posts 16 - 23 of 23
Boston, MA, US
Posts: 10

Cambodia LTQ

(1) Although Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge was clearly not the "ideal" communist society that's spoken of in Marxist theory, the fact that the Khmer Rouge had to to install such a barbaric and oppressive regime in order to ensure that the Cambodians would follow their communist principles is yet another example of why Marxism is flawed and will likely never work. In the section entitled "This is Not 1942" in A Problem From Hell, Samantha Power quotes American journalist Charles Twining who recalls Cambodian civilians telling him how "they had been given rice that would have filled about half of his palm...[and] that anybody who complained was dragged away to Angkar Leou". This exposes two glaring flaws of communist ideology; for one, it shows how human nature and greed will always thwart attempts to achieve a communist utopia. The elites of the Khmer Rouge likely had food to go around, or at the very least enough to provide Cambodian citizens with better rations, instead they withheld food for sheer greed. Khmer Rouge rule and communism in general is not sustainable because it basically requires a highly authoritative central power to work effectively, and as we have seen time and time again, people in these positions can almost never be trusted to act in the best interest of their people. Secondly, the fact that the Khmer Rouge chose to deal with dissent/criticism of their rule by detaining or killing those who took a stand speaks to how flimsy the ideology that their rule was based on really was. They knew that their style of rule was completely unjust and that there was a high possibility Cambodians would revolt if they ever had the opportunity, so to make sure that the threat to their rule didn't continue they would get rid of anyone who could sow the seeds of rebellion.


The biggest reason why the Cambodian genocide was not properly addressed by international bodies was the exceedingly secretive methods of the Khmer Rouge and the unfortunate geopolitical climate of the time, which effectively put Cambodia in the "back seat" of the world stage. The world, and Americans especially, were less inclined to listen to news coming from Southeast Asia because of disillusionment following the Vietnam War. This disinterest was coupled with the secretiveness of the Khmer Rouge who "barred journalists from visiting," forcing them to resort to refugee accounts which unfortunately were much less effective at spreading the word because "reporters [were] trained to authenticate their stories by visiting or confirming with multiple sources [and] thus shy away from publishing refugee accounts." Refugee accounts would have likely been very effective in eliciting an emotional response from the international community because of how they could expose the grim reality of life under the Khmer Rouge, but because of the media's unwillingness to take gambles and publish stories that were more controversial, very little was done. A quote from A Problem From Hell also states that "inaccessibility is a feature of most genocide" and that "Cambodia was perhaps the most extreme case." If secretiveness is so instrumental to the continuation of genocide then it should have been the responsibility of the media to publish any news about Cambodia that they could, instead, they chose give minimal coverage to stories that the world desperately needed to hear because protecting their bottom line was more important.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 10

Armed struggle and war are a reality of life, and have been since the beginning of time. Under oppressive conditions, the human instinct is to stand up and fight back, and often violent struggle is the clear way to do so, especially to those who are experiencing trauma and are driven by strong feelings of anger and fear. War, however, is unforgiving, and often takes on a life of its own, in which goals are taken too far, and the value of others lives are pushed aside as a means to an end.

A better society should not come about through suffering or force, but through the will of a people seeking a better future, not just for themselves, but for their entire community. Effective and productive change is change that happens peacefully through organizing power and the desire of a community for a better world. Change can be revolutionary without being violent. Change should be ethically driven by a desire to aid and benefit as many people as possible and improve the current systems in which those people live.

In the instance of the Khmer Rouge, the change the regime implemented was forced, with unclear goals and intentions which harmed the majority of the population, while benefiting a small and corrupt minority. The KR ideology was not one that most Cambodians agreed with or believed in, and the means the regime used to achieve their goals and impose their values upon Cambodian society, such as torture, forced labor and indiscriminate murder, were atrocious.

There is also the matter of outside influences and perspectives. On an international scale, countries must make judgments on whether to support (or otherwise intervene with/take a stance on) movements for change. Unfortunately, countries rarely view their intervention through the lens of human rights and freedom, but through the lens of geopolitics.

In the case of US intervention towards the oppressive KR regime, Samanatha Power writes how the US considered: “Which was a lesser evil, a regime that had slaughtered some 2 million Cambodians or a communist regime backed by the Soviet Union that had flagrantly violated an international border and that now occupied a neighboring state?” Outside forces (in this case the US) decide to take a side in war by deciding on a balance of lesser evils that comes from a skewed perspective of what is just and what is not.

There are two primary reasons for this. The first is that the US had different priorities than the Cambodian people, the ones being directly affected by the state of conflict in their country. The second is a little more complex and relates to the different effects and implications of change on different people. The US had a skewed perspective on the way the KR rule was impacting different people. US diplomats and officials viewed Cambodians as eager and desirous of the change the KR was implementing, and at the same time saw Cambodian lives as less valuable than others. This meant that the US was willing to overlook the flaws in order to support their own agenda.

War is inherently unethical, and there may be a difference between armed struggle and war, but both link back to a fundamental question about justness of violence in different contexts. It is easy to condemn poor choices in a struggle for a better world, but it is far harder to put into action the principles of a fair movement for change, and this leaves humans in limbo, with no “proper” way to bring about a better world.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 10

The Khmer Rouge had a multitude of foundational problems, but I would argue that their worst was their notion of restarting Cambodian society at “year zero.” By deciding to remake society from “year zero,” the Khmer Rouge made mass death and destruction a requirement of their regime, which is, of course, deeply flawed. In her section titled “Wishful Thinking,” Samantha Power explains that “violence was not an unfortunate byproduct of the revolution,” but rather “an indispensable feature of it”: in order to create a homogenous Cambodia at “year zero,” the Khmer Rouge had to get rid of government officials, educated people, soldiers, ethnic minorities, and anyone else who might have taken issue with this plan (Power “A Problem from Hell”: Cambodia 101). Inevitably, this meant mass murder.

In addition, the Khmer Rouge was constantly suspicious of everyone in Cambodia, including their own soldiers. Thus, they operated under the mantra “It is better to arrest ten people by mistake than to let one guilty person go free” (Power “A Problem from Hell”: Cambodia 120). This was another symptom of their “year zero”plan; in order for it to work, they had to eliminate everyone who might not have been on board.

While the Khmer Rouge’s version of communism was clearly perverted, I do think there is something to the fact that every communist regime has become oppressive, and almost every communist revolution has caused the deaths of millions of people. To me, these suggest that communism is the oasis of political theories: it is enticing and exciting to consider, but when it is implemented, we see it for what it quickly becomes: violent and oppressive.

As souplover says, the Khmer Rouge “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.” In my mind, positive change should never kill anyone, and if something we think of as positive change starts killing people, we need to question whether that change is actually beneficial.

In addition, it is acceptable for people to struggle when bringing about a “better society,” because change is difficult, and even without change, every nation has its own problems. However, I do not find it acceptable that people suffer to improve society, because suffering suggests poor quality of life; if a change puts people in situations of great hardship (such as the communes in Cambodia), that change is not an improvement.

When it becomes clear that a struggle for change is making society worse (such as Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge), the leadership of the country and the international community are compelled to step in and help people.

In the case of Cambodia, it is clear that the international community should have intervened early on, but it is difficult to assess their realistic options. The American media and government could have given the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities more attention/coverage, but this would almost certainly have had no effect on the Khmer Rouge; the Americans could have bombed Phnom Penh, the KR headquarters, although this would have been difficult to justify in the wake of the Vietnam War.

In cases such as the Khmer Rouge, I think national sovereignty needs to be overridden to end the immense suffering of people; of course, the idea of overriding a nation’s sovereignty is very dangerous, and a decision to do so demands irrefutable evidence both of the given nation’s crimes and the ineffective nature of other solutions. This unfortunately makes situations such as KR-ruled Cambodia even more complex.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 9

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

The haunting legacy of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia serves as a grim reminder of the complexities surrounding the idea of communism, and the radical was that a group of people are able to manipulate into something else.

The atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot’s leadership were undeniably heinous, resulting in the deaths of millions of Cambodians through forced labor, starvation, execution and brutal murders. There was an obvious and inherent flaw within their ideology, however, it is essential to distinguish between the twisted interpretation and execution of communism by the Khmer Rouge leaders and the broader principles and ideologies of communism itself. While the Khmer Rouge’s actions were extreme and reprehensible, they are not representative of communism as a whole, rather, they reflect the dangers of totalitarianism and ideological extremism when coupled with absolute power and manipulation.

The ethics of revolutionary struggle come into focus when looking at the entire tragedy and regime as a whole. Armed conflict has historically been a means of challenging oppressive regimes and addressing social injustices. But, a question arises: How much suffering is justifiable in the pursuit of societal change? How far can one go to reach a goal? The Khmer Rouge’s ruthless and inhumane pursuit of their vision led to unimaginable suffering for the Cambodian people, rising the profound ethical questions about the responsibility of revolutionary movements to prioritize the wellbeing of citizens and adhere to ethical standards even amidst conflict--something that the Khmer Rouge failed to do, and rather, do to the complete opposite of.

Furthermore, the international community's response, rather, the LACK of it in response to the Cambodian tragedy reveals the complexities and difficulties in regard to humanitarian intervention and the principle of national sovereignty. Samantha Powers writes “Options ignored; futility, perserverity, jeopardy - the tragic cycle of inaction”, further showcasing the detrimental outcome of inaction within a genocide. And, despite the widesprad awareness of the genocide and the numerous journalists trying to shed light on the issue, political considerations and Cold War dynamics hindered effective action or even any action at all. Not only this, in “...every Cambodian's mind, it was the concrete features of a horrifying, immediate war that won out over the more abstract fear of the unknown. The toll of the civil war on Cambodia's civilians had been immense.” The failure of the international community to intervene decisively to stop the atrocities highlights the limitations and challenges of upholding human rights on a global scale.

The tragedy of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge regime underscores the importance of responsible governance, ethical revolutionary struggle, and international solidarity in preventing human rights abuses and promoting social justice. These atrocities were a STARK warning of the dangers of totalitarianism and ideology extremism, but they do not condemn communism as a whole as it was something completely different and extremely radical. Instead, they remind us of the imperative need to uphold human dignity and rights in ALL societies, and the need for international intervention to act collectively in the face of humanitarian crises, and more importantly, rising genocides.

Boston, MA, US
Posts: 10

The Khmer Rouge’s ideologies and plans were rooted in the hatred of certain minorities and the fact that all things had to go their way in order to continue. Basically, if they weren’t in total power, they would not succeed, and nobody can be in total power all of the time, so their regime was bound to fall eventually. According to ‘The Rise and Fall of Democratic Kampuchea,’ “the leaders of DK also aimed to create a classless society,” which is the structure of communism, and on the surface it looks like it would be beneficial to make sure people are equal and everything is fair, but communism has never proved to be effective, and most societies have moved to either facism or a mixture of communism with another form of government, such as China. I think that communism inherently seems like a good idea, but because of the interpretation of one or a small group of leaders, it always ends up being taken too far by power hungry individuals. This is seen in the Khmer Rouge, where they tried to make communism where everyone works and nobody is unique, they eliminated religion and freedom of expression, which does not benefit a society.

It is difficult to draw a line between what is ethical and unethical when bringing about change, especially because it wholeheartedly depends on the situation and the context and history behind something. While suffering to bring about a better society seems like it is a bad idea, there are some examples in history where it did bring about a better society. For example, the civil rights movements came with much suffering. However, this could have been avoided if the people in power were not trying to differentiate themselves because of their fear of another group of people. In the Khmer Rouge, the elites and guards and people in power were afraid of becoming workers and abused, and so they conformed to do what they were told. They did not want to be the lowest group so they caused others to suffer, which is seen throughout many genocides and oppressions such as the Holocaust or the systemic racism in America. It also is an incorrect utilization of communism and is more fascist, because they are not all equal, but rather there are two classes and one is treated inhumanely.

‘Seeperspective’ made a point that “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.” I agree with this statement because the claim that arresting 10 people to serve justice for one person is completely missing the point of justice. It is not getting justice to harm 10 people in order to send one to jail, and that idea being perpetuated is harming the justice system that is already so messed up, especially because the Cambodian trials are so difficult to run.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 6

False definition of better

How does a better society include the lack of freedom and abuse by others? How is this society considered equal if there are people that live lavishly and are respected while there are people that are disrespected and killed and starved. The Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia under the leadership of Pol Pot from 1975-1979 was marked by widespread destruction and famine, forced labor, suffering, and mass genocide of over two million people. It remains to be one of the darkest chapters in modern history. This tragedy prompts a deep examination of the fundamental problems within the Khmer Rouge’s ideology and plan, the ethical boundaries of armed struggle for societal change. And the role of international intervention in preventing humanitarian crises. At the heart of the Khmer Rouge’s catastrophic failure was its radical interpretation of communism. The regime sought to transform Cambodia into a classless society through extreme measures that included abolishing money, private property, and religion. However, this vision was marred by a profound misunderstanding and misapplication of communist principles. Rather than creating a utopia, the Khmer Rouge’s actions led to the destruction of the country’ social fabric. This raises the question of whether the tragedy was due to inherent flaws in communism or rather the result of a callous and ineffective execution of the ideology by the Khmer Rouge leaders. It appears that the latter played a significant role, as the regime’s policies were not only extreme but also executed with brutal force, reflecting a departure from any rational ideological foundation. The ethical considerations of armed struggle and war for societal change are complex. While history is replete with examples of revolutions and conflicts aimed at overthrowing oppressive systems, the Khmer Rouge’s approach underscores the importance of ethical boundaries. The means employed to bring about change must be weighed against their impact on human life and dignity. The suffering inflicted by the Khmer Rouge far exceeded any conceivable justification for a “better society”. This case illustrates the necessity of a moral compass in guiding revolutionary efforts, emphasizing that the end does not always justify the means. When a struggle for change clearly deteriorates society, as it did in Cambodia, it is imperative to reassess and halt such actions. The international community’s response to the crisis in Cambodia was, regrettably, inadequate. The geopolitical complexities of the Cold War era contributed to a delayed and limited intervention. However, this situation highlights the critical need for a more proactive and decisive international mechanism to prevent or mitigate humanitarian disasters. National sovereignty, while important, should not serve as a shield for regimes committing atrocities against their own people. In the case of Cambodia, timely and concerted action by the United Nations or coalition of nations could have potentially saved countless lives. Such interventions could include diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions, and, as a last resort, military intervention authorized by international law.
Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 10

The Khmer Rouge

The Khemer Rouge’s ideology of communism caused so much unnecessary destruction of so many people's lives in Cambodia. In the beginning of the movie “First they killed my Father”, the idea of extremist communism becomes apparent very quickly. When the family is being checked before entering their new “home”, many belongings are taken from them. A pair of flip flops, lunar new year dresses, a watch, and money are taken from the family. This is basically all their belongings that they had at that time. This act in itself shows how extreme the new communist society would be. Everybody would be starting from scratch. The new society made everyone wear the same clothes, and conditioned, mostly children, to abandon their previous thoughts and beliefs, now they worshiped one man, who was presented to them as a God. The point of this was to create a communist revolution. Samantha Power, says in her book A Problem From Hell “the key ideological premise that lay behind the KR revolution was that to keep you is no gain; to kill you is no loss.” The ideology of their communist society was so extremist, that it became easy to kill anyone that was deemed “weak”, “uncooperative”, or “useless”, because any harm to the whole of the revolution isn’t necessary. Individuality was completely stripped from people, to the point where their lives were easily disposable if necessary.

The Khmer Rouge was built upon starvation, suffering, and stripping any individuality left that people had. What they did was completely unethical from the beginning. First of all, to bring about a better society, no physical or mental suffering should be endured by the people. Free will is a human right, and any plans that hinder any person's human or civil rights is when the line has been crossed. There should be global consensus that iterates what is ethical and unethical when trying to start a revolution. In reality, most wars have suffering, because we don’t live in a perfect world. Some suffering is needed when creating or changing society, because there is always a loser in that war. The line should be drawn when specific groups are targeted and killed for their beliefs. People should be able to be who they are, without fear of slaughter. We, as a society, always repirate war crimes, but never do anything to stop crimes against humanity before they start. In the case of the Khmer Rouge, it was easy to commit these crimes because they blocked off the rest of the world and did anything with little to no surveillance. The UN needs to be more involved, especially when things go quiet to the point of suspicion. National sovereignty can only go so far. When a genocide is occurring, it is the job of the UN to step in.

Boston, Massachusetts, US
Posts: 10

A Failure of Intervention

The Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, pursued an extreme interpretation of communism that aimed to transform Cambodia into a classless agrarian society. This radical vision involved dismantling urban life, abolishing currency, and collectivizing agriculture. Their approach resulted in the forced evacuation of cities, mass starvation, forced labor, and widespread executions, leading to the deaths of an estimated 1.7 to 2 million people between 1975 and 1979. The Khmer Rouge's ideology was not just about implementing communist principles but doing so through an authoritarian lens that allowed no dissent and disregarded human life, as seen through the slogan to “keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss” (The Rise and Fall of Democratic Kampuchea). This devastating period in Cambodian history does not necessarily indict communism as a whole, but underscores the dangers of its extremist and authoritarian application.

Communism, as an ideology, aims for a classless society, but the Khmer Rouge's interpretation was characterized by an inflexible and ruthless quest for ideological purity. Thus, the tragedy illustrates the catastrophic potential of extremist governance rather than an inherent flaw in communism itself. Determining the ethical boundaries in the use of force for societal change is complex and context-dependent. Ethical considerations should include proportionality, the protection of non-combatants, and the long-term impact of actions. International laws, such as the Geneva Conventions, provide guidelines for acceptable conduct in warfare, emphasizing the protection of civilians and humane treatment of prisoners. The suffering caused in the pursuit of societal change must be carefully weighed against human rights and dignity. When the means to achieve change result in extensive and systematic atrocities, as seen under the Khmer Rouge, they are morally indefensible. The excessive violence and suffering inflicted by the Khmer Rouge highlight the ethical imperative to cease such actions. When a struggle for change begins to harm society more than it aims to help, immediate reevaluation and adjustment are necessary. In Cambodia, the extreme measures taken by the Khmer Rouge led to an overwhelmingly negative outcome, underscoring the importance of ethical constraints in revolutionary activities. The international community’s response to the Khmer Rouge regime was largely insufficient (Cambodia: This Is Not 1942 and and Options Ignored; Futility, Perversity, Jeopardy). The U.S. ignored warnings and were fearful of ‘another Vietnam’. Various geopolitical factors, including Cold War dynamics, limited global awareness and action regarding the atrocities in Cambodia. However, several measures could have mitigated the suffering. The United Nations and major global powers could have intervened earlier based on reports of human rights abuses and mass killings. Diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions, and isolation of the Khmer Rouge regime might have curbed its excesses. International organizations could have provided more effective humanitarian aid to refugees and those suffering within Cambodia. Coordinated relief efforts might have alleviated some of the immediate suffering. Supporting internal and external opposition groups could have provided the resources necessary to resist the Khmer Rouge regime more effectively. The principle of "Responsibility to Protect" (R2P), adopted by the UN in 2005, asserts that sovereignty is not a privilege but a responsibility. Under R2P, the international community is obligated to intervene when a state fails to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. In the case of Cambodia, earlier invocation of this principle could have justified international intervention to stop the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal actions. The Khmer Rouge’s regime illustrates the catastrophic consequences of extremist and authoritarian interpretations of ideology. The international community’s failure to effectively intervene highlights the challenges of balancing national sovereignty with the need to prevent mass atrocities. Lessons from Cambodia stress the importance of ethical vigilance, timely intervention, and adherence to human rights principles in the face of political extremism and humanitarian crises. The global community must remain committed to preventing similar tragedies by upholding international laws and principles that protect human rights and dignity.

posts 16 - 23 of 23