Studies of Conflict: Khmer Rouge vs. the Lon Nol Government

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Of the many unjust horrors born of the 20th Century, from the jungles of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge regime claims absolute victory. It is the practice of Western nations to use the three stage theory of the Italian philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, to determine whether a war is morally justifiable. The Khmer Rouge rebellion against the Lon Nol government from 1970-1975 was fuelled partially by the just desire of a people to achieve freedom from a tyrannical leader. However, the tactics employed by the Khmer Rouge and the darker aims of its leaders resulted in arguably the worst human tragedy in recorded history. To determine whether the rebellion was ethically permissible, a range of primary and secondary sources will be analysed.

The complex political background behind the uprising of the Khmer Rouge (KR) played a key role in the events of the 1970’s. Before the civil war broke out, the reigning monarch of Cambodia, Prince Sihanouk, introduced expansive improvements to the education systems in what would soon become Democratic Kampuchea (Dunlop, 2005, p.53). The schools, though in theory beneficial for the country, resulted in high numbers of unemployment among the educated. This, coupled with high taxation on farmers and the banning of rice sales to the Vietnamese Army, resulted in wide spread civil unrest (Dunlop, 2005, p.59). Primary evidence of the student support for the KR regime can be seen in comment of Phal, an ex-Khmer Rouge military commander:

We students could meet as we liked…it was the senior students who recruited the younger ones. [To us], communism meant the hope of a better and more just society. …The old people; they would tell us stories of how they had been oppressed. [cited in Short, 2004 p.154]

It is agreed upon by multiple historians that when military General Lon Nol sent Prince Sihanouk into forced retirement in 1970 he initiated a reign of terror that would divide Cambodian society into two: the communist supporters of the Khmer Rouge and the conservative followers of Lon Nol. This state of absolute division proved the breaking point for peace in Cambodia and civil war was officially declared (A World to Win 2010; Dunlop, 2004; Short, 2005). The Khmer Rouge rebellion began with the spreading of a just notion for freedom from oppression. According to internet philosopher, Alexander Moseley, to fulfill Thomas Aquinas’s first criterion for a just war (Jus ad Bellum) the belligerent must have a just cause and be prepared to use only the force that is necessary to win (2012). Notable historian, Philip Short (2004, p.33), states throughout his book “Pol Pot: History of a Nightmare” that the initial intention of the KR was to free the village peasants, who claimed to make up the majority of the Cambodian population, from the gambles of the then government and to recreate the glory of the ancient Angkorian empire that ruled Cambodia in the 13th Century (2004, p.33). In riveting primary evidence Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot claimed “If our people can make Angkor Wat… they can make anything” (cited in Short, 2004, P. 293). Phillip Short adds to Pol Pot’s statement by providing his own, secondary opinion, “The[re] goal was no to imitate the past but to improve it”. An example of the mistreatment suffered by the Cambodian people is outlined in Irish photographer Nic Dunlop’s (2005, p.71) book, “The Lost Executioner”. It describes the 1969 Operation Breakfast which involved the carpet bombing of rural areas in Cambodia by the US military that devastated the lives of thousands of Cambodian civilians. The bombing was carried out in a failed attempt by the USA to disrupt the southern part of the Ho Chi Minh supply trail used by the Viet Cong in the Vietnam War that raged simultaneously to supply the Cambodian civil war (Dunlop, 2005 p.70). The cruelty of the controlling parties at the time was, in part, responsible for...
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