Summary of the Cambodian Genocide

  • The Cambodian genocide resulted from the years of 1975-1979, in which a great number of people lost their lives and it was one of the worst human tragedies of the last century. The genocide was an attempt by Khmer Rouge army leader Pol Pot to form a Communist peasant farming society resulting in a great number of deaths by starvation, overwork and executions. Cambodia was once ruled by Prince Norodom Sihanouk. Later the country was taken over and controlled by Pol Pot, his army of Khmer Rouge, and teenage peasant guerrillas forming the Democratic Kampuchea. Pol Pot seized control of Cambodia beginning in the capital city of Phnom Penh. His ideas were similar to Maozedong’s, a Chinese communist ruler in that Western culture, religion, foreign influences should be extinguished to form an extreme peasant communism. Foreigners would be expelled, embassies closed, foreign economic or medical assistance was refused, use of foreign languages banned, TV and newspapers were shut down, even money was forbidden, education halted, and thus Cambodia was sealed off from the rest of the world. Pol pot eliminated the old society which included the educated, the wealthy, Buddhist monks, police, doctors, lawyers, teacher, and former government officials. Cambodians who were accustomed to city life were forced to work in the fields while many died of overworking long hours, malnutrition and disease. Anyone who was suspected to be disloyal to Pol Pot was killed. The vast majority of the victims included in the mass slaughtering and torturing are from Cambodia but also include people from Vietnam, Laos, India, Pakistan, UK, France, U.S.A, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, and Muslims and Christians. Eventually In 2002 Australia, France, Japan, and the US passed a resolution calling for a tribunal of the senior members of the Khmer Rouge for crimes against humanity.
  • In Ervin Staub's, "The Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence" he writes about his thoeries and what he took away from the Cambodian Genocide. Staub first talks about his theory of the reason for the Cambodian Genocide, which is believed by him to be an attempt to fulfill a vision of a better world. This meant that the Cambodian communist leaders set out to radically change their society. These Cambodian leaders would kill anyone who believed still in the old ways. Staub then explains his view of the history of Cambodia. He states that many people believed Cambodia to be a very pleasant and peaceful place, but in all reality this was not the case. Cambodia has been invaded and ruled violently by outsiders for much time. Staub later mentions the topic of the Khmer Rouge rule and the autogenocide, which his has much opinion about. He explains how the Khmer Rouge evacuated the city and killed those who did not cooperate. Staub said that there were several reasons for the evacuation of the cities. One of which being fear and suspicion of enemies, who threatened the Khmer army. Another reason Staub thought to be for this evacuation was that the Khmer Rouge believed the cities to be evil. In this evacuation of the city, only those who completely followed the orders of the Khmer army survived. Stuab goes on to point out that after the evacuation of Phnom Penh and other cities that the communists began to start exterminating the officers of Lon Nol’s army. It is estimated that two million people died due to various reasons under communist rule. Stuab also shows the reactions of some to the genocide. In Staub’s report of Hildebrand and Porters view they describe the evacuation of Phnom Penh as necessary. Their reasoning was based on hunger and overcrowding. Stuab also talks about his view points and theories on ideology. His theory of the Khmer Rouge ideology was that they set out to create a society in which life was communal. Staub says, “Everyone was to have the status of a simple peasant.” Another interesting point brought about by Staub was how the communists came about, and how they were able to gain followers and start a genocide. Staub theory was that the happenings of this time in Cambodia fueled many motivations that occur under difficult life condition. Therefore with all of these problems occurring many began to set out for a new world view, such as the communists. Once popularity arose this new world view gained many followers and eventually led to a massive genocide.

Staub, Ervin. The Roots of Evil: The Origins of Genocide and Other Group Violence. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989 (pgs. 188-209)