Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek

By Jack Barkstrom

Shifting alliances...

In November 1979 the United Nations General Assembly voted to recognize the government of Democratic Kampuchea (DK) by seating its delegation.  A delegation of the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK), backed by Vietnam, was rejected. While the use of 'Democratic' and 'Republic' in the names may have suggested a competition between two popularly-elected governments, there was little that was democratic or popular about either government.  Democratic Kampuchea was the name for the communist government headed by Pol Pot.  The name was first used by the Khmer Rouge just after the fall of Phnom Penh in April 1975, then reaffirmed by Pol Pot when a new constitution was proclaimed on January 5, 1976. The PRK had been installed by a force of 150,000 Vietnamese soldiers, which had invaded Cambodia on Christmas Day 1978.

Morally, at least, the Vietnamese-backed government seemed to have a better right to speak for the Cambodian people than Pol Pot, responsible for the deaths of between 1.5 and 2 million people in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, according to later estimates. Cambodia's total population was only eight million.  The Vietnamese had been the only power willing to put an end to the killing.  Vietnam had seen its own people suffer from murderous border raids conducted by the Cambodian Khmers Rouges.   In September 1977, a Khmer Rouge unit crossed into the Vietnamese province of Tay Ninh and massacred nearly 1,000 people, some by beheading. Within Cambodia, treatment of resident Vietnamese had not been good, although bad treatment had been the practice long before Pol Pot came to power. Some 150,000 Vietnamese had been expelled by 1975. Those not expelled were often killed. In the Bakan district in 1977, 500 to 700 Khmer Krom, or ethnic Vietnamese, were murdered. [1]

In the view of China, the U.S., and the noncommunist states of Southeast Asia, Vietnamese motives had more to do with long-term goals of dominating the region.  Pol Pot's excesses were an opportune justification for an invasion.  They could only count on the Soviet bloc and India for support of the PRK at the UN however. [2]

Vietnamese forces, on January 7, 1979, were able to occupy a Phnom Penh which had largely been abandoned by the Khmer Rouge. The next day, January 8th, Vietnamese photographers accompanying the invasion force entered a compound in a southern sector of the city, known as Tuol Svay Prey.  Except for the coils of barbed wire running along a corrugated tin fence, it was an unexceptional site. There were four three-story high concrete buildings and one single-story wooden building.  What was unavoidable was the stench, mostly from decomposing bodies, but also from the human feces left in the open in ammunition containers. In one of the buildings there were fourteen bodies of men whose throats had been slit.  In some of the rooms there were shackles, handcuffs, whips, and lengths of chain.  The corpses and rooms were photographed.  That evening the bodies were burned. [3] Weeks later, visiting journalists could not avoid the smell or the thousands of green flies in the rooms.  On the grounds of the compound was a small burial site, where victims had been buried.  About seven miles to the southwest was a hamlet called Choeung Ek.  The Vietnamese would make another discovery there in 1980, a graveyard which contained the bodies of large numbers of prisoners who had been executed.

What the photographers had discovered on January 8th was S-21, also known as Tuol Sleng, for the name of the primary school building at the site.  S-21 had been created and  maintained by the santebal, the DK's security force at Tuol Sleng. Some 14,000 people had been imprisoned there. Those who were not killed, had not died of starvation or from the beatings received during interrogation at S-21 itself, were taken by truck to Choeung Ek.  The transportation of prisoners took place about once a month or every three weeks.  Many, too weak from starvation or torture, had to be lifted onto the trucks and helped off.  They were forced to kneel at the edge of pits or ditches, their hands bound behind them, then were killed with iron bars, mostly ox-cart axles. One or two blows to the neck or head were usually enough.  Although the killings were done at night for secrecy, the site itself was equipped with electric power so that the area could be illuminated with lights.

At the United Nations, the U.S. found itself between a rock and a hard place, with regard to Cambodia.  Having been humiliated by its recent  withdrawal from Vietnam, the U.S. was unlikely to side with the Vietnamese, regardless of the fact that they had been provoked by the Khmers Rouges raids and regardless of the fact that they had managed to put an end to the killing, whatever their justification or political motivation had been.  In opposing Vietnam, the U.S. could plausibly argue that Vietnam had invaded a sovereign country.  Opposition to Vietnam did not easily translate into a position which embraced Pol Pot or Democratic Kampuchea, given the disturbing facts beginning to emerge from Cambodia. Unable to offer an alternative to either Vietnam or Pol Pot, the U.S. weakly staged a protest.  Alexander Haig, Secretary of State, and his aides walked out on the Khmer Rouge delegate when he was about to give a speech to the UN General Assembly. [4]

The UN vote in November 1979 was the culmination of a year of strange occurrences. As Vietnamese troops entered Phnom Penh on the morning of January 7, 1979, two helicopters took off for Thailand.  Pol Pot was one of the passengers.  Pol would set up a new headquarters, Office 131, in July of 1979, at Mount Thom, twenty miles from the Thai town of Trat.  The Thai General Chaovalit was ordered to provide protection for the headquarters.  He created Unit 838, a Thai Special Forces group. [5] Unit 838 would be assigned to guard Pol again in 1985, when a Vietnamese offensive overran nearly all the Khmer bases. The pro-Western government of Thailand had already made the decision to side with Pol. Chinese Vice-Premier Geng Biao flew to Thailand and met with Thailand's Prime Minister, General Kriangsak, on January 15th.  Geng Biao got an agreement which would allow China to ship aid to the Khmers Rouges through Thailand.  Sino-Thai merchants in Bangkok would also be allowed to sell arms to the Khmers. [6] The Chinese would take a more active role on behalf of the Khmer Rouge when they invaded Vietnam in February. Publicly, Deng Xiaoping, wanted to teach the Vietnamese a 'limited lesson.'  The lesson was severe.  Vietnamese casualties included 10,000 killed, although the Chinese themselves lost 20,000 killed and wounded.  The Chinese incursion however failed to relieve pressure on the Cambodians.  The Vietnamese would order another offensive in Cambodia in March. The withdrawal of the Chinese force from Vietnam after only a month did not end Chinese support for the Cambodian war effort.  During the next ten years, Chinese military aid to the Khmers Rouges would total a billion dollars. [7]

Although the thought of an anti-communist Thailand embracing a communist regime may have seemed strange, it was not the strangest alliance to emerge from the conflict.  That would belong to the United States and China..  Since the alliance was aimed at Vietnam, it might have been logically viewed as a simple matter of revenge for the United States over its humiliating retreat from the country.  The Chinese position could be understood as an attempt to weaken a long-term adversary.  The rationale for U.S. and Chinese actions was more complex and more long-term.  The Soviet Union was the common enemy of both the U.S. and China.  If the Vietnamese could be pinned down by a guerilla war in Cambodia, the Soviet Union, for reasons of political prestige, would be forced to come to their aid. [8] What China and the United States were attempting to do, beginning in 1979, was to 'bleed' the Soviet Union through Vietnam.  Their goal was not to destroy or defeat Vietnam. It was simply to keep her fighting. The plan began to bear fruit in 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev began scaling back Russia's foreign aid commitments. It was vindicated in November 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, a prelude to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Pol Pot probably would not have been the first choice of either China or the United States to lead an insurrection.  His treatment of the ethnic Chinese population living in Cambodia cannot have endeared him to them.  His direct methods lacked the political subtleties required in the Western world. Yet he became indispensable to their plan, not because he was a dedicated communist or a depraved killer, but because, within the political framework of Cambodia he was a skilled politician and organizer, particularly when it came to fielding an effective fighting force.  Pol Pot's ability to motivate an army capable of taking on the Vietnamese, was a skill marketable to both the Chinese and the Americans.  In one sense, it was the force of his personality which would create the horrors of S-21, where torture and killings became the norm. A forceful personality alone however, was not enough to sustain a revolt.  It took organizational skills beyond simple charisma, to not only keep an army together, but also to motivate it to fight.  What S-21 suggested was the total submission of the individual.  The army which Pol headed, in contrast, was almost a coalition of commanders, some as ruthless as Pol or any of the prison staff at Tuol Sleng.  Pol Pot was able to command loyalty without eliminating individual initiative among his generals.

Whatever their misgivings, the Chinese were willing to deal with Pol Pot.  Deng Xiaoping and Premier Zhao Ziyang met with him in August 1981.  The Chinese must have been puzzled by the almost squeamish attitude of the Americans, who recognized the need to keep the Khmers Rouges together as a fighting force, but so detested Pol Pot that they refused to deal with him on a personal level.  President Carter's National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, condemned Pol Pot as an 'abomination' the U.S. could never support.  He saw no contradiction in actively encouraging the Chinese to support Pol however.

The Reagan administration adopted a similar attitude, publicly condemning Pol Pot's regime, while working privately to keep him fighting.  Behind the scenes the U.S. lobbied for votes to support continued recognition of the Khmer Rouge delegation at the UN.  Kenya and Malawi agreed and voted to support the Khmer Rouge.  The U.S. military contribution to the effort was significant, about 215 million dollars, but not as great as the billion dollars provided by the Chinese.  The U.S. money was used to fund two small military forces, a Sihanoukist National Army of 5,000 and the National Front for the Liberation of the Khmer People, a 9,000-man force.[9]  Britain and France, working through the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), also provided help.

In September 1989 Vietnam withdrew the last of its troops from Cambodia.


During the Russian Civil War, Cheka executioners at Kiev used crowbars to kill their victims.  The victim's head was placed against a wooden block and continually struck.  Under Stalin close to 800,000 may have been executed between 1931 and 1953.  Labor-camps, such as Kolyma, in  the Arctic, worked and starved to death hundreds of thousands more.  Communist regimes did not hold a monopoly on brutality or cruelty.  Hitler's SS used assassination teams on June 30, 1934, the Night of the Long Knives, to deal with political opponents.  Gustav von Kahr, one of the victims, was hacked to death with pickaxes.  Some fifty concentration camps had been set up in Germany in 1933.  In all, six million victims would perish at places such as Dachau, Buchenwald, and Auschwitz by the end of 1945.  Some 1.2 million Russian prisoners of war were worked to death in Nazi factories. Cruelty and indifference to the suffering of others was not even confined to the political or governmental sphere.  The Inquisition sanctioned by the Church routinely employed torture against those accused of witchcraft or heresy.

Activities at S-21 have been used to argue that communist dictatorship is unique and, by far, the worst form of dictatorship possible.  Pol Pot's Cambodia is where communism will ultimately lead and the depravity at Tuol Sleng can only be explained by communism. The level of brutality, in other words, defines the form of dictatorship.  That method of classifying dictatorship is analogous to the use of a wild animal attack to explain a death.  A Bengal tiger, a lion, or a hyena are different animals, and a distant observer or investigator would be keenly aware of the differences involved in an attack.  To the victim, the attacking animal is irrelevant, since the differences between the techniques used by each to kill are too small to be noticed. Death may come more quickly with one type of animal attack, but, death is the inevitable result of a determined attack.

The methods of torture at S-21 were various, including beatings, either with bare hands or with sticks or electrical cords, and burning with lit cigarettes.  Prisoners had to endure electric shock as well as uncomfortable positions; some were hung upside down, some were forced to hold arms up for an entire day, and some had to lay in a prone position.  Some were forced to eat excrement or drink urine as part of their interrogations.  Others had their fingernails pulled out.  Some were suffocated with plastic bags, while others were immersed in water or had drops of water dripped onto their foreheads. [10]

In June 1942, members of Police Battalion 101 of the German Order Police (Ordnungspolizei) stationed in Poland, were informed that they could use the swimming pool at Lublin or nearby tennis courts, if they preferred.  The SS and Police Sports society would be willing to rent tennis balls as well. Throughout the year Regimental Orders conveyed a sense of routine, even normalcy - there were athletic events, cultural opportunities, and other leisure activities available - considering the tasks they were asked to carry out. [11]

In June Police Battalion 101 had killed as many as 1,200 Jews from the city of Józefów.  Some of the killing had been personal.  Members of units selected an individual just taken off a truck and accompanied them as they walked toward a clearing in the woods.  When they reached the clearing the victims were forced to lay face down on the ground. The unit members pointed their guns at the back of the heads of the victims and waited until the order was given, then fired.  They were close enough to have brain matter, blood, and bone splinters splatter their uniforms.  While some may have been unsettled by the experience, most returned to the debarkation point to escort more victims.  One platoon of thirty men killed between 200 and 300 over the course of three or four hours. [12}

The Second Company of Police Battalion 101 would conduct a similar operation on August 19th at Lomazy.  The victims were forced to dig a mass grave, a pit about thirty yards wide by fifty-five yards long.  As Jews arrived they were forced into the pit, then were ordered to lie down. German auxiliaries form eastern Europe, mainly the Ukraine, known as "Hiwas" began the killing, but were soon too drunk from vodka to continue.  The Germans of Second Company were ordered to complete the job.  Since the pit was below the water table, it began to fill with water, which mixed with blood.  Rather than climbing down into the pit Second Company decided to fire down from the edge of the pit, aiming at those on the opposite side.  Squads were relieved by other squads after firing for periods of about half an hour.  In all they fired for two hours, then were joined by the Hiwas, who had sobered up.  Around 1,700 Jews were killed at the pit, including women and children. [13]

Johannes Paul Kramer, a medical doctor and reserve officer in the Waffen-SS, was assigned to the Auschwitz concentration camp in August 1942.  The first gassing of inmates (Sonderaktion) he attended was at 3:00 a.m. on September 2, 1942.  He attended two more on September 5th.  He was upset by the experience, but not enough to prevent him from enjoying an "excellent luncheon" of tomato soup, half a chicken, red potatoes, and "wonderful" vanilla ice cream, the following day.  On the evening of September 6th, he attended another gassing.  He would attend fourteen gassings in all during the two-and-a-half months he was there.  Following one he mentioned a "real feast" in the officers' mess, including baked pike, beer, and sandwiches.[14]

The perpetrators at S-21, like those of the Nazi Police Battalions, the guards at the Nazi death camps, or the Stalinist prisons, were noted for their indifference to the suffering of their victims, even, sometimes, deriving a sense of pleasure from inflicting pain, as well as a moral 'numbness' about what they had done or participated in.  Duch, the director of S-21, told colleagues, in February 1976: "You must rid yourselves of the view that beating the prisoners is cruel.  Kindness is misplaced.  You must beat [them] for national reasons, class reasons, and international reasons." In later interviews, prison workers at S-21, unlike prisoners, did not complain of nightmares. [15]

The "S" in the designation "S-21," did not stand for "santebal," the special branch (security police), rather it stood for sala (hall).  It was the code number "21" which stood for the santebal.  Tuol Sleng, the facility where S-21 was located became operational in May or June 1976.  It had been a high school in the 1960s, named after Ponhea Yat, a Cambodian king.  Prior to that time, the santebal had conducted operations at Ta Khmau (Takhmau), a southern suburb of Phnom Penh, and in Sector 25, north of the city. [16]

The director of S-21 was Kang Keck Ieu (alias Duch or Deuch), a former schoolteacher, appointed to the position in June 1976. He would remain as director until the Vietnamese took Phnom Penh in January 1979.  He came close to being captured when the Vietnamese forces arrived.  Pol Pot chose not to inform many officials that he was preparing to flee the invasion.  Word of his decision did not reach Tuol Sleng until January 5th, 1979.  Nuon Chea ordered that the remaining inmates were to be killed. [17]  The Vietnamese arrived at the compound on January 8th.

Between September 1975 and September 1976, the Party Center conducted a campaign to purge former government officials and military leaders from the Pol Pot regime.[18]  In the immediate aftermath of the capture of Phnom Penh in April, there had been sporadic episodes of murder.  At Battambang, in the North-West, soldiers were ordered to report with their arms, then were trucked towards Phnom Penh.  They were ordered off the trucks later and then massacred.[19]  In June 1975 the new government would take steps to limit such outbursts, choosing instead to channel the killing through the santebal, after October.  Tuol Sleng became the focal point for interrogations around May 1976, a month before Deuch was appointed director.

Pol Pot became fearful of a coup d'état following a February 25, 1976 bombing raid on Siem Reap and a series of explosions in Phnom Penh in April.  Koy Thuon, secretary of the Northern Zone, was arrested on April 8th.  Chan Chakrei, political commissar of Division 170, was arrested on May 19th.  During his interrogations at S-21, he implicated senior members of the party, such as Ly Phen, Ros Phuong, and Suas Neou (alias Chhouk). Other party members were implicated and arrested.[20]

Most of the killings at S-21 in 1976 were done in the fields to the west of the compound.  They took place at night, in secret.  Guards used iron bars to club prisoners, who had been blindfolded. Bodies were shoved into shallow graves. In 1977 the Chinese graveyard at Choeung Ek became the killing field. Prisoners were trucked there once a month or about every three weeks.  Electric lights were used to illuminate the executions.  Workers dug ditches beforehand. Prisoners, their hands bound, were forced to kneel at the edge of the pits, then struck from behind with iron bars.  The names of those killed were then recorded and the list reviewed by the person in charge. [21]

Records indicate that at least fourteen thousand men, women, and children were held at S-21 between April 1975 and the arrival of the Vietnamese in January 1979. Most of those imprisoned were killed. [22] Some estimates place the number at between 15-20,000. [23] There were also jails located in the countryside with a reputation far worse than Tuol Sleng. [24]

On a Scale of Good and Evil...

S-21 was clearly representative of dictatorship. While it certainly established the brutality of the Khmer Rouge regime, did it necessarily prove the uniquely evil nature of communist dictatorship?  If S-21 seemed the perfect symbol of evil, did it really convey the full extent of the devastation?  It has been estimated that, of the 1.5 or 1.7 million people who died under Pol Pot, between 200,000 and 400,000 were executed.  The 14,000 killed at S-21 represented only a portion of those murdered in the conflict.  Was the importance of S-21 related to the actual torture and killings that went on within its walls, or was its symbolic importance related to its proximity to a major city, and the ease with which visitors to Phnom Penh could visit the compound?  The killing fields of Cambodia were not limited to the graveyard at Choeung Ek or the field near Tuol Sleng.  But visiting other massacre sites required days and days of trekking through mosquito-infested jungle.

How were events at S-21 to be judged? Was evil a question of the brutality or the nature of the torture or killing done, or was it a function of numbers?

The Nationalist capital of China, Nanking (Nanjing) fell to the Japanese on December 13, 1937.  During the next six weeks, in what became known as the Rape of Nanking, it is estimated that as many as 300,000 Chinese civilians were raped, tortured, and murdered.  Some 57,000 civilians and former soldiers are believed to have been massacred in a mass killing near Mufu Mountain in the first few days after the fall.  A group of soldiers, reported to number 14,777, was captured near the forts of Wulong Mountain and Mufu Mountain.  The military receiving orders to kill the prisoners on December 17th.  The Japanese spent most of the morning and afternoon binding the prisoner's hands behind their backs.  They were then marched to the banks of the Yangtze River.  Around dusk, Japanese soldiers opened fire with machine guns on the huddled prisoners.  Once the firing stopped, Japanese soldiers began bayoneting bodies, a task which lasted into the next day. [25]

At Hsiakwan, a Japanese military correspondent saw Chinese prisoners lined up along the river in rows.  Soldiers then beheaded those in the first row.  Prisoners in the second row had to dump the bodies in the river before they themselves were beheaded.  He estimated that 2,000 were killed in one day in this fashion.  The number was too low for those in charge and machine guns were brought in.  Prisoners were mowed down.  Some fled into the river, but even those failed to escape. [26]

One Chinese civilian, who was captured, recounted that a team of Japanese soldiers engaged in a competition to see who could kill the fastest among a group they had rounded up near a pit.  The eight soldiers had split up into four teams.  As one team member beheaded a prisoner, the other grabbed the head and added it to a pile, for counting.  The Chinese civilian, who escaped killing by falling into the pit when the momentum of the body of one of the victims falling backwards carried him into the pit, observed that the soldiers were laughing during the contest.  One even took pictures. [27]

In other sections of the city, the Japanese had resorted to live burials. One group of captives would dig a pit and a second group would be forced to bury the first group.  Still another group would bury the second.  In some cases they would be buried only to their chests or necks.  Some were then hacked to pieces with swords; others were  run over by horses; still others were run over by tanks.  Some prisoners were nailed to boards, placed in the street, and run over by tanks.  Some were used as bayonet practice.  One group of around 200 Chinese captives was mutilated with zhuizi, a special needle with handles.  The captives were tied to columns and doors and stabbed repeatedly with the zhuizi, along the body, and in their mouths, throats, and eyes.[28]

At Hsiakwan, soldiers threw captives into pits, doused them with gasoline, and set them on fire.  Civilians were herded to the tops of buildings, the stairs leading to the roof were torn down, and the buildings set on fire. Victims died when they jumped from the roofs in an attempt to escape.  Soldiers poured gasoline on victims and then shot them, in hopes of seeing them explode in flames.  In one such incident, hundreds of men, women, and children were herded into a square, soaked with gasoline, and fired on with machine guns.  Soldiers allowed German shepherds to attack and kill victims after they had been buried to their waist.[29]

In late September 1941 Nazi soldiers shot to death over 33,000 Jews in just two days in a ravine at Babi Yar, on the outskirts of Kiev.  In two days at Kamnets-Podolski (August 27-28, 1941), they had killed 23,600. At Rovno, 21,000 would be killed on November 7-8, 1941. [30] It is estimated that 2.8 million Russian POWs were killed, mostly through starvation, in the early months of Barbarossa. [31] At camps such as Auschwitz, Dachau, and Buchenwald, the Nazis exterminated six million Jews.

In April 1940, members of the NKVD, on orders from Stalin, executed fifteen thousand Polish military officers at Kalinin, Katyn, and Starobelsk. Using German revolvers, the NKVD executioners shot each prisoner in the back of the head in the confines of a soundproof room.  About 250 executions were performed each night and the operation took the entire month of April.  The bodies were trucked to a site near the village of Mednoye, twenty miles from Kalinin, then dumped in mass graves. [32]

Argentine newspapers reported in 1983 that thirty-seven corpses had washed up on beaches, from the open sea. [33] As part of Argentina's so-called "dirty war," from 1976 to 1983, political dissidents were drugged and pushed naked out of airplanes flying over the South Atlantic.  It is estimated that, in all,  9,000 people disappeared.  An estimated 3,000 fell victim to the military under the government of General Augusto Pinochet in Chile between 1973 and 1990. [34]

The firestorm from the Allied bombing of Dresden, Germany, on February 13, 1945, killed at least 40,000 (possibly as many as 250,000).  Hamburg, which had been bombed in late July and August 1943, saw another 40,000 in civilian deaths. [35]  American B-29's attacked Tokyo with clusters of oil and napalm bombs on March 9th and 10th, 1945, causing 130,000 deaths. [36]   Other Japanese cities suffered a similar fate.  By July 1945, an estimated 500,000 had been killed in the air attacks. [37]   Even Curtis LeMay, the general who developed the plan, was surprised that the destruction received so little condemnation.  A cadet, after the war, asked him about moral considerations related to the bombing.  He replied: "...[E]verybody bemoans the fact that we dropped the atomic bomb and killed a lot of people at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  That I guess is immoral; but nobody says anything about the incendiary attacks on every industrial city in Japan, and the first attack on Tokyo killed more people than the atomic bomb did.  Apparently, that was all right..."  [38]  It has been estimated that the number killed at Hiroshima, either directly from the bomb or from its after-effects, through the end of 1945, were around 140,000.  Total deaths, at the end of five years had climbed to 200,000.  Deaths at Nagasaki through the end of 1945 were 70,000, but totaled 140,000 after five years. [39]

Whatever it takes...

If U.S. officials, such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, expressed a reluctance to support an "abomination," such as Pol Pot, that hesitation did not seriously impact the decision to use the Khmers Rouges in their ultimate goal of defeating Russia.. The distaste for Pol Pot may have had more to do with embarrassment than with any revulsion over the excesses of the Khmers Rouges. The embarrassment stemmed, not from any reluctance to get involved with disgusting regimes or people, but from a very public championing of human rights. Brzezinski simply needed a plausible explanation for U.S. actions which he could provide his major audience, the Chinese.  The Chinese, who had suffered close to a million casualties at the hands of the U.S. military in the Korean conflict, probably accepted the explanation, without believing it.

The U.S. was not about to let Pol Pot sink.  If Alexander Haig and his aides would walk out of the UN General Assembly to protest the Khmer Rouge delegate's speech, American officials would persuade Kenya and Malawi to cast their UN votes for Pol Pot, allowing the Khmer Rouge to keep their seat.  Kenya and Malawi would even allow the Khmer Rouge government to send ambassadors.  The U.S. even enlisted (or joined) Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand in a plan which would provide some $215 million in military aid.  The aid may not have been intended to influence the military situation on the ground, so much as to provide the illusion of a coalition fighting the Vietnamese-backed regime.  The military forces created were small.  The Sihanoukist National Army numbered only 5,000, while the National Front for the National Liberation of the Khmer People was 9,000. [40]

If communism represented a uniquely evil form of government, why had Pol Pot's government, with growing evidence of its brutality, been made an exception? Why was the U.S. considering cooperation with China? Along with the Soviet Union, it represented one of the last remaining bastions of a brutal ideology. Perhaps George Orwell's phrase from "Animal Farm" - 'All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others,' had its equivalent in the battle between communism and democracy - 'all communist governments are evil, some are just more evil than others.'

In 1978 both the United States and China saw the Soviet Union as a threat. Harold Brown, the American Secretary of Defense, visited China in January of that year. He wanted to begin setting up military contacts between the two countries.  In July of that year China had reason to suspect that the Soviet Union was hoping to use Vietnam to move into Asia, at China's expense.  It took a cue from something Zbigniew Brzezinski had said in January. Conflict in Cambodia and Vietnam was turning into a 'proxy war' between the USSR and China.  When Vietnamese actions against the Chinese community in Vietnam forced ethnic Chinese to flee into China, a number which reached 130,000 by June, the Chinese Politburo approved contingency plans for military action against Vietnam.  Beyond the immediate tension with Vietnam, China began to worry about the Soviet Union's close ties to Vietnam. [41]  Just when the decision to use the fighting in Cambodia to 'bleed' Vietnam, in hopes of weakening Russia, was finalized, will probably never be known.  Deng Xiaoping mentioned it to the Japanese Prime Minister, Masayaoshi Ohira, when the conflict was just beginning. [42]

Operation Breakfast

If U.S. strategy for a proxy war in Cambodia suggested a certain aloofness about the conflict, it was in marked contrast to the role the U.S. had played years earlier. In late 1965, the U.S. Air Force was authorized to conduct B-52 raids along the South Vietnamese/Cambodian border, in an effort to interdict supplies coming into the South from North Vietnam. U.S. Special Forces, under an operation code-named Daniel Boone, had been sending reconnaissance teams into Laos and Cambodia as well.

In February 1969, General Creighton Abrams, commander of United States forces in South Vietnam became convinced that the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong had set up their headquarters in Base Area 353, the so-called Fish Hook, in Cambodia.  Abrams had been convinced by aerial photo reconnaissance that COSVN HQ, the North Vietnamese "Central Office for South Vietnam," was in the Fish Hook.  On February 9th he cabled General Earle G. Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, informing him of the discovery and urging an air strike. After a month he received a cable approving the attack.  Authorization had come from the recently-elected Richard Nixon, at the urging of National Security Affairs advisor, Dr. Henry Kissinger.  The cable arrived on March 17, 1969.  The strike was scheduled to begin at three a.m. on March 18th. Forty-eight sorties, by B-52s flying from Guam, were approved for what had been code-named Operation Breakfast. Guided by ground radar sites in South Vietnam, the B-52s dropped their bombs within "boxes" which were two miles long and a half mile wide.  It was believed that few structures or people could survive within one of the boxes. The bomb-damage assessment seemed to confirm that a key North Vietnamese had been destroyed, since secondary explosions had been observed from the target. [43]

The attack came as welcome news to the Daniel Boone Special Forces teams. They had long been frustrated by the impunity of the North Vietnamese, who openly set up camps and bases across the border in Cambodia.  The briefing officer who informed them of Operation Breakfast on March 18th was confident that any North Vietnamese who survived would be too stunned to offer resistance.  They could be led by the arm peacefully to waiting helicopters. He ordered a reconnaissance team into Area 353 to look for survivors.  There was no sign of enemy activity when the helicopters dropped the team off among the bomb craters, then flew off.  The team found nothing in the immediate vicinity and began to move toward the tree line.  It was then that they began to take fire from Vietnamese hidden among the trees.  A radio operator managed to call for help.  Base camp operators were forced to listen to the radio operator's running account of the attack.  The distress call ended with a long final scream as the already wounded operator was hit.  His body would not be found. The single helicopter which returned came under automatic weapons fire, but was able to rescue the survivors.  Eight Vietnamese, out of the eleven-member team, had been killed.  Headquarters' belief in the destructive power of B-52 carpet bombing was unshaken by the fate of the patrol.  A second mission was ordered in to look for North Vietnamese survivors.  Shaken by the annihilation of the first team, the men refused the order.  Three were arrested for their refusal, but the courts-martial never took place. [44]

General Abrams, rather than reassessing B-52 bombing capabilities in light of the patrol's difficulties, decided that Operation Breakfast needed to be expanded.  There were fourteen other North Vietnamese sanctuaries to be added to the target list. The next mission was "Lunch," which was followed by "Snack." Operation "Dinner" was followed by Operation "Dessert," which was followed by "Supper."  Operation Menu, as the entire series of raids became known, would involve 3,630 B-52 raids over Cambodia before it ended in May 1970. [45]  Still seeking a decisive blow against the North Vietnamese Richard Nixon would announce the invasion of Cambodia by a joint force of South Vietnamese and Americans on April 30, 1970.  The number of troops was relatively small - 12,000 American and 6,000 South Vietnamese. [46]  Nixon would announce the withdrawal of the troops on June 30th.  A brief bombing campaign, consisting of some 156 tactical strikes during May 1970, was conducted under the code-name Operation Patio. [47]  Operation Patio was over when Nixon announced in a television speech on June 30th, that American troops had been withdrawn from Cambodia.  The timing of the announcement meant that Nixon had officially met the deadline imposed by the Cooper-Church amendment, passed by the Senate on May 11th in response to the invasion.  No American troops were to be allowed into Cambodia after June 30th and no direct American air support was to be given to Cambodian forces. [48]  The bombing campaign would be resumed on July 27th anyway.  In the June 30th speech, Nixon made no mention of the fact that COSVN, the destruction of which had been a major goal when he announced the invasion, had not been found.  It was the same COSVN which Operation Breakfast had targeted in March 1969.

Apart from the starts and stops of the American bombing campaign, the invasion had unleashed a separate air war by the South Vietnamese Air Force. South Vietnamese pilots, who had been reluctant to fly on Sunday when the war was confined to Vietnam, were suddenly willing to pay bribes of 1,000 piasters to be allowed to fly seven days a week over Cambodia, reported General Abrams in a cable.[49]   South Vietnamese ground troops were little different. ARVN troops  ambushed and killed Cambodian officers.  Troops stole cars, made them part of convoys, and fired at Cambodian sentries at border posts, on their way back into Vietnam.  A CIA report stated that members of the 495th ARVN battalion frequently called in air strikes on villages, driving the villagers out, then seized their livestock and forced them to pay to get the animals back. [50]

The Cooper-Church amendment provided only one exception to its prohibition on bombing.  Bombing could be used to interdict men and supplies en route to South Vietnam.  Richard Nixon seemed intent on an expanded bombing program, whatever restraints Cooper-Church imposed, found the exception a sufficient excuse for greater bombing.  The expanded bombing campaign was given the name Freedom Deal.   It began in Northeastern Cambodia, then gradually expanded into the south and west. Freedom Deal was, in part, patterned after Operation Menu. B-52 missions in the eastern half of Cambodia were run by the Seventh Air Force in Saigon. Missions west of the Mekong could be requested by Cambodians. Strikes were guided by spotter planes, known as Forward Air Control planes (FACs), which radioed attack coordinates to waiting bombers. [51]  When Congressional investigators arrived in 1973, they discovered that U.S. embassy personnel were giving bombing instructions to U.S. planes from the embassy in Phnom Penh. [52]  Freedom Deal adopted one element of Operation Menu almost completely.  Records of bombing missions inside Cambodia were falsified to suggest that no bombing had taken place there.  Records of actual bombing targets were destroyed after missions and replaced with false data. [53]

In 1971, the Americans and Vietnamese flew 61,000 sorties in Cambodia.  In 1972, the number was 25,000. [54]  Included in the 1972 figures were B-52 raids, which would drop almost 37,000 tons of bombs.  Fighter bombers were the other component, with 16,513 tons dropped in 1972. [55]

On May 10, 1973, the U.S. House of Representatives, by a vote of 219 to 188, blocked any use of funds from the Supplemental Appropriations Bill for bombing in Cambodia.   In June 1973, the House and Senate both passed an amendment to stop the bombing in Cambodia by the end of June. It was vetoed by the President and there were not enough votes to override. Nevertheless, the President publicly agreed to accept an August 15th deadline on the bombing. [56]

Between February and the August 15, 1973 deadline, B-52s would drop 257,465 tons of bombs, roughly half the total for the entire campaign. [57]   Over the entire course of the campaign since Operation Breakfast, B-52s had dropped some 539,129 tons of bombs on Cambodia, three times the total dropped on Japan (160,000 tons) during the Second World War, (a figure which included the atom bomb tonnage). [58]   Whether casualty rates among the Khmer Rouges advancing on Phnom Penh were as high as 25 percent (an estimated 16,000 killed, according to General John Vogt), the bombing probably did have the effect of stopping the July 1973 offensive.[59]  The bombing had also emptied villages along the border.  The fighting in 1970 was estimated to have created 130,000 refugees and the number of civilian deaths from the bombing between 1969 and 1973 is estimated at 150,000.  Three thousand are believed to have been killed around Phnom Penh in one three-week period in March 1973.[60] It was also responsible for an increase in recruits and support for the communist fighters.

The 1973 bombing campaign set the Khmer Rouges back, yet represented only a temporary disruption of their timetable.  Within a year-and-a-half they would be in Phnom Penh.  The larger question is why such a massive bombing campaign ultimately failed.  Within that larger topic is the question of what went wrong in the Operation Breakfast strike on March 18, 1969.  Was the basic intelligence faulty, or was General Abrams misinterpreting the data that was there?  What was the basis for the belief that victory was just one more sanctuary or bombing target away?  More practically, how had the North Vietnamese who confronted the Daniel Boone team, been able to survive a forty-eight sortie attack?  Had their tunnel system been better designed and structurally stronger than U.S. Air Force estimates?  Had they even been in the camp when the bombing began? Whether the attackers had survived the bombing or escaped by being away when it began, they were close enough to the camp to organize a hot reception for the Daniel Boone team.

Maskirovka, or military deception, is the term associated with the Russian military's defense at the battle of Kursk in 1943. At Kursk, in addition to standard camouflage tactics, the Russians had constructed at least forty false airfields, which were manned by special maskirovka units and combat troops to give the appearance of activity.  It may be that the North Vietnamese were taking lessons from their Russian advisors, when they set up their network of sanctuaries and camps. It was reported in the bomb-damage assessment following Operation Breakfast that the attack had set off secondary explosions, the seemingly incontrovertible proof that a target was an active military operation. Primary and secondary explosions from bombing runs were often reported to debriefing officers back at base. Despite the evidence of successful missions, they did not contain the war.  The survivors spread the conflict further west and south.

Because of the altitude from which B-52 raids were conducted, the first warning of an attack was the distinctive "whump-whump-whump" sound of bombs exploding at ground level.  Had the North Vietnamese, on March 18, 1969, received any warning of Operation Breakfast or made any preparations to counter it?  It may be that, while they had no advance knowledge of any specific attack, bombing had figured into their contingency planning from the start. The Americans themselves  may have provided the North Vietnamese with the intelligence needed to anticipate U.S. plans. In May 1967 U.S. Special Forces began covert operations involving both reconnaissance and sabotage inside Cambodia in an operation named Salem House. Salem House would later become operation Daniel Boone. The teams were authorized to lay land mines up to 30 kilometers inside the Cambodian border.  By March 1970, the teams had conducted 1,835 missions in Cambodia. [61]

Whatever damage or psychological advantage the land mines provided to the Special Forces teams, would be offset by the intelligence information they provided to the North Vietnamese, who would be able to roughly track the movements of teams by where the mines had been laid. The North Vietnamese employed more active means of gathering intelligence.  Within hours of most helicopter insertions of Daniel Boone teams, the North Vietnamese had discovered their presence and begun tracking them.  The Special Forces teams often were forced to call for helicopter rescue to escape their pursuers. [62] Despite such problems, Daniel Boone teams managed to gather large amounts of evidence of the disposition and activities of North Vietnamese troops.  There was evidence of conventional preparations, such as hard-surfaced roads and concrete reinforced bunkers, supply trails, hospitals, and villages.  There was also evidence that the North Vietnamese were not intending to create a permanent line of fortifications.  Some of the camps, covering acres, had already been abandoned.

Which Standard Applies?

The total number of deaths which have been blamed on the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979 has been estimated, on the low end, at between 1.5 ad 1.7 million, up to around two million.  The number of people deliberately executed, within the overall number of deaths, has been estimated at between 200,000 and 400,000. [63]  Whatever crimes Pol Pot was guilty of, the temptation is to group the 1.5 million deaths together while suggesting that they all fall into the category of  the killings which took place at Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek.  Tuol Sleng became the embodiment of evil, and once the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot developed a reputation as 'evil' because of  Tuol Sleng, then it simply became a matter of applying activities at Tuol Sleng to the entire 1.5 million deaths.  The issue is not whether responsibility is limited to those deaths which were the result of direct orders to kill.  Deaths resulting from bad policies or decisions are the responsibility of the government in power, whether they are intended or not.   A million Cambodians are believed to have died during Khmer rule from malnutrition or related diseases, which could be attributed to the cooperative system imposed by the government. [64]  Local officials prevented villagers from foraging for food and even fruit which had fallen to the ground, was forbidden.

Tuol Sleng itself provided an ambiguous standard. Was genocide established by the evidence which emerged from S-21?  or was it only prima facie evidence of the evil nature of Pol Pot?  Was an evil nature the entire crime, or a necessary threshold, needed to establish intent, but far short of the numbers needed to make a credible genocide argument? Or, was Tuol Sleng more useful as an example of communist ideology; something to bolster the argument that communism was evil?  Was the standard even one of morality at all?  Did Tuol Sleng inspire genuine moral outrage or did it simply arouse feelings of morbid curiosity?   Did it serve as a memorial for the dead or as a wax museum for the display of  instruments of torture? as if the real question was not one of guilt or indifference to suffering, but the capacity of the individual to overcome a natural revulsion to barbaric acts.

One of the problems, in assigning guilt or innocence is that the killings, set in one context, are not intended to establish the guilt of a particular individual or the criminality of a specific act, but merely to paint Khmer Rouge rule as generally brutal.  By way of example, mention is often made of the treatment of former government officials.  Many were asked to surrender, then, after surrendering, were trucked to Phnom Penh, where they were executed.  There is no dispute that it happened, and not just in one location or in a single episode.  Some were killed at Tuol Sleng.  Ben Kiernan, in "The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79," opens the book with the story of a unit of  Khmer Krom (Lowland Khmers) who stopped at the village of Svay Sor in April 1975, shortly after the fall of Phnom Penh.  Local officials fed them and then loaded them onto trucks, ostensibly for a trip to Phnom Penh to see the new president of Democratic Kampuchea, Khieu Samphan. Instead, they were unloaded at a nearby rice field.  A squad of Khmer Rouge opened fire on them as they got off the trucks.  Having left their weapons back at the village, they tried to escape by running across the dry fields.  Those who had not been killed in the first burst were chased down and shot.  Their leader was taken to Tuol Sleng where he was later executed. [65]

Is there anything which distinguishes these deaths from those of the prisoners at Tuol Sleng?  Were battlefield deaths and casualties among Pol Pot's soldiers when they were ordered to fight considered in the same category as massacres of prisoners?  Was there a legal distinction between intentional killing and deaths which occurred as a result of gross negligence on the part of government officials?  Did it matter whether the victims were communists or not?  Many of the killings from 1977 on were the result of a purge within the ranks of the communists.  Given the Western hatred of communism and its willingness to commit forces in the fight against communism, was Pol actually helping that cause by eliminating members of the Khmer Rouge, all of whom were communists?  It certainly provided a unique public relations opportunity: secretly applaud Pol for weakening his own organization by eliminating fellow communists, then condemn him on humanitarian grounds for his treatment of the victims.

In April 1975 the population of Phnom Penh was around two and a half million people. Shortly after the fall of the city, plans were implemented to evacuate its inhabitants. The Khmer Rouges executed 700 or 800 politicians, high-ranking officials, and police and army officers, then buried them in common graves on the road to the airport before leaving. Senior officials, such as Prime Minister Long Boret and Lon Non, were executed at the Cercle Sportif. An estimated 15-20,000 patients in the city's hospitals were forced to evacuate.  Some, too weak to travel, were left on the roadsides by their families. Others were killed by the soldiers. There were random killings among the healthy evacuees by Khmer Rouge units, coupled with public executions.  At the village of Prek Phneou, army, police, and government officials were asked to identify themselves.  The Khmers told them their help was needed in the reorganization of Phnom Penh.  Instead most were taken to nearby locations and beaten to death. In all, an estimated 20,000 people died during the evacuation. [66]

When the Khmers Rouges took the city of Battambang on April 18th, former soldiers were asked to report for duty.  Some NCOs were taken by truck in the direction of Siem Reap or Phnom Penh.  They journeyed only twenty miles, then were ordered off the trucks, bound, and killed.  Others escaped death when they were put to work clearing forests.  On April 23rd, officers were loaded onto trucks destined, it was said, for Phnom Penh.  When they reached Mount Thippadey, Khmer squads waiting in roadside ditches opened fire on them with machine guns. Former officers and city officials at Pailin had, similarly, been trucked out of town, then killed. [67]

Evacuation orders were given for cities and towns other than Phnom Penh. The one hundred thousand residents of the port of Kompong Som were ordered to leave almost as soon as the city had been taken, on April 18th. Prey Veng, Battambang, and Sisophon received similar orders. [68]

Did the estimated 20,000 deaths occurring during the evacuation or the deaths which resulted from the next phase, rise to the level of genocide?  Apart from the killings of former officials, would they be considered intentional, or were they the result of bad planning?  Would they fall under the category of gross negligence, not actually intended but clearly foreseeable?

The reasons for the forced evacuation from the cities were unclear and probably changed over time.  (It was not unplanned, as Pol Pot asserted, since he had discussed it as early as October 1974.) [69] Some residents of Phnom Penh were told that the evacuation was a military necessity, taken to avoid an expected American bombing. [70] Others were given no reason, simply told to leave.  Pol Pot's rationale was somewhat mixed.  One aspect was the military difficulty of maintaining security in the cities with his army.  From an ideological standpoint, Pol had hopes, not so much of exterminating the middle class, but of purifying the Cambodian nation.  Phnom Penh, and all the other cities, were not only symbols of decadence but a source of it.  When he met with Party leaders in May he suggested another element - the need to raise farm production. He told the group: 'Agriculture is the key both to nation-building and to national defense.'  A farm mechanization goal of 70 to 80 percent was to be achieved in five to ten years. [71] Despite the emphasis on mechanization, there may have been a certain idealization of the peasant lifestyle, partly explained by the peasant political base of the Khmer, but also associated with communist ideology.  Philip Short also suggests that Pol was interested in creating a slave society. [72]

Other than the basic plan to evacuate the cities, ruthlessly and efficiently carried out, little thought seems to have been given to the coordination of the evacuation with the desire to increase agricultural output.  Many evacuees were told, or allowed to, return to their villages.  However, as the plan evolved, evacuees were directed to specific regions and communes and cooperatives to serve as agricultural laborers.  Those considered intellectuals, i.e. anyone with university training, former civil servants and professionals went to re-education camps, or underwent 're-education courses' at the communes.  Some did not survive the heavy physical labor. [73]

The evacuation may have provided additional agricultural workers, but it did not prevent food shortages. In September 1975, when Pol Pot began to comprehend the extent of the food shortages experienced by the countryside, he made a decision to relocate people and resettle them in regions of the country where their labor would help to increase production. Unfortunately the move of hundreds of thousands did not serve to alleviate the shortages, it only put greater pressure on the receiving regions, particularly the North-West Zone, which lacked the grain reserves to feed the new workers. [74] Still, the response to conditions varied from village to village. At Pursat, villagers resorted to cannibalism and a third of the newcomers died; thirty miles away other villages had as much rice as they needed.[75]

Food shortages became more acute in 1976, made more burdensome by official decrees forbidding foraging among villagers. [76] In addition, local cadres, in hopes of meeting the unrealistic production quotas set by Pol, probably inflated production yields, allowing the government to claim a greater part of the harvest.  State granaries were full, while an estimated 40 percent of the rural population was left with starvation rations.[77]

Siem Reap experienced a series of explosions on February 25, 1976, a Sunday.  A munitions depot was blown up. The Khmer claimed that it was American planes that had carried out the attack. The explosions were real, but there, in fact, had been no air raid.  Pol Pot had his suspicions, particularly about the army, although the involvement of army officers was never proven.  Pol did have to contend with some small rebellions that spring.

On April 2nd a grenade went off outside the Royal Palace, where Prince Sihanouk was sleeping, around four in the morning.  A soldier was taken in for questioning and implicated two officers of the 170th division, who were arrested ten days later. They, in turn, implicated Chan Chakrey, the former division commander and Chhouk, Region 24 secretary. Chakrey was arrested on May 19th and sent to Tuol Sleng. In June, Pol gave a speech warning of the dangers posed by internal enemies. Since the beginning of the year, around 400 people had been sent to Tuol Sleng. Chhouk was arrested on August 28th and Ney Sarann on September 20th. Before the end of the year, another 1,000 people would be sent to Tuol Sleng.[78]

In December 1976, following reports by an official delegation of food shortages, disease, and mistreatment, Pol told the Central Committee that actions by "hidden enemies" in the North-West were depriving people of food and undermining the government by their work policies. (The impact of the forced migration of a million people to the region was overlooked or discounted.) He was not ready to take overt action in the North-West, but in January 1977 Northern Zone officials were sent to Tuol Sleng. Loyalist families and cadres, mostly from Mok's South-West were quietly sent in to the North-West.  Only in June 1977, were troops from the Western and Mok's South Western zones, considered the most loyal, were sent in. Purges also took place in the Eastern and Western Zones as well. The CPK would claim, by August 1977, that some 4,000 to 5,000 Party members had been liquidated.[79]

On September 24, 1977 Cambodian forces from the Eastern Zone crossed over into Vietnam's Tay Ninh province and massacred or injured about 1,000 people.  The Vietnamese retaliated with raids into Cambodia around Svay Rieng and Prey Veng in October and November.  In December they conducted a more substantial campaign, with 50,000 troops, tanks, and artillery. The Vietnamese were embarrassed when Cambodia publicly broke off diplomatic relations over the invasion on December 31st, with Vietnamese troops well inside Cambodia's borders.  Vietnamese forces were withdrawn by January 6th, temporarily ending the threat of war.[80]

Pol, chastened by the Vietnamese reaction, may have been less eager to directly confront Viet Nam, but he was unwilling to end the conflict with the Vietnamese.  He directed his campaign inward.  The groundwork was laid for a new purge at a January 1978 Party meeting when he suggested the slogan: "Purify the Party! Purify the Army! Purify the cadres!" Where the North-Western and Northern Zones had been the focus of the 1977 purges, the East and North-East became the new targets.  The main suspicions fell on the East, for its failure to put up any kind of resistance to the Vietnamese invasion.  Once again Mok's loyalist cadres from the South-West were infiltrated into the region.  As many as 60,000 villagers living along the border with Vietnam were forced to move. In the eyes of the government, those with 'Vietnamese minds in Khmer bodies' posed the most dangerous threat.[81]

Ke Pauk, military commander of Highway 7 Front Command, began a purge of Eastern Zone personnel in April.  Over 400 had been arrested and imprisoned in Tuol Sleng by April 20th.  After a meeting with Pol Pot in Phnom Penh, Pauk returned and renewed his campaign, using the pretext of meetings to lure the various commanders and political commissars to Kompong Cham.  Those summoned were either killed immediately or sent to Tuol Sleng. In May Ke Pauk would summon the President of the Highway 7 Front, So Phim, to one of his meetings.  Believing that his only hope lay in a direct appeal to Pol Pot, he left for Phnom Penh on May 28th.  He was wounded in an attack by Son Sen's forces and later committed suicide to avoid capture.  His wife and children, who had accompanied him, were captured and then killed.[82]

With their leadership decimated and units unprepared for Pol's moves, the Eastern Zone forces were unable to offer any effective resistance.  The armies of Pauk, Son Sen, and Mok killed or captured most.  Tuol Sleng was overwhelmed by the thousands of prisoners it received.  Orders were given that the prisoners were to be killed without interrogation. The killing in the countryside was not limited to soldiers. Villages suspected of aiding surviving Eastern Zone units were massacred. Mass deportations to the Central, North and North-West Zones were ordered.  Between the massacres and deportations civilian deaths may have reached 100,000 or more, with higher estimates suggesting around 250,000 deaths.[83]

The other zones in 1978 did not emerge unscathed.   Chou Chet, Western Zone Secretary, was arrested in March 1978. Ruos Nhim, North-Western Zone Secretary was sent to Tuol Sleng in June.[84]

The purge of the Eastern Zone was complete by September 1978. The purges continued, but without the same level of intensity.  Railroad and factory workers were targeted, but the number being processed dropped at Tuol Sleng.[85]

Those who survived in the Eastern Zone tried to organize a resistance.  However, their numbers were too small.  In July Heng Samrin's army was down to 2,000.  and Pol Saroeun escaped to Vietnam. Although they were able to stage hit-and-run attacks, government forces continued to push them back toward the Vietnamese border. Vietnamese troops had to come to their rescue in September, attacking across the border, then escorting Heng Samrin, along with Cambodian civilians and soldiers into Vietnam. While the Cambodian resistance force which accompanied the Vietnamese on their Christmas Day invasion had increased from 2,000 to 15,000, the Vietnamese felt compelled to send in a force of 150,000 to deal with the Khmers Rouges. [86] Ethnic minorities within Cambodia, such as the Muslim Chams, the Vietnamese, and the Chinese were either killed or forcibly expelled from Cambodia.  The Cham population fell from 250,000 in 1975, to 173,000 by 1979.[87] The ethnic Chinese population, which had been 430,000 in 1975, was reduced to about 215,000 by 1979.[88]

A Wider Perspective...

Prince Sihanouk once said about the U.S. decision to support Pol Pot: 'All you [Americans] had to do was to let Pol Pot die. [In 1979] Pol Pot was dying, but you brought him back to life... and sent him into battle to kill and kill and kill... But now you say the Khmers Rouges are unacceptable. What hypocrisy! What hypocrisy!'[89]

By the time Prince Sihanouk expressed his outrage, there was clear and growing evidence of Pol Pot's homicidal tendencies. Sihanouk was reflecting the views of the wider world, which wondered not only about the level of killing which had taken place, but at the seeming ability of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge to put it quickly out of mind.  In the aftermath of the Vietnamese invasion, Pol Pot had overhauled the organization of the Khmers Rouges in an attempt to create a new image, even re-designing the Khmer uniform.

There was something of a double standard at work, with respect to the outside world.  With an estimated 1.5 million deaths blamed on Pol Pot, there was evidence enough to use the genocide label when speaking of his regime.  The world also focused on the seeming indifference to the killing or the ability to quickly forget or overlook events which had occurred under Pol Pot. Former Khmer leaders said to be directly implicated in the killings largely escaped punishment; many even became part of the new government. Khieu Samphan, one-time president of Democratic Kampuchea under Pol Pot, at a December 1998 press conference said: "Let bygones be bygones."[90] Yet the outside world was hardly in a position to complain about forgetfulness.  Before Pol Pot, it had been oblivious to happenings in Cambodia. Even photographs of government soldiers carrying the heads of dead rebels caused little notice. In the five years before the fall of Phnom Penh, the civil war had caused 500,000 deaths.[91] Pictures of Tuol Sleng caught the world's attention briefly, but then were forgotten, once the cameras were gone.

Prince Sihanouk himself was hardly in a position to complain of hypocrisy.  While he promoted an image as Samdech Euv or Monseigneur Paspu (father of the nation) and was regarded as a god-king in the countryside, his troops had been ordered to destroy villages.  In 1967, in response to rebel attacks in Samtaul province, bases were bombed and villages were strafed and burned to the ground.[92] When rebellion broke out in Ratanakiri in 1968, troops of the Second Parachute Regiment were offered bounties for each rebel head brought in. Abuses became so bad that officers had to demand a rifle for each head brought in. The soldiers were killing ordinary tribesmen in order to collect heads for the bounty. The severed heads were displayed in district centers and photographs were displayed in the press.  Some 200 montagnards were publicly executed by firing squad.  An Eastern Zone Khmer Rouge cadre was disemboweled by government troops.  Near Phnom Penh government troops sawed off the heads of two children with jagged fronds from a palm tree.  They were alleged to be communist messengers.  Lon Nol's troops were accused of calling in American air strikes on villages where indoctrination meetings had been held.  In one raid on the town of Angkor Borei B-52s and Lon Nol's T-28s flattened everything, killing over one hundred and destroying 200 houses.[93] In an incident which occurred on April 10, 1970, Lon Nol's soldiers opened fire with machine guns on prisoners after ordering them to flee. Close to Phnom Penh 3,000 Vietnamese, males over 15, were rounded up by government forces, taken down river, and shot.

In 1997, the year before Pol Pot died, Hun Sen's bodyguards threw grenades into a crowd to break up an anti-government demonstration. Fifteen people were killed. That was in March. On July 5th Hun Sen, the second prime minister, would stage a military coup. Officials of the National United Front for an Independent, Neutral, Peaceful, and Cooperative Cambodia (FUNCINPEC) were either executed or forced to flee. The pace of killing had dropped significantly from the levels endured under Pol Pot's regime, but even a Cambodia which enjoyed some degree of political stability was not free of politically-inspired violence.

In the spring of 2005, the Cambodian government announced an agreement with the Japanese company JC Royal Company to allow the company to manage the Choeung Ek killing field as a for-profit tourist site.  The agreement involved a 30-year lease, starting at $15,000 a year.  It was expected that the site would ultimately generate entrance fees of about $18.000 a month.  One immediate impact of the lease was an increase in the entrance fee, from 50 cents to $2.[94]


(1) Ben Kiernan, "The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79," Yale University Press, (New Haven, CT 1996), p. 299.

(2) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia," Deutsch (London 1979), p. 51.

(3) David Chandler, "Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot's Secret Prison," University of California Press, (Berkeley, CA 1999), pp. 2-3.

(4) Philip Short, "Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare," Henry Holt and Company, LLC, (New York, NY 2004), p. 420.

(5) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 411.

(6) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 405.

(7) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 421.

(8) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 424.

(9) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 421.

(10) David Chandler, "Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot's Secret Prison," University of California Press, (Berkeley, CA 1999), p. 130.

(11) Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, "Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust," Alfred A. Knopf, (New York 1996), p. 265.

(12) Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, "Hitler's Willing Executioners," p. 218.

(13) Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, "Hitler's Willing Executioners," p. 230.

(14) Eric D. Weitz, "A Century of Genocide: Utopias of Race and Nation," Princeton University Press, (Princeton, NJ 2003), pp. 102-103.

(15) David Chandler, "Voices from S-21," pp. 152-153.

(16) David Chandler, "Voices from S-21," pp. 3-4.

(17) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 400.

(18) David Chandler, "Voices from S-21," p. 45.

(19) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 277.

(20) David Chandler, "Voices from S-21," p. 46.

(20) David Chandler, "Voices from S-21," p. 139.

(21) David Chandler, "Voices from S-21," p. 139.

(22) David Chandler, "Voices from S-21," p. 6.

(23) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 364.

(24) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 370.

(25) Iris Chang, "The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II," Basic Books, (New York, NY 1997), p. 45.

(26) Iris Chang, "The Rape of Nanking," p. 48.

(27) Iris Chang, "The Rape of Nanking," p. 85.

(28) Iris Chang, "The Rape of Nanking," p. 87.

(29) Iris Chang, "The Rape of Nanking," p. 88.

(30) Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, "Hitler's Willing Executioners," p. 154.

(31) Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, "Hitler's Willing Executioners," p. 290.

[32] David Remnick, "Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire," Random House, (New York, NY 1993), p. 15.

[33] Horatio Verbitsky, translated by Esther Allen, "The Flight: Confessions of an Argentine Dirty Warrior," The New Press, (New York, NY 1996), p. 96.

(34) Pamela Constable and Arturo Valenzuela, "A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet," W. W. Norton & Company, (New York, NY 1991), p. 318.

(35) Robert J. Lifton and Eric Markusen, "The Genocidal Mentality: Nazi Holocaust and Nuclear Threat," Basic Books, Inc. (New York, NY 1988), pp. 19 & 21.

(36) Robert J. Lifton, "The Genocidal Mentality," pp. 20-21.

(37) Henry Anatole Grunwald, Editor-in-Chief, "Japan at War," Time-Life Books, (Alexandria, VA 1980), p. 169.

(38) Richard Rhodes, "Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb," Simon & Schuster, (New York, NY 1995), p. 21.

(39) Richard Rhodes, "Dark Sun," pp. 734, 740.

(40) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 421.

(41) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 378, 380.

(42) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 420.

(43) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow," pp. 19-22.

(44) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow," pp. 25-26.

(45) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow," p. 215.

(46) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow," p. 154.

(47) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow," pp. 135, 174.

(48) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow," p. 164.

(49) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow," p. 174.

(50) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow," p. 174.

(51) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow," p. 215.

(52) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow," p. 276.

(53) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow," p. 215.

(54) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow," p. 218.

(55) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow," p. 272.

(56) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow," p. 284.

(57) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow," p. 297.
Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 245.

(58) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow," p. 297.
Philip Short, "Pol Pot," pp. 216, 245.
Ben Kiernan, "The Pol Pot Regime," p. 19.

(59) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow," p. 298.

(60) Ben Kiernan, "The Pol Pot Regime," pp. 19, 21 & 24.

(61) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow," pp. 24, 65.

(62) W. Shawcross, "Sideshow," p. 24.

(63) David Chandler, "Voices from S-21.", p. vii.
Ben Kiernan, "The Pol Pot Regime," p. 456.

(64) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," pp. 351-352.

(65) Ben Kiernan, "The Pol Pot Regime," pp. 1-3.

(66) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," pp. 271-275.

(67) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 277.

(68) Ben Kiernan, "The Pol Pot Regime," pp. 49-50.

(69) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 287.

(70) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 271.

(71) Philip Short, "Pol Pot." p. 288.

(72) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 293.

(73) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 280.

(74) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 309.

(75) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 320.

(76) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 346.

(77) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 353.

(78) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," pp. 355, 358-359, 364.

(79) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," pp. 368-369.

(80) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," pp. 377-378.

(81) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 384.

(82) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," pp. 385-386.

(83) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 386.

(84) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," pp. 384, 386.

(85) David Chandler, "Voices from S-21.", p. 74.

(86) Ben Kiernan, "The Pol Pot Regime," pp. 440, 450.

(87) Ben Kiernan, "The Pol Pot Regime," p. 461.

(88) Ben Kiernan, "The Pol Pot Regime," p. 295.

(89) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 421.

(90) David Chandler, "Voices from S-21.", p. 153.

(91) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 271.

(92) Philip Short, "Pol Pot," p. 167.

(93) Ben Kiernan, "The Pol Pot Regime," p. 20.

(94) Seth Mydans, "Cambodia Profits from Killing Fields and Other Symbols," The New York Times, p.3, Sunday, November 6, 2005 (New York 2005).

Suggestions for further reading.

Linda Jacobs Altman, "The Forgotten Victims of the Holocaust," Enslow Publishers, Inc., (Berkeley Heights, NJ 2003).

Linda Jacobs Altman, "Genocide: The Systematic Killing of a People," Enslow Publishers, Inc., (Springfield, NJ 1995).

Linda Jacobs Altman, "The Jewish Victims of the Holocaust," Enslow Publishers, Inc., (Berkeley Heights, NJ 2003).

Coral Bell, "The Reagan Paradox: American Foreign Policy in the 1980s," Rutgers University Press, (New Brunswick, NJ 1989).

Ann Byers, "The Holocaust Camps," Enslow Publishers, Inc., (Springfield, NJ 1998).

David Chandler, "Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot's Secret Prison," University of California Press, (Berkeley, CA 1999).

Iris Chang, "The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II," Basic Books, (New York, NY 1997).

William Colby, with James McCarger, "Lost Victory: A Firsthand Account of America's Sixteen-Year Involvement in Vietnam," Contemporary Books, (New York, NY 1989).

Robert Conquest, "Kolyma: The Arctic Death Camps," The Viking Press, (New York, NY 1978).

Pamela Constable and Arturo Valenzuela, "A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet," W. W. Norton & Company, (New York, NY 1991).

Stephane Courtois et al., trans. by Jonathan Murphy and Mark Kramer, "The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression," Harvard University Press, (Cambridge, MA 1999).

Marguerite Feitlowitz, "A Lexicon of Terror: Argentina and the Legacies of Torture," Oxford University Press, (New York, Oxford 1998).

Ronald B. Frankum, Jr., "Like Rolling Thunder: The Air War in Vietnam, 1964-1975," Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., (New York 2005).

John Lewis Gaddis, "The United States and the End of the Cold War: Implications, Reconsiderations, Provocations," Oxford University Press, (New York 1992).

Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, "Hitler's Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust," Alfred A. Knopf, (New York 1996).

A.C. Grayling, "Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan," Walter & Company, (NY 2006).

Robert Green, "Cambodia," Thomson Gale, (Farmington Hills, MI 2003).

Henry Anatole Grunwald, Editor-in-Chief, "Japan at War," Time-Life Books, (Alexandria, VA 1980).

S. Hersh, "The Price of Power: Henry Kissinger in the Nixon White House," Summit Books, (New York 1983).

David Irving, "The Destruction of Dresden," Ballantine Books, (New York, NY 1963).

Eric A. Johnson and Karl-Heinz Reuband, "What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder, and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany," Basic Books, (Cambridge, MA 2005).

Kregg P. J. Jorgenson, "MIA Rescue: LRRPs in Cambodia," Ivy Books, (New York, NY 1995).

Oleg V. Khlevniuk, "The History of the Gulag: From Collectivization to the Great Terror," Yale University Press, (New Haven, CT 2004).

Ben Kiernan, "The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79," Yale University Press, (New Haven, CT 1996).

Samuel S. Kim, "China and the World: Chinese Foreign Relations in the Post-Cold War Era," Westview Press, Inc., (Boulder, CO 1994).

Neil J. Kressel, "Mass Hate: The Global Rise of Genocide and Terror," Plenum Press, (New York and London 1996).

Michael Lee Lanning and Dan Cragg, "Inside the VC and the NVA: The Real Story of North Vietnam's Armed Forces," Balantine Books, (New York, NY 1992).

Robert J. Lifton and Eric Markusen, "The Genocidal Mentality: Nazi Holocaust and Nuclear Threat," Basic Books, Inc. (New York, NY 1988).

Michael Mann, "The Dark Side of Democracy: Explaining Ethnic Cleansing," Cambridge University Press (New York, NY 2005).

Harold Marcuse, "Legacies of Dachau: The Uses and Abuses of a Concentration Camp, 1933-2001," Cambridge University Press (New York, NY 2001).

Seth Mydans, "Cambodia Profits from Killing Fields and Other Symbols," The New York Times, p.3, Sunday, November 6, 2005 (New York 2005).

Milton Osborne, "The Mekong: Turbulent past, uncertain future," Atlantic Monthly Press, (New York, NY 2000).

David Remnick, "Lenin's Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire," Random House, (New York, NY 1993).

Richard Rhodes, "The Making of the Atomic Bomb," Simon & Schuster, (New York, NY 1986).

Richard Rhodes, "Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb," Simon & Schuster, (New York, NY 1995).

William Shawcross, "Deliver Us From Evil: Peacekeepers, Warlords and a World of Endless Conflict," Simon & Schuster, (New York, NY 2000).

W. Shawcross, "Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia," Deutsch (London 1979).

Philip Short, "Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare," Henry Holt and Company, LLC, (New York, NY 2004).

William Sofsky, Translated by William Templer, "The Order of Terror: The Concentration Camp," Princeton University Press, (Princeton, NJ 1993).

Molyda Szymusiak, Translated by Linda Coverdale, "The Stones Cry Out: A Cambodian Childhood 1975-1980," Hill and Wang, (New York, NY 1986).

Loung Ung, "First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers," HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., (New York, NY 2000).

Horatio Verbitsky, translated by Esther Allen, "The Flight: Confessions of an Argentine Dirty Warrior," The New Press, (New York, NY 1996).

Eric D. Weitz, "A Century of Genocide: Utopias of Race and Nation," Princeton University Press, (Princeton, NJ 2003).

Usah Welaratna, "Beyond the Killing Fields: Voices of Nine Cambodian Survivors in America," Stanford University Press, (Stanford, CA 1993).

James Yin and Shi Young, "The Rape of Nanking: An Undeniable History in Photographs," Innovative Publishing Group, (Chicago, IL 1996).

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