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Khmer Rouge
March 7, 2009 5:58 AM   Subscribe

A visualization of the estimated 1.4 million deaths resulting from the Khmer Rouge. (Single Link Big Picture) There is no "more inside", thank goodness.
posted by metastability (40 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like the intention behind this, which I take to be conveying the incredible, tragic scale of the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror. Unfortunately, I think that the effect it achieves is precisely the opposite: it renders this scale almost meaningless. Looking at this graphic makes me think that 1.4M dead people isn't really that big a deal - after all, it fits pretty easily on one page. Each of those tombstones is so small, so insignificant. I am reminded of the famous scene in The Third Man, in which Harry Lime justifies his own deadly callousness by comparing the people on the ground to insignificant dots, imploring Holly Martins to prove that he really cares about them.
posted by googly at 6:13 AM on March 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


True, but on my screen is does not easily fit on one page, at all.
posted by metastability at 6:17 AM on March 7, 2009


What would be cool is if you could click on any pixel and a window would pop up with a picture of a victim - obviously such pop-up would be randomly generated and eventually start repeating (only need 50 or so to get the idea across). To put an individual person and story behind it, to make it human.
posted by stbalbach at 6:32 AM on March 7, 2009


Why should it.
posted by Mblue at 6:32 AM on March 7, 2009


This representation also makes it feel like that all these deaths were simultaneous.
posted by hoskala at 6:46 AM on March 7, 2009


I feel that it would be more of an impact if it had show a graphical representation as a percent of the total population. I mean, they killed almost 20% of it -- that's pretty staggering numbers in any chart.
posted by Silentgoldfish at 6:52 AM on March 7, 2009


I gotta agree with googly - great intent, but seeing a forty-foot stupa stacked chock-a-block with skulls, all the way up, at Choeung Ek was a hell of a lot more affecting.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 6:53 AM on March 7, 2009


This is good. But this kind of accounting is deceptive. We tend to think of mass murder as a separate class of crime, as if it were one person, dying a million deaths. In fact, it is a million people, each dying one death. These individuals do not suffer the deaths of those around them, or suffer more for having died as part of a holocaust. Death is a terribly private thing. Thinking of collective death as separate class of death enables war. It allows war-planners to weigh losses of life against gains of territory and advantage. It permits a moral world in which the death of a small collectivity is okay, if it results in an advantages for the larger collectivity. But there are no collectivities, as far as death as concerned. Just individuals. One murder is as bad as a million, in its effect on the souls of both victim and murderer.
posted by Faze at 6:53 AM on March 7, 2009 [14 favorites]


Cambodian Genocide Program
posted by Abiezer at 6:57 AM on March 7, 2009


Faze: Death is a terribly private thing.

I think this is only partially true. Yes we all get to die our own deaths, and nobody can experience that for us, but I think there is also a particular horror in knowing as you die that everyone and everything you ever cared about is also being destroyed along with you. Holocaust is not just X million deaths, it is the total erasure of those lives as if they had never existed.

Now you can react to that the way the fine folks at rotten.com did when asked how they would feel if someone put their death pics up on the internet -- "probably wouldn't feel much, what with being dead and all that" -- but truth is most people don't feel that way. They want to feel that their life had meaning, that they left an impression, that life goes on even if they pass, that someone remembers them with fondness and dignity. And the purpose of genocide is to deny its victims even that.
posted by localroger at 7:04 AM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I saw the same thing as googly - at first, I got it, and was impressed. A moment later it became a wall of grey dots, almost tonal. Ah, it was Joseph Stalin, who said, "One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic".

I remember when that was going on. It was reported in the news, but almost tangentially. Like Rwanda, it was fodder for hand-wringing, and little else. I am still deeply angered at the crimes, frustrated by my own impotence.
posted by Xoebe at 7:08 AM on March 7, 2009


How about a Facebook application? Every day you get a message telling you that one of your friends, picked at random, would be dead if you were living in Cambodia under Khmer Rouge. This continues until 20% of your friends are gone. Could help make it more personal.
posted by Harald74 at 7:13 AM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


.





Remind me again why that bastard didn't get a Nuremberg, and instead died peacefully in his sleep?
posted by leotrotsky at 7:32 AM on March 7, 2009


Faze, one murder is forgettable, but 1000 murders is a threat. I do suffer as a result of the deaths of those around me, if those deaths give me good reason to think that I might be next.

You're saying that groups do not have interests which are different from those of its members. I can buy that. What I'm saying is that being a member of a group has an influence on what is good or bad for me as an individual.

Let's say that I don't have a government job and don't want to have a government job. Now suppose the government passes a law which prevents people like me from holding a government job. That law has no direct effect on what I want the shape of my life to be. Still, it is a crime against me just because I'm a member of the persecuted group. I am right to be terrified that the next law passed by the government might affect me personally.

In that way, most of the people who were killed by the Khmer Rouge suffered more than I would suffer if someone shot me in the back of the head if I were walking home from work. In addition to dying, they had to live in fear before their deaths. Not only that, but the six million Cambodians whom the Khmer Rouge did not kill were also harmed by the reign of terror because, well, it was terrifying. I accept that the Khmer Rouge did not harm "Cambodia," but they did harm each and every Cambodian.

Making members of a group live in fear hurts each member of that group as an individual. That's one reason why crimes where the victim is selected on the basis of being a member of a group (Cambodians, Jews, homosexuals, etc.) are often worse than crimes where victims are randomly selected.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:50 AM on March 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


The dot pattern makes it ideal for use as a mousemat with older optical mice!

(Also cheers Nixon, Kissinger, et al)
posted by Artw at 8:31 AM on March 7, 2009


Remind me again why that bastard didn't get a Nuremberg, and instead died peacefully in his sleep?

So, how many of those 1.4 million deaths were due to the policies of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger?
posted by geos at 8:34 AM on March 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


thank you GEOS. throughout history, it seems, every pile of corpses has a sidebar that includes u.s. involvement. so few are willing to click on it.
posted by kitchenrat at 9:17 AM on March 7, 2009


I fear this page seems almost meaningless to me, but I then read the wikipedia article. Also, you lose all credibility when you compare Nixon & Kissinger to leaders who killed people wearing glasses merely because they might be able to read.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:59 AM on March 7, 2009


I understand the critiques, and largely agree with them, but please note the context this image was meant to be presented in - not as a standalone link, but as a companion to this photo essay (I made the graphic, along with the photo essay linked above). The photos in themselves are moving, but they don't really convey the sheer magnitude of 1.4 million deaths. No single graphic could ever sum that up, but I was attempting to help visualize just the very large number itself.
posted by kokogiak at 10:09 AM on March 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


One tooth. That's all.

This page of dots did almost nothing to convey the monumental horrors and atrocities of Pol Pot and his Maoist cohorts.

10+ years ago I visited the the Cheoung Ek "killing fields" outside Phnom Penh. Cheong Ek is where 18,000 innocent civilians were murdered after being tortured and interrogated by the Communists at S-21 prison (actually a converted high school) in the center of Phnom Penh.

What seriously and unforgettably got my attention at Cheong Ek was the burial pits which were peppered with shreds of old clothing and bone shards, and then the single human tooth which I unintentionally unearthed with the tip of my shoe. I quickly saw there were bone shards and dislodged human teeth everywhere on the ground. This was indeed a killing field, and it was still ejecting it's evidence slowly but surely nearly two decades after the Communist murder binge.

Emperor SnooKloze I agree that the Cheoung Ek stupa conveys "a truth" about the KR atrocities, but the number of Khmer who cried as they told their stories is .... I'm sorry, there are just no words to express what the KR did to the people of Cambodia.

geos and kitchenrat, having been there and having talked to dozens and dozens of Cambodians during my time there, I can express nothing but sadness at your naive comments above.

Only the remaining Communists and KR in Cambodia would agree your Chomskyesque assertions.

In fact the killing fields were caused and carried-out wholly and entirely by deeply committed Communists, Maoists, and their brainwashed and uneducated teen "converts", and all with the aid and assistance of many parties including China and King Sihanouk.

By the way, when you ask in Cambodia "Who ran the Khmer Rouge," the answer is always "King Sihanouok, of course".
posted by geeyore at 10:11 AM on March 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


This reminds me of a story told by a Russian historian at a conference I attended last November. She told us about the problems related to teaching the history of Stalinist terror: it's difficult for students to grasp the extent of it from numbers only. Numbers mean little to them - you tell them about the millions who died, and they will only shrug: what's past is past. What really shakes them, however - she said - is taking them to the archives for the first time and showing them the shelves after shelves of documents and files, each of them a human life. It makes their deaths a physical reality.
posted by daniel_charms at 10:20 AM on March 7, 2009


I was moved by the immensity of the crime, each dot a human life snuffed out by a mad man and his government cronies. What was the crime but socialism/communism executed to its fullest extent, the arrogant belief that governments and the men who run them, can run a planned economy for the betterment of all. What utter BS.
posted by acudoc at 11:19 AM on March 7, 2009


Looking at this graphic makes me think that 1.4M dead people isn't really that big a deal - after all, it fits pretty easily on one page

Really? I've got to hit PageDown 11 times to get to the bottom of it and that's precisely what made me do a double-take and think, "Damn. 1,400,000 really is a huge number in most contexts and particularly in this one."
posted by MUD at 11:54 AM on March 7, 2009


Only the remaining Communists and KR in Cambodia would agree your Chomskyesque assertions.


weird. red-baiting is more than a little passe. but of course it's clear that marx and engel lead one straight to the killing fields. continue on....nixon's illegal escalation of the vietnam war into cambodia had nothing to do with destabilizing cambodia.
posted by geos at 1:22 PM on March 7, 2009






Re:red baiting, wasn't the genocide ended by the invasion by communist Vietnam? Hows that fit it?
posted by Artw at 4:27 PM on March 7, 2009


I don't agree with the majority of the opinion here. The image brought tears to my eyes.

The fact that all of these tombstones are nameless and too tiny to be recognized is in itself a statement of how insignificant these people have become. It is enough to imagine that each of these tombstones bore a life -- a family, people who loved them -- and that each of these lives, multiplied 1.4 million times, were extinguished.

I pay attention to websites that tally the total number of deaths from the US invasion of Iraq. They list names and identification. In the end, even that list becomes pointless.

After seeing bloodied children from Gaza over and over again, I've become de-sensitized to images of violence. Sometimes, a detached gesture allows more emotion than a brutally honest one.
posted by Karcy at 4:42 PM on March 7, 2009


I think I prefer Alan Moore's swimming pools of blood analogy
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:34 AM on March 8, 2009


If you don't already know the history, then it's just a graphic. Thus, I think the image says a lot more about the artist than about the deaths, and thus I would call it bad art.
posted by scratch at 1:41 PM on March 8, 2009


I understand the critiques, and largely agree with them, but please note the context this image was meant to be presented in - not as a standalone link, but as a companion to this photo essay (I made the graphic, along with the photo essay linked above). The photos in themselves are moving, but they don't really convey the sheer magnitude of 1.4 million deaths. No single graphic could ever sum that up, but I was attempting to help visualize just the very large number itself.

First of all, thanks for The Big Picture. Big fan. I didn't link to the photo essay because I thought this one interactive thing was especially meaningful, like MUD and Karcy. I've heard about the Khmer Rouge many times, but I didn't really appreciate how many people died until I had to scroll down through grave stones for like 20 seconds. I think the font and screen size really influences this. thanks again.
posted by metastability at 2:12 PM on March 8, 2009


One murder is as bad as a million

Wh... what the HELL did you just say?!

And no rebuttals?!

Signing off now. Be back after fury subsides.
posted by Xezlec at 2:46 PM on March 8, 2009


I think I prefer Alan Moore's swimming pools of blood analogy

Especially effective when combined with Bill Sienkiewicz art.
posted by Artw at 3:54 PM on March 8, 2009


Back. My objection is to the idea proposed by Faze that a million murders are no worse than one (a slight rephrasing of the original words that makes my reason for objecting a little clearer).

More specifically, although I disagree with the idea that the effect on "both the victim and the murderer" is the same regardless of number, that isn't the point so I won't argue about it right now. The point is that while each individual murder in that mass-murder may be no worse than any single murder, that crime has been repeated multiple times, committing that same "terribly private" evil over and over, against multiple (now former) persons. It shouldn't matter whether the crimes affect one another, whether any victim is "more harmed" because of the other crimes. It matters that they all happened and each one deserves to be considered separately, not all as one unit that has no more importance to it than a single individual lost life.

The implication that "one person dying one million times" is far worse than one million people dying is impossible for me to understand. Is this really meant to imply that something only matters once, and never again, unless it happens to the same person? One person starving is as bad as a continent? If I shoot someone, then I may as well go out and shoot 10 more, because there is no difference morally, so I'm absolved of those murders in a strange way? Does the opposite also hold? One person's happiness is as valuable as one million's? Then why the heck do we spend all these millions to help the poor and suffering? Just help one of them! It's cheaper and accomplishes the same thing morally!

I can understand if maybe you associate numbers with science and cruelty and therefore find it horrifying to attach numbers to crimes in some way. I can understand if maybe you hate generals because you hate wars. But I cannot understand if in a genuine situation where acting will cost some lives, and not acting will cost more, you would choose not to act. Granted, it's a sick situation to be in, and the result is horrible either way. But numbers aren't irrelevant, whether you find them cold and heartless or not. And generals and wars with their calculated losses can be the lesser evil in some cases (think WWII) whether they tend to be these days or not.

Just me? Really? Doesn't anyone else feel this way?
posted by Xezlec at 4:13 PM on March 8, 2009


Dunno, how are we counting murders with multiple chains of participation?
posted by Artw at 4:17 PM on March 8, 2009


@Artw
Don't care at the moment. Divvy the blame however you want. I'm not responding to a claim about where to place blame, but to a claim about numbers having no effect on how evil something is.
posted by Xezlec at 6:11 PM on March 8, 2009


Personally, I found the graphic quite striking. Thanks for sharing this.
posted by naoko at 8:03 PM on March 8, 2009


One person starving is as bad as a continent?

Yes, the idea that killing a million people is more wrong than killing a single person is a moral illusion, not unlike the illusion of cumulative chance that makes you believe that since a flipped coin has fallen heads up twenty times in a row, it is more or less likely to land heads or tails up on the net flip as a result. The fact is, each new flip of the coin begins the odds afresh. The odds of a coin falling heads or tails is not affected by the throw that precedes or follows it. So it is that in a mass killing, the third murder is not worse than the first, and the fourth murder is not worse than the third. Each murder is its own enormity. The crimes of the Khmer Rouge reached their apogee of immorality with the very first murder. After that, each murder was a new crime against a new individual, each as tragic in its own right.
posted by Faze at 5:08 AM on March 9, 2009


The death of one man is a tragedy. The death of millions is a statistic.

Now the first time you kill somebody, that's the hardest. I don't give a shit if you're fuckin' Wyatt Earp or Jack the Ripper. Remember that guy in Texas? The guy up in that fuckin' tower that killed all them people? I'll bet you green money that first little black dot he took a bead on, that was the bitch of the bunch. First one is tough, no fuckin' foolin'. The second one... the second one ain't no fuckin' Mardis Gras either, but it's better than the first one 'cause you still feel the same thing, y'know... except it's more diluted, y'know it's... it's better. I threw up on the first one, you believe that? Then the third one... the third one is easy, you level right off. It's no problem. Now... shit... now I do it just to watch their fuckin' expression change.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 6:04 AM on March 9, 2009


Sorry I got so ticked off before. I'm beginning to suspect that there's some subtle semantic misunderstanding between us.

So it is that in a mass killing, the third murder is not worse than the first, and the fourth murder is not worse than the third.

An idea which I've not yet disputed (and don't plan to).

In fact, I explicitly granted you that none of those murders is any better or worse than the others. My point was that 2 is worse than one, not that the second is worse than the first. My point isn't that the millionth coin flip is more likely to be tails. My point is that if Jack Ruby flips one coin and Pol Pot flips 1.4 million, Pol Pot deserves a Hell of a lot more tails overall than Jack Ruby.

I don't get it; your arguments don't seem to match your claim by my reading. You say "the idea that killing a million people is more wrong than killing a single person is a moral illusion" but then go on to argue merely that killing one person out of one million is no more wrong than killing one person alone. Am I just missing some subtlety of what you're trying to say here?
posted by Xezlec at 5:54 PM on March 9, 2009


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