Over the course of the Vietnam War, the United States dropped 2.7 million tons of bombs over Cambodia. What started as a secret infiltration of Laos, in which a few CIA officers would train and arm local Hmong villagers to fight the Communist forces, eventually enveloped Cambodia and escalated into a nine-year war over the Ho Chi Minh Trail, fought primarily with bombs. Fifty years after the last sortie went out, I show how, through the legacy of unexploded ordnance, the war can sediment itself into layers of contemporary society. As a consequence, many forward-looking policies aimed at developing or modernizing Cambodia, from economic liberalization to authoritarian consolidation, are taking place in parallel to an environment still haunted by its violent past. War and Development traverses more than a year of ethnographic research on Cambodian agricultural practices and original econometric analysis to reorient prevailing conceptions of war’s legacy. Moving beyond the America-centric corpus of Vietnam War history and theories of economic recovery delimited by macroeconomic indicators, the book reveals a reversal of fortune that takes place on Cambodia’s most fertile land, where a bomb’s trigger fuse often fails upon impact, leaving behind large quantities of unexploded ordnance. For village chiefs of the highland tribes, urban migrants from Phnom Penh, and former soldiers who fled the Khmer Rouge, among others, a sphere of fear hangs over their communities, leading economic growth to stall out. Most broadly, then, the presentation offers a reinterpretation of war’s effects through the close examination of the U.S. bombing campaign and its consequences across geography, language, and time.
This event will be presented in hybrid mode.