The genocide that happened in Cambodia led to the death of close to three million people; about 25 % f the population. The genocide was led by one Pol Pot. There have been differences of opinion whether it was a planned eradication of a community or whether it was just by chance. This paper focuses on some of the reasons that led to the genocide, the events that led to the atrocities that claimed the lives of so many people. Consideration is also given to the aftermath of the genocide and the effects that the genocide had on the population and especially the youth in Cambodia. The paper also looks at the reactions of the communities outside Cambodia to the genocide in Cambodia
Pol Pot was born the son of a peasant and he rose through the ranks and eventually became a very important leader in Khmer Rouge (Kiernan 341). The Khmer Rouge had planned to exert its influence in Cambodia through introducing institutional changes which would change the outlook of the whole society. They had plans to create an agrarian society based on ideals borrowed from Stalinism and Maoism, which was communist regimes that Pol Pot had served in and thus had experience (Kiernan 346). The problems began when the society was not as responsive to the idea as had been though by the Khmer Rouge and as such their reaction was to employ the use of force. Most Cambodians who had relocated to urban centers were reluctant to change lifestyles as was expected in Agrarian socialism. Pol Pot also wanted to eradicate all gains that had been made courtesy of Western Civilizations. The recruitment of young, uneducated Cambodian boys into his army was a catalyst for the brutality witnessed in the Khmer Rouge regime. This genocide has often been cited as a kind of purge carried out by Khmer Rouge (Kiernan 347).
The Khmer Rouge regime and its ideology
The Khmer Rouge emerged as a result of overall disenchantment of Cambodians with Western democracy and Khmer Rouge rode on the need for change that was expected. To most Cambodians, Khmer Rouge had symbolized hope and national restructuring. The regime however soon started implementing its extremist ideologies. The regime was marked by increased cases of brutality that led to the loss of lives of very many people (Kiernan 351). The commonest ideology espoused by this regime was based on the idealization of their indigenous peasantry and reclamation of their individuality. The regime believed that it was the voice of change in Cambodia, and any opposition was met by brutal response. Perceived enemies were considered as traitors who were wiped out, and a larger part of the genocide was witnessed among the Cham Muslims, who are a minority religious group in Cambodia. The alleged purification of Cambodia was done along tribal and social lines. The regime seemed to be against all gains made in education and as such students, doctors and other elites in the society were exterminated indiscriminately (Kiernan 352).
The ideology of this regime aimed at instant changes that were to be carried out in Cambodia. The instant changes included the desertion of jobs, evacuation of people from urban areas, compulsory labor in collective farms and rural projects and eradication of any developments considered Western. One of the effects of this forced mass evacuation was the deaths of anybody who was considered as opposing the ideologies of the regime. The opposition was eliminated without question. Anybody who could not relocate to the villages was considered a threat to the ideologies of the regime and thus was aptly eliminated. The regime also set up its own Khmer prisons which pitted in forests where prisoners were kept and killed. Prisoners were extremely tortured; in fact, there were only seven known survivors from these pits (Kiernan 352).
Effects of the genocide
The effects of the genocide ranged from physical to psychological effects that were visited upon the Cambodians. Physical effects were marked on the millions who were brutalized during the forced relocation. The soldiers used force and inflicted long-term injuries on the Cambodians. The forced labor made most people to be weak, and the poor working conditions worsened the situation for most Cambodians and hence they could not work as efficiently as expected (Kiernan 356).
The genocide majorly inflicted psychological pain on the Cambodians who still have to contend with that ugly part of their history (Kiernan 353). Most Cambodians lost their families including parents in the Genocide especially members of the Cham Muslim community. The psychological scars create emotional pain at the thought of what happened in Cambodia during the reign of Khmer Rouge.
The effects on the youth
The genocide greatly impacted the youth in various ways. Firstly, the genocide had demographic effects on the youths. Many youths were taken to neighboring countries. This mass movement of population into neighboring countries and states created refugees as the immigrants were integrated into other societies. Population transfer also increased instances of racism in foreign lands. This could be in schools where the youths were integrated in host countries’ institutions. Racism was a very big problem that the youths faced (Clothilde).
Increased cases of violent behavior were witnessed among the youths who had been part of the genocide in Cambodia. The impact of the genocide on the minds of these young Cambodians was so immense, and they did lack the means of dealing with it. The pressure to conform to the new societies was a major cause of the violent behavior, coupled with the poor living conditions in which the refugees lived made the youths resort to violence as a means of self-assertion and expression (SreyRam).
The Khmer Rouge had instilled a form of military mode of transition. This military style of transition delayed the graduation into adulthood. Most youths who had been caught up in the era of Khmer rouge had late transition. This was witnessed among those who had escaped into neighboring countries as they were reluctant to develop (SreyRam). They had to be hurriedly taken to school so that they could be at par with their age mates.
The interpretations about the genocide were varied and based on personal biases. This ensured that some reports over the genocide were exaggerated, and some were not informative. The youths, especially the second generation onwards, were exposed to painful recollections of survivors who talked of poor living conditions among other things. These stories had negative impacts on the lives of these youths as they sought to trace their history (Kiernan 350). Additionally, most of the youths witnessed and experienced violence even within their homes. The violence in the homes would include physical abuse and neglect. The violent past of the Cambodians has also led to increased reports of shootings and aggravated assaults witnessed in the Cambodian learning institutions. The varied interpretations of the genocide do not help matters for the youths who blame the Khmer Rouge for the present economic condition in Cambodia. This feeling of disenchantment among the youth is a major challenge for the authorities (Kiernan 354).
The effects also included low self worth as a result of the embarrassment from the genocide where most youth feel ashamed to identify themselves as Cambodians. This is especially rife among those whose parents ran away into other countries during the reign of Khmer Rouge (Kiernan 349).
The reaction of the international community
The initial phase of the genocide was ignored by most of the countries whose focus was on the Vietnam wars. Even the United States whose embassy was in Cambodia initially ignored the reports of brutality (Kiernan 348).However as the killings increased, the US Ambassador raised concerns on the on goings within Cambodia. The report included cases of executions and purges that were carried out on Cambodians. The war that had earlier on emerged between Cambodia and Vietnam had led to sour relationships between the two states and Vietnam took the advantage and invaded Cambodia thereby ousting the Khmer Rouge regime. The Vietnam invasion brought to its end the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. Australia also took an active part in the restructuring process after the genocide. Australia had an active role in the peace plan negotiated in Cambodia that saw the formation of a Cambodian government. During the genocide, most Cambodians immigrated to Canada and Ontario states. This was a safe haven for the Cambodians ravaged by effects of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime (Kiernan, 350).
The extremities that were witnessed during the Khmer Rouge regime are still visible in the modern day Cambodian society where the Chan Muslims still blame the Khmer tribe of attempts to purge them from the Cambodian society. However, the government has attempted to develop the social fabric through creation of a remembrance day that is set aside for the victims of the genocide. The government has instituted programs aimed at uniting the people of Cambodia as a means of alleviating the effects of the genocide.
Clothilde Le Coz. GENOCIDE: The question of Genocide and Cambodia’s Muslims. Aljazeera.
Retrieved from: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/11/question-genocide-cambodia-muslims-151110072431950.html
Kiernan Ben. The Cambodian genocide 1975-1979. Pg. 341- 356. Print.
SreyRam Kuy. Cambodia’s’ Killing fields still haunt survivors: Column. USA TODAY. April 17, 2015 Retrieved from: http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/04/17/cambodia-surgeon-bombing-landmine-column/25898655/