For Whom the Blame Tolls: Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, and the Plight of Cambodia Open Access

Singh, Samir Indar (2014)

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Upon inheriting the Vietnam War in January 1969, President Richard Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, attempted to eliminate vital Vietnamese Communist sanctuaries in eastern Cambodia--first through covert B-52 bombing raids, and then, in the spring of 1970, through an American land invasion. Nixon and Kissinger never sought congressional approval. But when Cambodia became embroiled in a civil war won by the Khmer Rouge in 1975, and these vicious Cambodian Communists killed over a fifth of their nation's population in less than four years, some Western critics castigated Nixon and Kissinger. Writers such as William Shawcross and Christopher Hitchens implied--or stated outright--that Nixon and Kissinger were war criminals for supposedly sparking Cambodia's downward spiral. Nixon and Kissinger, conversely, accepted no accountability, noting that they--not their liberal opponents--were the ones trying to prevent communism from dominating Cambodia. Drawing from an array of memoirs, foreign policy analyses, histories, biographies, published collections of government documents, and archival documents, this dissertation suggests that the truth is more nuanced and ironic than either interpretation has acknowledged. Nixon and Kissinger should be blamed for triggering Cambodia's downward spiral, but while calamitous, their decisions did not signify war criminality or nihilism. Rather, Nixon and Kissinger proved prone to the same types of fallacies and naiveté as their predecessors in the White House, factors that plagued American foreign policy throughout the Cold War. Nixon and Kissinger also proved susceptible to pressures common in US culture, societal forces that influenced them in different ways yet led them to work in tandem regarding Cambodia. In seeking to expedite the politically flammable Vietnam War, yet refusing to abandon the South Vietnamese regime, Nixon and Kissinger behaved paradoxically and myopically. They attempted to ‘get out of Vietnam' by ‘getting into Cambodia,' not seeming to grasp the nature of this guerilla war. In that sense, they proved all too commonly flawed as American geopolitical leaders. The imagery of these men has caused them to stand apart in history, but Nixon and Kissinger were neither as savvy as they imagined nor as aberrant as their critics suggested.

Table of Contents

Prologue 1

Introduction 9

Chapter One: Character Study 23 Chapter Two: Ideology 77 Chapter Three: The Vietnam Dilemma 146

Chapter Four: Bombing Cambodia 181

Chapter Five: The Cambodian Coup 364

Chapter Six: Invading Cambodia, and Beyond 427

Conclusion 634 Epilogue 661 Bibliography 686

Audiovisual Materials 748

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