book report- Pol Pot: anatomy of a nightmare

i'm sure my vacation reading choices are abnormal and a sign of some psychological issues. Philip Short has written an excellent biography with insights into the genocidal mind of Pol Pot. Before he changed his name, after Stalin's custom, Pol Pot's name was Saloth Sar.

"The Cambodian revolutionaries could care very little about Communism. It was only a means to an end. The end was the overthrow of the monarchy, personified in Prince Sihanouk. Hence, although Marx's theory was the workers would overthrow their oppressors, Cambodia had very few in the working class which the Communists couldn't rally so the revolution had to come from the peasants. Subsequently, as in most Communist thought, the refusal of reality to conform to theory meant that the workers had been wrecked, "by 1965 they decided that the factories had been 'infiltrated' and 'the workers transformed into enemy agents'. From then on, factory workers were systematically refused admission to the Party...The problem with this approach was that it stood Marxism on its head. To Marx, the industrial proletariat represented progress; the peasantry represented backwardness and petit-bourgeois extremism...To Sar, the was out of this difficulty was provided by Buddhism...To 'proletarianise' the peasantry, all that was needed, in this Buddhist-inspired scheme of things, was 'proletarian consciousness'. Class, which to Marxists everywhere else, including the Chinese, was determined by a person's economic activity, was for Cambodian communists a mental attribute." (p.149)
Short foreshadows forebodingly, "Theravada Buddhism is intensely introspective. The goal is not to improve society or redeem one's fellow men; it is self-cultivation, in the nihilistic sense of the demolition of the individual...Both within the Party leadership and among the rank and file, the grammar of Theravada Buddhism permeated Khmer communist thought, just as Confucian notions helped to fashion Maoism. In neither country was this a conscious undertaking...But just as Mao ad sinified Marxism, Sar gave it a Buddhist tincture." (p.150)
The Cambodian Communists party needed the assistance of their historic enemies, the Vietnamese but constantly chafed under them. When a right wing coup arose, the Vietnamese urged an alliance with the Prince, but on another side of Cambodia a similar situation taught Sar a lesson. "The fate of the Indonesian Communist Party, which had supported Sukarno, gave legitamacy to this new strategy. After his overthrow, some 300,000 Indonesian Party members ad been slain in anti-communist massacres. The lesson for Sar was that the bourgeoisie could not be relied on. The Vietnamese strategy was wrong. It was not possible for the communists to 'live together with Sihanouk' because the contradictions between them were too deep." (p.164) It seems to me that culturally, lives are cheap in Southeast Asia. Pol Pot later caused the deaths through famine and oppression of 3 to 5 times as many people. Mao similarly was responsible for at least 10 times as many deaths. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to matter what the political power, the means cannot be obstructed by the living.
The Cambodian party made its efforts at brainwashing through "the methods [of] 'criticism and self-criticism', manual labor, and the study...'learning by heart and reciting' - of Communist Party texts. Criticism and self-criticism took place at so-called 'lifestyle meetings', held in small groups, usually twice a week but in some units every evening. Members of each section met together - kitchen staff, for instance; or guards; or cadres who worked together in the same bureau - under the leadership of an older member, and each in turn would publicly confess his errors in thought and deed since the previous session." (p.233) The individual lost his privacy and slowly his identity. "The aim of these 'introspection meeting'. as they were also called, was to make the participants look into their own souls and strip away everything that was personal and private until their individuality was leached out, their innermost thoughts exposed before their peers and existence outside the group made meaningless. Mutual surveillance and denunciation were a key part of the process, which required a climate of perpetual vigilance and suspicion. Like monks at confession, opening their hearts to God, the young Khmers 'gave themselves to the Party', becoming one with a revolution which, in theory at least, replaced all other relationships." (p.234) Like a good cult leader, Pot was able to make himself the only person that anyone could trust.
For those not willingly joining the revolution, such as the urbanites who were expelled from the cities after their capture, their identities could be shredded also. "For those who survived the march and the spot checks to which former army officers and civil servants were subjected, there remained one further test. When they reached their home villages, or in some cases even before, adult deportees were required to write a short autobiography. This was a technique devised by the Chinese Communist Party in the 130s to test applicants for Party membership and as a vehicle for self-criticism during rectification campaigns. In the 1940s and '50s the Viet Minh went a step further, making the repeated writings of life-stories the central plank of a sophisticated process of indoctrination aimed at non-communist intellectuals. The Cambodian communists took the process to its logical extreme, eventually requiring everyone in the country to write out a personal history describing their family background, their activities since childhood, and above all how they had spent the years when Lon Nol [the right wing coup leader] was in power. Educated people were judged by the style and language they employed as well as the content of what they wrote. Scribes assisted the illiterate. As ever, Khmer Rouge cadres promised clemency, assuring all who had held posts in the republican administration that, if the were honest about their past, the new regime would make use of their talents. Many fell into the trap...Former military men, civil servants, architects, doctors, engineers, lawyers, schoolteachers and university students were sent for 're-education'. For the first two categories, this was often a euphemism for death...In a commune in the supposedly liberal East, sixty former civil servants and professional people underwent a three-month 're-education course' consisting of intense physical labour, a starvation diet and repeated interrogations. All but three died." (pp.279-280)
Returning ex-patriot Cambodians who willingly came back to join the revolution were also in need of re-education. "The ultimate aim was to demolish the personality, 'that hard, tenacious, aggressive shell which in its very essence is counter-revolutionary', as on Khmer rouge cadre put it; the preferred method, a 'surgical strike' to destroy 'the individual', who, in contradistinction to 'the people', defined as the embodiment of good, was seen as the root of every imaginable evil. Personality was a 'property of the bourgeoisie, whereby they crush the masses...It is what enables them to throw out their chests and hold their heads high...It is the stuff of which imperialists and colonialists are made.' The ultimate goal for a Khmer Rouge was ' to have no personality at all'. To eradicate it, the 'strike' was directed at the individual's most vulnerable point - his family relations, perhaps, or educational background of ties with a foreign country - in order to decondition him, liberating his behaviour from the acquired reflexes of his former life, before building a new persona on the basis of revolutionary values. The process was repeated with increasing refinement, through self-examination and public confession, until a new man emerged who embodied loyalty to Angkar [the Khmer Rouge], alacrity and non-reflection." (pp.317-318)
Of course the message went on and on. "For now, the nightly message was 'to work hard, produce more and love Angkar', to 'build and defend the nation' and to reject the selfish, individualistic values of Western-style capitalism. It was government by incantation. the village leaders knew their lines so well, on man noticed, that 'every time they spoke they put the punctuation marks exactly where they had been the day before.' The repetition was deliberate, the cadres emphasized. It was designed, like a Buddhist sermon, to 'impregnate' people's minds so deeply with a single idea that there would be no room for any other." (pp. 323-324)

this nightmare was played out as a proxy fight between the USSR and China. Vietnam was the former's proxy and Cambodia the latter's. China was threatened by a Soviet presence in their underbelly. Nixon was warming up to China. The US hated the Vietnamese who had embarrassed them and preferred the genocidal maniac over the less barbourous Vietnamese. But it was the Vietnamese who finally invaded Cambodia and put Pot out of power, though he fought on with aid from the right wing government of Thailand. Eventually, Pot's armies turned on him and joined the new puppet government of the Vietnamese. They finally saw through the insanity. Their ancient enemies treated them better than their own leadership. Pot was captured and condemned to house arrest in the Northern jungle of Cambodia and died in his sleep, in 1998, never brought to justice. The current government is full of former Khmer Rouges and is corrupt, but relative to Pot's not insane. Three of his army commanders were executed. Two others await trial. One, Mok, was a Buddhist priest. Another, Deuch, the director of the Khmer Rouge torture center, has become a born-again Christian. It seems in reviewing several of these communist regimes, corruption, although awful, is benign compared to ideology. Exploiters need a population to rape, ideologs, only want pure followers who can make the utopia a reality. the former can be rational, the latter don't need reason or reality.

these examples are greater than communism. visions of utopia that crush underneath so many lives is found even under the banner of Christ. and the techniques that Short thought partially explainable on the Cambodian culture are used in Western Christian cults too. but the buddhist inspired cult of Scientology shares similar techniques. i say this not to pick on Scientology, but to show that the Western mind is not immune from the pursuit of utopia at all costs.

Jesus saves us to a relationship with him and each other


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