Tuesday, May 18, 2021


Richard Pipes, Communism
A Modern Library Chronicles Book
New York 2001, 132-135

        Just as the Holocaust expressed the quintessential nature of National Socialism, so did the Khmer Rouge rule in Cambodia (1975-1978) represent the purest embodiment of Communism: what it turns into when pushed to its logical conclusion. Its leaders would stop at nothing to attain their objective, which was to create the first truly egalitarian society in the world: to this end they were prepared to annihilate as many of their people as they deemed necessary. It was the most extreme manifestation of the hubris inherent in Communist ideology, the belief in the boundless power of an intellectual elite guided by the Marxist doctrine, with resort to unrestrained violence in order completely to reshape life. The result was devastation on an unimaginable scale.

        The leaders of the Khmer Rouge received their higher education in Paris, where they absorbed Rousseau’s vision of “natural man,” as well as the exhortations of Frantz Fanon and Jean-Paul Sartre to violence in the struggle against colonialism. (“One must kill,” Sartre wrote. “To bring down a European is to…suppress at the same time the oppressor and the oppressed.”) On their return to Cambodia, they organized in the northeastern hills a tightly disciplined armed force made up largely of illiterate and semiliterate youths recruited from the poorest peasantry. These troops, for the most part twelve- to fourteen-year-old adolescents, were given intense indoctrination in hatred of all those different from themselves, especially city-dwellers and the Vietnamese minority. To develop a “love of killing and consequently war,” they were trained, like the Nazi SS, in tormenting and slaughtering animals.

        Their time came in early 1975, when the Khmer Rouge overthrew the government of Lon Nol, installed by the Americans, and occupied the country’s capital, Phnom Penh. The population at large had no inkling what lay in store, because in their propaganda the Khmer Rouge promised to pardon servants of the old regime, rallying all classes against the “imperialists” and landowners. Yet the instant Khmer Rouge troops entered Phnom Penh, they resorted to the most radical punitive measures. Convinced that cities were the nidus of all evil—in Fanon’s words, the home of “traitors and knaves”—the Khmer Rouge ordered the capital, with its 2.5 million inhabitants, and all other urban centers to be totally evacuated. The victims, driven into the countryside, were allowed to salvage only what they could carry on their backs. Within one week all Cambodian cities were emptied. Four million people, or 60 percent of the population, suffered exile, compelled to live under the most trying conditions, overworked as well as undernourished. Secondary and higher schools were shut down.

        Then the carnage began. Unlike Mao, whom he admired and followed in many respects, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot, did not waste time on “reeducation” but proceeded directly to the extermination of those categories of the population whom he suspected of actual or potential hostility to the new order: all civilian and military employees of the old regime, former landowners, teachers, merchants, Buddhist monks, and even skilled workers. Members of these groups, officially relegated to the lowest classes of citizens and deprived of all rights, including access to food rations, were either summarily shot or sent to perform forced labor until they dropped dead from exhaustion. These condemned unfortunates constituted, potentially, over two-thirds of the population. They were systematically arrested, interrogated, and tortured until they implicated others, and then executed. The executions involved entire families, including small children, for Pol Pot believed that dissenting ideas and attitudes, derived from one’s social position, education, or occupation, were “evil microbes” that spread like disease. Members of the Communist Party, considered susceptible to contagion, were also subject to liquidation. After the Vietnamese expelled the Khmer Rouge from Cambodia, they discovered mountains of skulls of its victims.

        The peasants were not spared, being driven into “cooperatives” modeled on the Chinese. The state appropriated all the food produced by these communes and, as in pharaonic Egypt, having stored it in temples and other government depositories, doled it out at its discretion. These measures upset traditional rural practices and led to food shortages that in 1978-1979, following an unusually severe drought, brought a massive famine.

        The killings intensified throughout the forty-four months that the Khmer Rouge controlled Cambodia. People were executed for such offenses as being late to work, complaining about food, criticizing the government, or engaging in premarital sex. In sadism, the brutalities were fully comparable to those perpetrated by the Nazis....

        Cases were reported of children being ordered to kill their parents.

        The toll of these massacres was appalling. According to reliable estimates, the population of Cambodia at the time the Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975 was 7.3 million; when the Vietnamese took over in 1978, it has declined to 5.8 million. Allowing for the natural population increase during the intervening four years, it should have been over 8 million. In other words, the Pol Pot regime was responsible for the death or population deficit of some 2 million Cambodian citizens, or over one-quarter of the population. These victims represented the best educated and most skilled elements of the nation. The gruesome experiment has been characterized as a “human tragedy of almost unprecedented proportions [that] occurred because political theoreticians carried out their grand design on the unsuspecting Khmer people.”

        It may be noted that there were no demonstrations anywhere in the world against these outrages and the United Nations passed no resolutions condemning them. The world took them in stride, presumably because they were committed in what was heralded as a noble cause.

[Some Western intellectuals, unwilling to blame this unprecedented slaughter on the Communists, attributed it to the Americans, who in 1969-1973 had bombed Cambodia in an attempt to destroy the Vietcong forces that had sought refuge there. It is difficult to see, however, why the Cambodians’ rage against the Americans would vent itself in the killing of 2 million of their own people...]

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