A History of the Khmer Rouge
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The Khmer Rouge, also known as the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), was a group led by Pol Pot that dictated Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 (Time). This massacre has roots back to the 1940s, when France had its own colonized countries such as Cambodia and Vietnam. In 1954, Vietnam defeated France at war and won its independence. The new country of Vietnam was divided into two sections: “communist North Vietnam and pro-Western South Vietnam (backed by the US)” (Peace). Soon Vietnam was a battlefield. Viet Cong, a group of communist guerrillas, was supported by North Vietnam, China, and the Soviet Union. America joined the Vietnam War in 1964, bringing bombs, airpower, and poison defoliants. For years the country fought, but the war did not come to any victory against the strong-willed and committed Vietnamese communists. By the time it was over, the Vietnam War had devastated the country, costing many American and Vietnamese lives, and achieved nothing but misery for those caught up in it -including the Cambodians.
Vietnam was not the only country fighting for its independence. In 1953, after Cambodia won its independence from France, Prince Norodom Sihanouk became the head of state and ruler of Cambodia. The CPK was formed in 1960 from growing opposition to Sihanouk. In response, Sihanouk named the group the Khmer Rouge, to show that he was not serious about them. The word Khmer Rouge comes from the French word for red added to the language of the people (Timeline). Based in secluded forest and mountain areas in the north-east parts of the country, the group hardly gained members. Ten years later, Marshal Lon Nol, “a Cambodian politician who had previously served as prime minister, and his pro-American associates, staged a successful coup to depose Prince Sihanouk as head of state” (Tribunal). At this time, the Khmer Rouge began to attract increasing members due to its new coalition with Sihanouk, and was going to become a major part of the civil war happening in the future (Regime).
Under the rule of Prince Sihanouk, Cambodia had remained neutral during the war in Vietnam. When he was overthrown and American-backed Lon Nol took over, the US felt free to move into Cambodia to fight the Viet Cong from there. The United States “killed up to 750,000 Cambodians in their effort to destroy suspected North Vietnamese supply lines” during the next four years (Peace). Cambodia had become part of the Vietnam battlefield, and war was not going to stay in Vietnam leaving Cambodia unaffected.
The Birth of the Khmer Rouge
The Khmer Rouge guerrilla movement in 1970 was small. Their leader, Pol Pot, was an admirer of Maoist (Chinese) communism (Britannica). Born in Cambodia as Saloth Sar, he spent time in and was educated in France; he also became a member of the French Communist Party there. Back in Cambodia, he was appointed the CPK’s party secretary and leader in 1963. Meanwhile, heavy American...