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Ms. Bowles
Posts: 20

Questions to Consider:

1. What fundamental problems existed in the Khmer Rouge's ideology and plan and that caused the destruction of so many lives in Cambodia? Does this demonstrate something inherently wrong with communism or does it demonstrate the ineffective and callous interpretation and execution of the ideology by the Khmer Rouge leaders?

2. With armed struggle and war a reality of life for people all over the world both past and present, how does one draw the line as to which means are ethical and unethical for bringing about change? How much suffering is tolerable to bring about a “better society”? What should happen when it is clear that a struggle for change is making society worse, as it was in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge?

3. What could have been done, on the part of the international community, to ameliorate the harm done to the people of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge between 1975-79? When, if ever, should national sovereignty be overridden to stop the immense suffering of people? How could this have happened in Cambodia and by whom?

Word Count Requirement: 500-750 words

Sources to Reference:

Please refer to the ideas, either using a description, quote or paraphrasing, from at least two of the sources in your response and please respond in some way to at least two of the question sets. You can also refer to the film, First They Killed My Father, that we watched as a class.

Excerpt 1 from Chapter 6 of A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide (Power, 2002)

(Cambodia: The Unknowable Unknown and Wishful Thinking)

Excerpt 2 from Chapter 6 of A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide (Power, 2002)

(Cambodia: From Behind a Blindfold and Official US Intelligence, Unofficial Skepticism)

Excerpt 1 from Chapter 6 of A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide (Power, 2002)

(Cambodia: This Is Not 1942 and and Options Ignored; Futility, Perversity, Jeopardy)

“The Rise and Fall of Democratic Kampuchea” by Sok Udom Deth (2009)

Rubric to Review: LTQ Rubric

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 10

questions #1 and #3

I think that the destruction in Cambodia was largely due to the Khmer Rouge’s callous interpretation of communism. They took the idea of equality to an extreme, turning it into uniformity where everyone had to wear the same clothes and think the same. While they proclaimed to be providing social change, their actions were more akin to revenge, where those who had previously thrived were killed and anyone who didn’t outwardly support the movement from the very start suffered. They believed that the ends— the creation of a so-called utopia— justified the means— mass death and destruction. But the execution of what a few believe to be a utopia does not justify genocide. If you are using inhumane measures to achieve change, then you are in the wrong, regardless of the ends. But the main issue with their interpretation was the core idea that people were irrelevant. In America, someone is innocent until proven guilty and you’re supposed to have undeniable evidence that the person is guilty to punish them. Under the Khmer Rouge, it was better to kill ten innocent people that let one guilty person go. In the “This is Not 1942” section of her book A Problem From Hell, Samantha Power says that the “key ideological premise that lay behind the KR revolution was that “to keep you is no gain; to kill you is no loss.” [...] Khmer Rouge revolutionary society was predicated on the irrelevance of the individual” (Power).

This is not to say that there is an interpretation of communism that could produce a utopia. Humans simply are too selfish and greedy to make communism work as it is meant to. Whether in a communist or a capitalist society, a few at the top will always prevail at the expense of the majority. Even though the Khmer Rouge was supposed to be communist, the leaders benefited from the labor of the people. In the movie, the workers who farmed starved while the food they grew went to the few at the top.

“Certainly, it is impossible to overstate the importance of the historical context in dictating America’s response to atrocities in Cambodia”, Power states in her “Response” chapter. But I don’t think that historical context means we are innocent. As in every genocide, the U.S. has a responsibility to intervene as an influential power and as a country that presents itself as a moral compass to further our own interests. But especially in the Cambodian genocide, where the American bombing program contributed heavily to conflict and genocide, we had a responsibility to prevent the extremes of the damage.

Is it unrealistic to expect the U.S to have intervened at that time? The people, who had lost sons, husbands, and fathers in Vietnam were against it. The Democrats, who believed that Ford’s condemnation of the Khmer Rouge was just anti-communist propaganda, were against it. And the Republican government itself had lost major credibility in the region. As Samantha Power summarizes in the “Official U.S. Intelligence, Unofficial Skepticism” section, Kissinger’s past foreign policy decisions had “blackened his own reputation”, and the discrepancy between US predictions of other events in Southeast Asia and the actual events, such as the fall of Saigon, made the government seem like exaggerators. So is it unreasonable to have expected action, especially when we didn’t know the extent of the cruelty? Additionally, what about other countries? It’s not like the U.S. was the sole world power. What about France, who had colonized the area? Or Thailand, who was geographically close? Why didn’t other countries, which hadn’t been recently involved in a devastating and immoral war, intervene?

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 10

The Genocide in Cambodia

The Khmer Rouge based their ruling upon tension and hate riddled ideologies and plans, that caused the destruction of so many lives in Cambodia. When Phnom Penh was invaded, The Khmer Rouge made everyone leave the city, and placed them in camps, in an attempt to create a communist revolution. People were put to work, and stripped of their identities, for The Khmer Rouge wanted to make everyone “equal,” though they held an idea of superiority over the Cambodian people. “By doing so, the leaders of DK also aimed to create a classless society, although in reality, those who joined the revolution before 1975 were relatively better off. Religion, the market economy, and family ties were all abolished. Everything belonged to Angkar Padevat (or the ‘revolutionary organization’), which was “righteous and enlightened” in carrying out the revolution that the entire population was expected to pursue with complete dedication” (The Rise and Fall of Democratic Kampuchea). The Khmer Rouge and their attempt for a communist revolution does not demonstrate that something is inherently wrong with communism, however it does demonstrate the common themes that come with the making and existence of a communist society. With many communist societies, we see that there is an intensive amount of violence and destruction that the groups take to set up their regime. “As in other communist regimes, the DK leaders were highly suspicious of enemies from within and sought to crush them at all costs” (The Rise and Fall of Democratic Kampuchea), which led The Khmer Rouge to create a plan to execute and eliminate all of the potential “enemies,” or those who they thought would bring down their regime, through the events of genocide. The Khmer Rouge leaders were going to carry out their plans of genocide regardless of them being a communist revolution based party or not, for they saw this as the only way to gain power. Communism can take many forms, but more often than not it results in the violence, destruction, and a restriction of human rights by dehumanization, and creating an “equal society,” that is not equal at all.

Changes occur in societies all around the world, regardless of their type of ruling, economic systems, regions, and all of the factors that make up their nation. However, some radical changes are often accompanied by mass violence and unethical practices and events. The Khmer Rouge wanted to create a “better society,” which they thought would come with a communist revolution. Though the people thought that their society would get better, The Khmer Rouge forced Cambodian citizens out of their homes, stripped them of their identities, and began their plans of violence and mass destruction. “They were separating children from parents, defrocking monks, killing those who disobeyed and creating an irrevocable living arrangement” (Cambodia: The Unknowable Unknown and Wishful Thinking). No amount of suffering is tolerable to bring about a “better society,” even though suffering will most likely occur. The amount of suffering that occurred in Cambodia was unnecessary for the “changes” that The Khmer Rouge wanted to bring about. Torture occurred in various forms, and the deaths of innocent people occurred every day in the region. It is hard to come to a conclusion of what to do when a struggle like this arises, but there were baseline steps that were not carried out. The United Nations goes to countries in times of struggle to keep peace, but because reporters were turned away, or even killed, there was little evidence of physical or visual representation, something that the world “needed” to see, so that they could believe that this struggle was actually occurring (Cambodia: From Behind a Blindfold and Official US Intelligence, Unofficial Skepticism).

The international community was very withdrawn from the Cambodian genocide, due to the country being in the same general region as Vietnam, a place that had been a controversial warring state for years prior to The Khmer Rouge’s uprising. Understanding that The United Nations cannot physically intervene in conflicts, and that they can only be present for “peace keeping” circumstances, this does limit the international community’s abilities to interfere, and to stop the excessive harm being done to the people of Cambodia. However, the international community took steps to remove any connections that they may have with helping those in Cambodia, from neglecting to represent it in the media, to refusing to accept the truth of the situation. The international community based its rulings of the situation in Cambodia off of the events of The Holocaust genocide, for it was the most known and understood genocide that they could compare anything to during this era. Each genocide has its own components of planning, occurrence, and motives, but the international community placed it into a box, that did not fit the understanding of genocide that they had from the events of The Holocaust (Cambodia: This Is Not 1942 and and Options Ignored; Futility, Perversity, Jeopardy). National sovereignty should be overridden during any circumstance of violence, harm, or disorder that is causing the immense suffering of people. Due to sanctions by The United Nations, as well as the parameters in which The United Nations can help warring nations, the act of international interference is hard to successfully carry out, but there were most certainly acts that could have helped to help the immense suffering of the Cambodian people.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 12

If I want to pass a test, I need to study. I might have to study everyday for a week if it means that I pass the class. Nobody likes to study but it’s a sacrifice that we all have to make in order to succeed. I won’t be happy while I’m studying and I might even miss my friend’s birthday party but in one way or another, it would have been worth it if I got a good grade. However, if I study so much that it causes a strain in my mental or physical health, it is time for me to stop because no test will ever be more important than my wellbeing. And that is where we draw the line. When sacrifices turn into suffering, it is time to stop, and the Khmer Rouge should have stopped there as well.

Unfortunately, the world has seen far too many genocides, but in each one there are signs of forming chaos. In almost all of these genocides, the majority of people have ignored the precursors. However, this genocide was a little different in the sense that “the Khmer Rouge may well have run the most secretive regime of the twentieth century. They sealed the country completely” (Excerpt 2). On its own, this should have caused some international worry. For what logical reason would a country locked itself away from the rest of the world. “The Nixon and Ford administration had cried wolf one time too many in Southeast Asia. In addition, because the KR were so secretive, America’s warnings were by definition speculative” (Excerpt 1). There were signs of a genocide about to unfold but the Khmer Rouge was so careful about hiding their actions that it felt like speculation. So in this case, it is up to the leaders of the Khmer Rouge to identify when enough is enough. The increasing death toll should have been proof that what they were doing was wrong. The Khmer Rouge were desensitized from the deaths because they saw it as the survival of the fittest. The moment where your people start to become your biggest obstacle is when you should rethink the ways of society. The actual suffering of other humans on a physical or mental level should never be tolerated even when it is for a “better society.” Such harm can never produce something worth living for.

Now the question comes up; is it communism that causes such harm? The short answer is no. Communism is a political theory that has many flaws, but there is no perfect political ideology. There are many countries today that haven’t necessarily achieved communism, but are trying to. However, those countries aren’t violently killing people each day or stripping people of their fundamental rights. The Khmer Rouge represented communism poorly through their excessive violence and intolerance. However, the United States has also interpreted communism incorrectly that it has become pernicious. If someone told you that a puppy was this ferocious animal that preys on blood and you saw a small fluffy friend, you would be confused. So imagine the reaction when “the U.S. government had said the Communists were poorly trained, Schanberg noted, but the journalists had encountered a well-disciplined, healthy, organized force” (Excerpt 2). The United States makes it seem like communists are disorganized so when people saw something that didn’t represent this, they didn’t know how to react with this false association. The Khmer Rouge went about communism the wrong way, but the United States did not help with how they represented it in the media.

There were many things that went wrong during this genocide. The Khmer Rouge didn’t know when enough was enough and made it easier for them to commit such heinous acts due to their secretive tactics. The harming of other people became so normal during this time and it made them lose sight of what they wanted to achieve through communism. However, the United States did not help because they portrayed communists as different and barbaric people. The truth is, that communism is an ideology with many flaws, but the people who try to achieve it don’t look much different than people who believe in capitalism. It’s important to know what is worth sacrificing when it comes to a better society and how we should portray others.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 10

LTQ 10

(Q1-2) The Khmer Rouge’s ideology was absolutist and believed that any outside influences were a danger to their society (ex. Western ideas/capitalism). The paranoia and black and white thinking of the Khmer Rouge caused them to act with no respect for human lives, as their main goal was to eliminate anyone that opposed Angkar, which was reinforced by their strict one party rule.The fact that they enclosed themselves and cut off all communications with the outside world meant that they were able to commit heinous crimes without any interference or punishment from outsiders. As said by Powers, “The sternly secretive Khmer Rouge bewildered even the most informed Cambodia observers” (The Unknowable Unknown). The Khmer Rouge’s actions were shrouded in mystery, but when people discovered what they were doing, they were so in shock that they could not bring themselves to take decisive action against the horrors they were committing. The dichotomous thinking of the Khmer Rouge led them to undergo an extremely radical and rapid transformation (Kampuchea), where they eliminated all opposition to their communist regime. This transformation also led people to settle on communes where there was a strong us vs them mindset and intentions to eliminate all “enemies.” The way the Khmer Rouge interpreted and practiced their communist regime did not align with what communism looks like in theory. Their interpretation of communism was built on the foundation of creating an us vs them, even though they claimed they were making everyone equal. They believed that to bring about radical change and rebuild society meant that they had to eliminate the supposed enemy, so they used extreme measures to achieve this. As souplover says, “But the execution of what a few believe to be a utopia does not justify genocide. If you are using inhumane measures to achieve change, then you are in the wrong, regardless of the ends” (souplover). They are saying the ends do not justify the means, which is something I think all political leaders/groups need to recognize. Change does not need to be radical and violent, the Khmer Rouge should not have murdered so many innocent people in cold blood to achieve their goals. The Khmer Rouge brought about much suffering and death, and a line must be drawn, but the line between ethical and unethical is sometimes so blurred that it is impossible to do this. A solution to this is a written global consensus on what is ethical and unethical, and these laws/standards should be reinforced by police or some sort of global governance in order for nations to follow the guidelines. In a perfect world, no suffering would be needed to bring about a “better society,” but the reality is that nearly every revolution tries to eliminate the supposed enemy, which means there is definite suffering. It is human nature to divide and fight each other for survival, but in the modern era, it has turned into an intense xenophobia that leads to terrible war and conflict. When a struggle for change is clearly making society worse, I think it is our duty as onlookers to take action and advocate for intervention from other countries. The global community must acknowledge the problem, understand it, and take action to combat and rectify these issues. However, this is often not what happens when countries are struggling with totalitarian regimes/genocide. In Cambodia, during the “merciless exodus” and the genocide of minority groups, although there was “very factual evidence of the bloodbath that is in the process of taking place,” the US hesitated to take action until they waited for the full story, and they did not “get emotionally or politically involved until it was too late” (From Behind a Blindfold). People are hesitant to do anything that is “too political” or anything that would provoke backlash, so politicians and governments are extremely precise and meticulous about how they address these atrocities and how they respond to them. This highlights an omnipresent issue in our society, which is that we are too scared to go against the majority and take a stand for what is right. I believe that we must be willing to stand up for what we believe in and defend those that cannot defend themselves.

Boston, Massachusettes, US
Posts: 8

The Khmer Rouge: Failure of Ideology and Failure of the International Community

One fundamental problem that existed in the Khmer Rouge’s ideology was that they were willing to kill anyone for almost anything. When watching the movie, Cambodians were forced to leave their homes and give up all that was personal to them to serve Angkar. If someone didn’t comply, was a “political enemy”, rumored to be disloyal to Angkar, had western ideas, or many other things, they would be forced to be “reeducated”. In a quote from A problem from Hell, the KR stated, “‘It is better to arrest ten people by mistake than to let one guilty person go free’”(Excerpt 3) This demonstrates the ineffective and callous interpretation and execution of the ideology of the Khmer Rouge leaders. They effectively took the entire country hostage by using this method. Their methods are simply the most extreme case of communism which does demonstrate that there is something wrong with communism in the first place.

To create a better society, change is inevitable but suffering shouldn’t be. For change to affect society in a positive way, it must be at a steady pace. Change too fast will cause the suffering that the Cambodians experienced. The Khmer Rouge deported millions of individuals from their cities, towns and villages, for years moving themselves into luxury apartments and things of that nature. The Khmer Rouge killed millions of people by torturing, starving, and executing them. That is beyond the amount of suffering tolerable for a “better society”. A quote from A Problem from Hell reads, “The Cambodians had heard the howls of their starving infants. They had watched KR cadres use plastic bags to suffocate Buddhist monks. They had seen their loved ones murdered by teenage warriors who mechanically delivered the blow of a hoe to the back of the neck”(Excerpt 3). Cambodians were stripped of their individuality, torn away from their families, forcibly removed from their homes, and so much more in the span of 4 years. This was in the name of communism, to bring about change in the country. But the way the KR went about their road to change was unethical, and went far past any line that could have been drawn in metaphorical sand.

The international community could have intervened by sending aid to the people of Cambodia. It is clear that no one wanted to get involved with the situation because of lack of information and any losses acquired recently. But doing nothing is the wrong answer. When such a large number of people are being systematically killed, there shouldn’t be one reason why the international community can’t step in. National Sovereignty should be overridden when a group of people are being exterminated. As soon as it starts, it should be when the world intervenes. When there is undeniable evidence of the start of a genocide, should be when the world intervenes. Because China was connected to the KR, they were in no position to want to help the Cambodian people so it had to have been another neighboring country with an army strong enough to defeat the KR and dissolve the organization for good.

West Roxbury, MA, US
Posts: 10

The Khmer Rouge: Failure of Ideology and Failure of the International Community

In Cambodia during the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge emerged as a radical communist movement. The parties rise to power was fueled by discontent with the existing government, social inequity, and fear surrounding the Vietnam War. In 1975, the party seized control in Cambodia. They aimed to create an agrarian utopia but their way of getting there was deeply flawed. These cracks in their ideology ran incredibly deep. One aspect of their flawed ideology was seen in their wish for an agrarian society. The Khmer Rouge aimed to transform Cambodia into a place where farming was highlighted. This transformation in their eyes could only occur if urban life was completely abolished where all western influence was eliminated. To ensure this, the Khmer Rouge forced evacuations of cities which led millions into displacement. They also were trying to ensure that communism was being carried out. From their point of view, they believed for communism to happen they had to strip people of everything. This came by seizing properties, breaking up families, and making it so no individuality could occur. The leaders of the Khmer Rouge “envisioned a totally new, classless, and self-independent society, in which the peasants were regarded as the backbone of the society” (The Rise and Fall of Democratic Kampuchea). Communism at its core does press a similar idea. It says that a communist society allows each person to work based on a person's needs. However, the Khmer Rouge disregarded this entirely. The way they interpreted the idea of communism has significant flaws which is what caused it to be so incredibly destructive. In the film First They Killed My Father, the flaws in how they carried out communism showed this. They had young children doing grueling exploitive work in fields when they were far from acquitted for that type of environment. Their needs were nowhere near met in regards to food and shelter. All of the work that they agonizingly carried out never benefitted them and the government seized the food they grew for personal capital. Communism in the Khmer Rouge exploited its citizens and did nothing to meet their needs. It deprived them of vital things for survival, demonstrating the callous interpretation and execution of the ideology by the Khmer Rouge leaders.

The reality of most war means that people have to suffer or die to bring about change. The line cannot be clearly drawn between what is ethical and unethical because it differs so greatly depending on conflict and different points of view. However, the killing of innocent people and commiting of war crimes is a line that is clearly drawn but sadly in times of war, many nations disregard this. A number can’t be placed on how much suffering is tolerable to bring about a “better society”. It is so subjective and isn’t a question that can’t be broadly answered because to do it justice, it has to be viewed with nuance. Obviously the least amount of suffering is the most tolerable amount because a numerical value can’t be placed on it and the term “better society” is so subjective that there is no way of quantifying that. When it is clear that a struggle for change is making society worse, such as in the Khmer Rouge, it should be the United Nations job to interfere. The argument can be made that they are an individual society and can do what they want however, when millions of people are being brutally murdered and the suffering is exponential, the U.N should step in. On their mission statement, the United Nations say their purpose is to “Maintain International Peace and Security. Protect Human Rights. Deliver Humanitarian Aid” (Our Work, United Nations). When they are standing by and letting these atrocities happen they are simply not doing their job of keeping the global community safe. Individual nations should have individual freedoms however there is a certain point that for the protection of innocent people, they have to step in. It is their job as global citizens to help others and not allow for another atrocity like the Cambodian genocide to take place again.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 10

The Khmer Rouge: Failure of Ideology and Failure of the International Community

In society there seldom is a middle ground. A person usually falls into a certain category that encompasses their beliefs. There are Republicans vs. Democrats, Capitalism vs Communism, Rich vs Poor, and so much more. People have the right to their own opinions and beliefs, but when they begin to become extremists then intervention may be necessary. The Khmer Rouge’s ideology was far into the extremism of communism, to them there was zero tolerance for a difference in opinion. The plan to dissolve any sense of individualism was able to be seen at the beginning of Khmer Rouge’s rule as Ith Sarin noted in her diary, from excerpt 1 from Chapter 6 of A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide, she, “saw them force all people to wear black clothes, forbid idle chatter and severely punish any violations of their orders.” The Khmer Rouge expected for all Cambodians to completely abandon their lives and accept their “ideology.” Cambodians lost their right to be a person, have emotions towards those who they had grown up with. In excerpt 1 from Chapter 6 of A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide it explains how refugees explained how, “They could not reminisce. Memories of the past life were banned.” This is completely insane to force upon people as it is limiting even their personal thoughts. Communism focuses on shared wealth, but the Khmer Rouge was going to the extremes to even forcing shared thoughts. In the film, “First They Killed My Father” the 5 year old Cambodian girl was taught how to set up land mines and to be willing to lose her life for Angkar. The film showed a scene where a young Khmer Rouge boy was killed fighting the Vietnamese. Their belief was that it was, “more forgivable to kill ten innocent men than to leave one guilty man alive…” This conveys how the Khmer Rouge were killing thousands of people just to make sure one enemy was exterminated. Some may believe that suffering is needed to bring change to society, but this refers to those who lose their lives willingly, or for a cause. Firefighters risk their lives everyday to help others, but they are willing to do this. If they die in the line of duty it was for a cause that they supported, but for the Cambodians this was not the case. The Khmer Rouge’s cause was not one that the Cambodians believed in nor did they want to be a part of. All of their deaths and immense amounts of suffering was not tolerable because they did not believe in what they were dying for. The Khmer Rouge was not suffering from casualties, but they were exterminating innocent people for their “cause,” this cause was to have control over the region. The genocide that occurred during the years of 1975-1979 could have been stopped if the international community stepped in. The United States failed Cambodia although they owed it to the region of Southeast Asia to help. Excerpt 2 from Chapter 6 of A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide stated that President Ford cited, “very factual evidence of the bloodbath that is in the process of taking place.” The UNited States government was aware of the mass amounts of people being killed by the Khmer Rouge, but they decided to be bystanders. The public no longer trusted the government due the past and this led to a lack of coverage of the events occurring in Cambodia. The time that Americans needed to step up they failed even though they knew of the consequences. That 5 year old little girl from the film mentioned above did not deserve to lose her father and her mother, that little boy killed in battle did not deserve to die, the millions of Cambodians did not deserve to die. Geopolitics was more important than the lives of actual human beings, this shows how much is wrong with the world and what has to be changed. Human lives should always be top priority no matter what because no one deserves to experience what those innocent people went through.

Posts: 11
The Khmer Rouge was a communist regime. However the problem lies more in the extremity of the Khmer Rouge. This ranges from the agricultural society they sought with no traces of the modenr world. They wanted to start over again from year 0, erasing everything from modern Cambodia. This resembles the failed great leap forward in China, which is another problem in itself, if it failed why do the same thing again? On another note, they did not give sufficient food for the Cambodian people. All they did was focus on agriculture, yet they never received any of that. They died in large numbers from starvation taking away from the work force which is illogical if their goal is to form an agricultural society. There will be no agricultural society without the farmers. Another thing the Khmer Rouge often did was detain groups of people and torture them for information about enemies from within. Their thoughts were, better to lose 10 innocent lives than let one enemy escape. This speaks a lot about how flawed their policies for the enemies within were since often the confession they got were false from all the torture. They said torture was an aspect that could not be avoided no matter what. The Khmer Rouge even gave guides for these torturers. This emphasis on torturing and information gathering only led to innocent people dying, which could have not helped form an agricultural society in no way. The international world was not allowed to help the victims of the Khmer Rouge at all by the Khmer Rouge’s isolation from all. Humanitarian aid was offered multiple times and each time the Khmer Rouge rejected it. It does not make sense at all since the humanitarian aid would not have interfered with the reign of the Khmer Camp nor the camps. They would just simply nurse the victims to health since the Khmer Rouge would not. Perhaps the cause of all these flaws lies with the leadership. The leadership can be characterized as extremely paranoid, incompetent, and neglectful of human life. Their paranoia led to their relentless pursuit of “enemies”. Their incompetence led to their lack of realization that so much death only means that their desired agricultural society was not in reach, so they let their workers starve to death and die from the brutality of the Khmer Rouge. Finally their negligence of human life led to all of the extremism when it came to the Khmer Rouge, responsible for the amount of death that occured for their goals. This does not express something that is inherently wrong with communism rather what is wrong with the Khmer Rouge. In another time and situation, although it has not been successful in any nation, perhaps communism could be successful. There is nothing inherently wrong with communism, it actually may seem great in theory. However, the issue lies in the execution of it by the government. The oppressive nature of communism we see now, is only from the government’s execution of it, their power hunger, or other flaws. Cambodia is one of many government who embodies this. We have yet to see a proper execution.
Posts: 10

The KR: a brutal regime with nothing to lose

While many Communist countries during the 70's appeared to be more socialist, the Khmer Rouge ideology blended two radical ideas: extremism and communism. The ladder is a lot easier to recognize as they presented themselves as a communist nation. They attempted the same policies as other communist nations, followed an communist ideology, and allied themselves with (some) other communist countries. However they performed a very extremist version of communism that simply would not work. Just like most other communist countries, the KR ruled through fear of punishment. Nevertheless the way that they implemented these rules was much more deadly/extreme compared to other countries and killed 2 million out of 7 million citizens(Power 189). To address the line between ethical and unethical methods of change is to address how boundaries have changed throughout the years. 300 years ago, the norms would have been much more different compared to today. Unfortunatley, during the time of the Cambodian Genocide, the norms of war were very brutal, with high amounts of death expected on both sides, along with the use of chemical agents. In the terms of the KR they followed this method to ensure change in Cambodia. While people can argue about the struggle of keeping the KR in power, most can admit that the KR were brutally effective at gaining it in the first place. They had the policy of “a little gained is worth a lot lost” and we can see that throughout their policies. Within the KR society though, the idea of bringing about change was near impossible. No one inside could really institute change at all due to the iron fist that the KR had over all aspects of society. The rules that the KR created were meant to stop people from rebelling. Within the book, we can observe the ludicrous rules that the Cambodian people were forced to follow under the KR regime. The laws that really stuck out to me were the ones concerning “reminiscing on the past” and relationships, as the policies that they used were incredibly dystopian. Personally I was very surprised that the general population did not feel a need to try to rebel with these oppressive rules. The book states that the Cambodian people really just wanted an end to this conflict, and were tired of the proxy war going on in their own land. Ultimately, no one really could have predicted how bad the KR were truly going to be. Nonetheless, the response by the international community was poor and very late. There was definite evidence that immense human right abuses were occurring within Cambodia, yet due to a couple factors, the UN, US, and neighboring countries just ignored the problem. One of the factors that really allowed the genocide to take place was the general fatigue about SSE Asia that the US had during that time. This caused the responsibility to be put on the UN (which could have very limited responses) or neighboring countries (only Vietnam responded, but by then it was too late), most of which were uninterested in what was happening in Cambodia and instead focused on the cold war. Another important factor is that many people saw the KR and Vietnamese as allies, and did not really want to get involved with a religion supported both by China and Russia. Overall, the extreme nature of the KR paired with a brutal era in warfare caused a delayed response from the international community ultimately causing the demise of millions of innocent lives.
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 10

The Khmer Rouge: Questions 1 and 3

The Khmer Rouge ideology planned for a communist takeover of Cambodia that would implement a very Maoist approach to the utopian idea. However, due to, among other factors, the harsh relationship between the Khmer Rouge and Lon Nol’s government, as instituted by the United States, the Khmer Rouge became hellbent on trying to rid the country of any Western influence. As written by Samantha Power in “A Problem from Hell”, “The KR even propagated the adage, “It is better to arrest ten people by mistake than to let one guilty person go free””. This mentality of removing potential threats by any means necessary caused so much wide scale destruction and disruption that the promise of a utopia eventually faded into obscurity. On one hand, it might be immature to call all of communism a failure because of one or a few instances without success, but on the other hand, we must ask ourselves how many times we are willing to try communism before we throw in the towel given the cost in human suffering that it results in each time. That being said, Vietnam, a self-proclaimed communist nation itself, was the only country who intervened to impede the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime. So perhaps it matters how the communist ideas are implemented to some extent. Even then, Vietnam was, at the time, far from the utopian promise that communism puts out. With limited access to different goods, thanks to a plethora of sanctions, on top of a dysfunctional economy, conditions weren’t all that great.

The international community’s efforts were far too lackluster during the Khmer Rouge rule. To start at the bare minimum, there should not have been any support for the CCP or the Khmer Rouge on the part of powerful countries like the United States. Geopolitical advantage should never take precedence over the humanitarian point of view. In a practical sense, one way that I believe sovereignty can be overlooked without diminishing the power of the state is in simply making it forbidden to block humanitarian aid packages. If this prospective law were forgone, the international community would have a justification for more drastic measures. As for physical measures that can be taken, a good first step, especially before the genocide has taken place, would be to take those economic sanctions later imposed on Vietnam, and place them instead on the growing Khmer Rouge party. Then later, if more is necessary, one could undergo a justified invasion, though finding a nation willing to do so might prove difficult. Regardless, all in the UN should provide aid of some sort to the invading nation. The bigger problem in seeking a solution for this issue is garnering enough of a response from the people. With limited media coverage of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia known as VLCs, or “very lost causes” as stated by the three remaining news sources in the area (Power 110), the American people at least would never push the government to do something about the atrocities. Perhaps that is what the president wanted anyhow since the U.S. was far from seeking another war to involve themselves in.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 10

The Khmer Rouge: Failure of Ideology and Failure of the International Community

The Khmer Rouge began its reign over Cambodia flawed. Fundamental problems existed in the Khmer Rouge's ideology and plan and that caused the destruction of so many lives were included in the idea of starting from year zero, as people were forced to resettle and begin re-education similar to that of “pure peasants” through agricultural collectivism. As this ideology grew so did the list of aspects in regular life that became banned. The Khmer Rouge became a closed society restricting many important pieces of a person's life. The Party banned religion, money, modern technology, family relationships, private property, travel, reading, education. All of which caused the destruction of so many lives in Cambodia, because if a party member believed a citizen was retaliating against these rules their lives would be taken. So, their plan had been flowed from the start as there is an inability for humans to resettle on untouched land, have every aspect of their identity taken away from them, become re-educated in the ways of the party, and not become targets of attack as they would seek out ethnic minorities, Cham, Buddhist monks and anyone who was believed to stand with Western values. Although many of the aspects in the Khmer Rouge were flawed solely because of prejudice it also demonstrates something inherently wrong with communism. In the article, “The Rise and Fall of Democratic Kampuchea” by Sok Udom Deth it describes the starvation of the people in a community in which their main goal was to produce rice. Rather than these generous amounts of rice feeding the people it was “exported abroad in exchange for military weapons,” which left the starved community with “virtually nothing to eat.” This is an aspect of communism that is inherently wrong when implemented in society. The outcome of a communist regime has never been properly executed. When people are forced to work in order to gain their rations, which are then shared with outside areas due to the idea of making everything “equal” it creates a sense of inequality. This same problem was seeing other communist countries such as the Soviet Union with their famine. There will always be an unfair way of rationing food. Even in the movie “First They Killed My Father” one can see the unequal food distribution and Loung was given more food while training as a soldier than she was given in her prior camp with her family. Along with this is the enforcing of rules. People living in Communist countries are more restrictive in their rulings creating censorship of the people. In Excerpt 1 from Chapter 6 of A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide titled “This Is Not 1942” tying back to the starvation the author writes of a witnesses named Twinning experience with a Cambodian refugee as he asked “the amount of rice the Khmer Rouge fed them each day.” The response the refugee gives is the portion size “that would have filled about half of their palm sized implement.” Meaning, the portions were terribly small. After Twinning states life could not be sustained on these portions the refugee agrees but then states, “anybody who complained was dragged away.” Showing not only the harm and terror in the Khmer Rouge but the censorship of the people found in Communist societies. When it is clear that a struggle for change is making society worse, as it was in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, the United Nations should step in and stop the destruction. As challenging as this could be, it must be done for the protection of harmed people. The Cambodian people were faced with genocide and no escape, and the United States decided to side against them and with the Khmer Rouge. Vietnam, the sole country at war against the Cambodians, was faced with more UN economic sanctions for the invasion. There should also be attention brought onto these genocides and awareness raised in order for the inexcusable actions of genocide to be seen and therefore gain a following who aims to save the country. Which in turn creates more pressure on the UN to aid the country in danger.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 10

Cambodia: The Corruption of Communism's Origin and the Right to Sovereignty

Through each historical occurrence of a sudden change towards communism, there have been millions of deaths as a result, due to famine, violent leaders, and poor planning. Derived from Karl Marx, communism is a post-class-war society where property is publicly owned, and everyone works for a collective. In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge’s actions, while roughly reflecting these ideals, did not at all live up to what Karl Marx had envisioned.

One example of the Khmer Rouge’s corruption was illustrated in the beginning of the film, First They Killed My Father, when the rebels first ushered the Cambodians out of the city. An ideal carried forth by the Khmer Rouge was the removal of all Western influences of wealth, vanity, and intellectualism. In order to force this upon the people of Cambodia, the officers took all of their valuable belongings. They justified this by saying that it was necessary for Angkar, however, the officers in reality needed money to maintain their efforts. The rebels stayed well fed throughout the genocide, while they starved the Cambodians, and attempted to kill off minority groups. All of the Khmer Rouge’s actions violate the original definition of communism, showing that the issue was a flaw of the Khmer Rouge.

The Khmer Rouge’s slaughter of more than two million people clearly showed their ulterior motives in staging a revolution. While the Khmer Rouge kept their operations secret to an extent, other countries certainly had the ability to intervene. However, it is difficult to determine whether it is ethically right to get involved in situations like this. The U.S. was certainly aware of the potential catastrophe, as President Ford “predicted a ‘massacre’ if Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge” (Power 102). A select amount of journalists were also able to collect information on what was going on in Cambodia. There were many reasons why the U.S. specifically did not get involved, but the main one was the proximity in time to the end of the Vietnam war. Due to the strong response of Americans to the Vietnam war, there was extreme caution in deciding whether or not intervention was necessary. The U.S. did not want to send in any armed forces, and risk more casualties. Later in Power’s A Problem From Hell she also states that Americans would have thought that reports on the Khmer Rouge’s killings were simply a ploy for the U.S. to engage itself in another proxy war.

Sovereignty is crucial to establish an order of international equality between nations, but when is it breakable? Cambodia has a right to sovereignty, but in reality, countries like the U.S. have never respected other nations rights in this way. The U.S. in particular, breaks rules of sovereignty only when it benefits the country and the government’s self centered interests. For this reason, the rule of sovereignty was merely used as an American excuse for inaction, and it would not have been wrong for America to intervene with the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal rampage.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 10

Genocide in Cambodia

The Khmer Rouge created an incredibly hostile and harmful environment in Cambodia which led to the deaths of millions of Cambodians. The Khmer Rouge was doomed to this fate from the start, as their vision for society was a completely unrealistic one with respect to human nature. They expected everyone to drop their old loyalties and old ways of life and pledge loyalty solely to Angkar without question, which is simply unfeasible to expect humans to do. Humans form their relationships with people and ideas over long periods of time, creating an emotional and psychological connection between them that is difficult to break. The KR expected that to happen easily, and were willing to kill anyone who didn’t obey. They also seemed to have very little care for their people in general. They collected lists of names from people who they imprisoned, often forcing them to write a certain number of names or they would be punished. The people on these lists were then arrested and executed or torture, innocent or not. This shows that they were willing to spend their people’s lives like they were nothing, which is bound to cause friction and fear between the people and the government and is not something that will spark the loyalty that the KR were looking for.

However, this does not mean that communism is inherently bad. Communism, at its core, is neither good nor bad, but rather just another possibility for what society could look like. However, when it takes this form, which is just one of many examples we have seen, communism is incredibly harmful to the people who live under it. It is possible that there is a way to achieve true communism without the level of suffering that has been seen every time it has been tried, but as of right now, it seems that the only way to achieve the peace offered by true communism is through violence and terror. The real question is how much violence and terror is worth it to bring about a peace like this? I would argue that any change in the world is not going to go well for everyone, so you can’t say that change is not worth any suffering. However, often the levels of suffering go much too far, as was the case with the KR. Purposefully killing off your people and creating division and a system of fear within your society are definitely too far, and if your actions are something that you have to lie to your people about and they have to spend every waking moment fearing, then it is definitely too far and too unethical.

The international community has a certain set of responsibilities. First and foremost is their commitment to their country and their people. That is always their first priority, and it should be, as that is who they have the most direct control over and responsibility to. However, very high on that list as well is the promotion of peace and stability for other countries with whom they are associated. This responsibility becomes more and more important as a country becomes more powerful, and in the case of the US, they had and still have an immense responsibility to mediate conflicts such as the Cambodian genocide around the world. If a struggle like the one in Cambodia is discovered, immediate steps should be taken to defuse the situation and the most powerful countries should be taking big roles in bringing down oppressive regimes. In the case of the KR specifically, the US and the international community should have taken a much closer look at the rumors coming out of Cambodia. There were stories of horrible events coming from refugees from the country, and although it is reasonable that refugees’ stories be taken with a grain of salt, the consistency of the stories and the suffering they described should have set off some alarm bells. It was absolutely justified in this case to override Cambodia’s right to sovereignty. The citizens of the country are much more important than the government always, so if it is clear that a government is causing a major detriment to their people and don’t seem to care or be doing anything to prevent it, then it is perfectly reasonable that the sovereignty of the nation be broken. The Vietnamese did a good job of this, although it came a bit late, but like I said before, this should be the responsibility of the major powers of the world. In this case that would be the US, but US intervention did not come, so the KR was left to carry out their plans for much longer than they should have been.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 10

Ethical Change

"Oppressive systems", with all their big pharmas and big tech and big fast food, are easy to rail against, but identifying specific ways to improve the "system" by altering individual action is not easy. Often, it's easier to replace a broken system with a new system all together, right? Howver, in this approach, leaders of revolutionary movements become their own big___, quasi-gods, who yes, are actually able to get stuff done, but, once intoxicated by power become a new oppressive regime. Communism does not exist in a vacuum, and therefore it is also subject to this human phenomenon. This is why when communist regimes take over, promises of shared power among people turn into no power for the people. It is an inherent flaw in communism.

The Khmer Rouge perhaps best demonstrate the perversion revolution can take especially in communism. Promising to rid Cambodia of Western influence and restore a strong national identity, they instead removed the most important parts of Cambodian culture such as Buddhism, and the ability for Cambodia to compete with other countries by banning education. Promising to give the means of production to the people, the Khmer Rouge actually shipped produce grown on the farms to Khmer officials. And when promising that "Angkar will take care of you", they instead killed you in Angkar's name. The root of the issue, and with all unethical change movements, was that there were no positive goals alongside the negative purges, and so the society and its people slowly wasted away; violence formed the core of their ideology, rather than a necessary evil.

In movements for social change, remaining ethical requires keeping healthy discourse alive regarding tactics of change. So while violence does not inherently denude a movement of its ethics, once violence becomes the norm, and the unquestionable norm, a movement has gone to war. Furthermore, if a movement becomes more focused on hating the oppressor than lifting up the oppressed, there is a tendency to flip the script and become the oppressor. Often this is accompanied by a gaslighting of the “oppressor”, now a victim. One sees the most extreme example of this in the manuals at Tuol Sleng, where inmates were told “Don't be a fool for you are chap who dares to thwart the revolution” (Powers). Even when being tortured and killed, the victims were still told it is they who are trying to suppress a liberty-inducing revolution.

Journalists should’ve done more to share the horror stories under the Khmer Rouge, which may have forced the US or other countries to take military action against them. Newspapers ran few to no stories about Cambodia even at the height of the genocide. Samantha Powers explains how “the typical editorial neglect of a country of no pressing national concern was pounded exponentially by the “Southeast Asia fatigue” that pervaded newsrooms in the aftermath of Vietnam” (Powers). Essentially, journalists knew both left and right wing factions of the American public were sick of American intervention in Southeast Asia and would react adversely to stories calling for more US involvement. However, journalism should not obey the whims of the people: it should report on the truth. Of course, at first it was difficult because very few journalists who stayed were able to report. However, once refugees began sharing their words, newspapers should have run more stories.

Furthermore, this “Southeast Asia fatigue” clearly did not apply for long, as the US will back the Khmer Rouge in order to gain a strategic alliance with China. If the US truly wanted to stop intervening in South East Asia, they should not have aligned themselves with the KR.

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