Intervention and killing in Cambodia 1969-1979

14th October 2018.

It is imperative for the international community to remember and learn from history. This is especially true when it comes to the deaths of millions of civilians. Below is a short history of Cambodia 1969-1979.

  • In 1969 Richard Nixon became President of the United States. He was determined to end the Vietnam War.

  • At the time, North Vietnamese troops were seeking sanctuary in Cambodia. The US had the idea that Cambodia was providing a safe haven for them, although Cambodia officially had a neutral foreign policy.

  • Nixon ordered American B-52s to launch airstrikes on Cambodia code-named “Operation Breakfast” in 1969. The operation was top-secret for fear of domestic protest.

  • The operation failed, as the bombers failed to locate North Vietnamese bases.

  • A new operation started, named Operation Menu, which authorised carpet bombing in Cambodia. Over fourteen months, just under 4000 sorties were fired by American fighter planes.

  • In 1970, Nixon ordered over 30,000 American troops and over 40,000 South Vietnamese troops to clean out North Vietnamese bases in Cambodia. It was done under the premise that communists were planning “massive attacks” on US troops in Vietnam.

  • The US invasion in Cambodia had everything to do with the US war in Vietnam and nothing to do with Cambodia.

  • Following airstrikes and boots on the ground, the US now were allegedly involved in looking at a change of government. At the time, Cambodia was the Kingdom of Cambodia, ruled by a popular Prince named Sihanouk. He was neutral on foreign affairs and was also a friend of China. This irritated the US.

  • The US welcomed a military coup in Cambodia in 1970 by pro-American Lon Nol changing it to the Khmer Republic. Although pro-American, he was corrupt, repressive and incompetent. He stripped his citizens of basic freedoms, suspended parliament and did everything to increase his own power- naming himself the President, Prime Minister, Defence Minister and Marshal of the armed forces.

  • This triggered the Cambodian Civil War, a five year war that would end with a genocidal Khmer Rouge regime as the victor. Prince Sihanouk, the likeable toppled Prince, said in 1973 “I do not like the Khmer Rouge and they probably do not like me, but they are pure patriots…Though I am a Buddhist, I prefer a red Cambodia which is honest and patriotic than a Buddhist Cambodia under Lon Nol, which is corrupt and a puppet of the Americans.”

  • The Lon Nol regime did not have much of a chance in battle, even with American backing. The civil war killed over a million of its citizens, and both sides did not take prisoners unless they planned to torture them for intelligence. Cannibalism was widespread. More than 3 million people were displaced.

  • In 1973, US Congress ordered an end to the air campaign in Cambodia.

The Khmer Rouge genocide

  • The leaders of the Khmer Rouge were educated in France, studied Maoist thought and received political and military support from China.

  • In 1975, the Khmer Rouge defeated the Khmer Republic and ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. It was a highly autocratic and oppressive regime, and paranoid of the US.

  • Headed by the leadership of Saloth Sar who assumed the pseudonym Pol Pot, his government seeked to torture and execute anyone with connections to former governments such as the former Khmer Republic led by Lon Nol, and Kingdom of Cambodia led by Prince Sihanouk, and foreign governments. The Khmer Rouge would also torture and execute anyone who is educated and understood a foreign language. This includes ethnic Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai minorities, and also Christians and Muslims.

  • The Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University estimated the number of deaths to be approximately 21% of the population of the country, 1.7million.


“A Problem from Hell” - Samantha Power