Hundreds came to celebrate the coming of the Cambodia New Year Friday in the East Room of the Nixon Library where events included traditional dances by performers from the Khmer Arts Academy, remarks by author and political commentator Bruce Herschensohn, and a keynote presentation by former U.N. Ambassador Sichan Siv, author of Golden Bones: An Extraordinary Journey from Hell in Cambodia to a New Life in America. Sandy Quinn, President of the Richard Nixon Foundation, served as master of ceremonies.
Ambassador Siv’s long journey to America began when he attempted to escape war torn Cambodia before the imminent takeover by Khmer Rouge forces. The brutal communist regime cleared cities and took all enemies, suspected enemies and others they deemed undesirable to the countryside, and systematically tortured, killed and buried millions of Cambodian citizens.
Heeding to his mother’s advice to “never give up and to always have hope,” Siv sustained 18 months of prison, torture and slave labor before reaching America. He worked picking apples and driving taxis, and was later accepted on scholarship at Columbia University. From 1989 to 1993, he became Deputy Assistant to President George H.W. Bush and Assistant Secretary of State for South East Asia, and was part of the delegation that re-established ties with Cambodia. From 2001 to 2005, he served President George W. Bush as Ambassador to the United Nations’ Economic and Social Council.
“When I returned to Cambodia the people in my town said that ‘I had truly golden bones,’ said Ambassador Siv, “it meant that I was very lucky.”
Herschensohn, who worked in the Nixon White House and the United States Information Agency during the war in Indochina, discussed the human tragedy that plagued Cambodia after the 94th U.S. Congress refused military aid to anti-communists fighting the Khmer Rouge.
On April 10, 1975, President Ford gave an address before a joint-session of Congress asking members of its body to sustain U.S. commitments to the Paris Peace Accords of 1973 and furnish military, humanitarian, and economic assistance to allies in South Vietnam and Cambodia.
“Members of the Congress, my fellow Americans, this moment of tragedy for Indochina is a time of trial for us. It is a time for national resolve,” President Ford said. “We cannot, in the meantime, abandon our friends while our adversaries support and encourage theirs. We cannot dismantle our defenses, our diplomacy, or our intelligence capability while others increase and strengthen theirs.”
Herschensohn remembered that members of Congress walked out, indifferent and opposed to the human suffering. He, however, reiterated that a majority of American citizens supported helping their allies and honoring all treaty commitments.
Following the fall of Phnom Penh, President Nixon told Herschensohn that – if he were still President – he would have done everything possible to stop the Communist takeover.
“I would have been impeached” for defying an action of a partisan Congress, RN told Herschensohn, “but my actions would have saved millions of lives.”
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Top photo: Dancers from the Khmer Arts Academy in Long Beach perform to traditional Cambodian music.