By Kyle Petersen
"You'll work harder with a gun at ur back fer a bowl of rice a day," screamed Jello Biafra of the 1980's punk rock band the Dead Kennedys. He later went on to say "Slave fer solders till ya starve and yer head is skewed on a stake."
As you can see without knowing anything about the song, Biafra is singing about a horrible atrocity, which is the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge.
On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge , whom had just defeated the former Cambodian government, marched into the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. They told the unassuming citizens fictitious stories in an attempt to lure the citizens to the jungles of Cambodia. Some of the people were told that the United States was about to drop a bomb, and that everyone had to leave the city. They were also told not to bring much, because they would return in a few days. They told others that they had just defeated the enemy , and that they were going to rebuild the city. The people were told that they would return in just three short days.
The people were forcefully led deep into the Cambodian jungle. Survivor Sarah Tun, who was four years old at the time of the takeover, recalls this horrifying experience.
"All of a sudden I heard gunshots. Babies cried and people screamed. I saw blood dripping from one man's head. I grabbed my aunt's arm. She told me to be quiet and that everything would be all right. As we walked farther I saw bodies lying on the sidewalk. One of the soldiers said, 'If you want to live, do as you are told and don't stop walking.' People ran for their lives. The wounded ones were killed by the Khmer Rouge soldiers, or were left to die."
Another survivor, Youkimny Chan, remembers the death walk.
"It was the dry season and it was very hot. There was no water. People began to get heat stroke and fall down on the road. Soldiers wouldn't let us stop to help those who were sick. I couldn't believe what was happening. We walked for days, then weeks. Pregnant women gave birth under trees by the road. Old people died from exhaustion and lack of water. Everywhere was the sound of babies screaming and people crying for loved ones who had died and had to be left on the side of the road
There was no time for funerals. Soldiers threw the bodies into empty ponds and kept everyone moving. I saw two men with their hands tied behind their backs. Soldiers were questioning them on the side of the road. The soldiers cut off the men's heads, which fell to the ground as their bodies slumped. There was nothing I could do. People were being murdered before my eyes. The rest of us kept walking."
People all over Cambodia were forced into for days, weeks and months till they reached their destination, Communist work camps. Children as young as six years of age were forced to work twelve to fourteen hour days. These days were filled with terror, fear and back breaking manual labor. Most (almost all) of the people had to do agricultural work. Some women were lucky enough not to work because they had an infant they had to take care of.
The people were treated harshly by soldiers. They started off the day by being ordered to awaken from their slumber. Many did not want to get up because their dreams were the only escape from the harsh reality around them. Those who did not get up in time were kicked and beaten till they rose. From there they went right to work, no breakfast, no shower, no time to get changed (people were allowed one set of clothing each). Most of the time the people started work at six O'clock to one O'clock. Then at round this time they got their only meal of the day. The meal was usually a bowl of watery rice, sometimes it was a bowl of rice soup (hot water with rice), and others (the unlucky ones) got a spoon of rice a day. What you were fed was based on where you were, and how nice the soldiers were. Then they slaves had to work till eight. Then it was time for bed. The people had to go to sleep right away. Sometimes soldiers would check to see if anyone was awake. If they found anyone awake, the person found awake was usually beaten, and sometimes killed. People were beaten for other reasons too. Not working hard enough would get you a beating, speaking out against Angka would often get you killed. People who were doctors, teachers, or other intellectuals would be killed. Even people from the city would be killed just because they were from the city. People who were intellectuals or city dwellers would have to try to keep their former identities from reaching the unforgiving ears of Angka. Sometimes people in your camp who had a grudge with you would reveal your past to one of the soldiers. If that happened to you, you would be sent to be reeducated .
People were killed in many different and painful ways, most of which I won't delve into here because of how gruesome they are. Most of people who were executed were beaten to death with anything the soldiers could find. The ends of guns, hoes, shovels, or any other object that was sharp or blunt. People were killed this way because of a Maoist philosophy which soldiers often told the workers. They slaves were told "To keep you is no gain, to lose you is no loss." This phrase was frequently uttered from the sick, tyrannical lips of the Khmer Rouge soldiers.
Because of malnutrition, disease (mostly malaria), heat, and suicide, nearly two million Khmer (Cambodian) people died between April 1975, and January 1979. That is roughly thirteen hundred a day. This leaves a question lingering in ones head. How could something like this ever happen? How could people do this to their own countrymen? How could other countries not know about the atrocities that were happening everyday in Cambodia for nearly four years? Who was that man who led this revolution that caused many of his countrymen and women to parish?
On May 19, 1925, a small boy named Saloth Sar was born to a peasant family in Kompong Thom province in Cambodia. He was a charming boy, as most people who knew him were quoted as to saying, "[he] was a lovely child", and "His manner was straight forward, pleasant and very polite." While he attended school in the 1940's, he became friends with another student by the name of Lon Non. Lon Non's oldest brother was Lon Nol, who you may remember from earlier in this report (later, in 1975, Lon Non saw that the Khmer Rouge were about to take power, but did not leave like his older brother. He stayed, thinking that his old friends would not do him any harm. He was wrong, for he was killed within forty-eight hours of the Khmer Rouge takeover.) Saloth Sar's presence was enjoyed by many of his schoolmates, but he never left a lasting impression on them.
In 1946, he became interested in the Cambodian Communist party. This would be the beginning of the fall of Cambodia. Then in 1949, he left Cambodia for France where he studied radio electronics. While there, he became interested in the French Communist party. He became so engrossed with the French Communist party that he paid little attention to schoolwork. He flunked out of school, and returned to his native country of Cambodia.
For the next nine years thereafter, Saloth Sar worked as a schoolteacher in a private school in Phnom Penh. He was forced to flee the city when the police caught on to his involvement in the Cambodian Communist party. After this, he devoted most of his time to the Cambodian Communist party, where he served as secretary.
Then in 1975, he led the Khmer Rouge to overthrow the government led by Lon Nol. The Khmer Rouge declared it to be the year zero, and renamed the country Democratic Kampuchea. The name was just a trick to fool other countries. In no way was this a democratic country, this country was led by an oppressive Maoist government. Then in 1976, Saloth Sar changed his name to Pol Pot. He continued to rule till 1979, when a boarder dispute between Kampuchea and Vietnam caused Vietnamese troops to invade Kampuchea. When this happened, the Vietnamese overthrew Pol Pot's Maoist government, and formed a Vietnamese friendly government. Pol Pot fled to southwestern Cambodia where he continued to lead the newly deposed Khmer Rouge. In 1985, he was removed from leadership of the Khmer Rouge, but remained an active member still.
In 1991, the Khmer Rouge signed a peace treaty with the Cambodian government. But when former prince Sihanouk denounced the Khmer Rouge, they started fighting again. They continued fighting till 1996, when the Khmer Rouge split apart. The more moderate faction of the Khmer Rouge defected to the government side, while Pol Pot and his followers remained aloof.
On the 15th of April 1998, just two days before the twenty-third anniversary of his takeover of Lon Nol's government, Pol Pot took his final breath. Many people believe that he committed suicide because he was about to face trial before an international court.
Though he may seem like a ruthless killer, it must be noted that he did not set out with the intention of killing two million people. He set up this government with the intention of helping his countrymen and women. Obviously he failed. In his attempt to form a classless, utopian society, he created a society that not only had classes, but also had a bigger differential between the classes. In the old Cambodia, there was the rich, the poor, and the middle class. In Pol Pot's Cambodia, there was the old people (members of the Khmer Rouge) and the new people (city people.) The old people, as they were called, were usually soldiers, or other Khmer Rouge members. They were treated well, and got plenty of food. The new people were treated horribly, given little food, and were forced to work long hours. By trying to help his country, he doomed not only the people who lived under his regime, but also those who live in Cambodia today.
"I don't think there is a good outlook for this generation, the hope is for the unborn ," said Andrew Morris, the head of the Cambodian health services, a part of UNICEF. Cambodia's recovery has been slow in the wake of the Khmer Rouge regime. It has not recovered from the bloody civil war; it has not recovered from the Killing Fields. When the Khmer Rouge abolished doctors, they had most of the doctors killed. The lack of doctors remains today. People get little medical attention when they are sick. Most of the people live in poverty. The majority of Khmers drink from unprotected wells. People have no toilets at all. Children often run around naked, because they have no clothes to wear. Almost all the kids are barefoot. Because of these living conditions, ten percent of Khmer babies die before their first birthday. The regional average is about five percent. Women are often at risk during pregnancy as well. Nine hundred women die of complications per one hundred thousand pregnancies, one of the highest rates in the world. HIV/AIDS has taken its toll on Cambodia as well. An isolation policy in the early 1990's slowed the epidemic from reeking havoc on Cambodia, but since then, the virus has spread quickly. Partly due to the prostitution problem Cambodia has. Because of the poverty, many women find prostitution is the only thing they can do for a living. So many women choose this for their means of employment, even young girls. Around thirty-five percent of prostitutes are minors. What is really disturbing is that forty percent of prostitutes tested HIV positive. This is the reason for the HIV/AIDS epidemic that has afflicted the country of Cambodia.
My thesis is that Pol Pot, in his attempt to make a classless society, created a society that not only had classes, but also had classes with a bigger differential between them. In the old Cambodia, there was the rich, the poor, and the middle class. In Pol Pot's Cambodia, there was the old people (members of the Khmer Rouge) and the new people (city people.) The old people, as they were called, were usually soldiers, or other Khmer Rouge members. They were treated well, and got plenty of food. The new people were treated horribly, given little food, and were forced to work long hours.
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