Cambodia: Corrections

Noam Chomsky has kindly called to my attention, and has circulated to some members of the press, a number of corrections of my review of François Ponchaud’s Cambodge: Année Zéro [NYR, March 31].

First, I attributed to “texts distributed in Phnom Penh” the injunction that not only enemies of the regime but “their off-spring until the last one” should be suppressed. On page seventy-three of his book, Father Ponchaud does not in fact quote this phrase from an official text but says it is a “leitmotif” of the justifications that are made for suppression. He earlier cites a number of slogans similar to the ones I quoted, which are being used to justify the current “purification.” For example, “It is not enough to cut off a weed, it must be pulled up by the roots.” Such slogans, he says, are used both on the government radio and in meetings. He adds that:

Several reports by witnesses [témoi-gnages] even affirm that in numerous localities the wives and children of officers have also been done away with.

Secondly, I should not have identified the newspaper Prachachat as a “government paper,” but rather as a Thai paper, which on June 10, 1976, carried an interview with a Khmer Rouge official who said, as Ponchaud writes, that he found the revolutionary method of the Vietnamese “very slow,” requiring “a lot of time to separate the good people from the counter-revolutionaries.” It was the Thai reporter of this paper who drew the conclusion I quoted that the Khmers have “overturned the basket and with it all the fruit it contained, and will, from now on, choose only the fruit that suits them perfectly.”

My reference to the death of “one quarter” of the population in a single year must be corrected. Ponchaud’s text is as follows:

The unremitting work, the insufficient food, the deplorable sanitary conditions, the terror and summary executions permit us to imagine the nightmarish [hallucinant] human cost of the Khmer revolution. In 1970, the Cambodian population was estimated at 8 million people…. In 1975, Prince Sihanouk—here in agreement with the Americans—calculated the war dead at 600,000, to which figure must be added 600,000 wounded. On 17 April 1976, the first anniversary of the liberation, the Kampuchean authorities announced that there were 800,000 dead and 240,000 disabled veterans [invalides de guerre].

As for those who died during the “peace,” no one can put forward a figure with exactitude; but it is certainly more than a million. At the end of 1975, official diplomatic sources estimated a figure of 800,000 dead; sources from the American Embassy, 1.2 million; and the American relief services [services caritatifs] in Bangkok, 1.4 million. No one will ever know the precise number of victims but from listening to the accounts of refugees of the deaths in their respective families, the number is without doubt considerable.

Noam Chomsky, I should add, has questioned some of the figures cited by Father Ponchaud. He deeply distrusts those…

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