Op-Eds by Jim

This Holocaust Still Goes On, Why Do We Ignore It?

April 14, 1983
by James Webb, The Washington Post

In this week of remembering the anguish of the Holocaust, in these days of commemorating those who survived, let us take just a moment to consider the crimes that continue in Cambodia.

No one knows how many Cambodians were killed after the communists took control of that country. Estimates run from one-third to one-half of the population, which means the count is easily 2 to 3 million. Following such slaughter, the Vietnamese communists moved in, supposedly to stabilize the country. For those who have been thinking of the Holocaust, this is analogous to the Russians “liberating” Poland from the Nazis.

Currently, there are 200,000 Vietnamese soldiers occupying Cambodia. Behind them, following a policy dictated from Hanoi, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese are beginning to settle the country. There have been few clearer examples in history of a “final solution” planned to eliminate a national and ethnic identity. The Cambodians, who were almost wiped out, are now going to be absorbed.

Our media dance around this tragedy, reporting it in bits and pieces, avoiding the jugular issues that are playing themselves out for the world to see. The questions the media are avoiding are two: Why are the Vietnamese really doing this? And why are so many Americans remaining silent in the face of such a completely hideous act?

The Vietnamese communists did not move into Cambodia to liberate the Cambodians, any more than the Russians moved into Poland to liberate the Poles. They do not remain in Cambodia to stabilize that country, any more than the Russians remain in Eastern Europe for the good of the people they conquered. The Vietnamese communist move was, first, conquest. Or, as one Australian general said a few years ago, “if you don’t believe in the domino theory yet, go ask a few million of the dominoes.”

Second, it was a consequence of centuries of ethnic animosity between the Vietnamese and the Cambodians, which has periodically spilled over into attempts at genocide – usually at the expense of the Cambodians. And finally, it is the clearest way for the North Vietnamese, who have conquered the South and who completely dominate the present communist government, to prevent insurrection in South Vietnam. The troops in Cambodia are principally South Vietnamese, with North Vietnamese officers to prevent massive desertions into Thailand. If they were returned home to a South Vietnam that is now rife with unrest and poverty, they would endanger what many escapees indicate is a country ready to revolt.

So the Vietnamese communists are exporting their domestic strife, and fulfilling a long-held dream of conquest in the bargain.

Why do we not recognize this? First, we are bored and embarrassed by Southeast Asia. Vietnam and its turbulence is old news in a society that bums through issues and abandons them for fresher stuff. More important, however, such recognition would require many prominent Americans to admit that they were duped by the communists in Hanoi during the war. Even now, one American professor in Bangkok returned from a visit in Hanoi with a “high Vietnamese official” (who would not be identified) and proclaimed that, honest folks, the Vietnamese are just trying to help Cambodia. What was the “high Vietnamese official” expected to say? What would happen to his position inside a totalitarian system if he expressed the dissenting views that we go cherish in our own political system?

Too many of our brightest people were too easily deceived by creatures of a communist state during the Vietnam War. Too many Americans are even today allowing ego to override intellect. So they ignore the reality of their own deception, even as it unfolds before their eyes.

It was our own country that was accused of “fascism” and “genocide” during the war. But think of this for all our bombs and soldiers, how many people risked their lives on frail little boats in the open sea to escape the killing during the war? The answer is: about the same number of people who are currently trying to sneak from West Berlin into East Germany – zero. The notions of fascism and genocide existed in Vietnam. Unfortunately, even many of our own people branded the wrong side with such labels.

Perhaps the ultimate lesson of the Holocaust is that we do not believe incomprehensible tragedies until they have played themselves out. And then we console ourselves with little ceremonies and empty phrases like “Never Again.”

I wish it were not so.