Rundle on the Khmer Rouge

Guy Rundle writes: Re. “On Rundle and fatwas” (yesterday). Crime novels often begin with a petty misdemeanour that leads to a great unravelling. Readers will thus understand my joy at the response of Gerard Henderson to my update on Khmer Rouge-gate. Readers with no life will recall that Gerard, in his batshit mad Media Watch Dog, had been going the tonk on the late Tom Uren for saying some silly things — as did many people at the time in praise of the Khmer Rouge — who had swept to power in 1975 after five years of turmoil, following the US invasion of that neutral country.

Your correspondent pointed out that, whatever Tom Uren may have said, what matters was what was done – and that is that from 1979-80 onwards, the Reagan, Thatcher and Fraser governments had supported the Khmer Rouge following the invasion of Cambodia/Kampuchea by the Vietnamese. Thereby hangs a tale. The Vietnamese had invaded because of repeated Khmer Rouge incursions along their border. But in invading, it had also become clear to them that the Cambodian revolution had gone very wrong and that it had fused a Maoist idea of autonomy with a Khmer chauvinism (redolent of North Korea’s position today). It was a murderous freak show, and Vietnam occupied, and became the only force post-Holocaust to stop a genocide — auto-genocide in this case — in its tracks.

For this, the Vietnamese were punished with a decade of sanctions by the West, who, in 1980, swung round to support the Khmer Rouge, now in jungle exile. Why? Because the Vietnamese were Soviet-aligned, and the Khmer Rouge Chinese aligned, and the Chinese were our allies. The Khmer Rouge, in their jungle demesne, applied the same rules of forced labour and torture they had in the country as a whole for years, into the late 1980s, killing thousands. They could have been wound up years before they were. Why weren’t they? Because the Reagan, Thatcher, Fraser governments gave the active support, UN recognition, funds, and as we now know, UK SAS training for Khmer Rouge forces in 1986. All parties knew that Pol Pot was alive and running the show and along with Chinese wishes, would have been willing to see him leader of Cambodia once more.

This was particularly nihilistic, because, by the mid-80s, it was clear that Soviet Communist states were normalising, while post-Maoist China was combining hypercapitalism with old-style Maoist punitiveness. Life in Moscow, Prague or Havana was a lot better than in the late hysteria rocking China, but who cares? They were our allies,and so we would support them come what may.

That’s the context of Gerard’s mewling puking comment on the matter. Some people latched on to the Khmer Rouge victory as the latest revolution against the world system. Some of them, like the late Christopher Pearson, ended up on the right. They would say that their move was related to discovering what the nature of the Khmer Rouge was. Bollocks. It was discovering that the left wasn’t going to win, and requesting a transfer that pushed them rightwards. But it’s all irrelevant, because what mattered was that Western governments, including the Fraser-Howard government , kept the Khmer Rouge alive for a decade beyond its use-by date, for its own ends.

Gerard doesn’t deny this in his letter. He simply ignores it, ranking some expression of support by Uren and others as more significant than the material support Fraser/Howard, Reagan and Thatcher gave the Khmer Rouge. It fools no-one with a clear eye. That’s why his defence is so pathetic. “Oh we didn’t go to the actual Khmer Rouge-run camps, we went to the other ones.” “I met Hun Sen.” Hun Sen, the Keith Windschuttle of Cambodia, Khmer Rouge commander till it all started going to shit, jumped to the other side. Big deal. By the mid-80s, when Gerard and John Howard were touring refugee camps, and “avoiding the KR-run ones”, Margaret Thatcher had authorised SAS special forces to train Khmer Rouge units in the dark arts of population control. The history of the right and the Khmer Rouge is a shameful one, and Henderson should stop pretending that people like Fraser and Howard didn’t know what was going on.

Do what you like about Tom Uren, Gerard. Whatever he may have said, he never shipped the Khmer Rouge arms, which is more than can be said for the people who employed you for a number of years. A shameful record for all concerned. A crime indeed.

On the arts budget

David Whittingham writes: Re. “Brandis’ new arts spending a vehicle for pet projects — and a big ‘screw you’ to artists” (yesterday). With Senator Brandis’s bid to shape a greater part of arts funding in Australia to his liking, I can see it won’t be long before there’s an Entartete Kunst exhibition at the NGA.

Ralph’s opinions not appreciated

Richard Barlow writes: Re. “Do the Greens have the stomach to be a real political force?” (Tuesday). You may think I should know who Toby Ralph is, or that I should have recalled that he was described in your Power Index as “somewhere to the right of Genghis Khan”. But I didn’t know who he is, or expect to see someone like him in Crikey. If I want angry old right wing rants about the Greens I will subscribe to The Oz.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.


Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey