History 2: Revolutions
May 15, 2015
“I woke up to loud explosions, gunfire and people yelling and screaming,” Bun Lim wrote in recollection of the Khmer Rouge Regime.1 The Khmer Rouge perpetrated one of the cruelest and oppressive dictatorships of the 20th century. The Khmer Rouge, also referred to as “The Red Cambodians” or the Kampuchea Communist Party (KCP), came to power in 1975 following a civil war in Cambodia.2 The goal of the Regime was to create a society where all citizens were stripped of individuality and had equal capital. During the four years the Khmer Rouge was in power, 1975 to 1979, two million lives were lost due to starvation, torture, over-work and execution. The Regime eliminated all education, religion, and private property. Khmer Rouge dictum was “to spare you is no profit; to destroy you, no loss.”3 During their reign, the Khmer Rouge unleashed a tyranny on the Cambodian people that would affect Cambodia’s culture and society for decades. While the Khmer Rouge’s goal was to convert Cambodia into a primitive agricultural society to benefit all citizens, the result and permanent effects of their rule ruined agriculture and industry, disrupted family life, and destroyed government stability.
Intending to set Cambodia back to Year Zero, a society where everyone farmed and possessed only limited education, the Khmer Rouge believed citizens were the heart of a communist society who had to be restricted in their thinking. Year Zero required a return to a purely peasant based agricultural country. The Khmer Rouge believed that cities were poisoned by capitalism, and therefore, cities had to be eradicated. Families were forced out of their city homes and into the countryside to work on farms, which represented the most basic lifestyle.4 On the journey from the cities to the countryside millions of children and family units died from famine, dehydration, and disease.5 This was just the beginning of the four long years of the Regime. Perazzo, author of the Left-Wing Monster: Pol Pot, stated, "The Khmer revolution [had] no predecessors, what they [were] trying to bring about has never been accomplished at any time in history." The Khmer Rouge’s goal of Year Zero had never been achieved before. During the first two years of the Khmer Rouge Regime, most Cambodians had no idea who or what organization governed the country. Two years into the Regime, citizens were told that the ruling body, known as Angkar, ran the country.6 Later, citizens discovered that the Communist Party of Kampuchea, the Khmer Rouge, was the political movement behind the Regime; an organization that believed secrecy was the best tool for controlling the population. Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, spent years with the French and Viet Cong Communist Parties, both of which had a significant impact on his leadership style.7 As a result of his involvement with these two Communist groups, Pol Pot solidified his belief that communism was the only economic model for a nation to be successful and capitalism was destructive. Pol Pot envisioned Cambodia as a society without banks, schools, or the workplace. Religion and all foreigners were extinguished. Foreign language was banned and city life was expelled. He shut down education and health care disappeared.8 To accomplish this vision, Pol Pot radically shifted Cambodia to a primitive agrarian society by removing all capital, currency, and schooling. He believed this transformation would purify the nation.9 Pol Pot called this process “peasant communism.” Cambodians were stripped of their individuality and forced into peasantry.10 Pol Pot “wish[ed] to do away with all vestiges of the past,” meaning any higher form of education or capitalism. For example, Security Office 21 or (S21), a former high school in Phnom Penh was transformed from a place of