Khmer Rouge and Cambodia

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The Khmer Rouge and Cambodia

In the 1960’s and 1970’s Cambodia was being pulled in many different directions. They were in the middle of a civil war and, at the same time were being drawn into the conflict in Vietnam. Cambodia is a small country, made up of mostly Buddhists. Prince Sihanouk was in the middle of a military coup, and was being overthrown by General Lon Nol, the president of the Khmer Republic. Prince Sihanouk eventually joined forces with a communist organization called the Khmer Rouge. Civil war began wreaking havoc across the country. While this civil war was going on, the Vietnam War was happening right next door. Americans killed over 750,000 Cambodians in the effort to destroy the North Vietnamese. It is estimated that over 150,000 Cambodians died in the civil war, most of them civilians.

In 1975 the Khmer Rouge won the civil war and gained power in Cambodia. The organization was headed by a man name Pol Pot. Pol Pot was educated in France and deeply admired Chinese communism. He and his party believed that all intellectuals and anything that could threaten communism needed to be abolished. The first part of the Cambodian genocide began with the Exodus. Everyone was forced to leave the cities, including the sick, elderly, and children. People who were too slow or refused to leave were killed on the spot. Pol Pot’s plan was to make Cambodia into an organization of farms, with the citizens as the laborers. The country’s name was changed to Kampuchea and all civil rights and liberties were immediately taken away. Basically everything was shut down; hospitals, colleges, and factories included. The Khmer Rouge believed that their biggest threats were intellectuals because they had the intelligence to question authority and possibly overthrow the regime. Thus, teachers, doctors, lawyers and even members of the army were immediately killed. Even wearing glasses was enough reason for the Khmer Rouge to murder civilians. They took eliminating intellectuals so seriously that even extended families were killed; for example, the second cousin of a doctor could be killed for his relations.

Music and books were banned along with religion. Temples were destroyed and thousands of monks lost their lives to the regime. Witness accounts have even stated that laughing was a reason to be killed. Relationships were basically outlawed along with most forms of physical affection. Most people became forced laborers where the conditions were horrible. Long days, exhausting work, and little food contributed to many deaths. People were purposely placed in camps far away from home so they had no where to escape. The Khmer Rouge had power, but with power comes paranoia. Many members of the Regime were murdered for betrayal and treason. On December 25th, 1978 the Vietnamese Invaded Cambodia and ended the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. Pol Pot and other members of his party went into hiding in the west, but fighting continued for twenty years. Pol Pot was imprisoned in 1997, and died in 1998 of heart failure. Many former members of the Khmer Rouge continue to go on trial for their crimes against humanities. The total count of those murdered during the Cambodian genocide came to more than two million.

Researched by Laura Szakmary
Volunteer for the Cold War Museum
Cosby High School


"Cambodia 1975." Genocide-Cambodia. P E A C E P L E D G E U N I O N, n.d. Web. 14 May 2010. <>.

"Pol Pot in Cambodia 1975-1979 2,000,000 deaths." The History Place-Genocide in the 20th century. The History Placeā„¢, 1999. Web. 14 May 2010. <>.

Rummel, R.J. "STATISTICS OF DEMOCIDE." Statistics of Cambodia Genocide and Mass Murder., n.d. Web. 14 May 2010. <>.


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