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Nixon's Atrocious Lies and Cover-ups in His Air War on Neutral Cambodia
By Daniel C. Lavery
President Richard Nixon was unsuccessful in having the CIA bribe Cambodian leaders to refuse aid from North Vietnam, therefore, he and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger decided to secretly bomb Cambodia in May 1969. They thought this would prevent the intense peace movement from exposing their gross violation of a neutral country. They wanted also show the North Vietnamese that Nixon would not tolerate any expansion of their goals.
Paranoid Nixon had delusions of grandeur that only he could secure South East Asia. Worse yet, he did not inform Congress, or key military personnel, as required for the enormous air arsenal he used to exterminate human beings like so many insects. Nor did they inform pilots, or keep a record of their missions. Their secret actions bypassed Strategic Air Command's impregnable control system. For more than a year covert B-52s carpet bombed Cambodians and Vietnamese who tilled the soil with water buffalo. Nearly 4,000 sorties left more than half a million dead. Motivated peasants joined the Khmer Rouge, a fringe communist group that would eventually kill more than another million.
Planners of the American war in Vietnam knew North Vietnam could supply its forces down the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Laos and Cambodia and at the same time provide sanctuaries for those forces. They concluded the war was unwinnable. Having identified an area for destruction that contained 1,640 Cambodians, including 1,000 civilian peasants, Nixon's massive bombing of them was one of his many despicable actions. Officers provided workers on South Vietnam ground radar sites with top-secret target instructions before each mission by courier flights from Saigon. Those radar operators maintained secrecy until the Watergate hearings in 1973. B-52 crews received normal briefing for targets in South Vietnam, but afterwards their commanding officer pulled aside the pilots and navigators of the planes heading for Cambodia and told them special instructions would come from a ground radar station inside South Vietnam. Computers at the radar station took control of the navigation systems in the B-52s, guiding them to their real targets in Cambodia and computing the precise moment for the monstrous release of thousands of bombs. After the devastation, the bomber's radio operator would call his base and report the mission had been accomplished while the intelligence division at the base entered the South Vietnamese coordinates in the official report. The commander of the radar crews burned all paperwork related to the real targets.
Another target selected contained 198 Cambodian civilians and another housed 383 more. Nixon committed the Joint Chiefs of Staff to destroy all 15 sanctuaries at suspected locations. To escape these bombings the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong penetrated further into the interior snubbing Curtis LeMay's "...We're going to bomb them back into the Stone Age" and forcing the bombing missions to enlarge. Nixon approved 3,530 flights over Cambodia between February 1969 and April 1970 according to Seymour M. Hersh.
Many key personnel normally involved in the planning, approving, and executing of such bombings were not informed, including the Secretary of the Air Force, Dr. Robert Seamans, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General John Ryan, the Office of Strategic Research and Analysis, all the Congressional Committees responsible for approving the funds and authorizing the mission, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and most of the Pentagon. Moreover, William Shawcross, asserts Kissinger and Nixon lied to them and assured Congress, the press, and public, they had painstakingly declined to attack Communist positions in Cambodia before the spring of 1970. On April 30, 1970, Nixon announced to the nation the use of ground forces in Cambodia in a "protective reaction," but not an invasion. He denied any previous American involvement in Cambodia after 3,530 bombing raids. Nixon lied that the United States had "scrupulously respected" Cambodia's neutrality for the last five years and had not "moved against" the sanctuaries.
When Congress allowed Nixon's invasion into Cambodia to ferret out suspected Viet Cong headquarters, American and South Vietnamese troops marched through Cambodia and committed more war crimes destroying towns and villages. "Without the lies there would be no empire. With lies, there are massive war crimes," wrote Seymour M. Hersh in "The Price of Power." The two areas selected contained many civilians despite the 29,000 bombs that had pulverized the territory. Nixon said the scope limited American ground forces to within 21.7 miles of the Cambodian border and the plan would terminate at the end of June.
Meanwhile, our Air Force struck Cambodian targets up to 18 miles inside Cambodia but reported their targets were in Laos. American and South Vietnamese forces destroyed everyone because communist forces might hide there. Two thousand civilians who tapped trees for rubber lived in Snuol. William Shawcross reported that, "Lieutenant Colonel Brookshire's tank crews fired 90-mm guns into that town and called in air strikes to discourage further resistance. After twenty-four hours of bombardment, Brookshire judged Snuol safe for his men, and the tanks moved into the center. Only seven bodies could be seen, four of them Cambodian civilians... As they drove past shattered shops soldiers leaped off their tanks to kick down the doors that still stood, and they looted the town." They destroyed dozens of towns, villages, and hamlets to ensure they could no longer serve as sanctuary. No attempt to discriminate between innocent Cambodians and the enemy occurred during these assaults. American and South Vietnamese forces committed rape, looted, and burned everything to retaliate for the murder of South Vietnamese. In a just world had these atrocities surfaced along with Nixon's sabotage of the Peace talks, he would have merited impeachment and execution for treason. Humphrey would have been elected. Twenty thousand Americans and two million Vietnamese might not have died.
(This article draws many facts found in Dave Model's Lying for Empire, How to Commit War Crimes With A Straight Face, Common Courage Press, 2005).
VVAW member Daniel C. Lavery graduated Annapolis, navigated a Navy jet and ship, turned peace activist, and civil rights lawyer for Cesar Chavez's UFW. His memoir, All the Difference, describes his experiences. www.danielclavery.com