Although often overshadowed by the disasters of Vietnam and Cambodia, Laos also suffered after the US retreat. A 1978 Time article reports:
'It Didn't Happen'
We suppose it was inevitable: Four and a half years after Congress authorized the liberation of Iraq, some observers are comparing the situation there to Vietnam, where America lost a war after its will faltered. It turns out at least one congressman actually served in Vietnam, so he ought to be particularly qualified to help us determine the lessons of that conflict for this one.
Meet John Kerry, junior senator from Massachusetts. Some say he looks French, others call him haughty. But everyone agrees on one thing: He served in Vietnam.
After returning from a tour of duty that lasted an astonishing four months, Kerry also became an antiwar activist. In 1971 Kerry testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Vietnamese were a simple people, too simple to care about freedom or oppression:
We found most people didn't even know the difference between communism and democracy. They only wanted to work in rice paddies without helicopters strafing them and bombs with napalm burning their villages and tearing their country apart.
Kerry's side prevailed. In 1973 the U.S. withdrew its troops from Vietnam, and in 1975 Congress, its Democratic majority expanded by the post-Watergate election of 1974, voted to cut off aid to the South Vietnamese government. That year Saigon fell to the communists.
What happened then? Not much, according to Kerry, quoted in the Chicago Tribune:
"We heard that argument over and over again about the bloodbath that would engulf the entire Southeast Asia, and it didn't happen," Kerry said, dismissing the charge out of hand as he argued that the American presence only makes the situation worse every day.
In 2001, California's Orange County Register published an investigation of communist re-education camps in postwar Vietnam:
To corroborate the experiences of refugees now living in Orange County, the Register interviewed dozens of former inmates and their families, both in the United States and Vietnam; analyzed hundreds of pages of documents, including testimony from more than 800 individuals sent to jail; and interviewed Southeast Asian scholars. The review found:
- An estimated 1 million people were imprisoned without formal charges or trials.
- 165,000 people died in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam's re-education camps, according to published academic studies in the United States and Europe.
- Thousands were abused or tortured: their hands and legs shackled in painful positions for months, their skin slashed by bamboo canes studded with thorns, their veins injected with poisonous chemicals, their spirits broken with stories about relatives being killed.
- Prisoners were incarcerated for as long as 17 years, according to the U.S. Department of State, with most terms ranging from three to 10 years.
- At least 150 re-education prisons were built after Saigon fell 26 years ago.
- One in three South Vietnamese families had a relative in a re-education camp.
According to John Kerry, "it didn't happen."
Things were even worse in Cambodia, as the Christian Science Monitor reported in 2005:
When the Khmer Rouge victoriously entered Phnom Penh 30 years ago, many people greeted the rebels with a cautious optimism, weary from five years of civil war that had torn apart their lives and killed hundreds of thousands of Cambodians. . . .
During the nearly four years following that day--April 17, 1975--Cambodia was radically transformed. . . .
Everyday freedoms were abolished. Buddhism and other forms of religious worship were banned. Money, markets, and media disappeared. Travel, public gatherings, and communication were restricted. Contact with the outside world vanished. And the state set out to control what people ate and did each day, whom they married, how they spoke, what they thought, and who would live and die. "To keep you is no gain," the Khmer Rouge warned, "To destroy you is no loss."
In the end, more than 1.7 million of Cambodia's 8 million inhabitants perished from disease, starvation, overwork, or outright execution in a notorious genocide.
But don't worry. According to John Kerry, "it didn't happen."
Last week, as we noted, Kerry's colleague Barack Obama opined that genocide in Iraq would be preferable to America's continued presence there. But John Kerry has shown the way. If genocide, or some lesser horror, does occur in the wake of a U.S. retreat, Obama can simply assert: "It didn't happen."
Prominent Democratic officeholders are willing to deny or countenance crimes against humanity in order to justify a popular political position. Doesn't this shock the conscience of Democrats?
Under the Puritan discipline of the Pathet Lao, who seized control in 1975, the gentle life of the Laotians has undergone a harsh transformation .... Nowhere is this more evident than in Phong Saly province, a remote region that juts into southern China. There, the Pa thet Lao have set up prison camps for "enemies of the state" that seem like something out of Solzhenitsyn: their heavy log walls are covered with barbed wire and bordered with sharp bamboo stakes; beyond, there is nothing but dense jungle and forbidding mountains. "You can try to escape," the guards taunt their charges, "but we'll have you back here within seven days."
This jungle Siberia is the maximum-security wing of a detention system that may give Laos the sad distinction of having more political prisoners per capita than any other country.
By the regime's own reckoning 40,000 Laotians (out of a population of 3.4 million) have been herded off to "reeducation camps." ....
But the regime's figures do not include 12,000 unfortunates who have been packed off to Phong Saly. There, no pretense at re-education is made. As one high Pathet Lao official told Australian Journalist John Everingham, who himself spent eight days in a Lao prison last year, "No one ever returns."
Those who wind up in Phong Saly are accused of specific crimes, although the charges may be as vague as being a "spy" or a "reactionary." Since Pathet Lao soldiers have been given blanket permission to charge just about anyone and no trials are necessary, many Laotians have been banished to Phong Saly for little reason.