The Cambodian Civil War, and by that extension, the Cambodian Genocide remain a forgotten relic of the Cold War, hiding amongst the sea of the numerous proxy wars fought in the battle of the two ideologies, Communism and Capitalism. Often left out in the mainstream media, the Cambodian Genocide remains the single largest Genocide after the events of World War 2, with the most conservative statistics pinning the death toll at roughly 20% of the country’s population.
In 1968, the Khmer Rouge started an insurgency, with the goal of establishing a clandestine Communist state. A prolonged proxy war between the US Supported Right Wing Government, and the North Vietnam supported Khmer Rouge started. In many ways, this war drew parallels to the Vietnam Civil War, with the Khmer Rouge exploiting their knowledge of the thick jungle; terrain in which the US Army was proving to be ineffective in, despite their military superiority. By 1975, The United States had withdrawn support to the Government, and soon enough, the government toppled, with the Capital Phnom Penh coming under the control of the Khmer Rouge.
Through a four-year period, approximately 2 Million people were eradicated, with the main targets being all foreigners, the previous leadership, working professionals, and the educated. The main aim of the Genocide was to establish an agrarian ‘master race’, which in itself reminded the world of the Holocaust, despite which, next to no action was taken; and did not even bat an eye on the situation.
After four years of ethnic cleansing, the Vietnamese forces overthrew the Khmer Rouge, despite seemingly sharing the same Marxist ideology. Soon after, a de facto one-party constitutional monarchy was established, which, to this day is the political system of Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge even kept its UN Seat until 1982, under the name of the genocidal state. The People’s Republic of Khupchea was not given the seat, despite claiming to be the sole legitimate representatives of the people.
After a war with Vietnam up until 1989, Cambodia still lays downtrodden; the outlier in the region, with rapid development being seen in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, South Korea, and even Indonesia. These economies were termed as ‘Tiger’ Economies, and an industrial boom seen between 1960s and 1990s, turning these Agrarian states into sophisticated financial hubs. The political instability, turmoil caused by constant conflict, as well as the Marxist ideologies crippled the chances of Cambodia to enter the limelight as an emerging force in Southeast Asia. Cambodia today, has still failed to recover from the events in Democratic Khupchea, and ranks 146th out of 184 countries and territories on the Human Development Index. Due to the goal to establish an agrarian ‘master’ race of native Cambodians, much of the educated professional class was targeted and killed, leading to an abnormal gap in the educated segment. This has directly led to a shortage of working professionals needed to industrialise, and this has further taken a toll on the subsequent generations of the country, further hampering industrialisation. The relics of the political system of the Democratic Khupchea are still present, with a virtual one-party communist party ruling over the nation with an iron fist. Free Speech remains a major concern, with opposition often being detained or killed.
The story of the Democratic Khupchea serves as a cautionary tale to the dangers of a revolution led by people, which further cements the lists of revolutions ending with an Authoritarian Regime. This list includes but not limited to France with Napoleon, and Russia with Stalin.