ABSTRACT

As with the Nazi final solution, the genocide of the Khmer Rouge’s “killing fields” was triggered by a series of economic, political, and security crises. These included: the stagnation and then collapse of the Cambodian economy; the political instability of the later years of the Sihanoukist period (1967–1970) and the republican regime that followed (1970–1975); and the deteriorating security environment caused by the ensuing civil war and the expansion of the war in Vietnam into Cambodian territory. These crises were interpreted by the Khmer Rouge leadership, and to a lesser extent their peasant supporters, as threats to both the nation in general and the revolutionary organization in particular. Economic crises and political instability were identified according to Marxist-Leninist and Maoist ideology as symptomatic of a semi-colonial, semi-feudal, “slave” system. 1 Responsibility for the vagaries of economic development and political problems was assigned by senior party leaders to the mostly urban-based middle and capitalist classes, depicted as the “exploiters” at the apex of the socio-economic system, as well as to ethnic and religious minorities. At the same time, obsessive concern over the survival of the party and the so-called “National Democratic” Revolution during the civil war (as opposed to the “Socialist Revolution” during the Democratic Kampuchea [DK] period) characterized the Khmer Rouge’s interpretation of the acute security and military crises of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The border incursions from Vietnam, the American bombing campaign, and the close but tense relationship between the North Vietnamese Army and the Khmer Rouge during the civil war were all filtered through real and imagined threats of the physical isolation and potential destruction of the communist movement, as well as elite political-cultural norms and beliefs that bred an obsession with factionalism and a determination to confront it with extreme repression and violence. Although economic crises, political instability, and security crises created the conditions under which the Khmer Rouge came to power, the leadership’s interpretation of these crises laid the foundation for the further reconceptualization of Angkar’s many victims. Massive destruction was required to save the party and advance its “super great leap forward” to socialism.