The Pol Pot Regime – Ben Kiernan

The Pol Pot Regime – Ben Kiernan

pol pot regimeSynopsis

The Khmer Rouge revolution turned Cambodia into grisly killing fields, as the Pol Pot regime murdered or starved to death a million and a half of Cambodia’s eight million inhabitants. This book—the first comprehensive study of the Pol Pot regime—describes the violent origins, social context, and course of the revolution, providing a new answer to the question of why a group of Cambodian intellectuals imposed genocide on their own country.

Ben Kiernan draws on more than five hundred interviews with Cambodian refugees, survivors, and defectors, as well as on a rich collection of previously unexplored archival material from the Pol Pot regime (including Pol Pot’s secret speeches). He recounts how in the first few days after Cambodia became Democratic Kampuchea in 1975, authorities evacuated all cities, closed hospitals, schools, monasteries, and factories, and abolished the use of money. For nearly four years, the country was a prison-camp state, the countryside was “cleansed” of minorities, and a savage war was fought against Vietnam. Exploring the nature of the regime that enforced such a revolution, Kiernan shows that its atrocities—the widespread massacres, forced assimilation of minorities, and foreign alliances and wars—can be explained by its ideological preoccupation with racist and totalitarian policies. Kiernan concludes with a description of the resistance movements that sprang up and the destruction of the regime by Vietnamese forces in 1979.

My Thoughts

This book is a fantastic introduction into the Khmer Rouge, and the regime that instigated genocide on Cambodia. Through interviews from survivors, refugees, and even Khmer Rouge defectors, we see a clear picture of what occurred during the years of 1975-1979. In the most simplistic of terms – Pol Pot was driven mad by his own ideology.

As leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot instigated an onslaught of terror and destruction in order to fulfill his ideological notion that Cambodia needed to be purged and cleansed. Instigating genocide under these conditions falls under the international crime of ethnic cleansing, which constitutes part of the UN Genocide Convention. It doesn’t end there. Pol Pot’s tyranny even caused him to turn on his own people – feeding into his self-induced paranoia and mistrust of those within his own regime.

The book expertly explains, in full detail, how all of this occurs, and why, to the best of its abilities. The Khmer Rouge was a closed regime – not much information about the regime got out, and even less circulated around the regime.

What the book doesn’t do is outline this information in a productive, linear manner. I found the time-line a bit thrown off and askew just with the sheer amount of information that needs to be processed. The reader jumps around the time-line quite a bit, ascertaining the entire situation. I found this a bit confusing, and I had to go and re-read a few parts. However, this also gave me the understanding I needed on the history of Cambodia and its people in order to better establish the beginnings of the genocide, and the actions of the Khmer Rouge.

Anyone interested in this instance of genocidal mass violence should look into this book – and take their time reading it. It’s a comprehensive account of the regime’s control of Cambodia from 1975-1979. Through interviews and first-hand accounts, we can achieve quite the intense understanding of what happened during those years. All we’re missing a clean, clear time-line of the events with less back-and-forth.


~ by Aubrey Smith on January 6, 2015.

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