We Can Now See The Bombing Routes From America's Secret War In Cambodia

Via Joshua Keating at Foreign Policy comes an amazing new study of the bombing runs done by the United States over Cambodia during the Vietnam War. 

Taylor Owen of the University of British Columbia’s Liu Institute for Global Issues, used declassified information on the coordinates of the bombing runs to do an analysis of the U.S. campaign in Cambodia. 

Here are some of Owen’s findings (warning PDF):  

In particular, I show that:  the total tonnage dropped on Cambodia was five times  greater than previously known; the bombing inside Cambodia began nearly 4 years prior to the supposed start of the Menu Campaign, under the Johnson Administration;  that,  in contradiction to Henry Kissinger’s claims, and over the warning of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, Base Areas 704, 354 and 707 were all heavily bombed; the bombing intensity increased throughout the summer of 1973, after Congress barred any such increase; and, that despite claims by both Kissinger and Nixon to the contrary, there was substantial bombing within 1km of inhabited villages.


Here are the two charts that Owen’s came up with based on the data:

Bombing Cambodia Full

Photo: ThomasOwen.com

And here are the tonnage numbers graphed chronologically. 

Bombing Cambodia Tonnage


Owen’s paper is an enormous thesis on the history, purpose, strategy and politics behind the bombing of Cambodia. 

But toward the end of his presentation he gives a nice summary of why these events are still relevant to us today. 

The political consequences of the bombing are still active today. With 95% of Cambodian income coming from US aid, in 1994, Congress limited funding to $377 million USD. This limit in aid, and the congressional and public debate surrounding it, represents an ironic turn in US involvement in Cambodia. As the US strategic interest shifted from Vietnamese disengagement to aiding the Cambodia government to win a civil war, the administration had to protect the government from a conflict it ostensibly helped spread. This meant that even those who opposed the earlier Cambodian engagement, now supported assistance to help reconcile the damage they believed the US had themselves helped cause.  

Unintended consequences. 

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