Khmer Rouge Essay Example

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The Khmer Rouge13

The Effects of Khmer Rouge Policies on the Lives of Khmer People

The Khmer Rouge

Lecturer

It was a really bad time; I was a prisoner in the Khmer Rouge labor camp. I was hungry everyday. I was afraid to die and did whatever the commander told me to do. They gave me a flute and made me play harmonized propaganda songs for them and they also forced me to do terrible things. Now, I am trying so hard to make songs to make me come at peace with my past1. These are the words of a flute player who survived the wrath of the Khmer Rouge (KR) regime, under the Communist Party of Kampuchea, between 1975 and 1978. The regime is believed to be responsible for the murder of more than two million people. The number of people murdered during this era could be more as most of the decomposing bodies were used to make fertilizer to be used in the rice and large agricultural plantations. As Sophearith Chuong narrates, her grand mother referred to as “Yeay Chi” that meant Grandmother of Fertilizer together with the other 40 female units was required to make fertilizer out of human bodies and excrements2.

The population experienced enormous political distress that comprised immense killing, forced labor, destruction of the school system and massive population transfer. The nation was governed under strict policies, castigation and torment as part to return Cambodia state to Khmer nation. This nation in connection to vital goals of Khmer rouge was perceived to be self sufficient in relation to agricultural society comprising of Khmer people. As part to ensure that agriculture sustained only the people of Khmer, the party leadership chose to adapt a leadership, which encompassed extreme and harsh policies, which by all means eliminated any kind of opposition3.

According to Pol Pot, the pre-revolutionary Cambodia consisted of five classes which included the peasants, workers, bourgeoisie and the capitalists. Sopheak Sim4 is of the view that the KR policies aimed at the destruction of the existing societal infrastructure and construct a totally new state and society. To return Cambodia society to original Khmer agricultural system, the people of Khmer were turned into machine creatures where they were forced to work more than ten hours in the field. To ensure agriculture remains key to Khmer, people were forced to vacate the city. The KR soldiers ordered people to pack their belongings and exit the city in three days to facilitate the establishment of a new city. Patients in the city hospitals were not spared either. They were all forced out of the hospital and on to the streets to begin their journey back to the rice plantations in the rural suburbs. This is echoed by So Theng an infantry who confessed to have tricked persons who lived in the region south of the Independence Monument to go to Kbal Thnol for three days as he claimed Angkar wanted to clear its enemies who were hiding in the city5.

To effectively implement the regimes authoritarian rule, the KR had to weaken the family structure. They believed that by weakening family structures, they would be able to come up with a revolutionary and new social order which will ensure that social groups such as families were under their control. According to Vann Nath, a survivor of the S-21 torture chamber, families that lived in the cities were forced by the KR army to work in the rice fields and other agricultural plantations. Husbands, wives and their children were separated from each other6. Families that dropped their family values were said to be obedient to the KR authority. The extended family in Cambodia focused on cultural and economic life. A family worked together and was considered as an economic unit normally responsible for household consumption and production. The regime attacked the family and its related institutions resulting in the threatening of the Cambodian society in a more fundamental manner. Among the approaches identified and utilized by the regime to destroy family unions included deportation, collectivization of work, execution and living arrangements.

According to
Molyda Szymusiak, in an interview with Tuy Kin, a KR combatant in the 12th battalion, the KR took advantage of the children’s innocence and purity to manipulate them against the known principles and cultural values. This was aimed at breaking them off from the rest of the culture and making them autonomous of their families. The KR perceived this as a way of fighting the family setup which was considered their fierce competitor7. The policy required that the children be taken to camps and had to get permission from the authority to be able to visit their parents and failure to comply with this was regarded as a challenge of the Agkar authority. The rights of the child against child labor were abused as they were required to stay within the precincts of the work camp and labor. The children were unable to experience the life in the family setting as they stayed for long without visiting their families as Sayana Ser says,

Some cried because they had to separate from their family, their children, their parents, their grandparents, and their husbands and wives who lived far away and were unable to meet.   Instead, they had to flee further away from each other.”8

The desired effect for this cause was to make the children independent from their parents. The Kong Komar policy aimed at having the children hating their parents and their past culture. The children were forced into believing that their parents had no Kun that was to provide them with their basic needs9.

The regime utilized the propaganda approach into brainwashing the children to belief in the Angkar principles. This resulted in most children to become spies on their parents and the entire community. Many parents who spoke or commented negatively against the KR regime were executed. Most children who reported defiant parents were rewarded with exceptional rights at the work camps. The children were led into confessing of their past deeds as they were perceived to be of an alien culture. The KR cadres rewarded the children who identified themselves with the new Agkar culture. Those who reserved their past cultures were executed10.

According to Loung Ung, an author and a survivor of the KR regime, the military personnel, managers, the police and the more educated affluent families were at higher risk of being executed11. The regime identified the economic and educational social status based on the literacy levels. In his confession, Chou Chet, commonly known as Sly, a Secretary of the Western Zone said,

They gathered up policemen, Lon Nol government officials and their families, students, teachers, intellectuals, and technicians aligned with the old regime and sent them to prison for execution.”12

 In addition, the decreased social economic status of most families affected their mortality rates especially for the elderly and the young children. According to Ung, families that had educated girls were likely to face excess mortality as they were considered to be of equivalently high social economic status. This was mostly experienced in the urban settings where the girl child education was considered useful unlike in the rural areas where it was considered a luxury and a waste of resources13. This further lead to the decrease in the education levels among the young generation as most educational institutions were closed. The wearing of eye glasses or the speaking of French was assumed to be alien intellectual culture and resulted into execution

In addition, the religious institutions were not spared either from their inhumane policies. Any form of worship or religious activity was burned in the state in 1975. As Kosal Phat says,

The Khmer Rouge converted Ka Koh temple into a Security Office 08 and a prison in 1973 and operated this prison up to the fall of the DK regime in 1979. This prison was in District 56, Region 33, Southwest Zone. Over 5000 people were estimated to have been killed at this prison.”14

The KR regime attacked the religious institutions and all the aspects of the religious life. This severely affected the Buddhist as they formed the vast majority of the religious groups15. All the worship buildings were destroyed and the religious leaders were forced to manual labor camps. Most of the religious Christian and Muslim entities were hounded and put to death. KR replaced the existing religion with the newly created religion comprising of Maoist principles with mythical ideals of the Angkorean precedent. This was aimed at creating a society idealized and programmed by the Angkar ideals. Religious ceremonies were abolished as well as religious marriages. The KR officials presided over the marriage ceremonies mainly comprising of couples who were unfamiliar to each other. Persons who were discovered to be praying or worshiping in any form were executed16.

The Cambodians had special reservations for the burial and funeral ceremonies. Ronnie Yimsut in his words says,

Every now and then a group of people, our fellow laborers, came by to collect the dead bodies under watchful eyes of armed guards. Very few mourned for the dead. Even the relatives showed very little emotion because they knew that the dead would suffer no more. We were all like a bunch of living dead. I honestly thought that it would be much easier if they just came and took us away.”17 

The KR regime abolished all the ceremonies associated to the burial rites. This left a scarring impression to many however, some of the family members continued to secretly mourn for the departed family members. Many of the citizens who were convicted for disobeying the rules and authority of the KR were considered enemies. The citizens had to be careful in the way they reacted to the death of such a person as those who mourned their death were also considered as enemies to the regime18.

Finally, the KR regime immediate goals after the assumption of power were to overhaul the Cambodian economy. The economic strategy had the required the masses to build a firm agricultural foundation that had to be supported by the local medium sized enterprises. Their principle role was for the country to be self reliant and reduce the foreign influence on the country’s economy. Most foreigners were forced out of the country thus reducing the number of foreign investors. Most of the local investors in the urban regions were forced out of the towns and urban dwellings as the regime viewed this as a form of purification of the urban residents. The level of business transactions fell drastically with only few of the close associates to the regime being allowed to contract any business. The only investors who were not allowed out of the Cambodian territory were those that operated fundamental public services like water and power. Most of the population were turned into slaves and were forced to labor in the rice fields. This meant that the KR regime turned Cambodia into an agrarian state. The other fields and plantations that had earlier produced cash crops were rehabilitated19.

Despite the regimes emphasis on agriculture, it sought to rehabilitate the existing factories and make them perfect instead of building new ones. Under the regime at least 100 factories were put into full operation to accommodate the agricultural products. All the land and plots were owned by the government and owning of private land was prohibited20. The 1976 adopted constitution stated that the means of productions were a cooperative property of the nation. The prohibiting of plant ownership was meant to create a classless society. Private land ownership was viewed by the KR regime as a main source of egoist feelings and perpetrators of social inequality. The KR regime confiscated all the currency that was used during the era that preceded it. Shops were closed and food rations were given as payments to field workers as there was no money in circulation. The state was expected by the regime to be self sufficient in food and be able to export the surplus to other regions of the world. Persons were to work for between 10 and 12 hours.

Most of the working conditions were adversely deplorable21. Every person in the community had a role in the agricultural practice as the children under the age of 15 grew vegetables and/or raised poultry. Movement across the borders was restricted and only the trucks that distributed rice and furl were allowed to move freely. However, there was significant improvement of the irrigation network and in the expansion of the rice plantations. The regime failed to reach its 570 per person ration. This resulted into malnutrition among the young and elderly population. The leaders had the rice stocked up as they prepared for the Vietnamese war and traded it for guns and other military supplies. The country was hit with a severe food shortage after the KR regime invaded Vietnam in 197922.

In conclusion, the KR regime devised policies that vehemently abused the rights of the Cambodian citizens. Despite the regime having strong convictions of turning the country’s economy to be robust ended up having most of its people, who had been evacuated from the urban areas, live in abject poverty and facing severe food insecurities. The family was viewed as obstacle to the full implementation of their policies. The regime devised three ways that were used to separate the family structure. This included deportation, execution, and collectivization of work as well as the living arrangements. In addition, the populous lacked a purchasing power and the ability to question the activities of the regime. The implemented policies sought to completely destroy the family institution, which was thought to be a formidable threat in the attaining of its objectives, and substitute it with the Angkar ideals. The only true family to the KR was the Angkar and loyalty to the family was not necessary. The regime contravened all the rights of workers as stipulated in the International Labor Organization’s manual by having the populous work for long hours in deplorable conditions. The KR regime flouted the child rights by denying them education and access to their families. The freedom of speech and association was restricted as it was an offence to talk against the state. The era witnessed them being sidelined by most foreign and regional states.

Bibliography

Chandler, David. Pol Pot Plans the Future: Confidential Leadership Documents from Democratic Kampuchea, 1976-1977. New Haven: Yale University, 1988.

Chandler, David. Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot’s Secret Prison. St. Leonards: Allen &Unwin, 2000.

Chuong, S Grandmother of “fertilizer” Viewed on the 30th of April 2011 from: http://www.dccam.org/Survivors/14.htm

Criddle, Joan D.,To Destroy You is No Loss: The Odysey of a Cambodian Family. Dixon: East/West Bridge Publishing House, 1987.

Deac, Wilfred P. Road to the Killing Fields: The Cambodian War of 1970-1975. Texas: Texas A & M University Press, 1997.

DePaul, K., ed. Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

Heder, Stephen R. Pol Pot and KhieuSamphan. Clayton: Monash University, 1991.

Kiernan, B., ed.,Genocide and Democracy in Cambodia: The Khmer Rouge, the United Nations and the International Community. New Haven: Yale University Southeast Asian Studies, 1993.

Kiernan, Ben and ChanthouBoua. Peasants and Politics in Kampuchea, 1942-1981. London: Zed, 1982.

Kiernan, Ben, A History of Genocide from Sparta to Darfur: New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007.

Kiernan, Ben. How Pol Pot Came to Power: A History of Communism in Kampuchea, 1930- 1975. London: Verso, 1985.

Kosal Phat. Haunting souls, viewed on the 1st of May 2011from: http://www.dccam.org/Survivors/16.htm

Sayana Ser, My memories through my family Viewed on the 1st of May 2011 from: http://www.dccam.org/Survivors/34.htm

Sopheak, S,
The khmer rouge: an old story to most, but a new one to me, Viewed on the 30th of April 2011 from:
http://www.dccam.org/Survivors/44.htm

Sucheng Chan, Survivors Cambodian Refugees in the United States, The University of Ilinois Press, 2004.

Szymusiak, Molyda. The Stones Cry Out. A Cambodian Childhood 1975-1980. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984.

Tom, Fawthrop and Helen. Jarvis, Elusive Justice and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, UNSW Press and Pluto Press, 2004.

Ung, L. First they killed my father, a daughter of Cambodia remembers, New York Publishers, 2001.

Vannak, H. The khmer rouge division 703: From victory to self-destruction: Documentation Center of Cambodia 2003.

1
Sucheng Chan, Survivors Cambodian Refugees in the United States, (The University of Ilinois Press, 2004), 69.

2
Chuong, S
Grandmother of “fertilizer” Viewed on the 30th of April 2011 from: http://www.dccam.org/Survivors/14.htm

3David Chandler, Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot’s Secret Prison, (St. Leonards: Allen &Unwin, 2000), 8.

4Sopheak, S,
The khmer rouge: an old story to most, but a new one to me, Viewed on the 30th of April 2011 from:
http://www.dccam.org/Survivors/44.htm

5
Vannak, H, The khmer rouge division 703: From victory to self-destruction: (Documentation Center of Cambodia 2003), 56.

6
David Chandler, Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot’s Secret Prison, (St. Leonards: Allen &Unwin, 2000), 120.

7Molyda Szymusiak, The Stones Cry Out. A Cambodian Childhood 1975-1980 (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984), 94.

8
Sayana Ser, My memories through my family Viewed on the 1st of May 2011 from: http://www.dccam.org/Survivors/34.htm

9Kim DePaul, ed., Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 90.

10Stephen R. Heder, Pol Pot and KhieuSamphan (Clayton: Monash University, 1991), 157.

11
Ung Luong, First they killed my father, a daughter of Cambodia remembers, (New York Publishers, 2001), 35.

12Vannak, H, The khmer rouge division 703: From victory to self-destruction, (Documentation Center of Cambodia 2003), 84.

13Ung Luong, First they killed my father, a daughter of Cambodia remembers, (New York Publishers, 2001), 67.

14
Kosal Phat. Haunting souls, viewed on the 1st of May 2011from: http://www.dccam.org/Survivors/16.htm

15Stephen R. Heder, Pol Pot and KhieuSamphan (Clayton: Monash University, 1991), 102.

16Ben Kiernan, and Boua Chanthou, Peasants and Politics in Kampuchea, 1942-1981 (London: Zed, 1982), 45.

17
Ronnie Yimsut, Tonle Sap Lake Massacre: Voice from the grave viewed on the 1st May 2011 from: http://www.dccam.org/Survivors/52.htm

18Kim DePaul, ed., Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), 87.

19Ben Kiernan, A History of Genocide from Sparta to Darfur: (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 107.

20David Chandler, Pol Pot Plans the Future: Confidential Leadership Documents from Democratic Kampuchea, 1976-1977 (New Haven: Yale University, 1988), 124.

21David Chandler, Pol Pot Plans the Future: Confidential Leadership Documents from Democratic Kampuchea, 1976-1977 (New Haven: Yale University, 1988), 128.

22Tom Fawthrop and Helen Jarvis, Elusive Justice and the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, (UNSW Press and Pluto Press, 2004), 148.