Monday, May 19, 2008

May 19

A Cambodian infant by the name of Prek Sbauv was born on this date in 1925. A month short of his 50th birthday, Prek Sbauv -- now known to the world as Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge movement -- concluded nearly a decade of armed struggle by taking full control of his nation, which he renamed Democratic Kampuchea.

Espousing his own regressive version of Maoist doctrine, Pol Pot insisted that Kampuchea return to the condition of a purely agrarian society in order to purify the Cambodian people and prepare them for collective progress; cities like Phnom Pehn were therefore to be evacuated, and all modern technology was forbidden throughout the country unless approved by the central committee. The Khmer Rouge divided the Cambodian population into three classes -- “full-rights,” “candidates,” and “depositees” (or “New People”). The later category included intellectuals, journalists, Buddhists monks, anyone who had contact with the West, people with glasses, people with disabilities, and ethnic Lao, Chinese and Vietnamese people. It also included everyone living in the regions of the country not controlled by the Khmer Rouge before 1975.

The “New People,” who numbered in the millions, were deemed enemies of Pol Pot’s revolution and were rounded up into camps, separated from their families, subjected to torture and forced labor, deliberately starved and then killed by the hundreds of thousands in mass graves they had dug with their own hands. As the Khmer Rouge explained, “To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss.” Teeda Mutt Mam, one of the “New People” to survive of the killing fields, has written that
we were not allowed to cry or show any grief when they took away our loved ones. A man would be killed if he lost an ox he was assigned to tend. A woman would be killed if she was too tired to work. Human life wasn’t even worth a bullet. They clubbed us in the back of our necks and pushed us down to smother us and let us die in a deep hole with hundreds of other bodies.

They told us we were void. We were less than a grain of rice in a large pile.
After presiding over well over a million deaths, Pol Pot was dislocated from power when the Vietnamese army invaded in 1979, scattering the Khmer Rouge government. Pol Pot fled to Thailand and then to China, where he lived until the Vietnamese army withdrew from Cambodia in 1989. After returning to his native land, Pol Pot and the remnants of the Khmer Rouge managed to keep government forces at bay until 1997, when he was at last captured and sentenced to lifetime house arrest. On 15 April 1998, after learning that he was to be delivered to an international tribunal and tried for crimes against humanity, Pol Pot died. His body was cremated, however, and not cast into a ditch -- which would certainly have been no less than what he deserved.