Forty Years of Black Death

April 16, 2015 Updated: April 28, 2016

April 17, 2015 will mark the fortieth anniversary of the Black Death. The Khmer
Rouge entry into Cambodia’s capitol city of Phnom Penh. The scourge that
followed will remain a blot on world history forever. Two- perhaps three million
people were murdered or starved to death by communist criminals inspired by
their hatred for the United States.

Americans left Indochina like cowards, tail between their legs. Innocents
drafted into the war in Vietnam became victim to cheap prostitutes and drugs.
Soldiers suffered maiming wounds while their commanders lived in luxury mansions
with fine china, leaded crystal for entertaining. U.S. politicians at home fed
off the carrion of war. Their pockets lined with contributions from arms, ship,
aircraft and bomb makers. The profits were enormous as were profits turned over
by civilian contractors of all sorts hired to supply the needs of warriors in
the field.

If 58,000 dead are inscribed on a black wall in Washington, millions of
uninscribed dead are listed in a heavenly tally somewhere where there should be
a book of victims. How could an army wearing black pajamas, a bandolier of rice
and flip flops defeat the armed forces of the mightiest nation on Earth. It is a
declarative sentence for Pentagon statistics reveal that American air and ground
munitions used in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia used between 1966 and August 17,
1973 totaled 15,228,324 tons. Of this total 7,494,806 tons of bombs and napalm
were dropped by air. Compare these U.S. government figures with the tonnages
from other wars. In every theatre of operations in World War II U.S. forces
dropped 2,057,244 tons of bombs. In Korea some 635,000 tons of bombs were
dropped. U.S. Air Force Commanding General Curtis LeMay declared they were going
“To bomb Vietnam back into the stone ages.” This is the same General LeMay whose
piano broke lose on an aircraft evacuating American wounded injuring a severely
injured soldier who began bleeding. The officer escort was more interested in
cleaning the blood off the piano than in the wounded man.

These figures do not include poisons like defoliants and herbicides Agent
Orange, Agent White, Agent Purple, Blue Pink and Green. Between 1961 and 1971
the U.S. sprayed 20 million gallons over South Vietnam. The chemicals contained
2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-para-dioxin. These poisons killed leaves and people.
The leaves died fast the people slowly. They continue to produce birth defects
and cancer in American veterans and Vietnamese civilians.

Cambodia was a war that should not have happened. So was Laos. U.S. secret
societies with government acronyms infiltrated, advised, cajoled and lied to
these other peoples. Races that in no way were related to Vietnamese. The U.S.
sent illegal sorties into Cambodia and involved the Laotians. Anything to work
their will in a war they knew they were losing. Don’t forget Communist China
were well into the thick of things supporting the other side.

In only fourteen months the U.S. Air Force began what they called ‘Operation
Menu.’ In that time they served up 108,8223 tons of bombs in B-52 raids over
Cambodian territory. Cambodian farmers and children are still being maimed by
the thousands from mines and unexploded ordnance the U.S. dropped.

Jesus was dead a hundred years when Cambodia became part of the Chinese Funan
empire. Six hundred years later these Khmers overthrew their Funan dominators.
There was civil war until 801 AD when King Jayavarman II established the Khmer
dynasty and brought peace to the people. This became the golden age for the
Khmer people. It was then that Angkor was established as Jayavarman II’s
imperial city.

The Khmers ruled over a vast territory that is now Thailand, Laos, South
Vietnam and Cambodia. Wars, wars and more wars continually ate away at Khmer
territory until by the beginning of the 18th century Cambodia was reduced to its
present borders. At King Ang Duong’s request France established a protectorate
over Cambodia in 1863. In 1941, King Norodom Sihanouk ascended to the Cambodian
thrown. He was only 19 years old.

King Sihanouk began a campaign against the French in 1952. He went into exile
in 1953. Guerrillas formed by coalition forces of anti-French Vietnamese called
Viet Minh attacked and used terror to force the French out. When Dien Bien Phu
fell to the Viet Minh on May 7, 1954, France surrendered. They marched proudly
out in defeat. The Geneva Agreements seemed to settle the warfare. They didn’t
settle the wars.

Cambodia declared itself neutral as Communist forces attacked Laos and Vietnam.
That didn’t stop North Vietnam from invading Cambodia. They controlled provinces
inside the country by the mid-1960s. The Vietnamese communists began their
advance to control the entire 600 mile Cambodia-South Vietnam coastline. That
spiked President Richard Nixon on April 30, 1970 to launch what he said would be
a two month military operation against communist controlled territory in
Cambodia. This was done with the ‘approval’ of Cambodia’s government. These
incursions into Cambodia ‘officially’ ended on June 30, 1970.

U.S. secret and not-so-secret involvement continued to support and guide
Cambodian military forces. By 1975 all the Cambodian government controlled were
enclaves. Population centers surrounded and cut off by entrenched, well-supplied
and armed Khmer Rouge forces.

It was only a matter of time. Cambodian civilians were starving. Wounds of war
festered, thousands died. Phnom Penh with a pre-war population of 375,000 was
flooded with refugees. Death and suffering was everywhere. Children were dying
of malnutrition. Slow deaths, their little bodies swollen with kwashiorkor and
marasmus.

American Ambassador John Gunther Dean, a German Jew whose family fled the
Nazis, fled Cambodia on April 12, 1975. Five days later Khmer Rouge youth
wearing black took over Phnom Penh. The Cambodian people were left to die at the
hands of monsters created by their hatred for the United States divined by
French educated intellectuals inspired by China and Chinese territorial
ambitions.

Dr. Nal Oum stood 5’4″ tall and weighed 62 kg (136.4 pounds) on April 17, 1975.
He was deputy director of Phnom Penh’s largest hospital. The buildings and
grounds were flooded with sick and wounded. When he finally escaped Khmer Rouge
detention camps and entered a hospital in Thailand he weighed 42 kg (92.4
pounds). He lived. Miracles happen. Sometimes.

Born in 1936, in the eastern Cambodian province of Kompong Cham, in a small
village called Tourey, on the left bank of the Mekong River, he had a good life.
Although Oum’s father died when he was only two years old, he was raised by his
mother, the last child and only boy.

“We had four acres of property to farm, a stilt house with a red tile roof. The
house was wood and the floor the very best wood. I grew up there. My sisters
married and moved away. My mother, my youngest sister and me, we stayed there in
that house. There was no swimming pool. The Mekong River was our pool,” Oum
related.

His mother inherited rice fields. She rented some and planted some. “I liked to
get into the rice fields and plant. It was quiet and surrounded by nature. We
grow aquatic rice. The water is at least up to your knee,” Dr. Oum stood up to
indicate water level in the rice fields he worked as a child.

They had no electricity. Fish were caught in the Mekong River or bought in
local markets, herbs and vegetables grown around their house. “This was before
World War II. I remember this because Japanese soldiers came into our village.
They had swords beside their guns. I remember I hid a French from the Japanese.
I told him where to go to hide. I told him to go to the pagoda. The monks do not
ask you who you are, they give you food, shelter. Every village has its
monastery.” The boy’s act saved the French soldier during Japanese occupation.

Nal Oum made a three mile walk back and forth to his school every day. “I did
it running. I made something to imagine I had a horse so I would go fast.” He
got up again and imitated his childhood riding a stick and galloping along to
school. Not unlike any child’s fantasy. “We never knew about toys. We had to
resort to our own resourcefulness. With small bamboo we would make a gun, a
small boat to sail in the river. I never knew any hardship or misery.”

Oum’s mother never went to school and could not read or write. She memorized
prayers by heart. When Japanese occupation resulted in shortages of lamp oil,
his mother would save fish oil for their lamps. “World War II marked my memory
even today. There was an outbreak of cholera in our village. We did not have one
doctor in the whole district. There was one nurse in the district where I went
to school. That is where the mayor lived and there was an infirmary. There was
no one to give advice not to drink raw water. You know how they carried water,
on a stick over the shoulders.” He stood again to portray the act of carrying
water buckets on either end of a stick.

Without medical knowledge Buddhist monks said that cholera was carried by a
malevolent spirit that put something in the water. “Drink it and you get
cholera,” Oum said. “My mother boiled our water and covered it in a ceramic jar.
We were saved. They died. I am not sure how many. I used to go around to
neighbors. When you get cholera you have to go to the latrine. People get
dehydrated, have muscle pain and go into shock. People died, died, died. We
believed in the malevolent spirit. Monks performed a ceremony. They marched from
the monastery to the Mekong River chanting, splashing water, pushing back the
bad spirit.” Oum stood and chanted the monk’s prayer.

Then young Nal Oum saw what he called the ‘feu follet.’ A fire from the Earth
that related some big event. It was a sort of distant light he observed. In the
end he related this omen to his sister. She was enduring a long labor.When the
baby was finally out she contracted septicemia and died. The baby was dead.

“Me, I watched her. No one had knowledge about this kind of thing. When my
sister was about to let out her last breath she called me. I came close to her
and she whispered, ‘I ask pardon to all people.’ Then she died. I was about 6 or
7 years old. There were no doctors or nurses.”

In his 6th year of school he went to Ecole Superior by boat. “One day I had a
dream. My sister came to me. She told me that she died but wasn’t yet dead when
they buried her. The monks said bury her quickly. It was not the biological
death yet. She was still aware of everything when they put her in a hole.” The
vision haunted him. These experiences formed the boy who would later study
medicine.

He studied at Prince Sihanouk College in Kompong Cham and received his four
year high school diploma. Then Lycée in Phnom Penh. When he finished he still
had three years to go before becoming a medical doctor. He received a
scholarship to go to medical school in Paris. “I arrived in Paris on October 10,
1958. I finished my thesis in 1962 to become a doctor.”

In March of that year he returned to Cambodia. He was a young doctor assigned
to the pediatric department of the hospital named for the daughter of Prince
Sihanouk, the Kantha Botha Hospital. He only had one pediatric course.
Eventually he returned to France to continue his specialty. He decided to
undertake maxio-facial surgery. This would give him the skills to alleviate
cleft palate and lips in children as well as other deformities. France required
a pre-requisite specialty before the surgical studies. Dr. Oum finished his
specialty in 1967. He returned to Cambodia and became head of the Department of
Stomatology, promoted in 1972 to Deputy Director of the hospital.

“That is where I was until 1975 when everything toppled and my hospital
vanished in a few hours.” His life changed, lives changed, the world
disappeared. No one lifted a finger to stop the holocaust that followed.

His day began with a phone call at 7 AM from the hospital director. “What
should we do the Khmer Rouge are in the capitol. The Yotha are coming in in all
different directions. They are in groups wearing black and carrying AK 47’s with
olive green kepis.” The Yotha were young soldiers, fourteen to fifteen years
old.

“The people greeted them with joy. The people thought the war was over and
these are the winners. They were welcomed with white flags. A few hours later
there was total chaos,” Dr. Oum recounted.

The Khmer Rouge ploy to get people out of the capitol was to tell them that
they had to leave. That the Americans were going to bomb the city. It would only
be for a few days. The people were ordered to bring nothing with them, they
would return in three days.

“The Chinese took things with them. They could survive longer since they had
things to trade with the young Khmer Rouge soldiers. I stayed in the hospital. I
believed in the neutrality of my profession. Doctors keep on helping people in
war. It was unique in warfare, the Khmer Rouge killed the doctors. The Khmer
Rouge used Chinese that had six months training, maybe in acupuncture. I lived
in the Chinese quarter of Phnom Penh. I couldn’t get home to my mother. The
Khmer Rouge sent young soldiers into the hospital. You leave.”

The emotion of the memory of that day forty years ago brought tears to his
eyes. “They are sick,” he told the Yotha with their menacing guns. “‘Leave
before six or stay at your risk.’ I asked about the sick. They said that is your
problem. Our hospital was in the north. During the last week the intense battles
north of the hospital brought many wounded. The triage was full. Patients were
laying on the floor. Doctors on staff had been working all through the night.
They needed relief. I called a doctor that lived on the other side of the city.
He said he couldn’t get in, there were Khmer Rouge all over. I sent an ambulance
to get him.”

When the doctor never showed up Dr. Oum called him again. The ambulance never
arrived at his house. He sent the hospital’s second ambulance. That one as well
disappeared. There was no way for the doctor to get to the hospital.”There were
no surgeons to reinforce the doctors on duty. There was the hospital director,
Dr. Ly, and myself and three other doctors in the hospital. The young soldiers
sent the staff away. I was with Dr. Ly. We were trying to figure out what to do.
A nurse came to us and said that the Khmer Rouge ordered everyone to leave.”

By noon the Yotha ordered that everyone was to leave the hospital. The staff
and the sick. “I told the director that we cannot argue with the young soldiers
or we will be killed for nothing.”

“By 1 PM I went to the pediatric department. We didn’t know what to do. This
was unheard of in the history of humanity. It was a catastrophe of Biblical
proportions. We had no words. The radio said the Khmer Rouge infiltrated the
Ministry of Information. Now the news was a that they chased the Americans out.
I went on seeing my sick. The Yotha came into the pediatric ward and demanded I
leave by 6 PM. I asked who will take care of the children. They said they will.
I said they will all die in a few hours. The hospital turned into an open tomb.
No one came to get or save the children.”

“It was now six at night. By seven it would be completely dark. I looked out it
was like a volcano spitting lava. There were 2 1/2 million people being pushed
out of Phnom Penh. A river of humanity.”

Forced out of his hospital Dr. Oum could not get home to see his mother. He did
not have time to change out of his white hospital gown. He took nothing with him
when he joined the river of humanity on the road out of Phnom Penh. “It took one
hour by foot to advance a hundred meters. From 6:15 until 9 PM I didn’t travel 5
or 600 meters. At 9 PM I stopped to sleep. We were near ESSO and shell gas
stations that were in flames on National Route 5. I was with the hospital
director. He did not get to see his wife and kids. It is always with remorse
that I could not get to see my mother again. Others joined us to form a little
family. We called it ‘La famille de circonstances. If you had a family and did
not hold hands you would be lost forever. It was a prison without walls. There
was nothing to eat.”

Dr. Oum’s tale of leaving the sick children behind along with the war wounded,
sick and critically ill in his hospital haunt him to this day. When the Khmer
Rouge dolled out rice it was about 250 grams that was to last 2 to 3 days. “The
World Health Organization says that a person needs 450 grams a day to survive. I
concluded that I have to escape this tropical Gulag. It was hell on Earth.”

Dr. Oum arrived at a village about 30 kilometers northeast of Phnom Penh. In a
month that was all the progress the refugees made. “In the village you were
responsible for everything except the small amount of rice. ‘Mchaska,’ the Khmer
Rouge said. It means yourself, everything. It was a trip without return.”

Dr. Oum witnessed murders, saw dead bodies and smelled the stink of rotting
flesh. The Yotha and their commanders insured compliance with terror. It was as
former New York Times stringer Dith Pran had said, “I saw many killing fields
everywhere. they kill people like you kill the fly or mosquito.”

Sidney Schanberg, a New York Times reporter in Cambodia said, “Holocaust. You
can use that word. A civilization has been erased.”

A young man begged his captors for rice. Dr. Oum saw a black-clad Khmer Rouge
soldier jump down off a truck and shoot him. Dead bodies lined the roadway.
People were being bludgeoned to death with clubs, tortured and shot for no
reason. On his own he decided to escape. Dr. Oum could tell no one. Denunciation
was required on pain of torture and death. Any farmer working in the rice
paddies that saw a fugitive and did not report it would be killed. He had no map
to the Thai border. No compass. “In my mind I concluded on how to get out of
this. There was no food, no water, there was danger. The border with Thailand
was far away. I waited patiently.”

In September 1975, Dr. Oum, and other refugees in his group, were deported to
the northwest province of Battambang. Prisoners were moved to maintain control
and confusion. They were taken in a Chinese aid truck to a train depot.

“There were ten or twelve trucks in my section. Fifty people in each truck. I
compared it to a can of sardines. We were dropped off at a train station. There
were four or five wagons. We were crowded worse than if it was an animal train.
There were 7,500 in a convoy. So crowded I had to climb up on top of the train.
It was then that I saw red flags on the engine. I thought it was the same train
as Doctor Jivago, that is how the French spell it. At the station we had to be
in a group of ten. If you were alone you had to join a group to make ten. We
were transported by tractor to different destinations.”

Dr. Oum was now closer to the Cambodian border with Thailand. He began saving
small portions of his rice every day in a sleeve he tore from a shirt. His
chance to escape came in April 1976. The Khmer Rouge declared three days of
holiday to celebrate their victory over the Americans. The guards enjoyed their
revelry. The refugees were given time off from work in the rice paddies. He
snuck away knowing that if he was caught he would be brought back to the refugee
camp and slowly tortured to death in front of the people to discourage others
from trying to escape.

“There were rice paddies and a lot of people along with Khmer Rouge patrols. It
was a full moon so I could see at night. I decided to walk at night and sleep in
the day time. I walked barefoot in thick grass, there were poisonous snakes. I
would hide in thick grass during the day so no one would see me and no dogs
could sniff me out.” By this time dogs were killed for food which made his
escape free of their barking.

In time Dr. Oum reached the forest. The dense tropical foliage presented other
dangers. Now he would not risk being seen in the jungle so would travel during
the day and sleep at night. “I would climb up in a branch of a tree to sleep. I
used vines to tie my arms to the branch of the tree. If I fell when I was asleep
the vine would hold me. I could tell no one. I could make no fire. There were
denunciations or penalty of death. I decided not to be captured alive. I had
forty tablets of a drug in the family of Nivaquine. It could paralyze your
heart. If caught I’d have to have time to swallow that medicine. My chances of
survival were 20%.”

He contracted a virulent strain of malaria in the jungle. He was on his last
bit of energy when he came to a river. Unable to cross it at night, Dr. Oum
slept concealed. In the morning he came out of hiding when he saw an old man. He
spoke to him in Cambodian and asked him where the Thai border was. The old man
replied that he was already in Thailand. He was cautioned not to speak loudly
since the Khmer Rouge were just across the river. It was a river he never
crossed. It would have put him back in the hands of the communists.

The Thais were not sympathetic. They imprisoned refugees for illegally crossing
their border. They didn’t want Cambodians on their soil. Reports came to United
Nations aid groups that Thai soldiers threw hand grenades among refugees to
discourage them. Dr. Oum was placed in a Thai prison sentenced to two months for
illegally entering Thailand. He was in the last stages of malaria.

“I knew I was going to die. I could not even write. I asked the jail guard to
allow me to send a letter to the French ambassador. I got someone to write the
letter for me. It was in French. The Thai prison warden called me in, he
couldn’t read French. He asked me what it said. I told him I was requesting
help. That was permitted and my letter was mailed.”

Dr. Oum wrote that he was a doctor, educated in France and was dying in the
Thai prison and would die in five days unless he received help. The Thai warden
realized that Dr. Oum may have influence, thus had him transferred to the prison
hospital. The French embassy sent a priest to visit him. Pere Venet arranged a
transfer to another hospital and at the end of June he was out of Thailand
enroute to France. He was reunited with his first wife and two sons. He sent
them out of Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge took the capitol to be safe. His
sons did not recognize him.

Dr. Oum eventually remarried and had a daughter. He reentered the medical
profession and received a Diplome d’Etat from the French government establishing
him as a licensed physician enabled to practice medicine in France. Dr. Oum
remained in France with his second wife and new daughter for fourteen years. He
heard from other refugees that his dear mother died somewhere along the road in
Phnom Penh.

In order to give his daughter an American education Dr. Oum agreed to come to
the United States in May 1990. They spent time in California. He and his second
wife Chanly now live in a central Florida community. The residential
neighborhood is quiet and well kept, the home spacious and neat.

Dr. Oum has written a book in French titled “A Doctor Among the Khmer Rouge.”
The cover is a photograph of an old fashioned steam train engine with large red
flags in the front surrounded by Khmer Rouge soldiers.

No one raised a finger to intervene. No victims of the Nazi holocaust lobbied
the U.S. Congress to stop the murder of innocent people in a nation plagued by
Chinese communist inspired killers. Children in black uniforms capable of any
atrocity went berserk. Black, the symbol of death, hatred, the devil’s color.
Black the uniforms of Nazi murderers wearing the skull and SS symbols. Black,
the uniforms of the Khmer Rouge.

The Cambodian people have endured forty years of black death. The current
leader, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, was a Khmer Rouge Battalion Commander.
Hun Sen joined the Vietnamese communists when he feared being purged by the
Khmer Rouge. He returned with them when they invaded Cambodia in 1979. It took
the Vietnamese communists to rid Cambodia of the black plague. They in turn
established control of the country under their communist puppets. Hun Sen has
stalled and impeded prosecutions of Khmer Rouge murderers. Pol Pot, their
leader, died of old age and disease.

The Khmer Minh established a strangle hold on Cambodia. The January 23, 1973
Paris Peace Agreement between the U.S. and Vietnam contained Article 20. Vietnam
was to withdraw their forces from Cambodia and not establish bases in Indochina.
Like the Japanese in World War II, territorial ambitions by the communists would
not be sated. The Vietnamese have established a dictatorship in Cambodia. They
are populating the country with Vietnamese.

Farmers that complain that their lands are confiscated are tortured or
murdered. Vietnamese imperialism has made a sham of the Paris accords. U.S.
involvement in wars in Islamic nations has forestalled any desire to intervene.
This from a nation whose soldiers in Indochina treated allies they were sworn to
save, as bad and with the same malevolent disrespect they carried over from the
enemy.

In these circumstances Dr. Oum cannot return to his native land. He cannot
practice medicine in the U.S. He is 79 years old, spry and active. He drives his
car without glasses. He speaks fluent French and English. His is not a ’cause
celebre’ among the American fashionably charitable.

The news media considers Cambodia a side show unworthy of coverage. It is over.
That some three million people were murdered or died of starvation means little
since they were not white Europeans or freedom marchers that eventually saw
justice in their lifetimes.

Returning American veterans of the wars in Indochina were treated little
better. Their suffering from exposure to herbicides was declined for decades as
unproved thus unrelated to the war. If U.S. veterans were treated poorly, allies
and victims of the war were dismissed out of hand. Cambodia suffered from the
communists during the war, were murdered and tortured after the U.S. withdrew
and are now enslaved by Khmer Minh, puppets of communist Vietnam.

“I will try to tell what happened and what is happening in Cambodia. It will be
my mission until I die,” Dr. Oum said. He has a kind face. His eyes illuminated
with glistening tears. Will anybody hear him? It has been forty years since the
black death entered Phnom Penh. Will anybody care?

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