More from Great big book of horrible things (2012)

At #39 (#65 US civil war was a picnic compared to this), Cambodia in 1975 was a bombed-out US-controlled dictatorship. ‘Brother Number One’, Pol Pot was a demented nationalist, devotee of Mao’s cultural revolution, which he succeeded in duplicating to a fault. I.e., millions dead, mass starvation and a megalomaniac Kampuchea uber alles, eradicating not only ‘capitalist roaders’ but all minorities, books, whatever. He took special delight in torturing and killing native Vietnamese, a tiny minority mostly on the border in contested areas. Vietnam took note, and with the Americans finally out of their hair, they took the bait when Cambodians staged border raids. Classic Bismarck.

This was another superpower stand off, with the Soviets backing Vietnam, and US-China backing the genocide, which was in full swing and publicly known. I remember this episode well, as ‘the collective west’ was backing Maoist China’s genocidal ally against newly liberated Vietnam, which was still reeling from four decades of imperialist wars and occupation. Monstrous.

To top it all off, after Mao died in 1976, the new leader Deng Xiaoping ordered an invasion of Vietnam in 1979. Vietnam had studiously avoided any kind of ‘leap forward’ or cultural revolution, sticking with the boring but safe Soviet planning. Relations between China and Vietnam were never the best. 

So Ukraine? Same basic dynamics: Brother Number One Zelensky turned against Ukraine’s Russians, and started a cultural revolution steeped in nationalism, teaming up with the US. The same ‘collective west’ boycott Russia and support the apparent victim. 

The big difference, besides Ukraine’s location in the heart of Europe, is China’s role. Now it is an ally of Russia (as it damn well should have been in Soviet days).

Another difference is the massive arming of the slav Brother Number One, and determination to destroy Russia. Pol Pot was a pariah, but 'our pariah'. So, sorry, no arms. But don't worry, we'll give Vietnam the same treatment. I.e., no support to the Vietnamese liberators. 

We can only be thankful that Nixon’s US was not so intent on destroying the Soviet Union as he was for leaving Vietnam a smoking ruin. Officially now ‘the good old days’. And Mao’s China was no match for the Soviets. Ho Chi Min was no fool. Imagine if today’s line-up --US, Britain, France vs Russia, China -- had been the case in the 1970s? We would all be learning Russian and Chinese as new linguae francae. Citizens of socialist planet Earth.

Vietnam and Cambodia have had a cold peace, like the US north-south after the civil war, another hint about the future of Ukraine. Some minor border spats, anti-Vietnam riots in the 1990s and ongoing occasional incidents attacking Vietnamese. 

The occupier is always wrong, and pillaging of assets, adjusting borders are inevitable. I’m pretty sure the Vietnamese have been saints compared to most occupations. China is now the preferred partner for Cambodia, though not for Mao but for cheap consumer goods and investment.


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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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