Why foreign policy is difficult

Dear Excellency and friend,

I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion.

As for you and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection and we can do nothing about it. You leave us and it is my wish that you and your country will find happiness under the sky.

But mark it well that, if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is too bad because we are all born and must die one day. I have only committed the mistake of believing in you, the Americans.

Please accept, Excellency, my dear friend, my faithful and friendly sentiments. Sirik Matak.

I was made aware of that letter by the movie Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll, which I saw last night at the Seattle Asian American Film Festival. As the title suggests the film focuses on music in Cambodia before and during the Vietnam War, and its loss after the rise of the Khmer Rouge.

The South Vietnamese and Cambodians were in an impossible position at that time. American opposition to the Vietnam war forced a withdrawal in 1973, though indirect US intervention lasted until 1975. In Cambodia the Khmer Rouge took over and exacted an unspeakable toll. This was especially hard for many Cambodian people because it was a civil war: Cambodian-on-Cambodian violence. During a private and especially emotional Thanksgiving dinner I heard a close friend mother’s recount her life under the Khmer Rouge. I don’t know how anyone had the strength to survive.

The situation is even more complicated, because the rise of the Khmer Rouge itself was a response to American bombing, which itself was a response to fear that communists from Vietnam would overtake part or all of Cambodia. There are many other twists and turns in this story that underscore the complexity and tragedy of foreign intervention and of not intervening.



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