80. Telegram From the Chief, Military Assistance Advisory Group, Cambodia (Scherrer) to the Commander in Chief, Pacific (Felt)0

2932. DA IN 176482. I feel the time has come when we in MAAG Cambodia should give our observations and evaluations of the situation in Cambodia.

As terms of reference we must face the facts that: [Page 176]
Few occidentals really understand Cambodia and Cambodians, and even fewer Cambodians really understand us.
In spite of recent material modernizations, Cambodians are mentally still living in the distant past.
Cambodia’s fear of her neighbors is real and deeply felt; in Cambodian minds, the historic struggle marked by often recurring wars between Cambodia and her neighbors over the past 1000 years still goes on and must always be given first consideration. The Cambodians feel that both Thailand and South Vietnam still harbor designs against Cambodian territory. Here is another indication of Cambodian attitude; General Lon Nol has on several occasions told me that the Thailand Government and military, especially the Thai Navy, are infiltrated by communists.
The Cambodian people are strongly behind Prince Sihanouk and the vast majority feel he can never be wrong. Knowing this, as well as Sihanouk’s inability to accept criticism, RKG officials and military will not indicate that the Prince might be wrong even though they might think so.
During the past three weeks, our Cambodian military counterparts have been more friendly and talkative than usual. They have gone to great lengths to explain the environment in which they find themselves. We in MAAG view such explanations in the light of terms of reference, para A above. They indicate no desire for a change in environment, but only hope that we will understand and continue our friendship. Occasionally, we note a slight embarrassment vis-à-vis US in MAAG over the current crisis and some of Sihanouk’s statements.
Sihanouk does not think that communism or Communist China are threats to Cambodia at this time. He does think that they are in favor of the communists taking over S.E. Asia eventually, and probably hopes that he will somehow be able to keep Cambodia free, independent, Americanized and sovereign; although above all he will struggle to maintain Cambodia’s national identity, even if its sovereignty is seriously impaired. Sihanouk definitely does not want communism in Cambodia.
The Cambodian military (FARK) is anti-communist.
The RKG and FARK do not condone any violations of Cambodian borders and will take all possible action within their means to eject any Viet Cong or other foreign military forces discovered in Cambodia. Sihanouk is serious in his repeated invitations to anyone from anywhere to come to Cambodia anytime to see for themselves whether or not there are any communist bases in Cambodia. With the limited means available, the US Ambassador and his agencies, including MAAG, have continuously investigated, to include ground and aerial reconnaissance, allegations of Viet Cong bases and training areas in Cambodia. We have found none. We believe there are none.
In border areas where surveillance is extremely difficult due to rugged heavily forested terrain and where FARK is very thinly spread [Page 177] because of limited forces, there are undoubtedly cases of clandestine infiltration of individuals or small groups; but these infiltrations are not with the consent or approval of RKG or FARK. The N.E. region of Cambodia is particularly vulnerable to that type of transit or border violations. Such violations are likely to increase as the Viet Cong build up and increase operations into SVN from southern Laos. General Lon Nol is determined to prevent this; but it is our judgment that he cannot succeed without a significant increase in FARK. In any event such transits are not to be confused with bases. Any operational base, rest camp, or training camp probably will be discovered and eliminated by FARK.
For hundreds of years there have been family feuds and raids across the border. These are civilian actions and occasionally some local police become involved. These acts will continue and must not become concerned [confused?] with military operations. Neither GVN nor RKG can stop these any more than we can stop the feuds in the Kentucky hills. Unfortunately these incidents occasionally get blown up into serious incidents by both sides.
As we weather another crisis, we find Cambodia still neutral and desirous to remain that way in spite of some public statements that, on face, seem to the contrary. We frequently find it necessary to be very patient and to suppress emotions which becloud objectivity.
We feel it is absolutely vital to the free world interests in S.E. Asia to prevent the build up of emotional situation which would lead Cambodia into aligning herself, perhaps unwillingly, with the socialist bloc. To stop this we must keep U.S. objectives firmly in mind and not become stampeded by seemingly irrational outbursts of the Chief of State; we must recognize that there are leftist and anti-American advisors talking to the Chief of State; and that these advisors, along with the communist diplomatic and economic missions in Cambodia, will take every available opportunity to try to convince Sihanouk and other RKG officials that everything the U.S. does has a sinister purpose.
Cambodia needs our help to remain free and sovereign and recognize that its independence depends on this help.
Begin Noforn. The French military mission is cooperating with U.S. MAAG to the maximum degree that is possible without arousing suspicion that French and American military missions are “ganging up” on Cambodia. Most of the anti-American French military have been replaced although we unable assay this is facet of deliberate policy. End Noforn.
Gradually appearing in Cambodia is a young educated element which tends to be pro-leftist (Paris influence). This element will gradually increase. It is already influential in relation its size and its influence will grow steadily. Most of the opposition to Sihanouk will come from this group and it represents a potential threat to political stability unless [Page 178] Cambodia’s economic and social development can provide opportunities for its members. While the U.S. oriented educated element is very small, their numbers will start becoming substantial in 3 or 4 years.
Cambodia will mature but it will be very gradual and long-coming. Time may run out. Undoubtedly, the communists will try hard to make it learn to live with the Cambodian facts of life.
The foregoing text has been shown to U.S. Ambassador and U.S. ARMA.
  1. Source: Washington National Records Center, RG 330, Assistant to SecDef (Lansdale) Files: FRC 63 A 1803, Indochina. Secret; Routine; Noforn. Repeated to CHJUSMAAG Saigon and Bangkok and readdressed by CINCPAC on November 24 priority for JCS. Brigadier General E.C.D. Scherrer became the Chief, Military Assistance Advisory Group, Cambodia in August 1961. He replaced Brigadier General Charles H. Chase.