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The Cambodian Genocide



A Cold Shoulder to Cries for Help: America On the Sidelines of WWII

The year is 1933 and there is a war brewing in Europe. Adolf Hitler has gained control of Germany and is pushing his nation to conquer all others in Europe. Britain and France wait anxiously by, hoping that his desires do not actually include Western Europe but instead the small nations of Eastern Europe. Japan during this period enters China and begins it's campaign for control over the Asian continent. Hitler occupies a slice of land separating France and Germany. He then takes all of Austria, all of Western Czechoslovakia, and helped the fascist forces in Spain. Things are not looking good for France and England. When Germany takes Poland in 1939, England declares war.

During all this commotion, what did the United States do? It sat by and tried to not get involved. Most of the U.S. didn't want anything to do with the war in Europe and few recognized Japan's slow take over China as a war that would spread to the States. The U.S. shipped quite a bit of materials (mainly fuels, ores and other building materials) to both Japan and Germany. To end this trade, would have critically hurt the U.S.'s economy. No one wanted a return to the Depression era economy. America also had strong banking ties to these countries that they did not want to jeopardize them. Neither of the countries was at present a threat to the U.S. in the early stages of the war. Germany was just taking over some little countries in East Europe. Who were we to tell Germany or Japan not to do something? After all, it was just some ethnic minorities (in the case of Germany), and the Chinese (in the case of Japan). Who cared?

American citizens proved to be poor sympathizers to the plight of the war torn. Through a series of bendings of laws, they shunned refugees from Europe - a great deal of which were Jews seeking safety from the Holocaust. The U.S. also averted its eyes from events like "The Rape of Nanking", between December 1937 and March 1938, where Japanese soldiers slaughtered at least 369,366 Chinese civilians and prisoners of war. An estimated 80,000 women and girls were raped; many of them were then mutilated or murdered.

In one instance of unabashed U.S. isolationism, a ship carrying 900 Jews from Europe was denied harbor in Florida and was forced to return to Europe. Some of the passengers were able flee to Britain, Netherlands, and Belgium. But, others were turned to camps in France only to be caught by Nazis after France's fall. Those unfortunates were then taken to concentration camps where most were killed.

During the early 1940s, only 21,000 Jewish refugees were allowed into the U.S. That was 10 percent the number allowed by existing immigration laws.

What kind of nation would turn away war refugees? In the United States anti-Semitism had grown to a fevered pitch. Many publications were created or bent to the will of anti-Semites. Henry Ford, of Ford Motors, purchased a magazine and ran numerous articles detailing the plots of Jews to take over the world and kill all Christians. Even though he was forced to recant his statements, the message was already bouncing through the minds of Americans.

That message invaded American life and caused outbreaks of anti-Semitism. Many shops owned by Jews were vandalized.

Some have even accused President Roosevelt of caring little for the plight of the European Jews even though word had come early on of the mass killings undertaken by the Nazi regime. After Allied air superiority had been established in 1944, there was no order to bomb the gas chambers in the Nazi concentration camps even though it was very feasible. An argument to the benefit of the Allied decision is that many prisoner lives would undoubtedly be ended in the bombings. On average, Auschwitz could kill and burn 6,000 people a day. If the Allied planes had bombed Auschwitz, killing most of its inhabitations, it would still have slowed the killing of all those that were in route to Auschwitz. How many lives would have been saved? Many, is the answer. In all, 2 million Jews were killed at Auschwitz. Halt the process and you save 6,000 lives in just the first day - 42,000 in one week. With over a dozen camps like Auschwitz; thousands, if not millions, of lives could have been saved by their destruction.

Much of the U.S. was unsympathetic to the horrors that happened in Europe. The Roosevelt administration kept information on the atrocities from the public during the early years. It was only when the U.S. became involved after the bombing of Pearl Harbor that newsreels began to carry the stories of Jewish plight.

All in all, approximately 11 million people were killed in the holocaust. 6 million were Jews (of which 1.5 million were children). Others included gypsies and Soviet prisoners of war.

If you were alive during this time and news came to you that these people were being killed, what would you do about it? Would you write your Congressperson? Would you organize a political lobby? Would you march in the streets protesting your government's passive role in the slaughter?

There are events very similar to the holocaust that have happened in parts of the world since WWII. And yet, the U.S. government does little to help those being killed.

- The U.S. supported the Guatemalan Army and their ensuing acts of human rights violations that led to the deaths of over 200,000 civilians in the 1980s.

- Hutu and Tutsi tribal wars in Burundi and Rwanda - 1993 deaths in Burundi: 100,000, 1994 deaths in Rwanda: 200,000.

- In Israel/Palestine, violence in the last five months has claimed 411 lives, including 339 Palestinians, 57 Israeli Jews and 15 others. This adds to a tally dating back to the creation of the Israeli state on May 14, 1948. During Israel's bid for statehood, it killed off whole villages of Palestinians and displaced nearly a million.

- The Cambodian genocide: at least 1.7 million people (20% of the entire population) were killed by their government, the Khmer Rouge.

With this in mind, make sure to weigh the possibilities next time you hear of a conflict happening somewhere in the world. Do we need to sit by and watch as innocents die? Should we try to avert another Holocaust, as was our rational in bringing UN forces to the Balkans? As a soon to be voter (and a fulltime member of the human race), the decision is yours.

The Team


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephen - The sweet solace of a farm in war time
Nick - When you must survive, you will find a way
Becky - Suit up! It's time for Zooting in Los Angeles
Irene - You are a U.S. citizen but we will still put you in a concentration camp
Daphne - Saving the world is a full time job
Nick - You work hard and still that isn't good enough
Becky - The making of the world's largest vaporizer: The Bomb
Stephen - What did the war mean to the fighters?