Pol Pot, who presided over the murder of more than a million of his fellow Cambodians, has been condemned to life imprisonment after a jungle show trial by the Khmer Rouge—or what is left of it. Many of Pol Pot’s accusers were, in happier days, his accomplices, and the trial had about as much credibility as a Nuremberg Trial presided over by Himmler and Goering.
Secretary of State Madeleine Albright immediately called for Pot to be dragged before an international tribunal. Obviously, it would give many people a great deal of satisfaction to see the mass-murderer humiliated and executed on live television, but like most quick-fix solutions, an international tribunal would do more harm than good.
Consider the record of the much-publicized Hague Tribunal for genocidal crimes in the former Yugoslavia. So far, only the smallest of small fry have been put on trial, and the worst thugs, Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Franjo Tudjman, have not even been indicted. Why? Because they are playing ball with the United States.”
The model is, of course, the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals after World War II. There is no doubt that most of the Nazi ringleaders deserved their fate, but even at Nuremberg, a double-standard was at work: “gentlemen” like Albert Speer, near the top of the Nazi hierarchy, were spared, while the guttersnipe propagandist, Julius Streicher, whose crime was writing anti-Semitic filth, was executed. Winston Churchill was not the only statesman who disliked the Nuremberg Trials, which left the permanent impression that the victors were onK’ getting their revenge.
We were in a war in Southeast Asia, once upon a time, fighting to contain the spread of communism in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. We lost that war. The reasons no longer matter as much as the fact that we lost. Now, 25 years later, we have a chance to get even, not with Ho Chi Minh or his top generals, but with a communist killer, most of whose victims were Cambodian, not American.
Pol Pot is a stain on the human memory, but no worse a blot than our ally Joseph Stalin or our friend Mao Tsetung. The late Deng Xiaoping, who served as Mao’s hatched man during the Cultural Revolution, was honored by American statesmen and Presidents both during his life and after his death. Compared with Mao and Deng, Pol Pot was small potatoes.
Then why are we calling for an international tribunal? It is partly revenge, of course, and partly the Clinton administration’s obsession with creating a new international order in which the United States will attempt to use the United Nations and other international agencies as a puppet. It might work for a while, so long as we have no international rivals, but the world is a big and dangerous place, and no country can monopolize power for very long. The United States played the same game in the 1950’s, before the Soviet Union was a superpower. But by the time of the Vietnam War, Soviets were able to manipulate international opinion against us, and the United Nations became a forum for anti-American propaganda.
In 1967, leading European intellectuals (principally Bertrand Russell and Jean-Paul Sartre) set up their own international tribunal in Stockholm and put a nation on trial for its war crimes. That nation was the United States.
The crimes of the Khmer Rouge were committed against Cambodia and other peoples of Southeast Asia. Let them handle their history as best they can. We have enough to do here at home.
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