I have always known about the atrocity of the Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia but before I traveled to Cambodia, that knowledge was superficial. I only began to learn more about the conflict when I found myself in Cambodia for two weeks recently. Being there almost made the knowledge into an emotional experience for me.
To fully understand the history, I think one has to read up Cambodian history since its late French colonial days. That is so because each event led to another and finally in 1975, the Khmer Rouge came to power. It was a reaction to yet another reaction but that fact does not justify what the Khmer Rouge did.
Apart from its political desire that also contributed to the massacre of the Cambodian people and those in the Khmer Rouge themselves later, its communist, understanding, forcefully changed the economy and the demography of Cambodia for the worse. It was disastrous, as it was disastrous with the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.
The regime was not ashamed to centrally planned the economy, forcing all to work in the countryside as slaves and victims of communism. Without exaggeration in the case of Cambodia, communism kills. The cities were deserted so that the communists could realize a stupid ideal of “peasant economy”. Doctors, engineers and professionals were all forced to till the land in the countryside. The cities were left to those in power, and those whom were being tortured to satisfy the paranoia of the Khmer Rouge and ultimately, the circle of Pol Pot. The cities became ghost towns.
The Khmer Rouge regime fell in 1979. By that time I visited the country in 2012, what was a rich country has only begun to make its way in this world again.
Cambodia was a rich country. Its temple ruins are evident enough. Phnom Penh the capital has traces of its pre-Khmer Rouge glory.
Some of the Cambodians I talked to rued how Cambodia was richer than Vietnam before the Khmer Rouge period. Now, Vietman is ahead in so many ways. My traveling partner whom has been in Vietnam several times for an extended period, confirmed this. There are more buildings and vehicles in Vietnam than there are in Cambodia.
While that is so, traces of communism are being overwhelmed by its better nemesis.
In Siem Reap up north where most the temples of Angkor are, commerce, the voluntary exchange of goods and services by individuals, is everywhere.
Under communism of the Khmer Rouge, that was illegal. Under communism, there was no life.