The Khmer Rouge: The Rise, the Use, and the Fall Essay Sample

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  • Word count: 980
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  • Category: cambodian

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In the early 1950s, a communist movement sparked up against the French’s attempt to colonize in Southeastern Asia. About twenty years later, the organization became formerly known as the Khmer Rouge (French for Red Khmer), named by King Norodom Sihanouk, the king of Cambodia at the time. In 1963, the Red Khmers gained Pol Pot as their secretary and leader, and he guided them into a civil war that broke

that broke out in Cambodia between the communists and the Cambodian government. It lasted for a span of five years, from 1970 and 1975, and ending with the fall of the Phnom Penh to the Red Khmers. By then, the Khmers Rouges became officially known as the CPK, the Communist Party of Kampuchea (Dy, 2007). This history paper mainly focuses on how the Khmer Rouge rose to their rule, how they took advantage of their power, and how they fell from their throne.

The Rise in Power

America’s involvement with Operation Menu was followed by many failures and negative outcomes. Marshal Lon Nol and his associates sided with the Americans, only soon to be hated by the majority of the Cambodian people after US’s bombing attack (Dy, 2007). In detail, Operation Menu was a secret carpet bombing mission held in Laos and Cambodia. The objective of the operation was to harm Red Khmers and thwart any northern offensives, motives having shifted from Vietnamese bases to harming Nol’s opponents, the Khmer Rouge. It ended in killing and impacting the lives of thousands of rural Cambodians, proving to be a critical point in the Khmer’s rise to power. The failure of the U.S. aerial bombardment was exploited by the Reds, who used it as propaganda against the Americans (Stimits, 2011). Aided by the Vietnamese, the Khmers Rouges began to defeat Nol’s forces on the battlefields (Dy, 2007).

How the Khmer Rouge Used Their Power

For a four-year period, the Red Khmers had complete and total control over their country. It was made official when the communist party took control over the city of Phnom Penh in April 17, 1975, declaring their victory in the Civil War. A few days later, the Khmer Rouge had forced an estimated two million residents of Phnom Penh to the countryside to take up strictly rice farming. Thousands died during the evacuation, but the nearly the total two million evacuated were killed by the end of the Khmer’s regime (Dy, 2007). Often compared to the Holocaust, the Cambodian Genocide replayed many similar factors such as ethnic cleansing, and hopes for creating a new Cambodia in general. Those ill, protestant, or handicapped were killed on the spot or imprisoned, and those deemed useless were executed (Panh, 2003).

Pol Pot named this year Year Zero: a new beginning, where he would rid the country of school, hospitals, churches, and religion. He aimed to return Cambodia to an agricultural farming nation, nothing more than that. The Khmer Rouge killed more than a majority of teachers and doctors, and destroyed most of all schools in the process (Stevens, 2010). Labor camps that Cambodians were later sent to became known as the “Killing Fields” and most of the food grown there was kept for the Khamers Rouges, leaving little to none for the laborers themselves. By the end of the Rouge’s four-year terror reign, Cambodia had lost its elite class, proving to have devastating effect in the long-run (Panh, 2003).

The Fall

In 1977, the forces against the communist regime began to pull through. The Cambodians and Vietnamese began to have clashes, and by late 1978, Viet troops and forces for the United Front for the National Salvation of Kampuchea fought their way back into Cambodia. By January 7th the next year, Vietnamese troops had captured Phnom Penh. Thus began the retreat of the Reds. Leaders and known officials of the Khmer Rouge fled westward towards territories in Thai. Aside from the Red Khmer’s fleet, UN voted against the communist party having a seat in the General Assembly. In 1982, the Vietnamese helped establish a new government – The People’s Republic of Kampuchea – led by Heng Samrin (Dy, 2007). The Khmer Rouge continued to exist until 1999, where the movement had totally collapsed, all of its leaders being either arrested or dead (Dy, 2007).


Although the devilment of the Khmer Rouge no longer exists today, it is still widely studied around the world. Educating oneself on topics such as the Communist Party of Kampuchea is majorly important, especially now since there are events and moments in history to learn from. In Cambodia today, they still suffer from the 20th century Democratic Kampuchea. A near two million died during that time period through disease, execution, starvation, or exhaustion from overwork. Many were left orphaned or widowed, and most suffer mental issues due to the trauma (Dy, 2007). With this and many other factors being the cause to Cambodia’s current ride on poverty, it only further proves the Khmer Rouge’s negative impact on the country.

Khamboly Dy. (2007). Chronology of modern cambodian history: Timeline of the khmer rouge’s rise and fall from power. Retrieved from Northwestern University School of Law Center for International Human Rights and Documentation Center of Cambodia website: Panh, R. (Director) (2003). S21: The khmer rouge killing machine [Web]. Stevens, M. (2010, May 28). How the khmer rouge rose to power in cambodia. Retrieved from Stimits, E. (2011, may 02). Operation menu. Retrieved from

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