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Cambodia Summer Program.

You’re either with us or against us

After being granted independence from France in 1953, Phnom Penh was considered “The Pearl of Asia”, boasting a flourishing economy, breathtaking architecture, developed roads, and a booming pulse of creative arts, like music and Cambodian traditional crafts. All these aspects represent the signature vibrancy of Cambodia, which still runs deep throughout the small nation today, but resting more in the hearts of her citizens rather than what could have been developed further if it was not for future events that would cripple a nation, bringing a millennium of progress to a fast halt in less than fifty years.

Picture: 1969 Cambodia is put between a rock and a hard place. Rather, a pistol to its head and a red dot from worlds away. Pressured by both the Viet Kong and the United States to choose alignment, as the  tension mounted building to the Vietnam War.

“You’re Either With Us or Against Us.”

After JFK’s visit to Cambodia in 1961, it seemed obvious to the world that the small country would remain neutral under King Sihanouk’s rule. In the late sixties, a bomb placed in a decorative lotus detonated at an event, nearly killing King Sihanouk. This assassination attempt is widely believed to have been perpetrated by the United States.

“You’re Either With Us or Against Us.”

To be allies with Cambodia was deemed crucial to both the Viet Kong and the US, chiefly because the infamous Ho Chi Minh trail trickled through her eastern region, being utilized by the Viet Kong for the transport of military goods and soldiers. If the Viet Kong could establish an alliance with the country that it’s vital route ran through, it would further increase security against the US, and likely increase the volume of goods being moved into Vietnam. To the US, an alliance with Cambodia meant a chokehold on the enemies veteran’s windpipe, and a swift end to much of the nation’s resources being imported, as well as strategic land to launch assaults from.

Both countries tried to officially sway the officially stated neutral  position, but to no avail.

Eastern Cambodia was battered to carnage during the Vietnam War. While no US troops could officially be deployed on Cambodian soil, hell fire came from the shadowed sky. Over five hundred thousand tons of bombs were dropped across Cambodia by the US. Popularly known as UXO, cluster bombs were air-to-land explosive devices that hold thousands of individually explosive balls within one casing. The US dropped more bombs on Cambodia during the Vietnam War than the entirety of bombs dropped on Europe during World War Two. While we hear about landmines across this region remaining for decades after the war and killing people, seldom is heard of the modern day impact of cluster bombs outside of Cambodia and Vietnam. Today, any bridge or river-related construction must include sometimes dangerous physical investigations searching for these unexploded ordinances, which at any time could detonate from minor stimulus.

The obliteration of the Eastern borderlands appeared utterly senseless to the rural agrarian population affected. Hundreds of thousands of Khmer livelihoods were lost or left to ruin. The confusion and anger caused by the atrocities helped to frame the main question the victims had:  “Why are we being bombed by the United States?” As desperation was at a zenith, Pol Pot and his communist Khmer Rouge party came to the stage as Cambodia’s only option left for hope. Offering positive change, the seeming revolutionary lured the Khmer into his unclear agenda through lies. Then ensued…

Three years. Eight months. Twenty Days. 1975-1979. The Killing Fields.