Cambodian Killing Fields – I
“To spare you is no profit, to destroy you is no loss.”
— Khmer Rouge slogan
Cambodia is a small South East Asian country bordered by Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. On 1975, its estimated population was 7 to 8 million. It was the year, the power passed into the hands of Khmer Rouge, a small Leninist guerrilla group especially popular in the rural areas of the north. Its population consisted of 80% ethnic Khmers. Buddhist Monks, Vietnamese, Catholics and Chinese were the minorities, but had a fair control of trade. The Khmer Rouge swept the Cambodian capital, Phenom Penh and began its center piece of their extremism, called the “purification campaign.” Four years later, in 1979, they were pushed back into jungle. All they left behind were millions of dead bodies (estimated 1.5 to 2 million — twenty percent of the population).
Cambodia had been one of the colonies of France. Prince Norodom Sihanouk was appointed as King of Cambodia in the year 1941. He later negotiated with French for the independence and finally succeeded in 1953. Sihanouk relished the authoritarian style of government, but at the same time he was immensely popular leader among Cambodians. In the brink of escalating Vietnam War, Sihanouk severed the friendly relations with US in the year 1965. However, in the year 1969, when Viet Cong’s forces loomed over Cambodia’s south eastern border, Sihanouk reestablished his relations with US. In 1970, the king went for an overseas trip, and to everyone’s dismay, he was overthrown by his pro-American military chief Lon Nol and Prince Sirik Matak. The coup d’état took place in March 20, 1970 and from then on civil war started in Cambodia.
Some of the scholars state that what happened in Cambodia cannot be called genocide because for the most part, it was Khmers killing other Khmers, not someone trying to destroy a different ethnic race or religious group. But, if you take a closer look at these killings, you can see that Khmer Rouge’s main goal was to erase the entire cultural and religious belief of Cambodians: the religion being Theravada Buddhism. Whether its genocide or a crime against humanity, it was purely evil. The precursor to these evil methods (many call it “Phase I of the Genocide”) was designated between the years 1970 to 1975, when the Civil War was wholly sustained by the US government. The Lon Nol government, aided by US military fought the North Vietnamese (Viet Cong) and the Cambodian Communist revolutionaries (first known as “Red Khmer”, later as “Khmer Rouge”).
The massive aerial bombardment by US air forces during the Civil war caused heavy causalities, and, at the same time, drove people to take up arms. The Khmer Rouge’s strength in 1970 was around 4,000 – an nonthreatening figure. But, the numerous aerial bombardment strengthened KR’s insurgency and also motivated them to commit genocide after gaining power. The Nol government was also happy to receive financial help from US (estimated to be $1.5 billion). Despite all these helps, Nol practiced a corrupt, authoritarian rule, repressing people with brutal policies. In 1972, he declared himself as Prime Minister, President, Defense Minister and Marshal of armed forces.
US governments’ important cold war tactic is to support the ABC (Anyone But Communist) policy. So, despite Nol’s vicious methods, President Nixon continued his support. The secret bombing campaign like “Operation Menu” and many others were conducted without Congressional approval. Nixon’s ground invasion troops included 31,000 Americans and 43,000 South Vietnamese. During this time, the whole Cambodian population became reliant on US aid to eat, since its government spent five times its revenue in buying weapons. In the year 2000, Bill Clinton released an extensive air force database about the American bombings between the years 1964-75. The total number of bomb droppings was 230, 516. Of these 113, 716 sites were in Cambodia. The military aid and all kinds of support to Nol, eventually stopped in the year 1973, the year of Nixon’s infamous resignation.
After Nixon’s resignation, the Ford administration (1973-76) took power and didn’t care about curbing the abuses in Cambodia. They were more interested in winning the Cold War and to eradicate communism from South East Asia. Ford predicted that a ‘bloodbath’ will flow, if KR came to power. His prediction came correct, but he didn’t take time and energy to eradicate this abominable prediction. Led by Pol Pot, ‘Phenom Penh’ was captured in April 17, 1975. The KR’s arrival, for many Cambodians, was a sight for soar eyes. They were happy that the Civil War has come to an end, but the exultation disappeared soon, when the Khmer Rouge started forcible evacuation (within three hours after the victory) of all civilians to the countryside. Pol Pot’s “Year Zero” began and it signaled the reign of terror.