SIDESHOW by William Shawcross
Kirkus Star


Kissinger, Nixon, And The Destruction Of Cambodia
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In 1969, Richard Nixon ordered the secret bombing of Cambodia to destroy North Vietnamese sanctuaries in that formally neutral nation. Today, a decade later, Nixon is a President driven from office and Cambodia a country devastated by civil war and occupied by the Vietnamese army. Shawcross, a former Indochina correspondent of the Sunday Times (London), vividly reconstructs--from documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and published sources and interviews--the process that led to this dismal two-part denouement, for it was the secret bombing which necessitated the wiretaps and other illegalities that culminated in Watergate. Shawcross traces the troubled history of Cambodia from the glories of the Angkor kingdom through the establishment of a French protectorate to its independence under the unpredictable Sihanouk. Long a pawn of the Thais and Vietnamese, the Cambodians managed to achieve a tenuous level of stability under the Prince, but Shawcross also takes note of internal political factions and mixed anti-monarchist opposition, though he discounts the strength of this opposition--until the bombing, that is. Sihanouk was powerless to prevent the Vietnamese from using Cambodian territory, but their presence was concentrated in a small border area. Placing the bombing in the context of American overkill, Shawcross argues that the attack--involving B-52 carpet-bombing of areas inhabited by Cambodian villagers--merely dispersed the Vietnamese and their Khmer Rouge allies deeper into the country. The U.S. escalation which followed the coup against Sihanouk progressively undermined Cambodian sovereignty, in Shawcross' view, and bred corruption by rapid militarization. The "sideshow" is what Cambodia came to be contemptuously called in Washington, where its destruction served not only U.S. aims in Vietnam, but the career interests of key Americans, of whom Kissinger looms the largest. Shawcross also chronicles the increasing extremism of the Khmer Rouge--he has monitored leaders' writings over the years--which issued in the repressive Communist regime. A penetrating study of Nixon-Kissinger rule and of its effects on one sad country, this is possibly the best treatment of the legacy of the Vietnam war in Indochina.
Pub Date: April 1st, 1979
ISBN: 081541224X
Page count: 515pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 1979


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