March 18, 1969: The United States Begins to Bomb Cambodia.
The United States on this day in history began Operation Menu a series of bombing that lasted from 1969 until 1973. Through the use of B-52’s, the United States dropped over 2,756,941 tons of bombing on Cambodia, more than the Allies dropped during all of World War 2. While it is believed that the bombings began in 1969, database released in 2000 shows that Operation Menu (1969) was not the beginning of bombings over Cambodia, but the escalation to carpet bombing.
Despite popular belief, the bombing over Cambodia did not begin under President Richard Nixon, but under Lyndon B. Johnson. During Bill Clinton’s visit to Vietnam in the fall of 2000 as a humanitarian gesture, Clinton released extensive Air Force data on all American bombings of Indochina between 1964 and 1975. Clinton’s gesture was to assist in the search of unexploded ordinance left behind during the carpet bombing of the region. However, the gesture by Bill Clinton instead revealed that the United States had dropped more ordinance on Cambodia than previously believed. In addition just over 10% of these bombings were indiscriminate, with 3,580 of the sites listed as having “unknown” targets and another 8,238 having no target listed at all.
The biggest discovery from the database still remains that the bombings began four years earlier than what is widely believed, not under Nixon but under Johnson, beginning in 1965 and escalating to carpet bombing in 1969 under the codename Operation Menu.
An estimated 150,000 people were killed.
To put 2,756,941 tons into perspective, the Allies dropped just over 2 million tons of bombing during all of World War II. Cambodia may be the most heavily bombed country in history.
- Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan