Simon & Schuster, $13.95
Whether another scandal from the Nixon years can be counted on to inflame or enrage American book-buyers remains to be seen. But. if purpose can be served by peeping under that rock once again, William Shaweross’s marvelously dramatic recreation of America’s undeclared war on Cambodia is surely worth a close reading.
Cambodia, to put it mildly, has not been very well served by its recent rulers, invaders, antagonists, or exploiters. Its largely peasant populace has been decimated by murderous revolutionaries, by ruthless neighbors, and, lest we forget, by U.S. bombers, which dropped more than 250,000 tons of bombs on Cambodian soil during 1974 alone (compared to 160,000 tons on Japan during all of World War II).
The kindest thing that can be said about these bombing runs is that they were intended to discourage Vietcong guerrillas and their support cadre, and thus force a quick resolution to the war in Vietnam. The dismal truth seems to be that the bombing had little or no effect on the lighting in Vietnam; that relatively few Vietcong were ever killed or injured; that civilian casualties numbered in the hundreds of thousands; and that Nixon and Kissinger were determined to pursue their bloody strategy in Cambodia even if that meant lying to the American public, concealing their intentions from highly placed officials in the U.S. defense hierarchy, and tapping the telephones of White House and National Security Council members.
The story is ugly, fascinating, and shameful. Shawcross, an English journalist, has written intelligently and discerningly about military operations in Asia for the past ten years. While his sympathies are scarcely disguised, his meticulous marshaling of the facts will be difficult to deflect. And, appealingly, his book has the plot, the setting, and the characterizations of the grim work of fiction we’d prefer that it were.