September 4, 2011
(See blog of August 29, 2011: “America’s Involvement in Vietnam, etc.” for the broader context of struggle in Indochina that includes Laos and Cambodia
America’s Vietnam War inevitably engulfed Laos and Cambodia resulting in the Third Vietnam War. The final outcome determined Vietnamese hegemony over both Laos and Cambodia with each in a “special relationship” with Vietnam.
The “special relationship” of Laos with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam and the Vietminh has its roots with the return of the French after World War II. The educated leftist of the Lao Issara independence movement made contact with the Viet Minh in northern Laos. The French enforced independence of Laos under leadership of the Royal Laotian elite in 1949. Consequently the left insurgent movement emerges as the Pathet Lao allied with the Vietminh insurgency. The Pathet Lao are seen by Hanoi after the Geneva Convention in 1954 split Vietnam north and south as giving Vietnam access to the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Countering this access American air warfare escalated in Tai speaking northern Laos. America supports the Hmong in northern Laos to harass and interdict the Ho Chi Minh Trail. After 1965 American air warfare spread to southern Laos in the area of Cambodian related people. From 1970-75 bombing reached devastating proportions. This swelled Pathet Lao ranks due to resentment over bombing devastation. With the disappearance of the Royal Laotian government after American withdrawal from Vietnam the Pathet Lao controlled Laos as a willing satellite of Hanoi. Adopting an anti-Chinese foreign policy with Hanoi underscored Vietnam’s hegemony in Laos.
Bringing Cambodia into “special relationship” with Hanoi was more complex. Prince Sihanouk preserved Cambodian independence until 1970. Allied with the French and Chinese urban elite the regime was domestically anti-communist. A small communist party, the KRPR (Khmer Peoples’ Revolutionary Party), was active in northern Cambodia. Pol Pol and the Khmer Rouge organized in 1960 in opposition to the supposedly pro-Vietnamese KRPR. Khmer Rouge gathered strength in the Cambodian mountains as guerrillas in opposition to Sihanouk. America began heavy bombing of Eastern Cambodia to interdict the southern extension of the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Interdicting the Trail, supposedly, was to strengthen the Nixon Administration’s policy of Vietnamization of the war to support American troop withdrawal. What followed was a right–wing coup by Lon Nol overthrowing Sihanouk. This coupled with an American invasion of Cambodia in 1970, a twelvefold increase in 1973 of air warfare in Cambodia after American troop withdrawal led to the military and political rise of the Khmer Rouge. They captured Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. This proved to be the harbinger of genocide.
The “Divine Hammer” came down on South Vietnam on April 30, 1975 with the Fall of Saigon. The communist party”s success over a generation was mainly non-military. Insurgency had exploited weaknesses of Saigon. The fatal flaw was the withdrawal of America. Weaknesses surfaced and proved fatal.
In the aftermath of 1975 Vietnam pressured Cambodia for a “special relationship” reminiscent of the early 19th century Nom Tien, Vietnam’s push southward and, finally, westward to Cambodia. Ideological differences in Marxian interpretation, Khmer Rouge liquidation of the KRPR as suspected Vietnamese agents., increased tension. After 1975 once again the area is internationalized and the age-old tension between Vietnam and China resurfaces. China with the United States and Thailand form a diplomatic block in opposition to Vietnam and Russia. Territorial disputes between Vietnam and Cambodia lead to border clashes precipitating in December 1978 the invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam. Installation of a pro-Vietnam Khmer regime resulted in a “special relationship with Vietnam. Vietnamese hegemonic domination of former French Indochina was complete. China invaded the northern Vietnamese border in 1979 to teach Vietnam a lesson. Vietnam thus isolated is forced to ally with Soviet Russia. (This explains why I was taken to be Russian when I was in Vietnam in 1992)