The Pol Pot Regime in Cambodia: When, How and Why?

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paper used at Beloit college, prof. Rapp. Was presented to the entire college. Thought you might wanna know.

Cambodia, a Southeast Asian country that shares borders with Thailand, Vietnam and Laos, was under the French rule from 1863 until 1953. This long period of time affected people who fell into apathy demonstrated through their lack of political interest and desire for change. However, during this period of time, a small communist group started to emerge. They saw the future Cambodia as an independent and socialist country with satisfied citizens. Their main inspiration came from Saloth Sar, a Cambodian revolutionary first introduced to communism during his studies in France. The Cambodian Communist Party grew mainly under Saloth’s charisma and eventually did come to power. It is important to understand the sources of the Cambodian revolution, as well as the reasons why it was initially successful. A significant role was played by the Vietnam War and the United States bombardments of Viet Cong bases in Cambodia. What characterized the Khmer Regime is its great violence and the auto genocide that occurred during this period. Pol Pot’s obsession with enemies coming from Vietnam was one of the reasons for so many deaths. Communism in Cambodia was a form of extreme Maoism. It was more Maoist then in China itself. What led to the creation of Maoism, how it developed and grew, and why did it collapsed are the questions. No one knows how old are the Khmer people, society and culture. However, modern archeology suggests that these people, who later proudly called themselves “Khmer,” may have begun to build their strong society and rich culture around 4200 B.C. or even earlier.1 Over the centuries the country grew into one of the world’s greatest civilizations, comparable with other, better known Asian civilizations and ancient European societies, and the Khmer still look back with pride on their rich heritage. The “Angkorian period,” as it was called after its capital, is believed to have begun around A.D. 802 and ended in A.D. 1431, according to some scholars and historians.2 Both Thailand and Vietnam invaded Cambodis, and these attacks cumulated in the downfall of the civilization and the abandonment of Angkor, a city of over a million people that became ghostly overnight.3 Little is known about this period except that it was marked by invasions and attacks by Cambodia’s neighbors: the Burmese, Thai and Cham.4

Pre-revolutionary Cambodia was 80 percent peasant, 80 percent Khmer and 80 percent Buddhist, a very homogeneous country with an overwhelmingly rural economy.5 The French established a protectorate over Cambodia in 1863, and Cambodia was no longer in charge of its own fate and destiny until 1953, when it finally gained independence.6 During this time, as a result of French colonial policy, Cambodia acquired substantial minority populations of Vietnamese, Chinese, Lao and Thai, and although its residents were 80 percent Khmer, Chinese and Vietnamese dominated the cities.7 Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who was installed on the throne in 1941 as a French puppet, now found himself as the head of the state.8 In February 1950, encouraged by the recent Communist victory in China, the Indochina Communist party called for the construction of independent Lao and Cambodian armies. This decision enabled the early formation of the Communist party in both countries, and the Cambodian Communist party was formally constituted in 1951.9 It was controlled by the Indochina Communist party whose leaders were all Vietnamese. From the 1950s to the mid-1960s, Cambodia prospered. Modernization, development, and foreign aid flowed in under Sihanouk’s rule. The prosperity depended greatly on the behavior of surrounding countries and Sihanouk tried to diplomatically keep the country out of the Vietnamese war and at a neutral stance.10 However, from the mid-1960s on, Cambodia became more and more involved in the war. By the early 1970s, as the...
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