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The Cambodian Genocide Essay Sample

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The Cambodian Genocide Essay Sample

The four year period of Pol Pot ruling in Cambodia from 1975 – 1979 has been marked as the most brutal and terrifying regime of modern history. The first weeks after Cambodia fell to the Khmer Rouge in April 1975, the nation’s cities were evacuated, hospitals and monasteries emptied, money abolished and schools closed. The Khmer Rouge radical policy was directed to carry out the restructuring of society. People who lived in cities were forcedly evacuated to the countryside were they were subjected to hard labor. Ideological indoctrination, poverty and mass atrocities were common things in those days in Cambodia. As described by Kiernan:

“During the Pol Pot period, from April 1975 to January 1979, Cambodia was subjected to what was likely the world’s most radical political, social, and economic revolution. The country was cut off from the outside world; foreign and minority languages were banned; its cities were emptied; and all its neighboring countries were attacked militarily. Schools and hospitals were closed, and the labor force was conscripted. The economy was militarized, and the nation’s currency, wages, and markets were abolished. Many of Cambodia’s families were separated; its majority Buddhist religion, along with other religions and folk cultures, were destroyed; and 1.5 million of its nearly eight million people were starved to death or massacred.” (1994, p. 191)

As the regime of Lon Nol was collapsing the Khmer Rouge snatched the opportunity to seize the power and entered Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. Living conditions in the capital at that moment were becoming unbearable as food and medicine supplies were too short, but the situation became even worse as the Khmer Rouge blocked access to the city and restricted air traffic through intense bombardments of the airport. Relieved that the civil war had ended, many residents initially welcomed the Khmer Rouge forces. However, the excitement soon relinquished as they understood that they were associated with moral decay and imperialism by the Khmer Rouge forces. Those linked with the Lon Nol administration were summarily executed, as were other perceived opponents. Few days later the rest of the residents were told to immediately and temporarily leave Phnom Penh for the countryside. This was on the pretext that the capital was to be bombed by the United States. It is estimated that 20,000 people died during the forced and disorganized evacuation of Phnom Penh. (Short, 2004, p.275) Within a week the capital and towns were empty. The evacuation of Phnom Penh as well as other cities was caused by a Khmer Rouge treatment of cities population as potential threat to control and as obstacles to the revolutionary goal of transforming Cambodian society.

With the advent of ‘Year Zero’, as the Khmer Rouge called their coming to power, radical change was instigated to bring the country into conformity with Khmer Rouge ideals. The country was divided into seven zones, and in January 1976 a new constitution was proclaimed whereby Cambodia became Democratic Kampuchea. It was announced the same year that Pol Pot was the Prime Minister, and in 1977 he publicly acknowledged the existence of the Communist Party of Kampuchea. The new constitution proclaimed that every Cambodian had full rights to material, spiritual and cultural aspects of life. In reality, the Khmer Rouge controlled people’s life entirely. The Khmer Rouge sought to establish a society where there would be no rich and no poor. As a result money was banned and private property abolished. Monasteries, schools, universities and banks were closed.

The Khmer Rouge policy was hostile not only to city dwellers and intelligentsia; religious groups also became the victims of Cambodian Genocide. Pol Pot’s government tried to eradicate Buddhism from Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge massacred monks and forcibly disrobed and persecuted those who managed to survive. Out of a total of 2680 Buddhist monks, from 8 of Cambodia’s 3000 monasteries, only 70 monks were found to have survived in 1979 (Boua, 1991, p. 239). This is a clear evidence of genocidal intent of Pol Pot’s government. As Chanthou Boua (1991) points out, “Buddhism was eradicated from the face of the country in just one year” (p. 227). By early 1977, there were no functioning monasteries and no monks to be seen in Cambodia.

No easier was the fate of ethnic groups of Cambodia during those four years. The largest ethnic minority groups in Cambodia before 1970 were the Vietnamese, the Chinese, and the Muslim Cham. The Pol Pot regime’s view of these national minorities denied their existence. Thus, the Vietnamese community was entirely eradicated. Kiernan affirms that “In research conducted in Cambodia since 1979 it has not been possible to find a Vietnamese resident who had survived the Pol Pot years there.” (1994, p. 198) Chinese minority was predominantly urban population, that is why they were not executed on race ground, but like other evacuated city residents they were made to work under terrible conditions. In case of infraction of minor regulations the penalty was death.

The Chinese language, like all foreign and minority languages, was banned. The Muslim Chams with their distinct religion and large villages posed a threat to Pol Pot’s ideology. Kiernan cites Pol Pot’s document records in regards to his decision not to allow the Cham people live in one place: “Do not allow too many of them to concentrate in one area.” (1994, p. 200) After scattering them over the territory of country the authority made Cham people assimilate with Khmers. Thus women had to cut their hair short in the Khmer style; more than that, the traditional Cham sarong was banned, as peasants were forced to wear only black pajamas. Ultimately, restrictions were placed upon religious activity. The Cham villagers tried to put up a resistance. But, eventually the Pol Pot army forcibly emptied all 113 Cham villages in the country.

During the years 1975 to 1979, Democratic Kampuchea reminded a prison camp state. One and a half million of the inmates were worked, starved, and beaten to death. (Kiernan, 1994, p. 203) Scholars who study the Cambodian revolution continue to debate the extent to which the killings in revolutionary Cambodia could be characterized as genocide. Thus Serge Thion argues that the Khmer Rouge leadership never intended to use its revolution as a mechanism for destroying particular groups of people. But Ben Kiernan disagrees. He contends that revolutionary Cambodia was tightly controlled by the Khmer Rouge leadership. In Kiernan’s view, the Khmer Rouge leadership achieved “successful top-down domination” and accumulated “unprecedented” power. (Kiernan, 1996, p. 26–27) Although the regime collapsed in 1979 following a Vietnamese invasion, the killing fields, areas where mass killings took place, remain a visual reminder of Khmer Rouge terror.

Works Cited List

Boua, Chanthou. “Genocide of a Religious Group: Pol Pot and Cambodia’s Buddhist Monks.” State-Organized Terror: The Case of Violent Internal Repression. Eds. P.T. Bushnell, V. Schlapentokh, C. Vanderpool, and J. Sundram. Boulder, CO: West-view, 1991. 227-40

Kiernan, Ben. “The Cambodian Genocide: Issues and Responses.” Genocide: Conceptual and Historical Dimensions. Ed. George J. Andreopoulos. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994. 191-229

Kiernan, Ben. The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975–1979. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996

Thion, Serge “The Cambodian Idea of Revolution.” Revolution and its Aftermath in Kampuchea. Eds. David P. Chandler and Ben Kiernan New Haven: Yale University Southeast Asia Council, 1983. 10-33

Short, Philip. Pol Pot: The History of a Nightmare. London: John Murray, 2004

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