War and Social Upheaval: Cambodian Genocide (1975-78)


Figure 1.--This is one of the sadest and most moving images on our site. The Khmer Rouge murered thousands of Cambodians without leaving a trace. Some were brought to prisons where they were interogated and tortured. Here they took photographs before killing their victims. The haunting images include children as well as the elderly. This little boy in 1975 was beaten and then killed at the S-21 prison. Notice how is arms are bound. We can only wonder why the Khmer Rouge suspected him of treason.

Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, after years of struggle, defeated the Cambodian military and seized the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. What followed was one of the most sinister and senceless acts of genocide ever committed by a government on its own people. The Khmer Rouge's first step was to force all the inhabitants of Phnom Penh no matter what their age or health into the country to work in labor camps. Their goal was to create a Cambodian state of pure communism. One step to achieve that goal was to eliminate all class enemies, maening virtually every Cambodian with any kind of education. Not only were the adults killed, but also their children. Some were killed outright in infamous prisons and the work camps. Most of the murders occurred in the countryside. Victims were taken singly or in groups usually at sunset and executed at nearby killing fields. Some were shot or suffocated with plastic bags. Others had their skulls smashed with shovels, hoes, and iron bars. Documentation of these mrders, if it ever existed, has disappeared. Men and women suspected of serious crimes and accused of treason were brought from the countryside and imprisoned in secrecy at the infamous S-21 prison. There wweere also children executed at S-21. Large numbers of Cambodians died of starvation and overwork. The rejection of western-style medicine in particular caused large numbers of deaths. The Khmer Rouge killed an estimated 2 million Cambodians, 30 percent of the country's population. The Khmer Rouge closed all the normal institutions of a modern country, including banks, hospitals, schools, and stores. Temples and any exercize of religion was banned. Everyone had to work in the fields for 12-14 hours daily. Children were separated from their parents so that they could be better endoctrinated. The children were recruited as soldiers or worked in mobile work gangs. People had to subsist and do hard labor on a diety of watery soup and a small amount of rice. While the educated were the primary target, many were killed for not working hard enough. Minority ethnic groups were also targeted. Another crime punishable by death was to show sympathy to those being dragged away to their--even family members. All Cambodians had to pledge absolute obbediance to Angka--the Khmer Rouge organization. One of the many distressing aspects of the Cambodian geocide is that the many of the people carrying out the killings were little more than children themselves. Many Khmer Rouge soldiers were peasant boys and girld with little or no education. They were recruited as children and odten had no ties to their family--only Angka. Because of their youth and lack of life experience they believed what leaders told them and carried out orders to kill without question. The Khmer Rouge nightmare ended only when the Vietnamese Army invaded and liberated the country.

Cambodia

French journalist François Bizot traveled to Cambodia in 1965. He came to ethnological research. He went to a village nearlk Angkor Watt to resaerch the ancient Buddhist temples and Cambodian traditions. He writes about a land that was "... rich and beautiful, enameled with paddy fields, dotted with temples ... a country of peace and simplicity". He remembers a world of "art, and poetry, and mystery". [Bizot]

The Khmer Rouge

The Communist Party of Kampuchea was known as the Khmer Rouge, the French term for Red Cambodians. Hhmers were the pruncipal ethnic group in Cambodia. They fought a guerilla campsign for years, receiving support from China. The Kymer Rouge were led by Pol Pot, Ieng Sary, Son Sen and Khieu Samphan. Upon prevailing in the Cambodian Civil War, the Kymer Rouge seized power and pursued a relentless program of social engineering (1975). A key element was to return to the country'd traditionl roots and to kill all those individuals who had been corupted by education or Western culture. Beside the ourrught killing, the agricultural reform led to widespread famine. The policy of self-sufficiency meant that medicine could not be imported and dictors were killed as part of the orogran of eliminating educated Cambodians.

Cambodian Civil War

Cambodia and its people became caught up in the Vietnam War. The Kymer Rouge conducted a low-leel insurgency during the 1960s. The Khmer Rouge fought in alliance with North Vietnam and the Viet Cong. There goal was to overthrow the Royal Cambodian Government, after October 1970, the Khmer Republic). The United States and the Republic of Vietnam (ROK) spported the Government forces. The North Voetnamese used Cambodia as a safe area to set up safe havens and base areas as well as to move supplies south. For a time this proved useful to the North Vietnamese as the United States could interdict supply routes in North and South Vietnam. President Johnson was aware of the Cambodian santuaries, but refused to authorize bombing in Cambodia in an effort not to widen the War. This policy changed with the electiin of Richard Nixon (1968). It was clear to President Nixon that the War had become deeply unpopular with the American people and could not be continued. He attempted to devise a policy that would allow the ROK to survive even after the American withdrawl. President Nixon authorizing the bombing to help protect its allies (both Cambodia and ROK) as the U.S. forces withdrew from Vietnam. President Nixon shortly after assuming office issued secret orders to bomb Base Area 353 in the area known as the Fishhook )opposite South Vietnam's Tay Ninh Province) (March 18, 1969). This was the first of a series of massive strikes on the Cambodian sanctuaries through May 1970. A Cambodian general, Lon Nol seized cintrol of the Gocernment (May 1970). The Kymer Rouge with increased support from North Vietnam escalated the Civil war. Beginning in 1970 the fighting in Cambodia escalated as did Khmer Rouge violence on their own people. The result was massive casualties, the destruction of the economy, destruction of crops leading to food shortages, and terrible atrocities. Refugees fled the fighting, many crossing the border to Thailand and Vietnam. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, after years of struggle, defeated the Cambodian military and seized the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. The Khmer Rouge proiceeded to close the country off from the rest of the world. What followed was one of the most sinister and senceless acts of genocide ever committed by a government on its own people.

Cities Emptied

The Khmer Rouge's first step was to force all the inhabitants of Phnom Penh no matter what their age or health into the country to work in labor camps. The Khmer Rouge closed all the normal institutions of a modern country, including banks, hospitals, schools, and stores. Temples and any exercize of religion was banned.

Goal

Their goal was to create a Cambodian state of pure communism peopled with a pure population. Angkar insisted that only pure people could carru out the revolution. This meant that 'class enemies' had to be eliminated. And the CPK began killing immediately after seizing power. The KR arrested and killed thousands of soldiers, not only the officers but any soldier. Then they began killing civil servants from Lon Nol's Government. They were all seen as inpure. But the killing did not stop here. Virtually every Cambodian with any kind of education was targetted. And not only were the adults killed--but the entire family including their children. Some were killed outright in infamous prisons and the work camps. Most of the murders occurred in the countryside. Victims were taken singly or in groups usually at sunset and executed at nearby killing fields. Some were shot or suffocated with plastic bags. Others had their skulls smashed with shovels, hoes, and iron bars. Documentation of these murders, if it ever existed, has disappeared. While the educated were the primary target, many were killed for not working hard enough. Minority ethnic groups were also targeted. Another crime punishable by death was pity--any show lf sympathy for those being dragged away to their deaths. Family members were watched for any sign of sympathy. Over the next 3 years, the KR executed hundreds of thousands of intellectuals, city residents, and many of their own soldiers and party members, who were accused of being traitors. The KR also targeted non-Kymer people (Cham, Vietnamese and Chinese). And his was at a time that China was supporting the regime. Many were held in terrible prisons, where they were detained, interrogated, tortured and executed. The most imfamous prison in Cambodia, known as S-21, held approximately 14,000 prisoners while in operation. Only about 12 prisoners are known to have survived.

S-21 Prison

After the Kymer Rouge cleared the cities, men and women suspected of serious crimes and accused of treason were brought from the countryside and imprisoned in secrecy at the infamous S-21 prison. S-21 was originally a secondary school. The Kymer Rouge had not need for schools. They did need a torture and interigation center. It was conveniently located in the center of Phnom Penh. They converted the classrooms into torture and interrogation chambers. The prisoners were also tortured while not being interogated. Gym equipment was set up to strap up prisoners in stressfulm positions until they passed out. There heads were then emersed in sewage to wake them up for more torture or interrogation. There were also children executed at S-21. One of these tragic children is pictured here (figure 1). We do not know what he was accused of. Perhaps his father was arrested and the whole family brought to S-21. We are not sure atwhat age the children were allowed to live. Many of the dossiers containing the confessions forced from these people under torture were found. We do not know if this boy's dossier was found. A chilling portrait of a Khmer Rouge prison commander exists. "This terriblke man was not duplicitous; all he had were principles and convictions." One of his prisoners, a Frenchman, describes a "brutal executioner" and a "man of faith" whose supperiors employed as "a cog in a vast timepiece beyond his comprehension". [Bizot] The horrors at S-21 did not end until the Vietnamese Army reached Phnom Penh (Hanuary 1979).

Results

Large numbers of Cambodians died of starvation and overwork. Everyone had to work in the fields for 12-14 hours daily.The rejection of western-style medicine in particular caused large numbers of deaths. The Khmer Rouge killed an estimated 2 million Cambodians, 15-20 percent of the country's population. There are many accounts of brutality in history. We know of no other regime hich killed so many of its own people.

Children

Children were separated from their parents so that they could be better endoctrinated. The children were recruited as soldiers or worked in mobile work gangs. One of the many distressing aspects of the Cambodian geocide is that the many of the people carrying out the killings were little more than children themselves. Many Khmer Rouge soldiers were peasant boys and girld with little or no education. They were recruited as children and odten had no ties to their family--only Angka. Because of their youth and lackmof life experience they believed what leaders told them and carried out orders to kill without question.

Work Camps

People had to subsist and do hard labor on a diet of watery soup and a small amount of rice.

Angka

All Cambodians had to pledge absolute obbediance to Angka--the Khmer Rouge organization.

Vietnnamese Invasion

The Khmer Rouge nightmare ended only when the Vietnamese Army invaded and liberated the country in 1979.

Reader Comments

The image HBC has posted here is one of the poweful and moving on your website. I viewed it several days ago and still cannot get it off my mind.

A German reader comments, "HBC writes, 'What followed was one of the most sinister and senceless acts of genocide ever committed by a government on its own people.' Sad enough this happens so often. Please remember our own German history, all the millions of Jews and others that were killed by the NAZIs, the Stalin regime (partly supported by Germany), recently the Taliban, all the so called civil wars in black Africa and many more. To my feeling all those so called politicians and dictators are just mentally mad, totally mad. I do not understand why they again and again succeed to gain power over their people. - But basically I see little difference between torturing my own people or other humans elsewhere - as the Belgians did in Kongo a little more than 100 years ago: within 10 years 10 millions were killed, an economy was destroyed, many people were wounded by body and mentally etc! Our German national Wehrmacht: what they did we do in Russia and Poland! And those who DO those cruelties and attrocities also become very very sick in their mind and can never be cured, it´s too much. So the German soldiers when they came home after 1945, they were hardly able to speek. The now mentally sick doers later poison the psychic and spiritual atmosphere of their people - and so on." This is all too true, but none of these attrocities involved killing 20 percebt of the population and given declining agricultural harvests and continued terror killing, the percentage would have been much higher at the KR remained in power.

Sources

Bizot, François. The Gate (Knopf), 278p.






CIH








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Created: January 11, 2003
Last updated: 1:55 AM 2/16/2015