A gripping portrait of a country poised between peace and war. In the mid-1960s, Cambodia's position within South East Asia was highly vulnerable. The Americans were embroiled in war in Vietnam, the Viet Cong were gaining clandestine control over Cambodian frontier areas, while the Cambodian government - under the leadership of a charming but difficult Head of State, Prince Norodom Sihanouk - wanted nothing more than to preserve their neutrality and keep out of the war. Highly distrustful of any perceived foreign interference, the Cambodians had even rioted and attacked the American and British Embassies in Phnom Penh and their debris was still strewn on the streets when Leslie Fielding arrived in the city. Yet against this grim and dramatic backdrop, the daily round of international foreign policy somehow had to continue and Before the Killing Fields offers a compelling and fascinating account of how this was achieved. Leslie Fielding was propelled to a position in charge of the British Embassy at the unusually young age of thirty-one as a result of the fraught international situation of the time and he makes a sensitive and thoughtful witness. Within an overview of Cambodia's history, he describes the events of the 1960s and Britain's attempts at peace-making in the region - something which he argues should have been more vigorously pursued - and offers his own informed and independent analysis of how the British failure contributed to Cambodia's disastrous spiral towards the horrors of Pol Pot's genocidal rule. Parallels with the later situation in Iraq are unmissable and Fielding questions whether any British government today would have the courage to resist the kind of pressure from the US that Britain faced in the 1960s to commit troops to the war in Vietnam and generally conform with American policy in the region. As well as a political history this is also a portrait of an exotic but overlooked country at a critical stage in its development. Violence, intrigue and even the supernatural mingle with issues of day-to-day management and office morale. From diplomatic meetings conducted in opium dens and dancing lessons with beautiful princesses at the Royal Palace to candid portraits of the rest of the international community of Phnom Penh, Before the Killing Fields is an illuminating insight into a lost world.
Before the Killing Fields
Witness to Cambodia and the Vietnam War