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NPR- Special Report – Cambodia -Background Report – August 14, 1973 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Mentioning the name Cambodia in the 1970s and you would conjure up images of mass anti-war protests, U.S. involvement and fear of another Vietnam.
It was an ongoing civil war that lasted from 1968 to 1975; some seven years and three months which eventually descended into a nightmare of unprecedented proportions. After five years of savage fighting, the Republican government was defeated on 17 April 1975 when the victorious Khmer Rouge proclaimed the establishment of Democratic Kampuchea. The war caused a refugee crisis in Cambodia with two million people—more than 25 percent of the population—displaced from rural areas into the cities, especially Phnom Penh which grew from about 600,000 in 1970 to an estimated population of nearly 2 million by 1975.
Children were widely used during and after the war, often being persuaded or forced to commit atrocities. The Cambodian government estimated that more than 20 percent of the property in the country had been destroyed during the war. In total, an estimated 275,000–310,000 people were killed as a result of the war.
The conflict was part of the Second Indochina War (1955–1975) which also consumed the neighboring Kingdom of Laos, South Vietnam, and North Vietnam individually referred to as the Laotian Civil War and the Vietnam War respectively. The Cambodian civil war led to the Cambodian genocide, one of the bloodiest in history.
From 19 May 1970 to 15 August 1973, U.S. bombing of Cambodia extended over the entire eastern one-half of the country and was especially intense in the heavily populated southeastern one-quarter of the country, including a wide ring surrounding the largest city of Phnom Penh. In large areas, according to maps of U.S. bombing sites, it appears that nearly every square mile of land was hit by bombs.
The effectiveness of the U.S. bombing on the Khmer Rouge and the death toll of Cambodian civilians is disputed. With limited data, the range of Cambodian deaths caused by U.S. bombing may be between 30,000 and 150,000 Cambodian civilians and Khmer Rouge fighters. Another impact of the U.S. bombing and the Cambodian civil war was to destroy the homes and livelihood of many people. This was a heavy contributor to the refugee crisis in Cambodia.
It has been argued that the U.S. intervention in Cambodia contributed to the eventual seizure of power by the Khmer Rouge, that grew from 4,000 in number in 1970 to 70,000 in 1975.This view has been disputed, with documents uncovered from the Soviet archives revealing that the North Vietnamese offensive in Cambodia in 1970 was launched at the explicit request of the Khmer Rouge following negotiations with Nuon Chea. It has also been argued that U.S. bombing was decisive in delaying a Khmer Rouge victory. Victory in Vietnam, the official war history of the People’s Army of Vietnam, candidly states that the communist insurgency in Cambodia had already increased from “ten guerrilla teams” to several tens of thousands of fighters only two months after the North Vietnamese invasion in April 1970, as a direct result of the PAVN seizing 40% of the country, handing it over to the communist insurgents, and then actively supplying and training the insurgents.
Here is a background report on the situation in Cambodia as it stood on August 13, 1973 as presented by National Public Radio as an NPR Special.