The Pol Pot Rule of Cambodia
"The worst blow fell in 1975, when the Khmer Rouge (red Khmer) guerrillas under the leadership of Pol Pot overthrew the Khmer Republic and established Democratic Kampuchea."
The Khmer Rouge were, at least partially, a reaction to the loss of political power and the social disorder brought on by the regional wars of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as an extreme and localized response to the growing question of Khmer identity in a region dominated and fought over by world powers.
Shortly after its independence in 1954, Cambodia felt the pull of the superpowers. The U.S., China, and Vietnam already had significant interests in the country, but Sihanouk, Cambodia's king, maintained control and declared neutrality. China was one of the first countries to send military aid in 1963. China supported Sihanouk publicly throughout his reign as king and president, but radical parties in the government supported the inner circle of the Communist Party of Kampuchea.
From the 1950s to the mid 1960s, Cambodia prospered. Modernization, development, and substantial foreign aid flowed in under Sihanouk's rule. As in the past, this success was dependent on the behavior of Cambodia's neighbors and on the policies of more powerful nations. Cambodia was neutral for as long as it served the interests of other states.
From the mid 1960s, Cambodia became more and more entangled in the regional war. By the early 1970s, as the Khmer Rouge gained strength and control over vast areas of the countryside, the war absorbed Cambodia. Though global factors clearly transformed Cambodia against its will after the 1960s, internal conditions set the stage for the results that followed. These conditions include Khmer cultural factors, the history of nationalism and racism, peasant culture, and the effects of economic development in a global economy.
Khmer culture tends toward respect and fear of authority. Khmers view the country as one large family, with the monarchy as chief elders. During their rule, KR officers in the villages simply replaced traditional authorities, and received the traditional public obedience designed for survival.
Historically, Cambodia's Khmer Empire was seen as a glorious past and a model for the future, emphasizing the ability of ordinary people to accomplish huge tasks through sheer will. Nationalism and racism have also long marked Cambodian politics.
As the religion of over 90% of the population, Buddhism is extremely important in Khmer society. Khmer Buddhism is marked by anti-individualism and egalitarianism, as well as stress on internal self-purification, self-denial and anti-materialism. The wide spread belief in reincarnation may also have brought such a devaluation of life, which may explain the historically high levels of rural violence in Cambodia.
Finally, one more internal situation to consider is the effect of a rapidly spreading world economy on a developing country. An urban-rural split in the 1960s...