Bombs and debts

[Published in the Khmer Times on March 27, 2017.]

Your account (March 23) of the unexploded US bomb removed from a pond in Kandal is not unrelated to the $500 million “debt” that the US claims is owed to it by Cambodia, as your article indicated.

The unexploded MK-82 bomb is clearly US property but was presumably given up as lost by Washington. Hence its return would be a clear benefit to the United States and should be regarded as the equivalent of a cash payment by Cambodia. The cost of one MK-82 was around $500 in 1970, equal to more than $3,000 today.

$3,000 might not seem much against $500 million, but, as your article noted, more than 20 unexploded MK-82s have been recovered in less than three months of this year. If that figure is typical, it suggests that perhaps 3,000-4,000 MK-82s have been recovered since the end of the bombing. Returning them to US possession ought to earn Cambodia at least $7 or $8 million.

Transporting this property back to the United States would clearly cost the US government a considerable amount, so Cambodia should also be credited for the significant savings it has made for Washington by holding its property for it for four decades. A similar charge should continue until such time as the US retrieves that property (when the bombs are delivered to the US embassy).

There is an even larger consideration, although it is difficult to quantify, because most of the bombs dropped on Cambodians exploded at the time. Those bombs cannot kill any more people and therefore no longer have value to the US government, even if it were possible to return them.

Still, we should note that between 1969 and 1973, the US subjected Cambodia to the equivalent of 2 million MK-82 bombs. The cost of the explosives alone, aside from the much greater costs of the planes and military systems needed to deliver them, would have been around $1 billion in 1970 dollars, or around $6.25 billion today. Would it really be outrageous to expect the US to pay as reparations to Cambodia this portion of what it spent in destroying the country?

Perhaps the US government could “forgive” the Cambodian debt, and the Cambodian government could “forgive” an equal amount of the US bombing of Cambodians, which would leave the US owing Cambodia about $5.75 billion.