Khmer Rouge—Worse than the Worst

Imagine a regime that tries to kill all the educators in the countries so that the people become dumb and obedient. It is not a joke made by a pesky kid who hates school, but a part of modern history in Cambodia that still plagues the country today. On April 17, 1975, the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK,  also known by the public as the Khmer Rouge), a former guerrilla made its way out of the jungle and started a four-year bloody ruling that turned Cambodia into something worse than hell. The Capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, once known as the “Pearl of Asia”, had a population of 3 million before was made into the Cambodian version of Silent Hill overnight—thousands of teachers, doctors and scholars were executed, the rest were evacuated to labour camps in rural Cambodia and died of starvation or overwork.


Where are they from

The Khmer Rouge was once an insignificant guerrilla force simmering in the north eastern jungle of the country. In 1970, Marshal Lon Nol successfully led a military coup while the then head of state, Prince Norodom Sihanouk was out of the country. The lost Prince turned Khmer Rouge for help to reclaim this golden throne. Ironically, for Sihanouk, being detained under house-arrest had been his major role in the new regime.  Nevertheless, the imprimatur of the Prince gave Khmer Rouge a legitimate course to march forward and plunge the country into an all-out civil war. Backed by the US, Marshal Lon Nol’s government tried to shell the entire country while the army of Khmer Rouge advocated for peace. It quickly gained popularity.  In 1975, Khmer Rouge army  captured the capital and created the state of Democratic Kampuchea.

Why did they do this?

Because the leaders of the Khmer were maniac communists who believed in the ideology of complete agrarian society in which agricultural is the primary activity, and in its case, other means of livelihood were despised. Social institutions such as schools, banks and hospitals were either shut down or turned into jails, stables or  re-education camps; public transportation were totally crippled , entertainment of any kind prohibited, private property confiscated, not to mention that fashion was banned and the freedom for speech was long forgotten.  What is more, according to the leaders of the movement, people needed to be purified in order to serve the new regime, and the best way to purify them was by labour. Millions of people were sent to countryside and forced to work something like 12 hours a day to meet the goal envisaged by the leader: producing three tons of rice per hectare

What was people’s live like under Khmer Rouge

As hospitals and modern medicines were regarded as social enemy, many Cambodian people under Khmer Rouge died of treatable disease such as malaria. Many more died of malnutrition, a scene similar to China during the Great Leap Forward: private ownership of food was banned; to meet the impossible national target local authorities had to turn the majority of harvest to the government, resulting in widespread starvation.

In order to maintain its control over its people, militaries were allowed to arrest anyone they found suspicious. Those people were tormented, interrogated with extreme brutality. Under most circumstances, they would die of pain, shame or execution. In the Prison S-21 located in Phnom Penh, about 14,000 prisoners were being held and only 12 of them have survived to the last.


When did this come to an end?

Fear and hunger dominated the life of the ordinary Cambodian for four years. At the meantime, Cambodian had been having border skirmishes with Vietnam for years and in 1979, the later invaded the country and took the capital. The Vietnamese created a new government and drove the Khmer Rouge back to jungle. Teamed up with the previously deposed Prince Sihanouk, the battered but resilient force struggled until 1999, when all leaders of Khmer Rouge were arrested or died.

I heard the story of Khmer Rouge from my boyfriend, on my Tuk-Tuk ride to northern Cambodia. Since then I looked for traces of the past tragedies. It didn’t take me much effort to see that  the modern Cambodia is still hunted by its bloody nightmare: the regime laid millions of landmines in the country side that disabled a huge numbers of innocent farmers; Social elites and intellectuals were terminated and the education system was totally destroyed. all these deprived  many people of their ability to make a decent living.  Travelling in Cambodia I have always encountered with such scenes: people with severe deformity or disability were begging instead of being looked after, young children were selling CDs and souvenirs instead of attending school, and women were whoring instead of working and having a family.

Pictures from:


8 thoughts on “Khmer Rouge—Worse than the Worst

  1. My God, of all the atrocities mentioned in “Death By Government”; the Khmer Rouge (Ch 9) had some of the worst things I’ve ever read about. There were plenty of disgusting acts; but the mental anguish caused by such as below is probably more damaging longer-term.

    Pg 181
    “There were no practicing lawyers, doctors, teachers, engineers, scientists, or the like. These professions were deemed unnecessary or presumed to contain simple truths any peasant could pick up through experience. Those who had been such professionals under the old regime were either killed or had to work in the fields like everyone else, depending on the local cadre and region. That this would create human dilemmas of the most excruciating kind is obvious. Just consider the doctor Haing Ngor, whose wife suffered life-threatening complications during childbirth. To help her deliver the baby meant his death (under the rules men were forbidden to deliver their wives’ babies); to use his medical skills to save her would in effect tell the cadre that he was a doctor and meant his death, and possibly that of his wife and newborn; to do nothing might mean their death anyways. But still the wife might pull through. He did nothing (and perhaps he could do nothing anyway – he had no appropriate medial instruments) and his wife and baby died, leaving a gaping would in his heart that has never healed.”

  2. I say often that “anyone will do anything to anyone” … and despite howls of protest no-one has been able to refute me.

    The saddest part is when some mealy-mouthed person spouts words to the effect of “We must never forget!” — to which the only sane reply is “Bollocks! We must never allow!” and then everyone goes silent.

    A powerful post, Chloe.

  3. I say often that ”anyone will do anything to anyone” … and despite howls of protest no-one has been able to refute me.

    The saddest part is when some mealy-mouthed indoctrinated person spouts words to the effect of ”We must never forget!” — to which the only sane reply is ”Bollocks! We must never allow!” and then everyone goes silent.

  4. A more positive story is now emerging from the gloomy terror filled years of the Cambodian civil war. A documentary is now in production about General Prince Norodom Chantaraingsey and an Australian QANTAS flight attendant whose life he saved in 1971 when targeted by the Khmer Rouge. “Dale of Cambodia” is the true story of the unusual friendship between the Australian, Spencer Dale and the Prince. It’s a story of commitment, loyalty and friendship towards a man and a country facing complete inhalation from Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge. We need to be uplifted by some good things that happened and be inspired to make a positive change in a world that doesn’t seem to learn from its mistakes. It’s good to know there are still people who care and are prepared to make a difference.
    Previews can be seen at and

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