This is a gripping portrait of a country poised between peace and war. In the mid-1960s, Cambodia's position within South East Asia was highly vulnerable. The Americans were embroiled in war in Vietnam, the Viet Cong were gaining clandestine control over Cambodian frontier areas, while the Cambodian government - under the leadership of a charming but difficult Head of State, Prince Norodom Sihanouk - wanted nothing more than to preserve their neutrality and keep out of the war. Highly distrustful of any perceived foreign interference, the Cambodians had even rioted and attacked the American and British Embassies in Phnom Penh and their debris was still strewn on the streets when Leslie Fielding arrived in the city. Yet against this grim and dramatic backdrop, the daily round of international foreign policy somehow had to continue and "Before the Killing Fields" offers a compelling and fascinating account of how this was achieved. As well as a political history this is also a portrait of an exotic but overlooked country at a critical stage in its development. Violence, intrigue and even the supernatural mingle with issues of day-to-day management and office morale.
From diplomatic meetings conducted in opium dens and dancing lessons with beautiful princesses at the Royal Palace to candid portraits of the rest of the international community of Phnom Penh, "Before the Killing Fields" is an illuminating insight into a lost world.
Sir Leslie Fielding read History at Cambridge (where he is now an Honorary Fellow of Emmanuel College) and Persian at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. He joined the Foreign Service in 1956 working initially in Tehran and (briefly) Singapore before being put in charge of the British Embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, from 1964-1966. His subsequent diplomatic career took him to Paris, Brussels (in the European Commission) and Tokyo. He has also been a Visiting Fellow at St Antony's College, Oxford, and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sussex. He has contributed to two volumes of short stories, Travellers' Tales and More Travellers' Tales and is married to the medievalist, Sally Harvey.