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Thursday, April 30, 2009

From the Female Paul Revere to Nixon’s Drive into Cambodia

This Week in American Military
Apr. 26, 1777: Just after 9:00 p.m., 16-year-old Sybil (also Sibbell) Ludington – “the female Paul Revere” – begins her 40-mile, all-night ride (much of it in the rain) across an isolated circuit of New York–Connecticut backcountry, warning villagers of a British attack on nearby Danbury, Connecticut.

The daughter of a militia colonel, Ludington will be recognized for her bravery and patriotism by Gen. George Washington.

Apr. 26, 1865: Just over two weeks after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrenders his Army of Northern Virginia, Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston surrenders the once-vaunted Army of Tennessee to U.S. Army Gen. William T. Sherman near Durham Station, N.C.

Apr. 27, 1805: Following an extremely difficult march across a 500-to-700-mile stretch of North African desert; U.S. Army officer and Naval agent to the Barbary regents William Eaton,U.S. Marine Lt. Presley Neville O’Bannon and seven American leathernecks – leading an unlikely and often near-mutinying Christian-Muslim army of Arabs, Western European adventurers, and Greek mercenaries – attack and seize the fortress at Derna commanded by the ruling pasha Yusuf Karamanli, on “the shores of Tripoli” (Yes, that’s where the line comes from in the Marine Corps Hymn.)

Supported by the offshore guns of USS Argus (the first of two so-named U.S. Navy vessels), USS Hornet (the third of eight so-named U.S. Navy vessels), and USS Nautilus (the first of six so-named U.S. Navy vessels), O’Bannon’s men storm the enemy’s works in fierce hand-to-hand fighting, turn the enemy’s guns on the pasha’s palace, and ultimately raise the stars and stripes over the “Old World” for the first time.

So-impressed with O’Bannon’s leadership and heroics, newly installed pasha Hamet Karamanli (Yusuf’s pro-American brother), will present O’Bannon with a Mameluke sword. U.S. Marine officers today still carry the Mameluke sword, whereas Marine NCOs carry the traditional Naval infantry saber.

Apr. 28, 1965: Almost 160 years to the day after the storming of Derna, U.S. Marines land in the Dominican Republic.

Apr. 30, 1798: The U.S. Navy Department – parent company of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps – is established.

Apr. 30, 1945: German leader Adolf Hitler and his new bride, Eva Braun, commit suicide in Hitler’s Berlin Bunker. German Army forces will surrender to the Allies within days.

Apr. 30, 1970: Pres. Richard M. Nixon announces, “In cooperation with the armed forces of South Vietnam, attacks are being launched this week to clean out major enemy sanctuaries on the Cambodian-Vietnam border. … This is not an invasion of Cambodia. The areas in which these attacks will be launched are completely occupied and controlled by North Vietnamese forces. Our purpose is not to occupy the areas. Once enemy forces are driven out of these sanctuaries and once their military supplies are destroyed, we will withdraw.”

May. 1, 1898: The Battle of Manila Bay opens when U.S. Navy Commodore George Dewey utters his now-famous words, “You may fire when ready, Mr. Gridley [speaking to Capt. Charles Vernon Gridley, commanding Dewey’s flagship USS Olympia].”

Within a few hours, Dewey's Asiatic Squadron – several cruisers including Olympia (the first of two so-named U.S. Navy vessels), gunboats, and supporting vessels – will destroy the Spanish fleet in the Philippines.

May. 1, 1960: Francis Gary Powers, a former U.S. Air Force officer now flying high-altitude U-2 reconnaissance aircraft for the CIA, is shot down over the Soviet Union and captured (see Military Milestones, Feb. 11, 2009. ).

May. 2, 1863: During day-two of the Battle of Chancellorsville, Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates appear out of nowhere, smashing into Union Army Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker’s right flank and literally rolling up the encamped Federal force. But the Confederate victory proves bittersweet, as Jackson will be wounded – his left arm shattered – that night in a friendly fire incident during a leaders-recon mission.

Following the amputation of Jackson’s arm, Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee will lament, “He has lost his left arm, but I have lost my right arm.” Worse for Lee, Jackson will develop pneumonia and die within eight days.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: “This Week in American Military History,” appears every Wednesday as a feature of HUMAN EVENTS.

Let's increase awareness of American military tradition and honor America’s greatest heroes by supporting the Medal of Honor Society's 2010 Convention to be held in Charleston, S.C., Sept. 29 – Oct. 3, 2010 (for more information, click here).
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Cambodia confronts its past with war crimes tribunal

By Dan Rivers CNN

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (CNN) -- Cambodia is a country that throws up the most staggering barbed facts that catch the mind and should stick inconveniently in our conscience.

As I put together "Killing Fields: The Long Road to Justice" for CNN, I kept tripping across breathtaking statistics that seemed too incredible to believe.

Like, for example, a Yale University history professor's analysis of declassified military data that showed during America's bombing campaign over Cambodia from 1965-1973, the United States dropped more tons of ordnance on this tiny nation than the Allies dropped during the whole of World War II.

A total of 2,756,000 tons of explosives was dropped on Cambodia, compared with 2 million tons dropped during the Second World War, worldwide.

It goes some way to explain how and why the vicious, bloodthirsty and unstoppable phenomenon that was the Khmer Rouge came to power.

Simply put, faced with utter destruction by the United States or the promised utopia offered by Pol Pot and his ultra-communist henchmen, many Cambodian peasants chose the latter.

But that was before the killing started. Another head-spinning fact: After the Khmer Rouge swept to power in 1975 they killed a greater proportion of their own compatriots than any other regime in the 20th century. Watch a preview of "Killing Fields: Long Road to Justice" »

It's facile and pointless to make some sort of genocidal league table, but what happened in Cambodia in just three years, eight months and 20 days was certainly as awful and unfathomable as events in Nazi Germany, Stalin's Russia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia and Darfur.

I decided to revisit this terrible period, because it's now 30 years since the Khmer Rouge regime fell and finally a handful of its leaders are being put on trial at a special U.N.-backed war crimes court. It's garnered few headlines internationally. Perhaps Cambodia is just too remote, too forgotten, and too insignificant in many peoples' minds to warrant attention. But that is exactly why I felt it was vital to shine a spotlight on what happened.

Another remarkable fact: Pol Pot's men remained a potent force in Cambodia's power struggle that verged on civil war for almost 20 years after they were forced out of power by the invading Vietnamese -- a sinister culture of impunity that has strangled Cambodia while countries around it grew and prospered.

Even more incredible, the Khmer Rouge was backed by the United States, Britain, and other Western powers during the 1980s, despite the nightmarish mass-murder perpetrated by so many of the Khmer Rouge's Cadres. The United States viewed the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge as a useful counterweight to Soviet/Vietnamese influence in Indochina. The U.S. doctrine seemed to follow the maxim "My enemy's enemy is my friend."

The impunity enjoyed by the top Khmer Rouge leaders is something the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia is trying to address. But it's taking a very long time. And as I found out in making our program, the trial process itself is mired in corruption allegations, which some think may mean the entire process may collapse.

The United Nations is in a terrible bind over the issue. It's been forced into accepting a hybrid court system with the Cambodian government, which means the U.N. is not free to alone root out corruption quickly and surgically. Instead, as one defense lawyer told me, the corruption has been allowed to fester like a "cancer" eating away at the credibility of the trial. The prosecution, clearly worried about the court's credibility, also is pushing for the corruption to be addressed.

Already the costs for the proceedings are spiraling out of control: The budget will have swollen to more than $100 million by the end of this year, about $20,000,000 per defendant. Or to look at it another way: The trial is costing a mere $59 per victim.

What is also worrying is that the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a junior figure in the Khmer Rouge, has said that the trial should be limited to the current five defendants -- and no more. He has said that expanding the circle of prosecution risks the stability of the country. But that means in practice that many of those involved in the slaughter during the Khmer Rouge period would remain unpunished.

The most notorious camp in Phnom Penh, called S21 or Tuol Sleng, was set up in a former school. The camp was designed to extract confessions from internal enemies of the regime, using whatever means deemed necessary. The result, according to meticulous Khmer Rouge records and survivor accounts, was the most brutal and sadistic torture camp imaginable: More than 14,000 prisoners were killed after enduring horrendous torture.

The chief interrogator at S21 was a man called Ta Chan, who led a team of interrogators. He has never officially been charged with any crime.

After quite some effort, we found out where Ta Chan lives. When we arrived at his modest wooden house in the far west of Cambodia, I got a glimpse of him. But he was apparently too scared to face our cameras, leaving his son to do the talking. His son said Ta Chan was old, and his health was bad, and that none of the family wanted to talk about the past.

By a stroke of luck we obtained and salvaged an old, barely functioning tape, shot by a Thai cameraman 10 years ago, that had never been broadcast. It contained the grinning image of Ta Chan showing off another prison he ran for the Khmer Rouge after they'd been forced to abandon S21. Here he was -- one of the most notorious figures of one of the most bloody regimes in the world -- and after twenty years, he was still in the prison business.

Now, finally Ta Chan's face will be known to the world. The question is, will he ever face trial for the heinous crimes that survivors say he committed?
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