network news teams today, through Watergate-honed investigative reporting, are able to uncover the omission of several hundred dollars in the tax return of a leading public figure, why could not these same networks, with the same investigative reporting zeal, discover that a nation was systematically executing 2,000,000 of its own people? Is moral outrage selective? Do we somehow consider the sins of communist governments less reprehensible than the sins of governments such as South Korea, Chile, the Philippines, Rhodesia, and South Africa?

It is well-known that the network newsmen and executives look proudly to the role they played in changing American opinion about the war in Southeast Asia. It would appear now that these same media change agents are not eager for the American people to know what has tragically transpired in Cambodia.

Appreciation must go to Jack Anderson for nearly forcing the networks to give some attention to Cambodia. But a corresponding disappointment and a sagging trust in the network news teams must follow their handling of the somber Cambodian story. If their handling of matters pertaining to our nation’s internal affairs are as inept and one-sided, then Americans (who get 60 percent of their news from TV) have a right to be deeply concerned.

Reports of brutality and autogenocide in Cambodia have continued. In August, Senator George McGovern brought up the Cambodian situation at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing by citing estimates that as many as 2,500,000 of the country’s 7,700,000 people have been executed or have died from starvation and disease since the Communist Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975. He said that the destruction of the population of Cambodia “… makes Hitler’s operation look tame.” (Texas Methodist/UM Reporter, September 8, 1978, p.5.)

So concerned has Senator McGovern been that in a Senate speech and in an interview, he has called for the United Nations to take “collective action” (military intervention) against the Cambodian government. He said he was struck by the degree of American concern about two political dissidents in the Soviet Union, while nearly ignoring the killing of “possibly 2,000,000 people” in Cambodia. (Akron Beacon journal, Aug. 27, 1978) These expressions come from one of the strongest “doves” in the U.S. Senate.

The American Jewish Committee expressed similar condemnation of the Cambodian government in a resolution adopted at its annual meeting this past May. The resolution said: “If published reports of mass killings in Cambodia by its communist rulers are even only partially true, then the scale of murder … approaches the enormity of the Nazi exterminations based on a myth of racial purity. (TM/UMR, cited above) In addition, in mid-1978, representatives of Britain’s Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and major Protestant churches have issued a statement of condemnation of the Cambodian government for the alleged atrocities and genocide.

Still, what may represent the greatest criminal act since Hitler’s Germany receives little attention among the American populace, little attention among the Christian churches in America, and even less attention from the major television networks in America.


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