Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge – Systematic Evil

The mere fact that I have to divide my Cambodia posts into two separate sides of the human nature, good and evil, says something about this country’s complex past. In the upcoming posts about Phnom Penh,  Siem Reap and Angkor Wat I’m going to let you in on the Cambodia of today, a country full of life and an impressive ancient history, rivalling that of Rome and Alexander the Great. In two posts covering the dark side of Cambodias recent history, I’ll give you a short impression of the man made hell that was Cambodia for the duration of the Khmer Rouge rule. My first post will be dedicated to the butchers themselves, the Khmer Rouge and the communist state they created.

Democratic Kampuchea's flag

Democratic Kampuchea's flag

For those of you who don’t know a lot about Cambodia, this included me before this trip, I’ll quickly summarize the events that led up to the manifestation of the Democratic Kampuchea. Under the Vietnam war Cambodia was for a while let alone, as the forces of Viet Cong and the Americans ravaged their neighbour country. Cambodia was then a monarchy with Sihanouk as it’s leader. Cambodia as viewed from the outside was a glossy image of what a south east Asian country should look like. On the inside however social unjustice and huge differences between different social groups threatened the peace.  As the Vietnam war continued, US Airforce started bombing the border between Cambodia and Vietnam, which eventually led to full scale bombings on Cambodian soil. The unrest led to a military coup led by Sihanouk’s top general Lon Nol who with American backing quickly took the power.

There had for a while been a group in Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge, who was led by the intellectual Pol Pot. Their underlying mission was to turn Cambodia into a communist agricultural state and overthrow the power hungry monarchs and generals that had ruled the country ever since the French colonization ended. This group had slowly grown in force, as the bombing raids on Cambodia by the American air force continued and the lower classes that farmed the land of Cambodia felt the recession on their bodies. A social awakening caused by a growing gap between the people that farmed the land and the people that lived in the cities led to the Khmer Rouge getting a steady flow of new members. The Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, was educated in France and had studied the teachings of Mao and Marx. He had developed  a  Marxist theory that relied completely on the farming of the land. Their ideal was the farmer and their theory was that a man didn’t need to know anything else than how to farm the land. All other knowledge was simply unpure and unwanted. This meaning that they were opposed to any form of gathering of knowledge like books, newspapers or discussion in general. If a man had his land and could farm for his country it was all he needed. The irony itself was that Pol Pot was well educated and by their standards should have been shot as a traitor to the country.

After Lon Nol took power Sihanouk was furious and turned his support towards the Khmer Rouge in a vain attempt to reestablish his own power base. It didn’t take long before the Khmer Rouge overtook the feeble resistance of the Lon Nol government and in 1974 the Khmer Rouge entered the capital of Phnom Penh victorious. This was the start of a man made hell that was not to end before the Vietnamese invaded the country in 1978.

The first thing the Khmer Rouge did was to march the entire population of Phnom Penh out of the city, under the lie that the Americans were about to attack. The real reason for this was that everybody was to become a part of the new agricultural society where the only value a man had was his ability to farm for the state. This created a divide in the people where the often illiterate farmers now became the base people and the people from the cities where all ushered into a group called “the new people”. The base people were according to Khmer Rouge ideology, the pristine and pure people, while the people from the city were contaminated with the material greed that had seeped out of the evil west. In order to pay for their former sins under the rule of monarch and later the rule of the general Lon Nol, the new people were to be trained by the base people in all arts of agricultural teachings. This created in effect a lower class of people, the people from the cities, and a ruling class, the base people. It literally flipped everything upside down, putting people in high positions who had no formal education or experience while people who before the revolution had considerable power were left to work in the field.

Young Khmer Rouge soldiers

Young Khmer Rouge soldiers

The horror of the Khmer Rouge regime only started to dawn on the people after a few months when more and more families started dissapearing, all former government employees or people of cultural, literal or material importance. The Khmer Rouge was slowly killing it’s own intellectual elite. Just by wearing glasses you could be accused of being an intellectual and sentenced to death without judge or trial. The Khmer Rouge soldiers who previously had entered Phnom Penh as victors, had now turned into butchers, judges and tribunals all in one. They had the power to execute you on the mere hunch that you had previously been something else than a farmer or that somebody suspected you to work together with the Vietnamese.

What killed the Khmer Rouge was in the end itself. While the people starved to death, the state shipped all it’s rice to China in exchange for weapons to use in the ongoing war against their arch enemy, Vietnam. They deeply underestimated Vietnam and this led to their defeat and the liberation of a people in torment.

One of the Khmer Rouge's killing fields

One of the Khmer Rouge's killing fields

In numbers the facts are staggering, the estimates range from 1-3 million people dead as a direct result of the Khmer Rouge regime. If you compare this number to the around 11 million people who lived in the country at the time it’s horrifying to see that they killed off close to 1/3 of their own population in a internal genocide that the likes of does not exist.

The country still struggles today as the members of the Khmer Rouge have hidden among the very own people that they helped exterminate. There are finally war tribunals being set in action as I’m writing this post, but it’s almost too late. Most of the criminals from the regime are over 70 years old having lived good lives since the regime lost their power.

The question remains, how can this happen? There is no explanation for it, you can blame mass hysteria, corrupt communist powers, America or the blackness that hides within all of us. The Khmer Rouge regime will still always stand out as a black spot on the history of the world, and the only thing we can learn from it is to act upon it, and rid the world of the plagues like it before it tightens it grip and grows.

The sad and for me utterly surprising thing was that Norway, along with mostly every other country in the United Nations, supported the Khmer Rouge’s seat in the United Nation from 1978 to 1989 when peace talks between the Vietnam led government and the United Nations started in Paris.  Our goverment supported the mass butchery of up to three million people. Communists all over the world praised the agricultural state that was Democratic Kampuchea, giving credibility to a nation based on blodshed and violence.

Im not sure what my point in writing this is, but I hope that just one of you reading our blog learned something new. An event like this is too important to forget, let alone ignore.

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