The leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot set up the communist government in Cambodia after the US carpet bombed Cambodia and made it politically unstable. The genocide that followed was horrendous. The genocide continues to affect the country to this day. When examining the Cambodian genocide, it’s clear that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, carried out the 8 stages of genocide, with typically horrific results.
Classification categorizes people based on their ethnicity, race religion or nationality. The main classification during this genocide was a division made between the “Old People” and the “New People”. People living in urban areas/cities were called the New People because of their western ideas and educations. The Old People were classified as such because they lived a more traditional life in rural areas. The Khmer Rouge garnered most of their support from the less educated rural people. During Pol pots reign The New people were heavily targeted and suffered greater losses and more abuse than the old people. The educated and more free-thinking new people were viewed as a threat to pol pot and his regime. When they were forced by the Khmer Rouge to leave their homes they were also not allowed to farm – this was a way of starving them to death. Pol pot claimed that this was because they had led ‘corrupt’ lives and had to be trained to be ‘productive” workers. The division of the country through classification was a crucial part of the Cambodian genocide. As with many other genocides throughout history, Symbolization was used to reinforce the classification and dehumanisation stages of this genocide. Just like the mandatory Star Of David given to the jews during The Holocaust, the Khmer Rouge assigned a blue scarf to the new people. This blue scarf was a symbol used to distinguish those marked for extermination, ie the New People. Another identifier that was used to classify those for extermination was anyone wearing glasses. This was a type of symbol indicating to the Khmer Rouge that these people were educated and were literate and therefore could speak out and publish literature against the regime. Most cities were destroyed as this is where most of the people branded with blue scarves lived. The Khmer Rouge believed that the cities depicted a westernized ideology that which threatened the peasant driven, communist society they were trying to create.
Dehumanization is the third stage in genocide. It is the denial of the targeted people’s humanity. Depicting the targeted group as not being human, as being vermin and pests, helps and encourages the extremists to get over any unwillingness to kill. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge painted the opposition as demons who needed to be eradicated in order for a better way of life to begin ie communism. The Khmer Rouge denied the humanity of those they opposed by banning radio sets, banning affection between two people, and even killing those who laughed, smiled, or cried in public. They also ensured people sleep in uncomfortable environments with very many other people. This created divison, fear, paranoia, and distrust of each other and through this the population turned on one another and towards Pol Pot’s governmemt empowering them to carry the genocide. Organisation plays a pivotal part in all genocides. The Khmer Rouge planned a very systematic execution of their plans. During the Genocide, the Khmer Rouge split people into different groups such as young, old, girl, boy and forced them to work in labour camps. The splitting up of families helped break their spirits and made it eaier for the kmer rouge to control them. In the camps, the people were not given adequate food or water and were beaten when they slowed down or became tired. They used militias to enforce their laws and expectations. If you were believed to be a threat to the Khmer Rouge would either be eliminated or put in a prison. Organisation was a crucial part of making sure he could control any resistance.
Polarization is the behaviour of a social or political group to split based on opposing views. When polarization is enacted, it can rapidly increase the speed and support of the genocide and cause a much higher rate of casualties. Without polarization the public would be more likely to oppose the notion of genocide is the act of killing the opposition or any moderates who oppose the extremists. The Khmer Rouge put the New People against the Old People. The new people hated the old people as they were favoured more by the Khmer Rouge and were not worked as hard and received more food. The old people hated the new people because they were uneducated and believed everything the Khmer Rouge told them. This widened the gap between the people and made them easy to manipulate. They also painted the US and Vietnam as their enemies as well as anyone else who had ties to the west, therefore, attempting to cut off Cambodia against the rest off the world and seclude their country. Preparation is when victims are identified and separated out because of their ethnic or religious identity. The Khmer Rouge’s regime destabilised the lives of the targeted New People by evacuating the capital city of Phnom Pehn. Leaving them without an organised power base. They then further destabilised their opposition by separating men from women, husbands from wives and children from parents. They were sent to different work camps where they were later forced to do hard labour, and the majority starved to death or were shot. Careful planning and preparation was key to the success to pol pots regime.
Extermination is a term that describes the killing of pests which exemplifies the effects of dehumanization. The victims were not considered humans they were considered vermin or pests resulting in the Khmer Rouge killing people in brutal and inhumane ways. The Khmer Rouge “exterminated” Cambodians through forced labour, mass executions, and internal purges. The strict work regime had long, hard hours and many people starved. The Khmer Rouge executed hundreds of thousand beginning with “enemies” and ethnic minorities but when groups failed to meet their production goals people in leadership positions began questioning what they were doing; these people were then also exterminated. Millions of landmines were also planted throughout the countryside in hopes of killing fleeing New people. In the end, this plan ended up killing even more Old people than new people but pol pot didn’t care. He believed that it was “Better to kill an innocent by mistake than spare an enemy by mistake.”. Denial is the final stage of the genocide, the perpetrators of the genocide try to cover up the evidence and divert attention away from the atrocities that they committed. The Khmer Rouge never tried to hide the fact that they committed genocide but they did try to hide some of the things they did. They covered up mass graves and burned all records they could that proved they were guilty of any crimes. Denial is possibly one of the most mentally destructive parts of genocide as it makes it seem like all the suffering the victims went through is insignificant.
The cruelty that the Cambodian people went through is unimaginable. Pol Pot hoped to exterminate all educated free thinking people within cambodia through the 8 stages of genocide and whilst he didn’t achieve his goal he still managed to wipe out roughly 21% of cambodias population changing the country forever.