- By Joshua Keating
Joshua Keating is associate editor at Foreign Policy and the editor of the Passport blog. He has worked as a researcher, editorial assistant, and deputy Web editor since joining the FP staff in 2007. In addition to being featured in Foreign Policy, his writing has been published by the Washington Post, Newsweek International, Radio Prague, the Center for Defense Information, and Romania's Adevarul newspaper. He has appeared as a commentator on CNN International, C-Span, ABC News, Al Jazeera, NPR, BBC radio, and others. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he studied comparative politics at Oberlin College.
A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to see a presentation by Taylor Owen of the University of British Columbia’s Liu Institute for Global Issues as part of a conference on data and conflict. Owen has recently been looking into a remarkable database detailing the previously classified U.S. bombing campaign in Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Bill Clinton declassified the data, which includes geospatial coordinates for thousands of bombing runs, in 2000, as a humanitarian gesture during his first trip to Vietnam — the information would make it easier to find and dismantle unexploded ordinance.
The data allows for a remarkable visiual depiction of the secret bombing campaign known as Operation Menu:
This graph shows the intensity of the bombing campaign over time:
Owen sums up the significance of the data. :
In particular, I show that: the total tonnage dropped on Cambodia was five times greater than previously known; the bombing inside Cambodia began nearly 4 years prior to the supposed start of the Menu Campaign, under the Johnson Administration; that, in contradiction to Henry Kissinger’s claims, and over the warning of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, Base Areas 704, 354 and 707 were all heavily bombed; the bombing intensity increased throughout the summer of 1973, after Congress barred any such increase; and, that despite claims by both Kissinger and Nixon to the contrary, there was substantial bombing within 1km of inhabited villages.
For more on the history of the database an the implications of these findings, check out this article by Taylor from the Canadian magazine Walrus.