Wednesday, April 13, 2011

1998: Pol Pot and Suharto

This Rant concerns genocide; it's occasioned by the recent departures of two of the all-time champs in that particular contact sport: Pol Pot and Suharto.

I couldn't help but notice the interesting double standard in the way our corporate media handled these guys' retirements (Mr. Pot's being the more permanent variety). Both of these erstwhile statesmen have the blood of at least one million corpses on their hands. Pol Pot was (correctly) denounced as a monster and as the mastermind behind some of the most brutal killings since Hitler.

Of course, what the news muppets left out was the before-and-after context: Just before Pol Pot came to power, our own statesmen bombed the stuffing out of the Cambodian countryside, thus swelling the ranks of the Khmer Rouge army with thousands of enraged but previously apolitical peasants. Had this not happened, it's doubtful Pol Pot's ragtag forces could ever have overthrown the Cambodian government.

Of course, this particular government wasn't all that beloved to begin with, since it had been installed by the US when the previous regime (which was beloved by Cambodians) proved to be too uncooperative to suit our President Nixon. Our puppet regime, run by the palindromic Lon Nol, was happy to look the other way while US planes carpet-bombed Cambodian peasantry.

But what this actually means is that a half a million Cambodians would have died of starvation in 1975 no matter who was in power. And that wasn't Pol Pot's fault, whatever the enormity of his other crimes. That was your tax dollars at work.

Of course, after Pol Pot had killed a million or two of his countrymen on top of that, he was driven from power by an invasion from Vietnam. That's when your tax dollars come back into the picture. Our Mr. Reagan decided it would be a great idea to give Pol Pot plenty more guns and money, and support his claim to a seat in the UN, even though he wasn't running Cambodia any more, thank God.

So yeah, definitely a monster, but as it turns out, genocide is usually a collaborative effort.

But now, "monster" was not a word you heard often applied to our ally Suharto, at least in the mainstream US media. In the weeks before the people of Indonesia finally got his boot off their collective neck, our press (and our government) took care to stress how important it was that he be allowed to retire within a constitutional framework, and with dignity, so as to preserve his legacy.

So let's be sure and mention a few details about that legacy: In 1975, while Pol Pot was mowing down hundreds of thousands of Cambodians, our Mr. Suharto was invading the neighboring country of East Timor, where he slaughtered nearly one-third of the indigenous population. And he was doing this with our active support, not only from President Ford and Henry Kissinger, who were in Jakarta the day before the kickoff, but from then-UN Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who worked to suppress any condemnation of the slaughter. He did this, he said, because "the US wished things to turn out as they did." With over 200,000 dead, thanks in part to Presidents Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton. And your tax dollars.

Now, that 200K was on top of the million or so that Mr. Suharto killed when taking power in 1965, the "year of living dangerously." Here again, the US apparently wished things to turn out as they did. Suharto's killers were working off of lists of subversives provided to them by the CIA and the State Department. Just to make canvassing the neighborhoods that much easier.

So I guess the moral of the story is that one man's monster is another man's statesman. But let's give the last word to good old Kurt Vonnegut, who said, and I paraphrase: raise your children well, and teach them not to take part in massacres. Or pay for them, I might add.

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