Raymer’s Cambodia pictures now published 49 years after documenting them
Emeritus Professor Steve Raymer, who was wounded in 1974 in fighting between American-backed Cambodian troops and Communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas, has finally seen his Cambodia pictures in print some 49 years after documenting of the final months of the forgotten conflict in Southeast Asia.
Raymer, then a 29 year-old National Geographic staff photographer, was pursuing an around-the-world assignment on the world hunger crisis. He flew into the embattled Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, where tens of thousands of refugees choked public spaces and half-finished hotels, to document relief workers feeding the hungry.
A week into his assignment, Raymer was hit by shrapnel from a Khmer Rouge rocket on August 9, 1974 — the day President Richard M. Nixon resigned in disgrace — while photographing Buddhist monks praying over U.S.-donated rice from California.
Luckily for Raymer, he had stopped by the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh that day and in passing told officials of his plans to visit a refugee camp in the contested no-man’s land surrounding the capital. In the rocket attack on U.S. food distribution, shrapnel lodged near Raymer’s spine. After being treated at the scene by embassy and U.S. and Cambodian military personnel, Raymer was evacuated to the U.S. Air Force hospital at U-Tapao Air Base in nearby Thailand.
But the story, “Can The World Feed Its People?” went to press without Raymer’s pictures of the starving and displaced Cambodians. “Editors thought with the new Communist regime in power, the Cambodian food crisis would abate,” recalls Raymer. “Boy, were they wrong. What happened was a genocide by any definition.”
Now, author, professor, and former foreign correspondent Arnold Isaacs has included a black-and-white portfolio of Raymer’s work in the new edition of “Without Honor: Defeat in Vietnam and Cambodia,” published by McFarland & Company, an independent American academic book press. Originally published in 1983, the new edition includes fresh material about the largely unremembered wars in Cambodia and Laos and points out troubling parallels between the Vietnam War and America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Forty-nine years is a long time to wait to see your work in print,” says Raymer, “But I owe it to the people in those pictures, many of whom undoubtedly died in the genocide of the ‘killing fields’ and famine. Our job is to bear witness and get people to care., or in this case, to remember.”
Isaacs also is the author of “Vietnam Shadows: The War, Its Ghosts, and Its Legacy.” Since leaving daily journalism, he has taught or conducted training programs for journalists and journalism students in more than 20 countries in Eastern Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, and has written studies for the Critical Incident Analysis Group and the Academy for Critical Incident Analysis on subjects including the Virginia Tech shooting, displacement after Hurricane Katrina, and the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on the United States.