Kay Boyle papers relating to the Citizens' Mission to Cambodia

Biographical and Historical Notes

Kay Boyle's concern over the potential expansion of the Vietnam War prompted her to accept the invitation of the organization "Americans Want to Know" and embark on a two-week fact finding mission to the area bordering Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. Boyle and six others -- Floyd B. McKissick, National Director for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE); Rabbi Israel Dresner; Donald Duncan, military editor of Ramparts magazine and ex-Green Beret; Russell Johnson of American Friends Service Committee; publicity director Marc Stone; and New York businessman Norman Eisner -- comprised the Citizens' Mission to Cambodia. The Mission departed for Phnom Penh on July 25, 1966 to investigate U.S. allegations that Cambodia was being used as a training area and staging ground for Viet Cong incursions into South Vietnam.

Americans Want to Know, the Mission's sponsoring organization, formed in 1965 "to gather facts and report them to the American people in any situation where our country seems likely to become embroiled in foreign adventures." They observed such a situation in Cambodia where accusations of misconduct were being made on both sides.

The United States government charged the Cambodian government with creating a "Viet Cong sanctuary," establishing the Sihanouk Trail to augment the Ho Chi Minh Trail by providing arms and food, and accepting arms and food shipments into the port at Sihanoukville. Meanwhile, in addition to denying these charges, Prince Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia claimed the U.S. was violating his nation's vowed territorial neutrality by conducting bombing raids on Cambodian villages. Prince Sihanouk asked for stricter border observations from the International Control Commission and broke off diplomatic relations with the U.S. over the incidents just prior to the delegation's arrival.

During the mission, the delegation visited several spots along the Cambodia/Vietnam border as well as the Cambodia/Laos border where they inspected the site of a recent U.S. attack on the village of Thloc Trach. The delegates personally examined the alleged Sihanouk Trail and the Ho Chi Minh Trail for signs of a Viet Cong presence. In addition, the Mission members boarded and examined ships docking at Sihanoukville looking for arms or food shipments. Finally, the delegation met with Sihanouk and discussed his views on the border violations. The Mission members could find no indications of wrongdoing on the part of the Cambodian government.

Upon their return to the United States, the delegates reported on the Mission's findings through a series of articles, interviews, and lectures around the country.

The collection indicates that Kay Boyle continued her political activism and her interest in the plight of Cambodia well into the decade of the 1970s and probably through to her death on December 27, 1992.


"Kay Boyle, 90, Writer of Novels and Stories, Dies." The New York Times. December 29, 1992.

Much of the biographical data is derived from material contained in the collection.

Scope and Contents

The Kay Boyle papers relating to the Citizens' Mission to Cambodia, spanning from 1960-1979, consists of diaries, correspondence, books, periodicals, news clippings, reports, speeches, audio recording tapes, a photograph, and poems.

The bulk of the material surveys the controversial aspects of the ground war in Vietnam and its possible expansion into Cambodia through the recorded thoughts and actions of Kay Boyle and the Citizens' Mission to Cambodia. Additional items capture the evolution of political Cambodia well into the 1970s through various publications and articles. Included in the collection are two unrelated items: a letter and poems sent to a San Francisco public school class, and a speech and poem dedicated to San Francisco Mayor George Moscone following his assassination in 1978.

The collection provides insight into the specifics of the Citizens' Mission examination of the Cambodian border conflict. In addition to the Mission reports, the collection provides opposing opinions, details on living in Cambodia, and reflections on Prince Sihanouk's actions and beliefs. The collection is further highlighted by Kay Boyle's diaries of the journey and by articles of the late 1970s discussing the political situation in Cambodia. Unfortunately there is a gap in the collection between 1966 and 1979 which prevents the researcher from following the actions of Kay Boyle and Americans Want to Know through to their culmination.

The collection is organized topically into four series. Series I, The Citizens' Mission to Cambodia, relates specifically to the events and immediate results of the Citizens' Mission. Spanning 1965-1966, this series is the collection's most extensive, including Kay Boyle's diaries from Cambodia, various Mission publications, review articles written by delegation members, and correspondence regarding Mission activities. Series II, Official Statements and Press Releases, provides a context for the outward aims of the key actors in the controversy over Cambodia. Series III, Collected Newspaper Articles, Publications, and Productions, is a reference collection of published articles, books, and tapes giving background to the conflict in South East Asia as well as the Mission. Series IV, Unrelated, consists of two items unrelated to Boyle's mission in Cambodia.