The Khmer Rouge: They Did It Because They Were Communists

The four surviving leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge have been indicted for genocide by a UN-backed Cambodian tribunal.

City Journal’s Guy Sorman makes a point that cannot be made often enough: The Khmer Rouge did not slaughter one and a half million of their countrymen because the United States provoked them to do it. They did not do it because of their distinct Khmer history. They did it because they were communists, and that’s what communists do.

What the Khmer Rouge brought to Cambodia was in fact real Communism. There was no radical distinction, either conceptually or concretely, between the rule of the Khmer Rouge and that of Stalinism, Maoism, Castroism, or the North Korean regime. All Communist regimes follow strangely similar trajectories, barely colored by local traditions. In every case, these regimes seek to make a blank slate of the past and to forge a new humanity. In every case, the “rich,” intellectuals, and skeptics wind up exterminated. The Khmer Rouge rounded up urban and rural populations in agricultural communities based on precedents both Russian (the Kolkhozy) and Chinese (the popular communes), and they acted for the same ideological reasons and with the same result: famine. There is no such thing as real Communism without massacre, torture, concentration camps, gulags, or laogai. And if there has never been any such thing, then we must conclude that there could be no other outcome: Communist ideology leads necessarily to mass violence, because the masses do not want real Communism. This is as true in the rice fields of Cambodia as in the plains of Ukraine or under Cuban palms.

Parentheticallly, note that for once the UN is playing an entirely appropriate and salutary role. Let’s not forget this when we denounce them (rightly) for their more characteristic record of pusillanimity, profligacy and uselessness. This is what the UN should be doing.

  1. Capt. Aubrey

    True words. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know a woman who escaped the killing fields with her family and was deposited into a housing project in my city. She cuts hair for a living and her husband works for a logistics company. Another great American story but now they return to Cambodia periodically to help their unlucky countrymen. The havoc these toxic regime wreak upon their people does not get fixed over night.

  2. Kenneth

    They’d have shot you for wearing that bourgeois necklace.

  3. Ragnarok

    Communists made no secret of their convictions. They knew what they were doing, meant to do it, and believed they were right to do it.

    I do wonder, though, why in this morally perverse universe there have been no T shirts celebrating the pathetic legacy of Khmer Rouge. After all, Che Guevara was a mere piker compared to them.

  4. katievs

    I’m in the middle of a hair-raising book about the Rwanda genocide by the UN commander on the ground. Its criminal ineptitude is intensely on my mind. So this reminder that it’s not all bad is good to get.

    While I’m here, I’ll also stray from the topic at hand to tell you that I especially appreciated your Uncommon Knowledge remarks about Turkey–above all your correction of the naive assumption that Turkey had achieved separation of state and religion, when really it had only achieved (partially) subordination of religion to the state. A key difference.

  5. the motley cow

    From Sorman’s column:” The trial of Duch and the eventual trial of the Band of Four are thus the first trials, on human rights grounds, of responsible Marxist officials from an officially Marxist, Leninist, or Maoist regime.”

    This is astounding, considering the Russian Revolution happened in 1917. Something like this should happen to N. Korea’s regime. I know, not bloody likely.

  6. Kenneth
    katievs: I’m in the middle of a hair-raising book about the Rwanda genocide by the UN commander on the ground. Its criminal ineptitude is intensely on my mind. So this reminder that it’s not all bad is good to get.

    While I’m here, I’ll also stray from the topic at hand to tell you that I especially appreciated your Uncommon Knowledge remarks about Turkey–above all your correction of the naive assumption that Turkey had achieved separation of state and religion, when really it had only achieved (partially) subordination of religion to the state. A key difference. · Sep 30 at 1:42pm

    Have you seen Hotel Rwanda?

    Don Cheadle really deserved the Oscar for that one.

    Sean Penn won instead….

  7. BlueAnt
    Claire Berlinski, Ed.: Parentheticallly, note that for once the UN is playing an entirely appropriate and salutary role. Let’s not forget this when we denounce them (rightly) for their more characteristic record of pusillanimity, profligacy and uselessness. This is what the UN should be doing.

    I’ll give them credit, if they pass a simple test: did the Khmer Rouge enjoy support from the UN while they were in power committing these atrocities, or were they expelled, condemned, and kicked out of their seat? (A hasty Google search doesn’t say.)

    The most compelling critique of the UN is not that it’s useless; impotence is easy to argue and hard to condemn morally (at the nation-state level). The real problem is that, in the name of realpolitik, it is specifically designed to protect the status quo of existing governments, thus providing legitimacy and protection to tyrants and abusers.

    Prosecuting four offending members 50 years after it’s too late to help their victims isn’t exactly a great justification for existence.

  8. Michael Labeit

    Why, thank you for posting this. Contemporary socialists and communists in academia (I’ve met a few in school) such as Noam Chomsky have burdened themselves with the task of making excuses for socialist regimes and attempting to rebut the profound impracticality of socialism. I’ve spent many hours arguing with collectivists who think they’re guileful enough to fool others (as well as themselves) into believing that genuine socialism had nothing to do with the with the 20th century’s most notorious massacres. Socialism (and communism) demand mass murder if in fact the masses oppose the socialization process by which the factors of production come under communal control. Socialism and communism also cause further death by disincentivizing production and by abolishing market prices and, therefore, rational economic calculation. At this stage of the intellectual game, sincere socialists and communists should be bitterly ridiculed for their convictions.

  9. katievs

    Hotel Rwanda was an exceptionally great and moving movie. That they managed to make an inspiring, uplifting story out of that eruption of hell on earth without sugar-coating is a feat of moral and artistic genius. I agree with you completely, Kenneth, about Don Cheadle’s deserving an Oscar for his role.

    I got the book Shake Hands with the Devil, because a friend who knows people who were there thinks that the movie misleads somewhat.

    It makes for painful reading.

  10. Palaeologus

    (For once the UN is playing an entirely appropriate and salutary role.)

    But… 35 years for Duch? That’s not even close to sufficient.

  11. Patrick Shanahan

    First, the fact that the UN Tribunal got this right is not proof that this is something the UN does well. A blind squirrel etc…. I am suspicious of anything that makes us love the UN.

    Second, the most basic conservative principle is that anything that demands remaking human nature must end in death and perfidy. Communism is one of the biggest offenders. And the Khmer Rouge were perhaps its most vigorous proponents.

  12. Andrew

    The Khmer may not have blamed the U.S. but I am guessing that those behind the UN indictment sadly enough do blame the U.S.

  13. Duane Oyen

    Claire is right.