November 18

This Day in History

Vietnam War

Nov 18, 1970:

Nixon appeals to Congress for funds for Cambodia

President Nixon asks Congress for supplemental appropriations for the Cambodian government of Premier Lon Nol. Nixon requested $155 million in new funds for Cambodia—$85 million of which would be for military assistance, mainly in the form of ammunition. He also asked for an additional $100 million to restore funds taken from other foreign appropriations during the year by "presidential determination" and given to Cambodia. Nixon wanted the funds to provide aid and assistance to Lon Nol to preclude the fall of Cambodia to the communist Khmer Rouge and their North Vietnamese allies. Lon Nol was a Cambodian general who had overthrown the government of Prince Norodom Sihanouk in March 1970. He and his army, the Forces Armees Nationale Khmer (FANK), were engaged in a desperate struggle with the communists for control of the Cambodian countryside. The Nixon administration had initiated a program of aid to Lon Nol in April 1970 with $7.5 million in arms and supplies. This aid did not have an immediate impact as the government forces reeled under heavy communist attacks. Besides trying to get additional funds for more military aid for Cambodia, Nixon also committed U.S. aircraft in direct support of Cambodian government troops and initiated a program whereby U.S. Army Special Forces would train Lon Nol's troops.

With this U.S. support, Lon Nol was able to successfully withdraw most of his forces (which numbered over 200,000 troops) from the rural areas to the larger urban centers, where they were able to hold out against the communist attacks. The fighting continued, but generally a stalemate prevailed so that neither side gained the upper hand. This situation changed in 1973 after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords. Under the provisions of that agreement, the United States withdrew its forces from South Vietnam and both the Cambodians and South Vietnamese found themselves fighting the communists alone.

Without U.S. support, Lon Nol's forces succumbed to the Khmer Rouge in April 1975. During the five years of bitter fighting, approximately 10 percent of Cambodia's 7 million people died, but the suffering of the Cambodian people did not end with the communist takeover. The victorious Khmer Rouge evacuated Phnom Penh and set about to reorder Cambodian society, which resulted in a killing spree and the notorious "killing fields." During this period, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians died from murder, exhaustion, hunger, and disease.

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