×

Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Beyond the Killing Fields: War Writings
     

Beyond the Killing Fields: War Writings

by Sydney Schanberg
 

See All Formats & Editions


This first-ever anthology of the war reporting and commentary of Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Sydney Schanberg is drawn from more than four decades of reporting at home and abroad for the New York Times, Newsday, the Village Voice, and various magazines. The centerpiece of the collection is his signature work, “The Death and Life of

Overview


This first-ever anthology of the war reporting and commentary of Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Sydney Schanberg is drawn from more than four decades of reporting at home and abroad for the New York Times, Newsday, the Village Voice, and various magazines. The centerpiece of the collection is his signature work, “The Death and Life of Dith Pran,” which appeared in the New York Times Magazine. This became the foundation of Roland Joffé’s acclaimed film The Killing Fields (1984), which explored the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia during the late 1970s. Although Schanberg may be best known for his work on Cambodia, he also reported on the India-Pakistan war that ended Pakistan’s brutal attempt to crush the Bangladesh freedom movement in the 1970s. His striking coverage of the Vietnam conflict recounts Hanoi’s fierce offensive in 1972 that almost succeeded. Years later, citing official documents and other hard evidence that a large number of American POWs were never returned by Hanoi, Schanberg criticized the national press for ignoring these facts and called for Washington to release documents that had been covered up since 1973. As the media critic for the Village Voice, Schanberg offered a unique and searing viewpoint on Iraq, which he called America’s “strangest war.” His criticism of the Bush administration’s secrecy brings his war reportage into the present and presents a vigorous critique of what he considers a devious and destructive presidency. Beyond the Killing Fields is an important work by one of America’s foremost journalists.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“There is a biblical quality to this story. What you have in this book is a tremendous, bone-chilling piece of eyewitness war correspondence. What makes it truly extraordinary, however—what makes it a transcendent and classic piece of war literature—is the story of the survival of Dith Pran and the deepening affection between two men from different worlds. Caught up in a war in which the vile and inhuman have become commonplace, two men are reborn by discovering the depths of their own humanity. In the end, they have won a personal victory over war itself.”

“I recommend reading this remarkable book all at once, as I did. You’ll learn things. You’ll be fascinated and moved. It puts the reader where the reporter was and leaves you with an indelible picture of war as it is. The past—and the myriad, uncounted noncombatant victims of three wars—are brought back to life. Sydney Schanberg’s writing matches the intensity of the stories he has to tell and makes you feel the hurt. ‘This is what it’s like. Look,’ it says. ‘Don’t look away.’ It’s hard, necessary information.”

“Sydney Schanberg is one of the greatest war correspondents of the twentieth century. His passion for Cambodia is outweighed only by his passion for the truth and for his dear friend and colleague Dith Pran. This book is a chilling historical document that lyrically captures some of the darkest periods in American—and human—history. It is both great journalism and great art."

“A priceless collection of the war journalism of Syd Schanberg. Based in Southeast Asia, he was one of a tiny handful of reporters who remained behind to see the Khmer Rouge take over Phnom Penh and begin the Cambodian genocide. More recently, Schanberg's was among the few voices calling to account two U.S. senators, John McCain and John Kerry, both Vietnam veterans, for manipulating the findings of a special Senate committee to cover up the truth: that the Nixon White House, directed by President Nixon and his war planner, Henry Kissinger, left hundreds of living American POWs behind in the hands of their captors when we evacuated Vietnam. Schanberg's war writings offer lessons of great value in our conduct of today’s wars without end. They remind us at once of bygone standards of journalistic excellence and the depths to which humanity can descend in times of war.”

Russell Baker

“There is a biblical quality to this story. What you have in this book is a tremendous, bone-chilling piece of eyewitness war correspondence. What makes it truly extraordinary, however—what makes it a transcendent and classic piece of war literature—is the story of the survival of Dith Pran and the deepening affection between two men from different worlds. Caught up in a war in which the vile and inhuman have become commonplace, two men are reborn by discovering the depths of their own humanity. In the end, they have won a personal victory over war itself.”—Russell Baker, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, humorist, chronicler of American life, former columnist for the New York Times, and former host of Masterpiece Theatre
Sam Waterston

“I recommend reading this remarkable book all at once, as I did. You’ll learn things. You’ll be fascinated and moved. It puts the reader where the reporter was and leaves you with an indelible picture of war as it is. The past—and the myriad, uncounted noncombatant victims of three wars—are brought back to life. Sydney Schanberg’s writing matches the intensity of the stories he has to tell and makes you feel the hurt. ‘This is what it’s like. Look,’ it says. ‘Don’t look away.’ It’s hard, necessary information.”—Sam Waterston, star of the long-running television drama Law & Order, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of Schanberg in The Killing Fields
David Rohde

“Sydney Schanberg is one of the greatest war correspondents of the twentieth century. His passion for Cambodia is outweighed only by his passion for the truth and for his dear friend and colleague Dith Pran. This book is a chilling historical document that lyrically captures some of the darkest periods in American—and human—history. It is both great journalism and great art."—David Rohde, two-time Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter for the New York Times
Joseph L. Galloway

“A priceless collection of the war journalism of Syd Schanberg. Based in Southeast Asia, he was one of a tiny handful of reporters who remained behind to see the Khmer Rouge take over Phnom Penh and begin the Cambodian genocide. More recently, Schanberg's was among the few voices calling to account two U.S. senators, John McCain and John Kerry, both Vietnam veterans, for manipulating the findings of a special Senate committee to cover up the truth: that the Nixon White House, directed by President Nixon and his war planner, Henry Kissinger, left hundreds of living American POWs behind in the hands of their captors when we evacuated Vietnam. Schanberg's war writings offer lessons of great value in our conduct of today’s wars without end. They remind us at once of bygone standards of journalistic excellence and the depths to which humanity can descend in times of war.”—Joseph L. Galloway, coauthor of We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young and We Are Soldiers Still: A Journey Back to the Battlefields of Vietnam

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781597975056
Publisher:
Potomac Books
Publication date:
03/29/2010
Pages:
242
Sales rank:
426,047
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

BEYOND THE KILLING FIELDS

WAR WRITINGS
By SYDNEY SCHANBERG

Potomac Books, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Sydney Schanberg
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59797-505-6


Chapter One

Cambodia, an Unnecessary War

THE BIG PICTURE

Author's Note: This is an essay from Crimes of War: What the Public Should Know, ed. Roy Gutman and David Rieff (New York: W. W. Norton, 1999), a study of the evils of war in modern times. All the remaining articles in this chapter are from The New York Times.

For the last three decades, without surcease, Cambodia has been consumed by war, genocide, slave labor, forced marches, starvation, disease, and now civil conflict. It is to Asia what the Holocaust was to Europe.

Roughly the size of Missouri, bordered by Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, Cambodia had a population of perhaps 7 to 8 million in 1975 when the maniacal Khmer Rouge guerrillas swept into Phnom Penh and began the "purification" campaign that was the centerpiece of their extremist agrarian revolution. Four years later, in 1979, the Khmer Rouge were pushed back into the jungle, leaving behind their legacy: 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians dead in what would become known to the world as "the Killing Fields." Twenty percent of the population erased. In America that would be 50 to 60 million people.

Some scholars say that technically what happened in Cambodia cannot be called a genocide because, for the most part, it was Khmers killing other Khmers, not someone trying to destroy a different "national, racial, ethnical or religious group"-which is how international law defines genocide.

To make such semantic or legalistic distinctions, however, is sometimes to forsake common sense-after all, the Khmer Rouge set out to erase an entire culture, a major foundation stone of which was Cambodia's religion, Theravada Buddhism. And this may help explain why, over the years, the law has proved so poor a guide to the reality of human slaughter. For, whether you call the mass killing in Cambodia a genocide or simply a crime against humanity, it was the same by either name. It was a visitation of evil.

One might thus reasonably pick Cambodia as a paradigm for the law's weakness in dealing with such crimes. International law, after all, depends for its legitimacy on the willingness of the world's Nation-States to obey and enforce it. In Cambodia's case most Nation-States expressed shock and horror-and did nothing. Even after the Vietnamese Army pushed the Khmer Rouge out of power in 1979, ended the genocide, were welcomed as liberators, and installed a pro-Hanoi government in Phnom Penh, Western nations saw to it that Cambodia's seat at the United Nations continued to be occupied for several years by those very same Khmer Rouge. Washington and its allies, while denouncing the Khmer Rouge crimes, were still slaves to Cold War ideology; they decided it was better to keep them in the UN seat than to have it go to a government in the orbit of Vietnam and its mentor, the Soviet Union. Realpolitik, not the law, was the governing force.

For the human record, let us examine exactly what the Khmer Rouge did to the Cambodian population. Their first act, within hours of military victory, was to kidnap it, herding everyone out of cities and towns into work camps deep in the countryside. All villages that touched on roads were similarly emptied. Cambodia, in fact, was transformed into one giant forced-labor camp under the fist of Angka, "the organization on high." That was the mild part.

The Khmer Rouge had actively sealed off the country. The world could not look in. The horror could begin. Led by Pol Pot, their Paris-educated, Maoist-influenced "Brother Number One," the new rulers proceeded to completely shatter the three underpinnings of Cambodian society-the family, the Buddhist religion, and the village. In grueling migrations, people were marched to sites as far as possible from their home villages. Children were separated from parents and placed in youth groups, where they were indoctrinated to inform on their parents and other adults for any infractions of Angka's crushing rules. Marriage was forbidden except when arranged by Angka. The schools were shuttered, currency abolished, factories abandoned. Newspapers ceased to exist. Radio sets were taken away.

Buddhist temples were razed or closed. Of the sixty thousand Buddhist monks only three thousand were found alive after the Khmer Rouge reign; the rest had either been massacred or succumbed to hard labor, disease, or torture. The Chams, a Muslim minority, were also targets for elimination.

Religion, however, was but a starting point. Simply put, the Khmer Rouge marked for potential extinction all Cambodians they deemed not "borisot" (pure)-meaning all those with an education, those raised in population centers, those "tainted" by anything foreign (including knowledge of a foreign language), even those who wore glasses. Anyone, that is, suspected of not being in step with their pathological agrarian master plan. All suspect Cambodians were labeled "new people" and kept apart from the "pure" populations. In some instances, the "new people" were given special identifying neckerchiefs-reminiscent of the yellow Star of David-so they could always be picked out of a crowd, as they often were when taken away for execution.

The Khmer Rouge had a pet slogan: "To spare you is no profit; to destroy you, no loss." With this incantation, at least 1.5 million Cambodians were erased.

I was in Phnom Penh when the Khmer Rouge marched in victorious on April 17, 1975, their faces cold, a deadness in their eyes. They ordered the city evacuated. Everyone was to head for the countryside to join the glorious revolution. They killed those who argued against leaving. Two million frightened people started walking out of the capital. The guerrilla soldiers even ordered the wounded out of the overflowing hospitals, where the casualties had been so heavy in the final few days of the war that the floors were slick with blood. There was no time for anything but emergency surgery. When the doctors ran out of surgical gloves, they simply dipped their hands in bowls of antiseptic and moved on to the next operating table. Somewhere between five thousand and ten thousand wounded were in the city's hospitals when the order to evacuate came. Most couldn't walk so their relatives wheeled them out of the buildings on their beds, with plasma and serum bags attached, and began pushing them along the boulevards out of the city toward the "revolution."

Foreigners were allowed to take refuge in the French embassy compound. I watched many Cambodian friends being herded out of Phnom Penh. Most of them I never saw again. All of us felt like betrayers, like people who were protected and didn't do enough to save our friends. We felt shame. We still do.

Two weeks later, the Khmer Rouge expelled us from the country, shipping us out on two truck convoys to the border with Thailand. With this act, Cambodia was sealed. The world could not look in. The killing could begin.

But the story of Cambodia's misery did not start with the Khmer Rouge. It began in March 1970, when a pro-Western junta headed by Gen. Lon Nol, with Washington's blessing, deposed Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who was out of the country. Sihanouk, a neutralist, had kept Cambodia out of the Vietnam War by making concessions to appease both sides. He allowed the Americans to secretly bomb Viet Cong sanctuaries inside Cambodia while he allowed the Vietnamese Communists to use Cambodia's port city, Kompong Som (also called Sihanoukville) to ship in supplies for those sanctuaries.

With Sihanouk gone, the Lon Nol group in effect declared war on Hanoi, and President Richard Nixon, pleased to have partisans-not neutralists-in Phnom Penh, ordered American troops to push into Cambodia from Vietnam for a six-week assault on the Communist sanctuaries. However, not having real confidence in Lon Nol, the president didn't inform him of the invasion on his sovereign territory until after it had begun and after Nixon had informed the American public on national television.

This was probably the moment that marked Cambodia's transformation into a pawn of the Cold War, with the Chinese backing the Khmer Rouge, the Soviets backing Hanoi, and the Americans backing the Lon Nol regime-all of them turning the entire country into a surrogate Cold War battlefield. The great irony in this turn of events is that the Khmer Rouge were no serious threat in 1970, being a motley collection of ineffectual guerrilla bands totaling at most three thousand to five thousand men, who could never have grown into the murderous force of seventy thousand to 100,000 that swept into Phnom Penh five years later without the American intervention and the subsequent expansion of Chinese and Russian aid to the Communist side. The enlarged war gave the Khmer Rouge status and recruitment power. It also gave them tutelage and advisory help from Hanoi's forces (at least for the first two years before deep rifts drove the two apart).

This five-year war was marked by barbarism by all sides. Cambodian warriors have a battlefield custom, going back centuries, of cutting the livers from the bodies of their vanquished foes, then cooking them in a stew and eating them. The belief is that this imparts strength and also provides talismanic protection against being killed by the enemy. In this and countless other ways, the international conventions that say respect must be shown to the fallen enemy were universally disregarded.

Early in the war, in a town south of Phnom Penh, Lon Nol troops had killed two Viet Cong and recovered their badly charred bodies, which they hung upside-down in the town square to swing gruesomely in the wind-thereby sending a message to all who might consider aiding the foe. Henry Kamm, my New York Times colleague, tried to tell the Lon Nol commander that treating the bodies in this manner violated the Geneva Conventions. The commander found this amusing. He left the bodies twisting.

With the Vietnamese Communist units moving deeper into Cambodia, the Lon Nol government began whipping up anti-Vietnamese fervor. This visited fear and worse upon the 200,000-strong ethnic Vietnamese community in the country who, though they were citizens of Cambodia and had lived there for generations, soon became the targets of a public frenzy. Massacres began occurring. Many of the Vietnamese lived along the rivers, earning their living as fishermen; their bodies were soon floating down the Mekong by the dozens. One government general, Sosthene Fernandez, a Cambodian of Filipino ancestry who later rose to become chief of the armed forces, began using ethnic Vietnamese civilians as protective shields for his advancing troops, marching them in front into the waiting guns of the Viet Cong. This, too, is against international law. Fernandez disagreed. "It is a new form of psychological warfare," he said.

Saigon raised bitter protests against these pogroms, and Cambodia's Vietnamese population was finally interned in protective custody in schools and other public buildings. Many were eventually moved under guard to South Vietnam as a temporary measure until emotions cooled.

As the war progressed, the country-at least the part held by the Lon Nol government-progressively shrank. The energized Khmer Rouge kept grabbing more and more territory until the area under government control, aside from the capital, was reduced to a handful of transport corridors and several province towns. The Phnom Penh airport and the Mekong River were its lone links to the outside world. To preserve these lines of supply, the Americans bombed Khmer Rouge and Viet Cong targets in the countryside on a daily basis. Since most of the raids were by giant, eight-engine B-52s, each carrying about twenty-five tons of bombs and thus laying down huge carpets of destruction, the bombing was anything but surgical, and frequently hit civilian villages. The result was thousands of refugees fleeing into Phnom Penh and the province towns. The capital swelled from a population of 600,000 at the start of the war to 2 million at its end in 1975. The American embassy in Phnom Penh-and Henry Kissinger's team in Washington-insisted that the refugees were fleeing only one thing: attacks by the brutal Khmer Rouge. But in fact they were fleeing both the Khmer Rouge and the American bombs. I visited refugee camps regularly and consistently heard both accounts. Some peasants didn't flee at all; the Khmer Rouge used their anger about the bombing to recruit them as soldiers and porters.

The bombing raids illustrate what is pretty much an axiom in all wars: i.e., that so-called "conventional" weapons not forbidden by international law can produce the same horrific results as banned weapons.

In Cambodia, the B-52s usually flew in formations of three, with each of the mammoth planes carrying twenty-five to thirty tons of bombs, making the total load of a formation seventy-five to ninety tons. B-52s drop their bombs to form a grid, or "box," of destruction on the ground; the grid (an average one might be one kilometer wide and two kilometers long) can be altered to fit the size and shape of the troop concentration. Soldiers who manage to survive these massive explosions (which sometimes throw bodies and dirt as much as one hundred feet in the air) are often rendered unfit for further duty, having been put in permanent shock or made deaf or simply frightened to the bone of every sharp sound or movement. Such raids were what destroyed the retreating Iraqi troops on the road to Basra at the end of that war in 1991-the road that became known as the "Highway of Death."

In 1973, an accidental B-52 bombing of Neak Luong, a government-held Mekong River town, killed and wounded some four hundred Cambodians, most of them civilians. The American embassy apologized and gave monetary gifts to victims' families on a sliding scale-a few hundred dollars for the loss of a limb, more for multiple limbs, and still more for a death. When civilians die in wars, the military calls it unintentional, even though everyone knows civilian deaths are inevitable, especially when the weapons spray their lethality over large spaces. The phrase used by the Pentagon for civilian deaths is "collateral damage"-just as napalm was called "soft ordnance"-the idea being to give war a softer, sanitized sound for the lay public.

Napalm, incidentally, was dropped by B-52s in the Vietnam and Cambodian wars, in the form of CBUs-Cluster Bomb Units. (Other planes dropped napalm in different containers and forms.) A CBU is a large bomb, weighing five hundred pounds or more, that carries hundreds of smaller projectiles. A typical CBU is rigged to open in the manner of a clamshell a short distance above the ground, releasing its hail of explosive bomblets on the enemy troops beneath it. One variety was the CBU-3; its bomblets carried napalm, which set fire to the troops or robbed the air of oxygen, thus asphyxiating them. Another version carried special darts, which ripped through flesh or pinned the victims to trees or the ground. Sometimes it is hard for the layman to discern any great difference between these weapons and, for instance, the chemical arms banned by international law and custom. Both have a terror component. We have been told that the napalm and darts have since been taken out of the American CBU inventory-because of their bad image-but other varieties of CBUs are still used, as in the 1991 Gulf war with Iraq.

Actually, napalm is still being used as a firebomb, although the Pentagon refuses to call it by that name, saying the chemical formula has been altered. The new bomb is called the MK-47, replacing the MK-44. The only result of the chemical change has been to make the incendiary charge even fiercer.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from BEYOND THE KILLING FIELDS by SYDNEY SCHANBERG Copyright © 2010 by Sydney Schanberg. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Sydney Schanberg is one of America’s foremost journalists, the winner of a Pulitzer Prize in 1976, an internationally known columnist at the New York Times and Newsday, and an award-winning media critic for the Village Voice. He became well known when his coverage of the fall of Cambodia in 1975 was made into the Academy Award–winning movie The Killing Fields. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network

     

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews