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Cambodia and the Western Fabrication of History
August 7, 2014 12:27 AM   Subscribe

Andrev Vltchek offers a different perspective on Cambodia's Khmer Rouge period There is actually only one thing that I want to know: how Communist was the Khmer Rouge, and was it the ideology, the Marxist ideology, that drew farmers to the ranks of the movement? San Reoung thinks for a while, then replies, weighing each word: “It was really not about the ideology… We did not know much about it. I was, for instance, very angry with the Americans. I became a soldier at the age of 17. And my friends were very angry, too. They joined Khmer Rouge to fight Americans, and especially the corruption of their puppet dictator Lon Nol, in Phnom Penh.”
posted by Vibrissae (37 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
There are some valid and interesting points here buried under smug polemic drivel. Thailand has free/subsidized healthcare and education that works better than Vietnam or Cambodia, plus a market-based economy and the reason people go toVietnam for healthcare is cost plus bribes. If they can afford it, they'd go to Thailand.

The part about U.S. carpetbombing being overlooked is huge, plus the exclusion of aid to Cambodia when it was occupied by the Vietnamese - but it's so buried under idiocies that this piece is awful, actively awful.

Wow that left me angry. Today of all days when they've finally gotten a ruling, when there are people who have been doing research in the countryside, Cambodian historians and to have this - gah. (Not aimed at you Vibrissae, just surprised how bad this piece was)
posted by viggorlijah at 12:58 AM on August 7 [11 favorites]


I don't know. This reads like the apologia written by neo-Nazis: "Hitler didn't know about the death camps! Only like a couple of hundred thousand people died there! Mostly from disease or in justified reprisals by local officials!"

I'm not saying he's wrong, partly because the scope of his argument isn't very clear. But reading this left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:30 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Viggorlijah, if you're so inclined, would you mind expanding on your criticisms of the article? You seem knowledgable about the topic and I'd be interested to read a fuller critique from you.
posted by Cucurbit at 1:34 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


“Why do people in Phnom Penh keep repeating that Pol Pot conducted ‘Communist Genocide’? Why, like in the rest of Southeast Asia, is China being demonized? And why is demonized Vietnam?” I ask.

Well, I'm not sure if killing one quarter of your own people fits the definition of genocide but it cetainly fits the definition being a bad person.

"The city has embarked fully on the savage capitalist road, not unlike Jakarta, another Asian urban nightmare. Except that Phnom Penh has at least some impressive French colonial villas, a beautiful riverfront and several good galleries and museums."

Annnd I'm out.

I'm frankly more inclined to give creedence to Spalding Gray from Swimming to Cambodia than this clickfool. "So five years of bombing, a diet of bark, bugs, lizards and leaves up in the Cambodian jungles, an education in Paris environs in strict Maoist doctrine with a touch of Rousseau, and other things that we will probably never know about in our lifetimes - including perhaps an invisible cloud of evil that circles the Earth and lands at random in places like Iran, Beirut, Germany, Cambodia, America - set the Khmer Rouge up to commit the worst auto-homeo genocide in modern history."
posted by vapidave at 1:35 AM on August 7 [4 favorites]


I have rarely seen the communist ideology part brought up - the broad understanding seems tobe that it was much more like North Korea's Juche, not marxist communism, and different from Vietnamese, Chinese or Russian communism.

His point about the Vietnamese being the most hated (tell a Thai-Cambodian that!) is about far more than recent communist history. It's several centuries of invasion and immigration on both sides, tracing up to current politics where the Vietnamese government and economy have a much larger role in Cambodia than most Cambodians want. And it's straight racism as well, with racism in Cambodia being quite complicated as the countryside is overwhelmingly homogenous except up north where the hilltribes are very diverse and disparaged by everyone else, and the main city has always been much more racially mixed and intermarried, with business dominated by long term Chinese and Vietnamese-mixed families. But he tries to reduce this to some kind of recent thing related to the Vietnamese invasion/liberation and political ideology which is ridiculous.

The starvation and disease that killed so many people in Cam bodia during the Khmer ROuge was manmade. It was not the byproduct but the deliberate destruction of agricultural knowledge and medical knowledge to live according to a mythical Khmer-kingdom of peasant agriculture and herbal medicine.

What was caused by the Western label of communism was aid going into the country post-Vietnamese invasion so people had to flee to the border refugee camps that were hugely underfunded and restricted.

The carpetbombing was horrific, and the demining work still goes on. Every week, there's some rural kid finding a bomb and getting hurt. But the scope of that and the responsibility of that, which was a very interesting point, gets buried by his desire to turn the current situation into a socialism vs capitalism rant, which it isn't. It's a decade of war and genocide that -

Look, genocide is awful. But Cambodia's genocide was unique AFAIK for the desire to kill the educated and destroy knowledge. They didn't just destroy buildings and infrastructure as the carpetbombing did, they destroyed culture and social and intellectual knowledge by killing the people who had it. They killed all the artists, teachers, doctors, lawyers, managers - and that's an additional layer of violence that left a society unable to recover for a very very long time. That's not communism, that's Pol Pot's evil insanity.

I don't know enough about Cambodian history to address this, but his implication that he's the only one brave and smart enough to go to the countryside to talk to people is just flat out wrong. There are Cambodians and foreigners doing that work too. But hey, why take away his noble journalist uncovering the Real Story (TM) persona?
posted by viggorlijah at 1:55 AM on August 7 [17 favorites]


Thanks for the follow-up, viggorlijah. I share your criticisms or find them convincing. Despite its flaws, it seems to me that the article still retains what on my reading are its core arguments:
1. The popular understanding of the Cambodian genocide as in some sense motivated by "communism" is inaccurate, communist ideology was not a factor in the genocide
2. The United States is responsible for a substantial proportion of the deaths during the Khmer Rouge era -- directly in the form of bombing and indirectly in the form of creating the conditions for famine and, most crucially, for civil conflict -- and an account of American crimes (moral crimes, if not crimes prosecutable under the international legal system) therefore cannot be left out when speaking of the Khmer Rouge's crimes

If these arguments are valid, then the occasion of the media event of the Khmer Rouge guilty verdicts seems to me like an ideal time to make them, because in the couple articles I've read any mention of American crimes in Cambodia has been left out, and the genocide has been implied to have been motivated by "communist" ideology.

So, without having the knowledge to truly evaluate the author's arguments, that element of the article seemed valuable to me. You clearly know much more than me and if you disagree with what I wrote I would be very interested to hear what you have to say.
posted by Cucurbit at 2:43 AM on August 7


The carpetbombing was horrific, and the demining work still goes on. Every week, there's some rural kid finding a bomb and getting hurt. But the scope of that and the responsibility of that, which was a very interesting point, gets buried by his desire to turn the current situation into a socialism vs capitalism rant, which it isn't.

It's also far from a new point; Chomsky was making the same point at the time, that the Khmer Rouge was only made possible by the carpet bombing and annihilation of Cambodia's (and Laos') rural society. He also argued that this destruction was indeed exactly what these carpet bombings set out to achieve, but that nobody calls this genocide...

Probably way too simplistic, but I do wonder in how much the Khmer Rouge uprising and subsequent genoice could be read as the revenge of the peasants on the urban elites for what they went through with the American bombardments.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:50 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


1. The popular understanding of the Cambodian genocide as in some sense motivated by "communism" is inaccurate, communist ideology was not a factor in the genocide

That's not new just about anywhere. That's what I mean, that it's widely understood in Cambodia that what happened wasn't communism but instead a very specific strange Cambodian ideology that originated in part in communist ideas. He's presenting this as a novel or overlooked understanding, when it just isn't.

2. The United States is responsible for a substantial proportion of the deaths during the Khmer Rouge era -- directly in the form of bombing and indirectly in the form of creating the conditions for famine and, most crucially, for civil conflict -- and an account of American crimes (moral crimes, if not crimes prosecutable under the international legal system) therefore cannot be left out when speaking of the Khmer Rouge's crimes

I think there's certainly a big overlap and complication there but again he reduces all the other factors and makes it seem as though he's particularly new and brave to come up with the US war crimes and deliberately plays down the Cambodian movement. There needs to be more news and awareness of the carpetbombing (I think it could start with a better term - secret civilian slaughter by airplanes, etc - the Kissinger Killing, because carpetbombing sounds neutral IMO) and

They carpetbombed Laos, and Laos didn't turn around and destroy most of itself. Laos had a civil war and what was probably a genocide at the Hmong minority during the same period, but not the Khmer Rouge level of destruction.

He's reducing the scale and origins of the Khmer Rouge era to fit his particular political points and that is disgusting.
posted by viggorlijah at 3:31 AM on August 7 [10 favorites]


There are some elements of Lenin and Mao, I suppose, in the Khmer Rouge ideology – partly because Lenin had been heavily focused on national liberation and Mao on the third world, and both much more reliant on the peasantry than Marx thought – but mostly it was a civil war where one side happened to be called "communist." By the time you got to Mao, much less Pol Pot, there wasn't really much, if any, Marx left in the ideas of 20th century communism.

The bombings do deserve condemnation right along with the Khmer Rouge killings. But as a Marxist, I have no desire to try and rehabilitate Pol Pot and his regime, and I think Counterpunch is deeply mistaken in trying to do do so.
posted by graymouser at 3:32 AM on August 7 [5 favorites]


I mean, I totally would cheer for Henry Kissinger to face war crimes tribunal. That would be news that would make me feel just so so happy for humanity. It would be wonderful.
posted by viggorlijah at 3:33 AM on August 7 [7 favorites]


But Cambodia's genocide was unique AFAIK for the desire to kill the educated and destroy knowledge.

This was also explicit Nazi policy in Poland and Russia, wasn't it?
posted by thelonius at 3:35 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


This was also explicit Nazi policy in Poland and Russia, wasn't it?

And in China during the Cultural Revolution.

This was a sad read, even for CounterPunch.
posted by jsavimbi at 4:09 AM on August 7 [5 favorites]


Not quite. I really don't want to do any more research into this because it is possibly the most depressing topic to look into but the Nazis targeted racial/ethnic groups, the disabled, gays, political opponents and freemasons and some other religious groups. The Khmer Rouge targeted racial/ethnic groups, political opponents, pretty much all religious groups and also groups that were "new people", basically anyone who had lived in the city or was educated.

The Nazi program in Poland and Russia was to eventually kill all the ethnic Polish people, starting by killing the leaders, and working their way down, which was more of a process towards another raial/ethnic holocaust to clear land for the Germans, than targeting the educated specifically to restart civilization with the non-educated.
posted by viggorlijah at 4:10 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Jsavimbi has a good point, the Cultural Revolution is the biggest communist ideology link, definitely. Yale Genocide Project on Cultural Revolution ties - graphic descriptions. And g'night, that's as much as I can bear in a day.
posted by viggorlijah at 4:13 AM on August 7


Ugh, when I saw this article was on Counterpunch I had a feeling it would be an offensively "revisionist" take on the Khmer Rouge, and sure enough, it basically was, if not to the same level as this previous piece by Israel Shamir they published, which is as vile an article as anything I've ever read. (Shamir claims, among other things, that Pol Pot's evacuation of the cities was "harsh but necessary", that Cambodians have "no bad memories of that period", and that the genocide was a "black legend" fabricated by the Vietnamese and the forces of world anti-Communism to justify the Vietnamese intervention. Shamir also holds some "interesting" views on the Holocaust- see his Wikipedia article to get an idea of them.)

On the question of Khmer Rouge ideology- they certainly had an unorthodox interpretation of Marxism-Leninism (how unorthodox is another question, and I've seen arguments that it wasn't as unorthodox as some have made it out to be), but there's no question that they considered themselves to be Marxist-Leninist, and the connection to Maoism in particular is fairly obvious. To what extent their ideology motivated the genocide is another question- but denying that the Khmer Rouge were Marxist-Leninists or that their ideology had anything to do with the genocide at all seems like trying to argue that, (for example), ISIS isn't really driven by an ideology of jihadist Wahhabi Islamism and that their belief system has no relevance when it comes to the atrocities they've committed. It's not that there's no grain of truth in arguments of that sort at all- it can be fairly argued that ISIS's interpretation of Islam is so extreme and out of the norm that it bears hardly any resemblance to the religion of the vast majority of Muslims (including that of many Wahhabists), and it can be fairly argued that what drives ISIS's actions in many cases, may ultimately have less to do with specific theological or ideological beliefs than it does with more material factors- yet to argue that ISIS's religious/ideological beliefs play no real role in the actions they take would seem absurd, and I think would usually be taken as being primarily motivated by an attempt to whitewash religious/political beliefs similar to theirs. IMO, it is much the same with the Khmer Rouge's Marxism-Leninism, and the point of this article ultimately seems to me to be an attempt at making Marxism-Leninism look not so bad. (Shamir's article is clearly taking the same tack, though his approach is "the Khmer Rouge were communists, therefore they were good guys", as opposed to this article's "the Khmer Rouge were bad guys, therefore they weren't communists".) As such, I'd ultimately agree with Joe in Australia's assessment, above. I'm all for more light being shown on the US role in creating the conditions that made the Khmer Rouge what they were and helped them rise to power, but not in the way that this article (or, I suspect, pretty much anything Counterpunch might publish on the subject) tries to do it.
posted by a louis wain cat at 4:17 AM on August 7 [7 favorites]


viggorlijah : "noble journalist uncovering the Real Story (TM) persona"

the article : “I think what you are doing is very important”

Who would quote that about themselves ?

I was took a holiday in Cambodia ten years ago as a guest of someone working for Mines Advisory Group. They reckoned they would have the mines cleared in about one hundred years' time.

The article refers to little kids getting injured by landmines. A MAG person said this was because the mines were being found and disassembled by hand so the raw materials (metal, explosives) could be reused. That's how poor they are.

While I was there an enormous riot erupted which did millions of pounds worth of damage to Thai-owned businesses which was ignited by a tv interview from three years earlier where a Thia actress appeared to make a disparaging remark about a Cambodian actress. So they aren't that keen on the Thais either.

Thanks to vigggorlijah and other in this comments section for turning this article from unreadable BS into a useful jumping-off point of informative discussion.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 5:43 AM on August 7 [6 favorites]


a holiday in Cambodia

i c wut u did thar
posted by Sticherbeast at 5:58 AM on August 7 [6 favorites]


A Counterpunch article is full of shit you say? Well I never.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 8:32 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


I think Spalding had it right. You could probably throw in French Revolutionary Jacobinism too. The Year Zero sounds like the French starting over with Year One of the Republic, One and Indivisible. Napoleon eventually put the country back on the old calendar.

All politics are local, according to the late, great US Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, and you could say the same for variants of Communism in countries not directly under the sway of the Soviet Union. North Korea, for example, is an absolute monarchy in its third generation. Yugoslavia was independent and somewhat market-friendly.

Anyway, Vitchek is obviously reaching, and the Counterpunch editors wanted it to be true so they ran with it. It's pretty hard to ascribe the systematic targeting and massacre of educated people to a redneck grudge against city slickers. The Khmer Rouge even called for Cambodians living abroad to come home to build a new nation, then killed them upon arrival. The scale on which this slaughter was committed, given Cambodia#s few resources, took planning and organization.
posted by bjacques at 8:39 AM on August 7


I remember Chomsky mentioning that the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia was one of the few justifiable unilateral wars of the 20th century, that always made sense to me. But I think the Vietnamese may have laid the majority of the landmines that are in Cambodia.
posted by PHINC at 9:25 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


> Chomsky was making the same point at the time

Chomsky said a lot of dumb and in retrospect repugnant things about Cambodia at the time that he should be ashamed of if he were capable of such emotions.

I'm not going to bother reading the article (sorry, Vibrissae!) because I can tell from the comments here that it would just piss me off (I read a whole lot about Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge back in the day), but I'd like to thank viggorlijah and others for vigorously pointing out the facts of the matter. I hate revisionist bullshit even more than garden-variety bullshit, because it poisons the well.
posted by languagehat at 10:07 AM on August 7 [4 favorites]




Yeah, thanks languagehat, and the others (especially viggorlijah). I didn't know a lot about Cambodia when I posted this, but I do know. I linked to the article after reading about the Court decision to jail two former Khmer Rouge leaders. The article surprised me with its take on the war and genocide; I found it very interesting and unlike anything I had ever read about the Cambodian tragedy. That said, it was good to see proper corrections made during discussion, which goes to prove that one can learn things around here, including yours truly. :)

In retrospect, the mess in SouthEast Asia still bafles me - so many lives lost, for what? Very sad, and sadder still to see that much of that part of the world is so beset with poverty and injustice.

Last, viggorlijah up-thread properly called Kissinger out; he was little more than a war criminal.
posted by Vibrissae at 2:19 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


The Nazi program in Poland and Russia was to eventually kill all the ethnic Polish people, starting by killing the leaders, and working their way down, which was more of a process towards another raial/ethnic holocaust to clear land for the Germans, than targeting the educated specifically to restart civilization with the non-educated.

On the other hand, the contemporaneous Russian program in Poland did specifically target the educated. Not so much to "restart civilization with the non-educated", but to ensure the educated population would be suitably compliant and pro-Russian.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 8:28 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


That article... I feel like I just read the equivalent of an Ernst Zundl editorial in a friendly outlet.

My limited understanding of the Khmer Rouge ideology is that it was a mixture of the communism learned by Pol Pot, grafted onto a nationalist concept of an idealized agrarian society, as was supposedly present during the 11th century peak of the Khmer Empire. The most literal description I saw in Cambodia, at Choueng Ek, IIRC, was that the motivating idea was just to return to that time period and rebuild a beautiful communist society on that foundation, which necessarily meant wiping out all "progress" since then--thus, the murder of anyone with education, from the city, or (later on) who didn't actually come of age into the modern Khmer Rouge. At the end, it was mostly teenagers running things on the ground, supposedly.

Local material also discussed how Ho Chi Minh was quite put off by the Khmer Rouge, because he expected that they would fall under his wing, as the 'senior' communist leader in the area. There was apparently a loose conception at the time of a hierarchy of communist countries, with the Soviet Union at the top because they were the most advanced (i.e., oldest and most successful) communists. Pol Pot rejected a subordinate relationship with the Vietnamese Communist Party, refusing aid and advisors and assistance with their revolution; in return, the Vietnamese took a hands-off approach, figuring that the silent treatment would bring them around because they'd start losing. Thus, the later Vietnamese invasion carried with it a note of atonement for the earlier mistake of allowing the Khmer Rouge to go apostate, rather than bring them along gently within the family of communist nations.
posted by fatbird at 10:25 PM on August 7


I really tend to stick with lurking and people watching, so I can't weigh in with any of the conviction or fortitude of beliefs as a regular poster and what I may say could likely be simply ignored- but I still feel compelled to write it.

After reading every note in this thread, then reading it all again, as well as the article being discussed- I'm not drawing these solid conclusions others are voicing- and I don't mean to be impolite but the refutations of the author and article are almost universally composed of righteous indignation at the author, stating the author is wrong, peppering it with some vague ad hominem at the writer or the website- and then making an unreferenced, unsubstantiated claim of a counterfactual point with no evidence or reference to provide some validity or substance to the refutation.

The thing is- before you waste the effort drawing arrows at me- after reading the article twice over, I was left with a wholly different impression of the intent behind it that makes a lot of the efforts here appear disjointed and based more in emotional reactions and rejection of the work than critical deconstruction of inaccurate points.

I think, though, that I can make my point by referencing this: Mass Killings In Cambodia
(Incidentally, the claim of the KR targeting educators, artists, and knowledge itself, etc, being anywhere unique is wholly incorrect- that pattern occurs throughout several comparable situations in history, and a quick google search will show this. What made the KR exceptional was the extreme severity and the extent to which it took place)

Also, I want to point to this:Wikipedia for Cambodia Feel free to go over the periods covering the KR.

And, finally: Cambodian Genocide

In case anyone gets the impression that I side with the author: that would be a mistake. He clearly tries to mitigate the responsibility of large portions of the genocide by rebranding it as 'the horrible results of social chaos that was out of anyone's control as a plethora of different factions fought each other'- which is insulting to the intelligence at best: even if this were absolutely the case, it changes nothing in terms of those in power being responsible for letting it happen.

What's more important, though- what honestly appears to be driving the emotional responses to the article that frankly compose the majority of 'counterpoints' and 'corrections' to what the author is trying to force into the forefront- is what isn't in any of the links I posted, and is completely, utterly absent from prevalent recounting of the history and situation in major information outlets.
Wikipedia isn't a primary source- and for my purposes doesn't need to be. Those three links
posted by cat_mech at 10:33 PM on August 7


Could you pick specific points, cat_mech?

I think over a decade of working and travelling to Cambodia, and having friends and family working in the tribunal, research and who have survived the camps and Khmer Rouge period, means I might be able to find some more primary research to back up what I've said up thread.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:44 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


cat_mech, a "simple google search" does not turn up a comparable extermination of intellectuals. Would you please clarify what you are referring to? Other such killings are almost always in the pattern of the killers targeting intellectuals who are distinctly of the "opposition", either ethnically or ideologically, such as in the forced Italianization/Germanization of the Slovene Lands, or in Bangladesh 1971. Either way, you contradict yourself when you then go on to identify the extraordinariness of the Cambodian attack on intellectuals. Of course other attacks on intellectuals have happened in the history of the world. However, the Cambodian example is, indeed, unique for its broad scope and high death toll.

Either way, I'm genuinely not sure what discrete points you're trying to make with the Wikipedia links to general topics. Are you trying to correct people? If so, on what? If not, then what are you trying to convey?
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:27 AM on August 8


My main takeaway, both from this article and from other reading I’ve done on the area’s history, isn’t so much whether the organization and its leaders were really Communist or not, but whether the common folk tied to the land actually cared or were invested in that ideology.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:43 AM on August 8


The Underpants Monster, I'm not 100% sure which question you're posing. Are you asking if the "common folk" generally supported the Khmer Rouge? Whether the "common folk" supported the "Communist" aspects of the CPK's ideology, as opposed to other aspects of it? Whether active CPK members (but not just the inner circle) were invested in those same aspects?
posted by Sticherbeast at 7:19 AM on August 8


> On the other hand, the contemporaneous Russian program in Poland did specifically target the educated. Not so much to "restart civilization with the non-educated", but to ensure the educated population would be suitably compliant and pro-Russian.

This also happened in 1947 after the Kuomintang took over Taiwan; the massacre targeted all sorts of people, but educated people in particular for the same reason. An ignorant populace is (hopefully) a quiet, hard-working, docile populace.

cat_mech: Your long screed makes no specific points of any use, and your citation of Wikipedia doesn't help matters. What exactly are you complaining about?
posted by languagehat at 8:15 AM on August 8


The Underpants Monster, I'm not 100% sure which question you're posing. Are you asking if the "common folk" generally supported the Khmer Rouge? Whether the "common folk" supported the "Communist" aspects of the CPK's ideology, as opposed to other aspects of it? Whether active CPK members (but not just the inner circle) were invested in those same aspects?

#2 and #3.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:34 AM on August 8


Whether the "common folk" supported the "Communist" aspects of the CPK's ideology, as opposed to other aspects of it?

Just a little more clarification: if they did support the "Communist" aspects, was it necessarily because they were personally important to them, or because they came with the package?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:37 AM on August 8


There was a huge divide between countryside and city, one that continues to today. I don't know how much went back to French colonial law, but the countryside was basically monarchial and feudal - the King was/is revered and much-loved, and your day-to-day life was governed almost completely by the local village chief. I've read accounts of the French colonials trying to train nurses in the 1940s-50s, and how it worked in the city settings, but in the countryside the younger foreigner-trained nurses were overwhelmingly ignored in favour of local older midwives.

Phnom Penh pre-war was amazing. It had a relatively unbloody transition from French colonialism, and it was this heady flush-with-cash city full of European-trained Cambodians coming home with new ideas, politics (lots of political groups and newspapers at the time, and contested elections) and it was way ahead of Bangkok and Singapore culturally and economically.

Out in the countryside, you had very low literacy - 10% female literacy in 1958 in the countryside. The radio was government controlled, and basically you did what your village chief told you to do. Things ran on a patronage system, so you would be aligned to whoever your village chief was aligned to with favours and tribute going up and down the system, and if you were a peasant in the countryside, not much changed between 1920s to 1970s. Maybe even the 1900s to the 1970s.

So did communist ideology matter to Cambodian peasants pre-Khmer Rouge? doesn't work. If they were somehow bright enough to get form the countryside to the city to work and study, they were already urban elite. The countryside was feudal, not democratic or communist.
posted by viggorlijah at 11:04 AM on August 8 [2 favorites]


Argh realized how wrong that sounds - bright enough. More fortunate to go to school in the countryside, get funded or connected to go to the capital for further studies and work. The temples used to channel bright but poor students from the countryside and to some extent still do.
posted by viggorlijah at 7:34 PM on August 8


viggorlijah, just want to reiterate the appreciation for your contributions here that others have voiced. Have you written about Cambodia anywhere else? I would love to read your writing if so.

If you are inclined to comment, I would be very interested to know what you think about the claims in the article concerning Lon Nol and American support of his regime (or your thoughts on that subject in general, if you feel that the article is not a good starting place for discussion about it). In my reading, the article (through one of the author's interlocutors at the beginning) suggests that the corruption and abuses of the Lon Nol regime, enabled by American money, were substantial factors in inciting hatred of rural people towards elites. Do you think that is accurate? How important do you think American money was in creating that situation? Or if you think those are the wrong questions to be asking to elucidate the topic, feel free to reshape them into better ones.
posted by Cucurbit at 10:11 PM on August 8


I don't know enough about Lon Nol and Sihanouk, except to know both of them were smarter and craftier and scarier than most politicians ever. The French were hated too, so it's more a case IMO of goodbye old masters, hello new masters.

It's interesting - my received version of Cambodian history is of Cambodian politicians and royalty, with Vietnam, France and somewhat in third place, the U.S. interfering. But just reading up on this thread several versions on different websites, quite a lot of the versions are U.S.-centric, with Cambodia as a side effect from the Vietnam war. It's the same broad facts, but a very different spin.

I write about Cambodia for work a little, but I can't comment on anything current in politics. We stay faaaaar away from that because of work policies. Mostly I write about trafficking and social issues.
posted by viggorlijah at 10:41 PM on August 8


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