The Cambodian Killing Fields

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The Cambodian Killing Fields

On April 17th, 1975 the Khmer Rouge, a communist guerrilla group led by Pol Pot, took power in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge had overthrown the Lon Nol government, who were supporter by the US and the US war in Vietnam, which had spilled over the border into Cambodia. After taking power, the Khmer Rouge forced all city dwellers into the countryside to work in forced labor camp and to be “reeducated” in the ways of the Angka. During their rule, it is estimated that nearly 2 million Cambodians died either of starvation, torture or execution. 

The Khmer Rouge renamed the country Kampuchea Cambodia and began year zero. This meant that everything in the past was to be forgotten. Everyone in Cambodia was to start over. They banned all institutions, including stores, banks, hospitals, schools, religion, and the family. Everyone was forced to work 12 - 14 hours a day, every day. Children were separated from their parents to work in mobile groups or as soldiers. People were fed one watery bowl of soup with a few grains of rice thrown in. Babies, children, adults and the elderly were killed everywhere. The Khmer Rouge killed people if they didn’t like them, if didn’t work hard enough, if they were educated, if they came from different ethnic groups, or if they showed sympathy when their family members were taken away to be killed. All were killed without reason. Everyone had to pledge total allegiance to Angka, the Khmer Rouge government’s form of Communism. It was a campaign based on instilling constant fear and keeping their victims off balance.

After the Vietnamese invaded and liberated the Cambodian people from the Khmer Rouge, 600,000 Cambodians fled to Thai border camps. Ten million landmines were left in the ground, one for every person in Cambodia. The United Nations installed the largest peacekeeping mission in the world in Cambodia in 1991 to ensure free and fair elections after the withdrawal of the Vietnamese troops. Cambodia was turned upside down during the Khmer Rouge years and the country has the daunting task of healing physically, mentally and economically.

The story of the Khmer Rouge was best told in the film, The Killing Fields. The film told the story of a New York Times reporter named Sydney Schanberg and his interpreter Dith Pran. Pran was captured by the Khmer Rouge in 1975 but escaped and was reunited with his family & Sydney in New York.
Questions (on back please):

  1. How did the Khmer Rouge gain power? What was US involvement in Cambodia?

  2. What was year zero and what did the Khmer Rouge ban?

  3. How did the Khmer Rouge treat people? What happened if you resisted?

  4. What was Angka and what was it based on?

  5. Who liberated the Cambodian people from the Khmer Rouge?

  6. What happened to Cambodia refugees?

  7. How many landmines were left in Cambodia? What comparison is made?

  8. How were free election ensured in Cambodia?

  9. What film told the story of the Khmer Rouge?

  10. What was the film about?

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