Senator George McGovern, well known for his opposition to the American war effort in Viet Nam, seemingly reversed himself recently when he suggested using military force in Southeast Asia. The senator said a multi-nation army might be formed to stop the slaughter in Cambodia, where an estimated 2.5 of 7.7 million people have died of disease, starvation, or execution since the Communist takeover three years ago. He calls the situation “a clear case of genocide.”
But what was more surprising than McGovern’s suggestion was the silence that followed his remarks. Americans who recently bristled at the television film on the Jewish holocaust seem to ignore a contemporary holocaust in Cambodia. Perhaps we think that the carnage will evaporate like a TV image at sign-off. After hearing House testimony concerning Cambodia, Congressman Stephen Solarz (D-NY) said that the indifference of the nation to the Cambodian situation was “almost as appalling as what has happened there.”
Perhaps our ignorance of the situation explains our silence. Indeed, the nine-man ruling group in Cambodia, which has transformed the land of the “gentle people” into its so-called Democratic Kampuchea, has created the darkest media blackout in modern history.
Almost all information has come from refugees who have escaped across Cambodian borders. Although the reports have varied, they are consistent on several points. The refugees describe a system of forced labor, where whole families work sixteen-hour days in the fields and subsist on seven tablespoons of gruel per day per person. They say that being late for work or initiating male-female relationships outside the allowed two day per year “mating periods” is punishable by death—usually by a beating with bamboo poles.
The nine-man Organization on High forcibly relocated more than half the population. They evacuated the cities of 4 million inhabitants, herding those who survived the ordeal to rural villages and farm communes. The Communists’ thinking was that a more purely Marxist state would evolve in an agrarian society. But the results of the bloody evacuation have been disastrous.
We find it hard to comprehend a statistic like “millions dead.” Is that why we don’t speak out? Or have we forgotten that Cambodians are not faceless Asians, but individuals? Why pay millions of dollars to find out how many bullets killed a president, but do nothing about the inhumane regime in Cambodia? Would we still yawn quietly if such slaughter were happening in Europe or Latin America?
Fortunately, a protest movement is growing. President Carter broke his silence last April when he publicly denounced the Cambodian regime. The United Nations Human Rights Commission, after much vacillating, recently began an investigation of human rights abuses in Cambodia.
But few evangelicals have become involved. Several denominations have passed resolutions condemning the Cambodian situation, but such church pronouncements rarely affect world affairs. And it does little good to read such Scripture verses as “to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin,” then not heed it. A better course of action would be to send letters of concern to American congressmen. That might motivate them to find ways to pressure Cambodia, whose leaders so far have been deaf to most international influence except that from their arms suppliers in Communist China.
Phone calls of protest to the State Department might ripple the placid government waters. “We don’t want another Viet Nam,” we cry. Yet we must become personally involved. No other way seems open. The Cambodian genocide is proportionately worse than that wreaked in the Nazi death camps.
Cambodia was beginning to experience a modest Christian awakening shortly before the Communist takeover. Missionary efforts had yielded only a few hundred Cambodian believers between 1923 (the first Protestant outreach) and 1970. But more than 10,000 people attended a 1972 crusade led by Stanley Mooneyham of World Vision. Some 2,000 people responded to invitations to receive Christ, tripling in a week the number of Cambodian Protestant believers.
The Sunday before the takeover, about 3,000 Christians worshiped in the twenty-nine churches in Phnom Penh. A person-to-person evangelistic thrust was producing an estimated 100 converts a week. Son Sonne, in cooperation with the United Bible Societies, was hoping to distribute over a million scriptures throughout Cambodia. The new Christians included influential leaders like Men Ny Borinn, president of the Supreme Court, and Chhric Taing, a colonel in the Cambodian army. Outsiders have lost contact with these men and the other Christians who remained in the country.
A World Vision publication described a small group Bible study that was held two weeks before the fall of Phnom Penh in the home of Colonel Taing. The believers read John 13 together, then conducted a simple foot-washing service. Afterwards they speculated about their future in the besieged capital city and a member of the group said, “I believe that for some of us there will be death.”
Who would have guessed the way this prophetic statement would be fulfilled?—J.M.
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