From Sideshow To Genocide: Stories of the Cambodian Holocaust

By Andy Carvin
About the author: Andy Carvin is director of the Digital Divide Network. He is the developer of the awardwinning website Edweb: Exploring Technology and School Reform and the founder/moderator of WWWEDU, the Internet's largest email discussion on the role of the web in education. Since 1995 he's designed online travelogues and photo galleries based on his journeys around the world, including Southeast Asia, the Middle East, India and Turkey. An avid blogger, he has produced podcasts and video blogs all over the world. You can contact him at acarvin (at) edc {dot} org.

An Introduction to this Website From April 17, 1975 to January, 1979, the Khmer Rouge government of Cambodia committed one of the most egregious slaughters of humanity in modern history. Through a systematic campaign of murder, starvation and neglect, this enigmatic communist regime managed to kill as many as two million fellow Cambodians nearly two out of every seven people in a country no larger than the state of Missouri. In the 20 years since the Khmer Rouge genocide, Cambodians have struggled to put their once prosperous and peaceful kingdom back together again. Historians, too, have struggled with the equally difficult task of understanding how Cambodian society managed to turn on itself and implode with such disastrous consequences. While it may take generations to respond successfully to these questions, it is of paramount importance for us - all of us - to consider the causes and effects of the Cambodian genocide and the important lessons they may teach us. This website is a modest attempt to remind us as vividly and graphically as possible what happens when a society ends up preying on itself or other people. Here you will find an overview of the events that led to the Cambodian holocaust, as well as the stories of survivors who have struggled successfully to put their lives back together. For teachers and students of holocaust studies there are also recommended reading materials, lesson plans and questions for discussion. Note to Parents and Teachers: The stories you will encounter here will be disturbing, especially for some younger readers. I highly recommend that students view this website with their families or teachers and discuss the issues raised here in order to better understand the gravity of the events surrounding the Khmer Rouge genocide. It is all too easy for genocide in all of its forms to seem distant and unreal to those who have not experienced it. It is my hope that this website will help eliminate the disconnect to these events and allow all of us to bear witness.

Copyright 1999 Susanne Cornwall

About the Background Image The image used in the background of this page and the website's homepage is a photograph of victims' portraits from the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. Tuol Sleng, formerly a suburban high school, was converted into the S-21 interrogation center where the Khmer Rouge's opponents were routinely tortured and killed. Of the over 17,000 people who entered S-21 for questioning, only six of them are known to have survived. Today Tuol Sleng stands as an intimate reminder of the Khmer Rouge atrocities as it is plastered with hundreds of photographs of the many prisoners who were condemned there. The author of this website visited Tuol Sleng in November 1997 - please feel free to read about Andy Carvin's experience in his essay, A Day in the Killing Fields. What is Genocide? Genocide The deliberate and systematic destruction of a racial, political, or cultural group. N. (1944) [genos Greek: race, kin; cida, from caedere Latin: to cut, to kill] Genocide is a word that stirs up the deepest emotion, an uncanny chill that makes one realize how inhumane humanity can sometimes be. Incredibly, the word did not even exist until the 1944, when the Polish Jewish scholar Raphael Lemkin used it to describe the anti-semitic atrocities of of Hitler's Nazi Germany. In a period of less than six years the Nazis murdered over 10 million people: Slavs, Roma, and six million Jews. This wasn't the first time that a regime attempted to wipe out so many innocent people. Throughout history there are records of the mass slaughter of civilian populations, but it wasn't until the world's collective recognition of Hitler's "final solution" that we were able to give such destruction its own name. Genocide, the murder of an entire people. Murder as policy. In the years immediately following World War II, the newly created United Nations declared genocide an international crime. The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted in 1948, declared that genocide was any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such: a) Killing members of the group; b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. Genocide itself was now a crime, along with conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, attempts to commit genocide, and complicity in genocide. Political and military leaders could not cite their sovereign status as their implied right to commit genocide - under no circumstances would genocide be viewed in an acceptable light. Despite the U.N.'s declaration that genocide would no longer be acceptable, regimes have continued to strike down mercilessly on civilian populations. In the 1990s alone we have witnessed the "ethnic cleansing" of Bosnian Muslims and Rwandan Tutsis. Though the rhetoric has changed, the results are still the same: hundreds of thousands of people murdered because of their religion, ethnicity or tribe. While those of us in the United States deplore these atrocities, at a certain level we seem to dismiss their relevance to us. It is all too easy for us to close our eyes and say, "This is not our problem - we have nothing to do with it." In the case of Cambodia, though, the deaths of two million Khmers is our problem. Like it or not, our policies there during the late 1960s and early 1970s contributed to the conditions that allowed for the ascent of the Khmer Rouge regime. Genocide does not occur in a vacuum. It is the consequence of hatred, paranoia, corruption, and power run amok. It is also the consequence of a world that lacks the will to prevent it.

Cambodia Before the Holocaust

(The players. Clockwise from bottom left: KR chairman Pol Pot; US president Richard Nixon; KR foreign minister Ieng Sary; KR security chief Khieu Samphan; Cambodian prime minister Lon Nol; King Norodom Sihanouk) In the grand scheme of Cambodian history, 45 months of communist rule may seem seem like a random tangent when compared with over a thousand years of Cambodian culture. But the Cambodian holocaust is much more complex than that - a long series of events encompassing the entire 20th century may all be seen as contributing factors. In Cambodia Before the Holocaust you can explore the many interconnected episodes of modern Cambodian history that led to the Khmer Rouge regime. For first-time readers we recommend you examine each subchapter in the order presented; for those of you with specific interests in certain aspects of Cambodian history you can jump between each section by choosing hyperlinks for the subchapters listed below. Please begin by selecting from the following subchapters: Cambodia Colonized - The Fall of Angkor to the Arrival of the French The Seeds of Independence - World War II Causes Instability in Indochina Sihanouk and the Geneva Accords - Independence and an Iron Hand The Cold War and Cambodia - America and Communist Containment Nixon's War: The American Bombing Campaign - The Vietnam War Reaches Cambodia The Coup - Lon Nol Takes Over The War Rages - Cambodia Begins to Collapse The End of Cambodia; The Beginning of a Nightmare - The Khmer Rouge Capture Phnom Penh

Cambodia Colonized: The Fall of Angkor to the Arrival of the French
From the 9th to the 13th centuries, the Cambodian empire of Angkor was the most powerful political force in Southeast Asia. Their expertise in irrigation and public works allowed the Khmer people to build their 250square-mile capital of Angkor, while their military prowess expanded their control into modern-day Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. Beginning in the fifteenth century, though, the Thai kingdom of Siam began its ascendance in the region. After several half-successful attempts, the Siamese sacked Angkor in 1594. The once great city of Angkor never recovered, and the Khmer empire soon fell to pieces. By the early 1800s, much of modern Cambodia's territory was either a part of Siam or was a vassal state paying tribute to the Siamese court. Additionally, significant portions of its land were occupied by Vietnamese who were migrating west at a steady rate. Not unlike Siam, Vietnam was Cambodia's historical enemy, but Vietnamese expansion into Cambodian territory proved to be the more humiliating experience. Cambodia managed to maintain its monarchy, but the Khmer kings of this period were largely powerless. When the French arrived in Southeast Asia to colonize Cochin China (southern Vietnam), it was only a matter of time before they set their eyes on Cambodian territory. The French recognized an excellent opportunity in Cambodia - Cambodia was weak and subservient to the Siamese empire, which was weakening in its own right. But Siam also had the support of Great Britain, France's chief colonial rival. Cambodia could serve as an excellent buffer zone between their precious Cochin China and pro-British Siam. Similarly, King Norodom of Cambodia recognized the French could provide his fragile government protection from Vietnamese encroachment from the east, so in 1863 he signed a treaty of protection. A year later the French annexed Cambodia, adding it to its Indochina union. For over 75 years the French administered the economic affairs of the Cambodian state. The Cambodian monarchy managed to survive, but as during the Siamese vassal period, the king served largely as a cultural symbol rather than a political leader. Despite occasional unrest, the French colonial period was a relatively quiet time for Cambodia, for France's main interests lay in Vietnam. The Cambodians themselves, though, did not always feel the positive effects of France's hands-off approach since the colonialists employed Vietnamese civil servants to manage Cambodian affairs. Many Cambodians were severely frustrated by the fact that their historical rivals were now being selected to oversee the Cambodia state. Steady signs of significant Cambodian political upheaval first became apparent in 1941, when King Sisowath Monivong died. The Sisowath family had consolidated its power base over the decades - a power base that now caused the French much concern. The French wanted a king who would acquiesce to their colonial administration, so they denied the Sisowath family (including their rising star prince, Sirik Matak) the right to the throne. The French instead selected a king from the house of Norodom, close cousins of the Sisowaths. The Norodom family could legitimately trace its claim to the throne through several Norodom monarchs of the late 1800s, yet by 1941 they were seen by the French as the weaker royal house. With this cynical strategy in mind, the French chose an inexperienced young prince, 19-year-old Norodom Sihanouk, as the new Cambodian king. It wasn't long though before the French lost control of the situation. Later that same year Japan invaded Southeast Asia, quickly occupying all of French Indochina, including Cambodia. The Japanese left Sihanouk on the throne and allowed Vichy French representatives to administrate Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. They also began to reinforce local anticolonialist feelings in the hopes of making the peoples of Indochina simultaneously pro-Japanese and anti-French, despite the fact that the Japanase were a form of colonialists in their own right. Both the Japanese government and their Thai allies supported the Khmer Issarak (Free Khmer) partisans, an anti-French Cambodian guerrilla movement led by Son Ngoc Thanh, a popular Khmer republican and politician. By March 1945, though, Japan recognized that they would soon lose hold of Indochina, yet they did not want to allow France to regain its former position in Southeast Asia. As one of their final acts of occupation the Japanese ordered the kings of Indochina - Cambodia's Sihanouk, Laos' King Sisavang Vong, and Vietnam's Emperor Bao Dai - to declare independence from France. Suddenly the colonies of French Indochina were transformed into fledgling nations - nations whose long term aspirations for true independence remained in serious question.

World War II and the Seeds of Independence
At the conclusion of World War II, French and allied forces began their return to Southeast Asia in the hopes of reclaiming their former colonies. The French reasserted themselves into Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam's Cochin China, largely with the hopes of molding a new Indochina run by pro-French democratic constitutions instead of anti-French, independent-minded regimes. In northern Vietnam, though,Ho Chi Minh, nationalist leader of the communist guerrilla force known as the Viet-Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam, or Viet Minh for short), refused to allow Bao Dai and his French-supported monarchy to run the nation's affairs. On August 2, 1945 - before the allies could stop him - Ho Chi Minh and his Viet Minh forces entered Hanoi, declaring the birth of a new Vietnamese state in a speech modeled after the US Declaration of Independence: "We, members of the provisional government of the Democratic Republic of Viet-Nam solemnly declare to the world that Viet-Nam has the right to be a free and independent country - and in fact it is so already. The entire Vietnamese people are determined to mobilize all their physical and mental strength, to sacrifice their lives and property in order to safeguard their independence and liberty." The French, needless to say, did not accept Ho's authority; with the help of British troops they eventually forced Ho to sign a truce in 1946. The truce, though, did not hold for long - skirmishes between French and Viet Minh forces increased at an alarming rate. In 1947, the French chased Ho Chi Minh and his supporters out of Hanoi. The Viet Minh regrouped in the bush and began a war of attrition against the French - a war of attrition that would continue in one form or another for nearly 30 years. Meanwhile in Cambodia, Norodom Sihanouk asserted himself as the shrewd and ruthless politician that would later make him infamous in the West. As the Japanese withdrew Sihanouk appointed Son Ngoc Thanh as prime minister. Sihanouk hated Son but he recognized that his political rival would bear the brunt of French retribution because of his new official government position. As expected, Son was eventually arrested by the allies and exiled. And though he had once been willing to work with Ho Chi Minh and his communist forces, Son Ngoc Thanh now concluded it would be expedient to seek independence through the Thai and US governments, which both wanted to take advantage of waning French colonialism. So Son abandoned his left-wing Khmer Issarak movement and joined the right-wing Khmer Serai guerrillas, anti-Sihanouk rebels who fought for the end of Cambodia's monarchy. King Sihanouk now focused his efforts on negotiating independence from the French and expanding his own authority. By all accounts, Sihanouk was arrogant and autocratic, yet his kingly status, charisma, and love for Cambodia made him popular with the people. Sihanouk also demonstrated amazing political pliability as he created and destroyed allegiances whenever it served his interest. This ability to shift alliances at the drop of a hat would eventually cause problems in his relationship with the United States, which didn't understand Sihanouk's ever-changing loyalties and the idiosyncratic nature of Cambodia politics. Yet for the time being, public posturing served Sihanouk well - the French granted Cambodia significant autonomy in 1949, though the economy and the military were still in the hands of the colonists. Because of France's long-standing influence in Cambodia, certain young Cambodians were fortunate enough to receive scholarships for study in Paris. These students often came from middle class, well educated families with the right connections. During the late 40s and early 50s, many of these students became enamored with left-wing French intellectualism, preferring to spend more time on private political gatherings than on their homework. Among these student activists, a handful of them joined the French communist party, including four young men with strong anti-colonial and socialist leanings - Son Sen, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and Saloth Sar. Saloth Sar, who came to France to study radio electronics, eventually flunked out of his scholarship because of his excessive time spent on politics. Khieu Samphan, on the other hand, was scholarly to the point of being obsessive; in 1959 he wrote a dissertation arguing for an agrarian collectivist society as an end to traditional Cambodian feudalism and class structure. For many politically active Khmers studying in Paris, the communist party was a convenient way of taking part in the trendy Paris intellectual scene. But for these four particular students and their friends, this time spent in France planted the ideological seeds that would later destroy their homeland.

Sihanouk's Rise to Power and the Geneva Accords
By February 1953, Norodom Sihanouk was ready to make his move and consolidate his authority over Cambodia. As part of what he called his "royal crusade for independence" the young king traveled to France and demanded complete Cambodian sovereignty. When the French ignored his requests (to no one's surprise), Sihanouk hit the road, visiting Europe and the United States as part of a brilliant PR campaign. With each stop the king lambasted the French while boasting how he would not make enemies the communist Viet Minh forces. His travels were followed by a self-imposed "exile" near the ancient city of Angkor. The French, who were losing the war with Ho Chi Minh's forces, were in no position to stop Sihanouk antics, so in October they allowed the king to declare Cambodia's independence. France maintained some authority over economic policy, but foreign affairs and the military were now in the hands of Sihanouk. As Sihanouk's independence movement gained momentum, France suffered its greatest Indochina defeat with the battle of Dien Bien Phu. In the spring of 1954 besieged French troops were decimated in the far northwest of North Vietnam over the course of 55 days of bombardment. Though the Viet Minh lost over 8000 men killed in battle (more than twice that of French killed) Dien Bien Phu proved to be the death knell for France in Indochina - it was only a matter of time before they would be forced to leave forever. The once mighty French empire was soundly humiliated and forced to negotiate full independence with all of its former colonies, including North Vietnam, Laos and Sihanouk's Cambodia. In what the world hoped would be a final settlement to the Indochina conflict, Geneva played host to peace accords in May 1954, just as the Dien Bien Phu siege was coming to an end. At the July conclusion of the accords, Vietnam was recognized as two separate, sovereign governments: a communist North Vietnam led by Ho Chi Minh, and a pro-French South Vietnam led by prime minister Ngo Dinh Diem, who had been appointed by emperor Bao Dai. The Geneva accords also proclaimed that Laos and Cambodia would be guaranteed their right to remain neutral, nonaligned nations. Yet as many in the West prayed the fighting was now over, Sihanouk made no such assumptions. He concluded it would take a strong leader to keep Cambodia out of any future Vietnamese war, and in Cambodia no one was as strong a leader as he. The Geneva accords also scheduled Cambodia's first national democratic elections. This spelled trouble for Sihanouk, for as a constitutional monarch he would have few real powers in the new democratic government. Following the conclusion of the Geneva accords, King Sihanouk stunned the world and abdicated the throne, giving the crown to his father, Prince Suramarit. By relinquishing his claim to the monarchy, Prince Sihanouk (as he was now known) was free to pursue his political aspirations and run for office. There was a high likelihood of Sihanouk winning the election given his popularity among the masses his face was one of the only recognizable faces on the ballot for many rural Cambodians. But the prince took no chances: he closed opposition newspapers while his police force roughed up opposition leaders. As Sihanouk told one journalist, "I am the natural leader of the country... and my authority has never been questioned." (Chandler, A History of Cambodia, p 185) Sihanouk also created his own political movement, Sangkum Reastr Niyum (People's Socialist Community), and made a not-so-subtle hint to the political establishment that any good Cambodian would be proud to join it. If you wanted to become a Sangkum member, though, you were required to dissolve any relationships you had with other parties. The Sangkum was a severe blow to the three major opposition parties, including the so-called Liberals, a conservative group made up of landowners and business leaders; the Democrats, left-wing activists who supported a modern, French-style republic; and the Pracheachon, a pro-communist party made up of monks, teachers, and French-educated intellectuals. Many Cambodians, especially the Liberals and Democrats, quickly joined the Sangkum, abandoning their former parties in the fear of appearing to be against this burgeoning national movement. Even Khieu Samphan, the scholarly communist student who studied in Paris, joined the Sangkum in order to increase his political profile and personal security; privately, though, he remained a steadfast communist. In 1955, Prince Sihanouk was elected the Cambodian head of state. Some opposition leaders maintained a precarious grip on power through their positions in the national assembly, but Sihanouk did his best to intimidate and humiliate all of them. The prince would often employ the tactic of making rousing speeches to the assembly, whose majority was loyal to him, and then present the minority opposition members with an offer to lead Cambodia if they thought they could do a better job than he. No one ever dared to take him up on the offer. On some occasions these assembly sessions reached such a fever pitch the opposition were beaten up by mobs afterwards. By 1963, Sihanouk's overwhelming authority and strong-arm tactics had purged much of the opposition out of politics, causing some of the Pracheachon politicians and their communist supporters to flee for their lives into the Cambodian wilderness. Among these exiles were Son Sen, Ieng Sary and Saloth Sar, who had returned to Cambodia from France to become active members of a secretive communist movement initially supported by North Vietnam. Though none of the three men openly participated in public politics, they feared their subversive communist activities had been compromised when their names were published on a list of "34 subversives" compiled by the Sihanouk government. The

three soon escaped into the wilderness of eastern Cambodia and vanished. Sihanouk was glad to be rid of these oppositionist troublemakers, whom he later labeled rather mockingly as "Red Khmers" - or in French, les Khmer Rouges. Sihanouk ruled with an iron hand, but he delegated powers to his loyal ministers so he could concentrate on his favorite hobbies, including jazz saxophone, filmmaking, magazine editing, and having affairs with foreign women. Yet the Cambodians of the countryside loved him - the god-kings of Angkor weighed heavily in the collective social conscience. For the foreseeable future Sihanouk was invincible and he knew it. Not unlike the other peoples of Southeast Asia, Cambodians were long accustomed to singular, autocratic leadership. As Frances FitzGerald described in her Pulitzer Prize-winning Vietnam narrative Fire in the Lake, many rural Southeast Asian peoples traditionally saw their leaders as having a "mandate from heaven." These leaders would have the loyalty of the people until someone powerful could come along and knock off the old leader decisively, thus demonstrating that the mandate from heaven had shifted to themselves. From 1955 to 1970, Prince Norodom Sihanouk was the only viable leader in Cambodia. He was also the only man whose political ruthlessness could manage to keep Cambodia out of the coming war that would ravage Vietnam and Laos. Cambodia was at peace, and for the moment, Sihanouk maintained his mandate from Heaven.

The Cold War Threatens Cambodia; America and Communist Containment
As tensions rose between North and South Vietnam, Sihanouk flirted more and more with Ho Chi Minh's Hanoi government. Sihanouk himself was no communist, but he correctly perceived the likelihood of the North eventually defeating the South. Cambodia was militarily weak, so the only way to avoid losing his country in the crossfire was to make friends with his most dangerous enemy - the North Vietnamese. His overtures to North Vietnam (not to mention to China and the Soviet Union) made the governments of the West very nervous. Even Sihanouk's own ministers, who were steadfastly anti-Vietnamese, privately balked at the idea of acquiescing to Ho Chi Minh. In Washington DC, the number of Sihanouk critics seemed to increase every day. Richard Nixon, who as Dwight Eisenhower's vice president had met the prince on a trip to Phnom Penh, described Sihanouk as "flighty." Nixon went on to say, "He seemed prouder of his musical talents than of his political leadership, and he appeared to me to be totally unrealistic about the problems his country faced." (Shawcross, p 51) But it was more than Sihanouk's eccentric personality that gave US foreign policymakers much pause. Following the end of World War II, policymakers within the corridors of the US State Department began to embrace what would eventually become known asdomino theory, which held that weak governments in a given geographical area were easily susceptible to communism once communists had achieved a foothold nearby. If a young but powerful communist country could cause one weak nation to fall, others would surely follow. The theory had proven true in post-WWII Eastern Europe and the Balkans; by 1947 both Greece and Turkey were threatened by expanding communist insurgencies. But a new US policy known as the Truman Doctrine financially backed the Greek and Turkish struggles against communism. In his famous 1947 speech, President Harry Truman successfully convinced Congress to fund these Balkan nations with $400 million in assistance. To quote Truman: "To ensure the peaceful development of nations, free from coercion, the United States has taken a leading part in establishing the United Nations. The United Nations is designed to make possible lasting freedom and independence for all its members. We shall not realize our objectives, however, unless we are willing to help free peoples to maintain their free institutions and their national integrity against aggressive movements that seek to impose on them totalitarian regimes. This is no more than a frank recognition that totalitarian regimes imposed on free peoples, by direct or indirect aggression, undermine the foundations of international peace and hence the security of the United States." Thanks in large part to this assistance, Greece and Turkey's containment of communism proved to be a success. Similarly, in 1948 the United States committed to over $12 billion dollars in assistance to the warravaged nations of Western Europe. In what became known as the Marshall Plan, this massive aid program attempted to rebuild Europe as a preemptive strike against the spread of fledgling communist movements. General George Marshall called on America to "do whatever it is able to do to assist in the return of normal economic health in the world, without which there can be no political stability and no assured peace." Both the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan became cornerstones of US foreign policy in Europe - communism would be contained in the West. Now the United States feared the domino theory had come into play in Southeast Asia. The signs were all there: soon after China's 1947 communist revolution they began to support Ho Chi Minh's nationalist ambitions in Vietnam. Though many observers saw Ho as being a nationalist first and a communist second, China's overtures made it all the more easy for him to espouse communism as the answer to the national struggle. China's conversion to communism was scary enough for US officials - the thought of Vietnam following suit inspired an ugly premonition: if a united Vietnam became communist, Laos and Cambodia would fall with it; other Southeast Asian nations from Thailand to Indonesia would become even more vulnerable. Worse-case

scenarios of a communist India or Australia fell into place quite easily thanks to the logic of domino theory. As far as the United States was concerned, South Vietnam would become the bulwark for Western capitalism and democracy; Ho Chi Minh's aspirations for a united communist Vietnam would not be tolerated. In the grand scheme of Asian domino theory, the former Indochina colonies - including Cambodia - were considered a collective domino waiting to topple; understandably, Sihanouk's subsequent public courtship with communist leaders angered many American politicians. Unfortunately neither the US nor Sihanouk himself was very successful at burying the hatchet, so political tensions would rise on a reoccurring basis. For example, Sihanouk often complained that US officials would treat him like a child during private diplomatic meetings, chastising him on how he ran his affairs. Sihanouk would then respond in kind with bombastic antiUS rhetoric that would infuriate the Americans. And in 1959, when Sihanouk successfully quashed an antiroyalist uprising in Siem Reap province, he blamed the entire incident on a CIA-supported attempt to overthrow him. Yet despite the tempestuousness of their relationship, the US managed to support Cambodia with financial aid. These funds built up Cambodian infrastructure and encouraged Sihanouk to stick with Washington's agenda. Some of his ministers, including a frail but well-connected general named Lon Nol, became friendly with the US thanks to the steady flow of economic aid. In 1963, unpopular South Vietnamese president Ngo Dinh Diem was murdered in a coup that was tacitly supported by the US. Sihanouk was furious with what he saw as the United States' arrogant interference in Asia's local affairs, so he refused further aid and ordered the US embassy staff out of Cambodia. In numerous public diatribes he levied charges that the US was still supporting Son Ngoc Thanh, the once-popular antimonarchist partisan whom he personally despised. Privately, Lon Nol and other pro-US ministers were uncomfortable with Sihanouk's turn against the US, yet they knew they were in no position to do much about it. And in what may have been an attempt to send positive signals to China and North Vietnam, Sihanouk announced he would nationalize much of the country's industrial infrastructure, declaring himself an ardent socialist and a crusader against Western imperialism. Meanwhile a new war between North and South Vietnam escalated. The French were long gone from the scene, so American presidents Kennedy and Johnson successively supplied a growing stream of military advisors to aid South Vietnam's Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). ARVN, a poorly commanded and often corrupt fighting force, was up against two deadly foes: the North Vietnam Army (NVA), the North's regular army, and the Viet Cong (VC), an intricate guerrilla network of armed South Vietnamese citizens who supported Hanoi's fight for reunification with the South. As early as 1965, Prince Sihanouk quietly tolerated small VC/NVA camps inside the Cambodian border. Because Cambodia was internationally regarded as neutral, both North and South Vietnam were supposed to respect its borders. But the communists gambled that they could take advantage of Sihanouk's military weakness and hide in Cambodian forests along the border. If the United States ever discovered the intrusion, the communists bet that President Johnson wouldn't have the stomach for a fight in a neutral, noncombatant country (though it should be noted that the US had no such aversion to engaging in a secret war in neutral Laos, where North Vietnamese troop movements were more flagrant). Sihanouk knew he couldn't afford to make Hanoi an enemy, so he never raised a significant protest against these border incursions. Similarly, China forced him to open up his southern port city of Sihanoukville to clandestine supply smuggling to the Viet Cong, whose previous smuggling route along the Ho Chi Minh Trail through Laos had been hampered by covert US bombing. Again, Sihanouk did not protest, despite his private distaste for the communists. At least in the case of the Sihanoukville smuggling operation there was serious money to be made, so in order to placate his pro-US ministers, Sihanouk allowed them to take a piece of the concessions. These illicit profits gave these ministers and the Cambodian armed forces an early taste of the rampant corruption that would later erode military discipline to the breaking point. As US intelligence received reports of communist supply movements within Cambodian territory, the CIA began to recruit Vietnamese of ethnic Cambodian descent - the Khmer Krom - to infiltrate the border and stop the flow of shipments. The CIA often brought in Son Ngoc Thanh, himself a Krom, to recruit volunteers. These search-and-destroy missions, as fate would have it, were not very successful; in fact, they may have encouraged more VC and NVA units to cross into Cambodia to protect their operations. American military officials became more and more fed up with Cambodia's growing infection. US General William Westmoreland encouraged decisive action, including a full-scale invasion of Cambodia, but President Johnson refused, for he was convinced he could turn Sihanouk towards complete cooperation with the US without bringing Cambodia into the war. As the war increased in Vietnam and Laos, Sihanouk's politics started to swing to the right. More and more members of the Sangkum were anti-Sihanouk conservatives, which forced the prince to work with them in order to maintain power. In 1966 he appointed a more conservative government and he ordered Lon Nol to crush a leftist uprising in Battambang province, which he did with ruthless success. The violence of the uprising was the final straw for many of the remaining left-wing politicians, including Khieu Samphan. Khieu and other leftists joined their colleagues in the wilderness, who had fled for their safety several years earlier. For many years, though, Khieu Samphan was believed to be dead, a victim of a bloody Sihanouk purge.

Increased US operations in 1967 forced more NVA over the Cambodian border. Sihanouk was becoming more nervous every day, worried by both this troop escalation and the growing violence emanating from the Cultural Revolution in China. Concluding he had little alternative, Sihanouk again began to make overtures to the US. It was classic Sihanouk as he managed to lecture US officials about their involvement in Vietnam while asking to do business with them if they would recognize Cambodia's borders. Soon enough the money began to flow, and President Johnson promised the US would recognized Cambodia's neutrality and integrity. This policy would remain in place until the inauguration of President Richard Nixon in January 1969.

Nixon's War: The American Bombing Begins
"There are no American combat troops in Cambodia. There are no American combat advisers in Cambodia. There will be no American combat troops or advisers in Cambodia. We will aid Cambodia. Cambodia is the Nixon doctrine in its purest form...." - President Richard M. Nixon, November 1971 On February 9, 1969, US military intelligence reports suggested there was a significant NVA base just inside Cambodia - the Central Office for South Vietnam, Headquarters, or COSVN HQ as it was known. General Creighton Abrahms, commander of US forces in Vietnam, was confident that a series of precision B-52 bomber strikes would do the job of eliminating the base, assuming he could convince the new Nixon administration to go along with him. B-52s airstrikes were one of the most lethal non-nuclear forms of attack in the Air Force's arsenal, as they could be used to carpet bomb large swaths of land, targeted in "boxes" of approximately two miles by one half mile square. In a memo to General Earle Wheeler, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Creighton argued "(t)here is little likelihood of involving Cambodian nationals if the target boxes are placed carefully. Total bomber exposure over Cambodian territory would be less than one minute per sortie." (Shawcross, p20) The idea was pitched to Nixon, who quickly approved the bombing with the assistance of his national security advisor Henry Kissinger. The first airstrikes were set for March, barely one month after the initial intelligence reports. In honor of the breakfast meeting at the Pentagon that led to Nixon's approval of the strike, the assault was codenamed Operation Breakfast. As suggested by Kissenger, Nixon ordered that the attacks occur in secret, and all attempts to expose the bombing should be stopped. General Wheeler informed his staff: "In the event press inquiries are received following the execution of the Breakfast Plan as to whether or not US B-52s have struck in Cambodia, US spokesman will confirm that B-52s did strike on routine missions adjacent to the Cambodian border but state that he has no details and will look into the question." (Shawcross, p22) On the 9th of March, 48 boxes - approximately 48 square miles of Cambodian territory - were carpet bombed for Breakfast. Over the course of the next 14 months, the US conducted 3630 B-52 bombing raids in Cambodian territory. Each major operation followed on a tradition set out by Breakfast; subsequent plans included Operations Lunch, Snack, Dinner, Dessert, Supper. It had taken a change of presidential administrations to start these attacks, but once the bombing began, a new routine of escalation fell into place. As William Shawcross explains in his seminal work Sideshow, "(O)nce the decision had been made in principle that Communist violations of Cambodia's neutrality justified aggressive reciprocal action, it was not difficult to repeat the performance." (Shawcross, p 26) And to this day, there is still debate whether Sihanouk himself approved of the bombing of his own territory; Sihanouk denies it entirely, while Kissinger has stated otherwise. In a sense, though, it didn't matter whether Sihanouk approved it or not, for as was the case with Hanoi's initial placement of troops inside Cambodia, Sihanouk lacked the military might to prevent it. So either with or without the permission of Sihanouk, the US continued to bomb NVA and VC targets within Cambodia. The Nixon administration was morally quite comfortable with the decision; as Henry Kissinger has stated, "It was not a bombing of Cambodia, but it was a bombing of North Vietnamese in Cambodia." (Shawcross, p 28) Yet they still demanded secrecy, fearing the press would use it as a tool against them. Surprisingly, very little information was mentioned publicly - in April and May of that year there were several small references in the press concerning bombings over the border, but for whatever reason it wasn't considered a major story. Despite the relative success of the administration's news moratorium, Henry Kissinger was livid because of the minor breech. He concluded the story had been leaked by Mort Halperin, an aide on the National Security Council staff. In retribution, Kissinger removed Halperin from the loop and successfully arranged FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover to wiretap Halperin's home. The Halperin tap was the first of many administration-sanctioned, illegal wiretaps that helped bring down the Nixon presidency.

Yet despite the months of airstrikes, the bombings did little to curb NVA activities. On the contrary, communist forces crept further and further into Cambodia. The US bombers followed suit. Significant populations of Cambodian peasants were now at risk, though no one knows how many of them were killed during the campaign. And the Khmer Rouge, previously a weak guerrilla force run by disenfranchised leftist politicians, grew in the wake of the bombings, as each attack on Cambodian land legitimized their virulent hatred of Sihanouk. They would still need more fighters and weapons if they ever wanted to rule Cambodia, but at least the bombings reinforced the Khmer Rouge's taste for violence. The war in Cambodia was escalating, spiraling out of control. Sihanouk, whose greatest evidence of his mandate from heaven was that he had kept his people out of the war, no longer had the right to that claim. His days were numbered.

The Coup: Opportunities for Nixon and the Khmer Rouge
In January 1970, Prince Sihanouk embarked on another whirlwind tour, with plans to visit France, the Soviet Union and China. Lon Nol, who was now Sihanouk's prime minister, had been abroad seeking medical treatment in France and had left Prince Sirik Matak as acting prime minister. Soon after Sihanouk arrived in France, Lon Nol returned to Cambodia and began a series of conspiratory steps with Sirik Matak that would soon spell the political end of Sihanouk. In early March 1970, Lon Nol organized anti-Vietnamese demonstrations across Cambodia and gave the Vietnamese an ultimatum to leave Cambodia or face an attack. On March 12, thousands marched in Phnom Penh, sacking both the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong embassies. The following day, Sirik Matak canceled the secret smuggling deal through the port of Sihanoukville. Sihanouk, still in France, was furious and threatened to arrest his ministers. But instead of returning home to settle the growing rift, Sihanouk continued his travels, flying onwards to Moscow. By March 15, Lon Nol's ultimatum deadline had come and gone, so he requested and received shelling from South Vietnamese artillery against North Vietnamese forces entrenched near the border. Still, Sihanouk remained in Moscow. Fed up with Sihanouk, Prince Sirik Matak concluded a coup was now in order. Lon Nol initially wavered at Sirik Matak's plan, so the prince went to Lon's house with several army officers and insisted that he sign an official declaration against Sihanouk. "Nol my friend," the prince reportedly proclaimed, "if you don't sign this paper, we'll shoot you!" Lon Nol broke out into tears, as he would often do during moments of pressure, then pulled himself together before signing the decree. It was only when the prince was on his way to the airport to catch his flight to Beijing that he received the official news: Lon Nol and Sirik Matak had successfully convinced the National Assembly to remove the prince from power. For the first time since 1941, Sihanouk was no longer the supreme leader of Cambodia. The immediate impact of the Lon Nol/Sirik Matak coup was the end of Cambodian neutrality. Because Lon Nol requested military support from South Vietnam, the US concluded that this meant Lon Nol would even support American military involvement. Both the US and South Vietnam were delighted by the change in Cambodia; Sihanouk had been a thorn in their sides for years. Lon Nol was a man they could deal with. But Sihanouk would not go quietly: exiled in China, he made a public demand for Cambodians to revolt against the new right-wing regime. In Phnom Penh there was little support of his call to arms; Sihanouk had caused the elites of Phnom Penh much grief over the years, and as a former leader of the local business community, Sirik Matak was well received in his new role. But in the country villages, where support of Sihanouk remained strong, rioting soon broke out in which Lon Nol's brother Lon Nil was literally butchered and cannibalized by the mob. Also coming to Sihanouk's side were the communist forces of China, North Vietnam and the Pathet Lao of Laos, ready to supply his fledgling army with weapons and training. But who would fight for Sihanouk? The peasants were on his side, but they were poorly organized. The Khmer Rouge, though, seized the opportunity and offered their support for deposed prince. Once a rag-tag guerrilla army of former politicians, monks and teachers, they now had a cause for which the country people would fight. It was the beginning of full-scale civil war in Cambodia. Meanwhile, President Nixon viewed the worsening situation as an opportunity to demonstrate his so-called "Mad Man Theory" - if Hanoi could be convinced that Nixon was crazy enough to try anything, including nuclear attack, they would have no choice but to negotiate an end to the war. Nixon aide H.R. Haldeman later quoted how Nixon had explained the theory to him: "I want the North Vietnamese to believe I've reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We'll just slip the word to them that 'For God's sake, you know, Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can't restrain him when he's angry - and he has his hand on the nuclear button....'" (Shawcross)

But madman threats had to be backed up by madman action, for without a demonstration of his willingness to use force, Nixon's crazy act wouldn't hold much water in the eyes of the North Vietnamese. Because it appeared Lon Nol wanted US military support, Nixon decided to expand attacks into Cambodia in the hopes of eliminating COSVN, the phantom Vietnamese command center the US believed to be operating in Cambodian territory. In late April, 15,000 US troops supported by over 4,000 ARVN troops crossed the Cambodian border as part of a search-and-destroy mission. Once again the Nixon administration hoped to keep the maneuvers secret, but a series of press leaks forced Nixon's hand. On April 30, Nixon gave his famous televised speech which outlined and justified the invasion. "If," Nixon explained, "when the chips are down, the world's most powerful nation, the United States of America, acts like a pitiful, helpless giant, the forces of totalitarianism and anarchy will threaten free nations and free institutions throughout the world." Public reaction to the invasion was swift. Hundreds of American universities shut down as thousands of students protested and marched against the Cambodian invasion. At Kent State University in Ohio, where Sihanouk had once visited in his campaign for Cambodian independence, students sacked the campus ROTC building. Ohio governor James Rhodes responded by ordering National Guard troops to quell the riots. Within a day 15 students had been shot by the Guard, four of them killed. Before the week was over nearly 100,000 protesters had converged upon the White House. The U.S. Congress, increasingly concerned over the president's lack of interest in seeking their consent regarding military operations, soon passed the CooperChurch Amendment. The amendment legally forbade Nixon from military engagements in Cambodia beyond June 30th as well as prevented US support of the Cambodian armed forces through training and bombing raids. For all intents and purposes, the war in Cambodia was now illegal as far as the Congress was concerned. It was also the first time in US history that the legislative branch had ever restricted the war powers of the executive branch. Despite the passage of the Cooper-Church Amendment, Nixon was undeterred. US ground forces pulled out of Cambodia by the end of June, but the administration continued its B-52 bombing campaign supported by tens of thousands of ARVN ground troops fighting the North Vietnamese within Cambodia. The US encouraged the South Vietnamese air force to engage communist targets in Cambodia, which they often did with little regard for collateral civilian casualties. The White House also began to implement a long-term strategy for assisting Lon Nol's army with weaponry, cash and military training. Cambodia was now a full-scale test of the Nixon Doctrine, which Nixon described as protecting American interests by supporting foreign troops in the fight against communism. In a matter of months, Cambodia had devolved from a country plagued by isolated skirmishes to full blown free-fire zone. As the fighting escalated Nixon dispatched army colonel Alexander Haig to Phnom Penh in order to appraise the situation as well as their new partner-in-war, General Lon Nol. What Haig found in Lon Nol was a disturbing foreshadowing of the fate of Cambodia. During their meeting Lon Nol broke out into uncontrolled weeping and tremors. The US invasion had pushed the violence even further into Cambodia, and now Lon Nol literally was begging for help, for his army was too weak to save itself. Haig assured him that Nixon was his friend and would help the Cambodians fight the communists. But unlike Prince Sihanouk, Lon Nol was an indecisive, exceedingly emotional man whose undeterred faith in the occult and other mystical matters far overshadowed his leadership skills. He would often consult with monks who claimed to be spiritual channels to the ancient kings of Angkor. As one US cartoonist joked at the time, "The only thing we know about Lon Nol is that Lon Nol spelled backwards is Lon Nol." Yet the Nixon administration, committed to pursuing an honorable end to the war in Vietnam, adopted Lon Nol and began to supply his forces.

The War Rages in Cambodia: Lon Nol Loses Ground
From the spring of 1970 to January 1973, Cambodia suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties as North Vietnamese communist forces engaged US-supported Cambodian troops. Despite US assistance, the Cambodian military lost one engagement after another. Corruption among the ranks led to many officers lying about their unit strengths - each unit received a certain amount of money for each soldier, so officers pocketed huge sums over non-existent soldiers while their undermanned units were sent into battles they could not win. Soon communist forces occupied the majority of the Cambodian countryside - apart from Phnom Penh and several key road and river routes extending from the capital, the Lon Nol government had lost control of the rest of Cambodia. Once a spacious city of 600,000 residents, Phnom Penh now bulged to its limits as hundreds of thousands of refugees fled the countryside to seek refuge in the city. Lon Nol's ineptitude had left Phnom Penh a city under siege. Throughout this period, the Khmer Rouge worked side by side with the Vietnamese in order to gain ground in Cambodia. Invigorated by Vietnamese and Chinese support, the Khmer Rouge grew in strength and size. But as far as the Nixon administration was concerned, the Khmer Rouge were a puppet militia of the Hanoi government - if the war with Hanoi could be settled, the civil war in Cambodia would end with it. It was with this logic in mind that the US signed the Paris Peace Accords with Hanoi on January 27, 1973. US troops would leave Vietnam, Vietnamese troops would leave Cambodia and a cease-fire would take effect between

North and South Vietnam. For the Nixon White House, the accords seemed like a victory. But as far as Cambodia was concerned, the peace agreement was a mirage, for the Khmer Rouge immediately broke with Hanoi and vowed to continue their struggle against the Lon Nol government. Because the North Vietnamese had dominated the majority of the Cambodian countryside, the Khmer Rouge were in an excellent position to fight on and potentially capture Phnom Penh. The civil war would continue without the direct support of Vietnam. In early February 1973, just days after the peace accords, the US reinstituted its massive B-52 bombing campaign in Cambodia in the feeble hope of sustaining the Lon Nol government. For eight months hundreds of thousands of tons of US bombs fell across Cambodia - more than the entire tonnage dropped on Japan during all of World War II. Nearly any place outside of Phnom Penh was fair game for attack, and thousands of small Cambodian villages were flattened or abandoned as a result of the raids. The horrific drama of the 1973 bombing campaign climaxed in early August, when an American B-52 bomber accidentally dropped its load on the village of Neak Luong, southeast of Phnom Penh. Over 125 Cambodian residents were killed, yet the bombardier was fined only $700 for his mistake. As the story of Neak Luong reached the western press, Congress again demanded an end to the bombing. On August 15 president Nixon halted the B-52 campaign. It was the last direct military intervention in Southeast Asia by the United States. From now on Lon Nol would have to defend himself.

The End of Cambodia; The Beginning of a Nightmare
On New Year's Day of January 1975 the Khmer Rouge launched what it hoped was the final assault on Phnom Penh. The Cambodian capital was now swollen with over two million refugees. Access to food supplies in the countryside was completely cut off, and Phnom Penh starved slowly as a stream of US airlifts unsuccessfully attempted to feed the entire city with less than 600 metric tons of food per day. Despite a brave fight, Lon Nol's troops quickly fell apart from lack of supplies, lack of support, and lack of leadership. The now-fanatical Khmer Rouge, strengthened by a steady stream of supplies from Hanoi and emboldened by surviving years of sustained US bombardment, made their push into the Phnom Penh suburbs. By the end of March it was clear there was no way of stopping the Khmer Rouge siege. On April 1, a weeping Lon Nol, crippled by nervous breakdowns and a series of minor strokes, fled Phnom Penh for Hawaii with his family and entourage while Prince Sirik Matak and other Lon Nol supporters remained behind in the hopes of organizing a last-minute peace talks. The Khmer Rouge rejected the talks and pressed further into the capital. US Ambassador to Cambodia John Gunther Dean quickly made plans to evacuate US embassy staff and their families along with key Cambodian government officials, including Sirik Matak, Lon Nol's brother Lon Non, and acting prime minister Long Boret. All three declined the offer. In the hours leading up to the evacuation Sirik Matak responded to Dean's invitation: Dear Excellency and friend, I thank you very sincerely for your letter and for your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you and in particular for your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection and we can do nothing about it. You leave us and it is my wish that you and your country will find happiness under the sky. But mark it well that, if I shall die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is too bad because we are all born and must die one day. I have only committed the mistake of believing in you, the Americans. Please accept, Excellency, my dear friend, my faithful and friendly sentiments. Sirik Matak. Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak, former contender for the Cambodian throne and co-conspirator in the Lon Nol coup, would be executed by the Khmer Rouge two weeks later, along with Long Boret, Lon Non, and the other remaining members of the Lon Nol government. On the morning of April 12, Ambassador John Gunther Dean and the US embassy staff boarded a series of US transport helicopters to evacuate to a navy ship waiting in the Gulf of Thailand. Khmer children observing the evacuation waved to the Americans, calling out "OK, bye-bye, OK, bye-bye" to the departing embassy staff. As the helicopters departed Phnom Penh, the Khmer Rouge shelled the evacuation zone, firing mortars into the crowd watching the departure. The civil war was coming to an end.

Five days later, on April 17, 1975, Khmer Rouge forced marched unopposed into central Phnom Penh. At first the residents of the city celebrated - the siege was over, there would be no more fighting. But within hours, the joy would turn to horror as the Khmer Rouge began to implement their barbarous plan for a utopian communist society. April 17, 1975 was Day Zero for the new Cambodia - two thousand years of Khmer history were now meaningless.

The Khmer Rouge Years
On April 17, 1975, thousands of Phnom Penh residents celebrated in the streets as victorious Khmer Rouge troops entered the capitol. This joyous celebration, however, was not because the people of Phnom Penh were supporters of the Khmer Rouge; instead, they felt great relief that the five-year civil war had now come to an end. For the first several hours of that sunny morning it didn't matter which side you were on - Cambodia was finally at peace. This morning revealed a moment of hope. But hope quickly turned to fear as residents noticed that the Khmer Rouge troops weren't celebrating with them. Embittered and toughened after years of brutal civil war and American bombing, the Khmer Rouge marched the boulevards of Phnom Penh with icy stares carved into their faces. The troops soon began to order people to abandon their homes and leave Phnom Penh. By mid-afternoon hundreds of thousands of people were on the move. "The Americans are going to bomb the city!" was the answer given to residents if they asked why they had to leave Phnom Penh. No exceptions were made - all residents, young and old, had to evacuate as quickly as possible. As the Khmer Rouge knew well, there were no American plans to attack the city. The deception was a ploy to get people into the countryside, away from the urban confines of the city. The Khmer Rouge believed that cities were living and breathing tools of capitalism in their own right - KR cadres referred to Phnom Penh as "the great prostitute of the Mekong." (Chandler, The Tragedy of Cambodian History, 247) In order to create the ideal communist society, all people would have to live and work in the countryside as peasants. Peasants, in fact, were the Khmer Rouge communist ideal, not unlike the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Aryan of Nazi Germany. Peasants were seen as simple, uneducated, hard-working and not prone to exploiting others. Their way of life had not changed for centuries, yet they always managed to survive. It was this perception that caused the Khmer Rouge to view peasants - old people, to use their political jargon - as the ideal communists for the new Cambodian state. The city dwellers of Phnom Penh and other Cambodian cities, on the other hand, were seen as new people (or "April 17 people"). New people were the root of all capitalist evil in the eyes of the Khmer Rouge. It didn't matter if you were a teacher, a tailor, a civil servant or a monk: new people were the embodiment of capitalism and the enemy of communism, their personal political ideologies irrelevant. The Khmer Rouge felt that new people had made an active choice to live in the cities and thus declared their allegiance to capitalism. All city dwellers became enemies of the new communist state, a status that would cost hundreds of thousands of them their lives. Evacuation of the cities was the first of many radical steps taken by the Khmer Rouge. As new people were forced out of the urban centers they soon learned of the new rules that were being imposed by Angka ("The Organization"), the secretive team of Khmer Rouge leaders who dictated the lives of every Cambodian citizen. Among these new rules, religion, money and private ownership were all banned; communications with the outside world elimated; family relationships dismantled. All previous rights and responsibilities were thrown out the window. As was often said by the Khmer Rouge, 2000 years of Cambodian history had now come to an end; April 17 was the beginning of Year Zero for the new Cambodia: Democratic Kampuchea (DK).

The Faces of Angka: The People Behind the Genocide
For the first two years of Khmer Rouge regime, most Cambodians had no idea who was running the country. The Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), the political movement behind the Khmer Rouge, believed that secrecy was one of the best tools for controlling the population. The Cambodian people didn't even know the CPK existed. All they were told was that the country was now run by Angka. No leaders were mentioned by name - there was only Angka. The less the people knew about Angka, so the idea went, the more effective (and powerful) Angka would be. But as we know today, this unprecedented level of secret governance did little to save hundreds of thousands of Cambodians from their deaths at the hands of starvation, neglect or worse. Behind this mysterious political veil, though, were a core group of radicals who began espousing communism in the mid 1950s after studying in Paris, as well as their supporters who joined them in the jungle in the 1960s. These individuals were the masterminds of Cambodian communism and the architects of the policies that led to the genocide: Khieu Samphan. The studious former National Assembly member, Khieu Samphan served as the political leader of the Khmer Rouge. His doctoral research in Paris served as the basis for Khmer Rouge ideology. Though Khieu was never known for his military skills he became commander in chief of the Khmer Rouge army and led its forces into Phnom Penh in 1975. Khieu eventually was assigned the role of prime minister and president of the Khmer Rouge regime, even though decisions were made collectively by the KR leadership. Essentially, Khieu's purpose was to put a diplomatic, public face on Khmer Rouge policy. Ieng Sary. Known as "Brother Number Three," Ieng Sary also joined the communist movement in the late 1950s. As a leading member of the KR rebel forces, he became foreign minister in 1975 and was one of the key decisionmakers during the KR years. Chhit Chhoeun (Ta Mok). Though Chhit never studied in Paris he joined the communist movement early on as a rebel fighter. Despite his training as a Buddhist Monk, Chhit was a merciless warrior, and he eventually adopted the name "Grandpa Mok," - Ta Mok. After the Khmer Rouge victory, Ta Mok became one of the most powerful men behind Angka, leading purges against suspected KR cadres and coordinating massacres against Vietnamese civilians. His taste for brutality eventually caused many people to call him Ta Mok the Butcher. Nuon Chea. Like Ta Mok, Nuon Chea did not receive his communist indoctrination in France; instead, he was exposed to it by the Thai Communist Party during World War II. As "Brother Number Two," Nuon dictacted Khmer Rouge policy for over three years, developing the radical economial strategies that eliminated money and trade with the outside world. Saloth Sar (Pol Pot). After flunking out of his electronics scholarhip in Paris, Saloth returned to Cambodia to help build the Communist Party of Kampuchea. As one of the leading masterminds behind the Khmer Rouge, Saloth Sar became best known under his pseudonym, Pol Pot. Pol Pot served as chairman of the party, for which he claimed the infamous title "Brother Number One" and the reputation as the all-out leader of the Khmer Rouge. The people behind Angka were known only among themselves until September, 1977, when Saloth Sar - using his nom de guerre Pol Pot - introduced the world to Democratic Kampuchea through a public radio broadcast.

The Work Camps: Life and Death in the Farming Cooperatives
One of the main goals behind resettling urban residents into the countryside was to build a new Cambodia focused on agricultural success: "to build socialism in the fields," as it was once suggested (Chandler, History of Cambodia, 214). Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge leadership developed a "four-year plan" in which Cambodians were expected to produce an average national yield of 3 metric tons of rice per hectare (1.4 tons per acre). But even during pre-Khmer Rouge, peacetime Cambodia, the average national yield was only one metric ton of rice per hectare. To meet these new demands on rice production the Khmer Rouge enforced strict policies where workers labored in the fields for 12 hours a day without adequate rest or food. Many new people lacked any experience in manual labor and became ill and died, since the Khmer Rouge favored the traditional medicine of the peasants and hilltribes over modern western medicine. Those new

people who survived but were not well enough to work often vanished: after being taken away to a distant field or forest, they would be forced to dig their own graves before Khmer Rouge soldiers would bludgeon them on the back of the head with a shovel or hoe. It didn't matter whether the blow killed them or not; either way the victims were buried on the spot and left to die a suffocating death. Many Cambodians soon discovered that hard work wasn't necessarily enough to keep them alive. "Keeping new people is no benefit," so the Khmer Rouge slogan went; "Losing them is no loss." The lives of new people were seen as having little to no value, so even the most minor infraction was enough reason to get sent to a killing field. For example, foraging for extra food was a capital offense, despite the fact that the Khmer Rouge's daily food allowance was so low it would cause hundreds of thousands of people to starve to death. And because family relationships were now banned (for parents exploited their children, so the argument went), associating with a relative without the permission of Angka could get you killed. Khmer Rouge cadres would look for any excuse to kill new people. If you spoke French, you would die. If you were educated, you would die. If you wore glasses, you would die. If you practiced Buddhism, you would die. Families with connections to previous Cambodian governments were especially susceptible to ill treatment; while former soldiers and civil servants were usually summarily executed, their families were often forced to work themselves to death. Those who managed to survive for a time would eventually be charged as associate enemies of the state and sent to the killing fields. These incredibly harsh conditions limited one's options for survival. Most Cambodians submitted to each and every Khmer Rouge demand and hoped for the best. Those Cambodians who knew they could be labeled as an enemy (the educated, monks, government officials, business owners, etc.) had no choice but to cut off all ties to their past and pretend to be an illiterate peasant. If you could convince the Khmer Rouge you were one of the old people, you might survive, but if you were caught it would mean certain death. Because Angka banned family relationships, the Khmer Rouge often took advantage of children and molded them into fanatical communists. Young children were seen as being pure and untainted by capitalism and family influence. From an early age children were propagandized and brainwashed to believe in nothing but Angka - even their parents might become their worst enemies. Khmer Rouge brainwashing techniques were often so successful that children would spy on their parents or report on their families' activities during the Lon Nol regime. If parents were disguising themselves as uneducated peasants, their children would be rewarded for identifying them as enemies of the state. Children received expanded privileges under Angka as their parents were taken away to die. In some farming collectives there were so many adolescent Khmer Rouge cadres it seemed their were no adults running the camps. When Cambodians weren't working in the fields they were being lectured by Khmer Rouge cadres in daily "livelihood meetings" (prachum chivapheap). These meetings had a duel purpose. First, they served as propaganda sessions where people could be indoctrinated into Angka's communist ideals. Second, the meetings were opportunities for people to confess their past political and ideological sins, as well as to rat out fellow Cambodians. As Ong Thong Hoeung tells David Chandler in The Tragedy of Cambodian History, "Politics were everything. Political formation dominated every other activity." Ong goes on to say They [Khmer Rouge political cadres] attacked the individualist idea successively, in material terms, in terms of thought, and in terms of feelings. Materially, we had to denounce those who had more than the people. In terms of thought, each of us had to keep an eye on everyone else, to disclose any attitude that didn't conform to the line of the party. Everything was interpreted: words, gestures, attitudes. Sadness was a sign of spiritual confusion, joy a sign of individualism, [while] an indecisive point of view indicated a petty bourgeois intellectualism." (Chandler, 284) Unfortunately, many Cambodians saw these livelihood meetings as opportunities to confess their pasts and be redeemed in the eyes of the Khmer Rouge, not unlike people confessing to a priest at a Christian church. If they confessed, they were rewarded by applause and praise, perhaps an embrace from the Khmer Rouge cadres in attendance. Later that evening (or soon afterward - it was only a matter of time), they would then be escorted quietly from the camp and executed. The quality of life in these farm cooperative varied greatly from district to district; overall, though, very few Cambodians were spared from suffering, misery, starvation or the threat of death. Conditions worsened in 1977 and 1978 as Angka increased demands on rice production. With the passage of time it became more and more difficult for malnourished Cambodians to farm efficiently. To make matters worse, the Khmer Rouge's distain of technology made it next to impossible for workers to reach their increased rice quotas when forced to farm by hand only. Even if a particular collective farm met its rice quota, this didn't mean they would be rewarded with a proper diet. The bulk of the rice was earkmarked for Khmer Rouge soldiers and political cadre. New people could only eat the scraps that were given to them; if they were caught supplementing their diets with grass or even insects, they too would be sent to the killing fields.

S-21: The Horrors of Tuol Sleng
As hundreds of thousands of Cambodians slowly starved in the rice fields, a select number of political prisoners and their families met a terrible fate inside Khmer Rouge interrogation centers. The most famous of these centers, codenamed S-21, was located in the abandoned suburban Phnom Penh high school of Tuol Sleng, which ironically translates to "hill of the poison tree." To workers assigned by the Khmer Rouge to the Tuol Sleng neighborhood, S-21 was known simply as konlaenh choul min dael chenh - "the place where people go in but never come out." Tuol Sleng's reputation was brutally accurate: the sole purpose of S-21 was to extract confessions from political prisoners before they were taken away for execution outside of the capital near the farming village of Choeung Ek. Nearly 20,000 people are known to have entered Tuol Sleng; of these only six are known to have survived. The majority of the victims of Tuol Sleng were actually former Khmer Rouge cadres. With each passing year Angka became more and more paranoid, blaming many of its loyal supporters for Cambodia's woes. The Khmer Rouge leadership saw conspiring enemies around every corner: one particular document from the DK foreign ministry which described these "pests buried within" noted that 1% to 5% of all Cambodians were "traitors." (see Ben Kiernan's translation of The view of the contemporary situation in Cambodia) To exterminate this perceived infestation the Khmer Rouge rounded up hundreds of fellow communists each month, sending them to S-21 in order to extract forced confessions. No one was immune from the purges even some of the most committed members of the Khmer Rouge leadership, including information minister Hu Nim and deputy prime minister Vorn Vet, were arrested, interrogated and condemned to death at Tuol Sleng. From the moment you arrived as a prisonor at S-21, your rights and responsibilities were made painfully clear by a set of ten standing orders. These rules dictated how you acted, how you responded to questioning, and how you had no choice but to accept the fact that you were a traitor and would be treated as such.

The methods of extracting confessions at Tuol Sleng were cruel and barbaric. Prisoners were tortured with battery powered electric shocks, searing hot metal prods, knives and other terrifying implements. For example, in the prison courtyard stood a large wooden frame once used by students for gymnastics practice. The Khmer Rouge converted it into gallows for the hanging torture and execution of prisoners. Though many prisoners died from the constant abuse, killing them outright was discouraged, for it was much more important for the Khmer Rouge to get confessions on paper first. As part of its quest to wipe out traitors, the Khmer Rouge leadership sought to "investigate their personal biographies clearly" in order to get at what caused the prisoners to become traitors as well as to find out who their coconspirators were. Over time they were tortured as necessary in order to extract whatever confession was needed. Confessions were an arbitrary concept - in truth, the vast majority of S21 prisoners were probably innocent of the charges against them, so therefore most prisoners' admissions were lies borne out of excessive

torture. Even loyal Khmer Rouge cadres would eventually admit to spying for the CIA or the KGB, secret loyalty to the Vietnamese, sexual crimes - whatever the interrogators asked for they usually got. It was only a matter of time before the torture would break even the strongest of prisoners. The dubious nature of the confessions mattered little to the Khmer Rouge leadership; like the Salem witch trials of puritan Massachusetts, each confession fanned the fires of conspiracy by offering new names (and people) to target. Because prisoners would often name names in their forced confessions, the confessions served as a misguided, but self-fulfilling prophecy to the Khmer Rouge, allowing them to proove to themselves that there was indeed a massive web of traitors amongst them. Thousands of these confession files, including 5,000 photographs, survive to this day, giving us a grim look at the activities that occured inside Tuol Sleng. The Yale Cambodian Genocide Center has spent many years examining these records, but thousands of the people sent to S-21 have yet to be identified. We may never know who they were or why they were sent there; only their portraits remain to serve as affirmations of their lives - and deaths - at Tuol Sleng.

The Fall of the Khmer Rouge
As the Khmer Rouge systematically destroyed nearly all aspects of Cambodian society, a new conflict simmered with its historical enemy, Vietnam. While both forces grudgingly supported each other as they fought U.S.-backed Cambodia and South Vietnam during the Vietnam War, ethnic animosities prevented them from developing any lasting bonds with each other. Even as early as April 1975 - days after the fall of Phnom Penh - the Khmer Rouge exploited the situation in South Vietnam by seizing several small islands in the Gulf of Siam while the Vietnamese communists completed their choke hold on Saigon. Though one might have expected the new communist governments of Vietnam and Cambodia to eventually settle into some kind of political agreement, their hatred and mistrust of each other ran too deep. The Khmer Rouge received support from China, Vietnam's rival to the north, while the Vietnamese were assisted by the Soviet Union, which competed with China for standing in the communist world. Pol Pot also showed signs of a severe inferiority complex when it came to Vietnamese communists, for it was the Vietnamese who had helped the Cambodian communists organize into a political force. To Pol Pot, the fact that Cambodian communists had once needed outside help to get their act together was so shameful that he purged thousands of Khmer Rouge cadres simply because certain KR leaders acknowledged that the Cambodian communist party was founded in 1951, at a time when the Vietnamese communists were involved in Cambodian insurgencies. Pol Pot insisted that the party didn't really begin its activities until 1960, when he was named to the party's Central Committee. The distinction may seem academic, but Pol Pot's extreme paranoia over Vietnamese influence led to the deaths of many Cambodians who were associated with the Vietnamese in the early 1950s. Some of Pol Pot's oldest friends were swept up and killed in the purges. It was as if the Khmer Rouge were stranded under the shadow of the Vietnamese communists, apparently willing to start a war just to boost their sense of independence. In July 1977, Vietnam signed a cooperation treaty with neighboring Laos, which had also become communist in 1975. The Khmer Rouge viewed this as flagrant aggression against Cambodia: given the geography of the region (Laos wraps around Cambodia's north), Pol Pot interpreted the treaty as the next step in Vietnam's strategy to strangle Cambodia. If anything, he thought, it was Cambodia that should be attempting to strangle Vietnam. The south of Vietnam was populated by ethnic Cambodians, the Khmer Krom, who had been in the region for generations. If the Khmer Rouge played their cards right, perhaps the Khmer Krom would revolt against the Vietnamese and wrestle the land from their ethnic rivals. Not unlike Nazi Germany's almost successful dream of uniting the German peoples under one Reich, Pol Pot envisioned a greater Cambodia in which Khmers could reclaim the lands once controlled under the ancient kingdom of Angkor. The Khmer Rouge regime reached a climax in September 1977 when Pol Pot took to the airwaves and spoke for nearly five hours on Cambodian radio. For the first time, Pol Pot acknowledged to the world that Cambodia was now run by a communist government. The day after the speech he flew to Beijing to meet with Hua Guofeng, who had just become leader of the People's Republic of China following the death of Mao Ze Dong. The Chinese pledged to support the Khmer Rouge's rivalry with the Vietnamese but recommended against all-out war, knowing full well that Vietnam was in a much better position to win the fight. The meeting probably delayed an impending Cambodian assault on Vietnam, but the Vietnamese interpreted it as another sign of China's military support of an increasingly dangerous Cambodia. By the end of 1977, Vietnam concluded a pre-emptive strike against Cambodia was inevitable. In late December they sent troops as far as 20 miles across the border, capturing Cambodian villages and troops. Before the end of January 1978, though, Vietnam pulled back, returning their forces to Vietnamese territory. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge publicly celebrated the pullout as a humiliating Vietnamese retreat, but their anti-Vietnamese fervor blinded them to the long-term implications of the incursion. As the Vietnamese returned turned to their territory they brought along many of the captured Cambodian soldiers, as well as numerous Khmer Rouge defectors who feared they would be purged by Pol Pot. These Cambodians were carefully groomed in the hopes of eventually establishing a Vietnam-aligned Cambodian government some

time in the future. Among these detained Cambodians was a young Khmer Rouge lieutenant named Hun Sen, who had fled the country after realizing he too was the target of the purge. During the spring of 1978, Vietnam amassed thousands of troops along the Cambodian border. Khmer Rouge forces skirmished with Vietnamese troops in isolated, but recurrent incidents, raising tensions between the two nations even further. Spring also marked the signing of a friendship treaty between Vietnam and the Soviet Union, a direct response to Cambodia's close relationship with China. Cambodia and Vietnam were now the pawns of a Chinese-Soviet rivalry, not unlike when the U.S. and U.S.S.R. took advantage of the regional instability of the Vietnam War to further their own Cold War interests. And just as they had done so against the Americans and South Vietnamese, Vietnam patiently prepared for the right moment to gain an advantage while their enemy faltered. On December 25, 1978 - Christmas Day - 100,000 Vietnamese troops poured across the Cambodian border, quickly gaining a foothold in Cambodia's northeast. The Vietnamese intended to create a secure buffer zone between Vietnam proper and Khmer Rouge forces. The military encroachment went so well, though, Vietnam quickly realized that they could even seize Phnom Penh and knock out the Khmer Rouge in a matter of weeks. By January 7, 1979, less than two weeks after their initial attack, Vietnamese forces successfully occupied Phnom Penh, forcing the Khmer Rouge to flee into the wilderness. Pol Pot himself escaped by helicopter as the city fell, ironically mirroring the U.S. ambassador's departure in April 1975. As the dust settled, Vietnam established a new Cambodian government known as the People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK). Leading the PRK would be a new prime minister, Hun Sen, the young Khmer Rouge cadre who fled to Vietnam a year earlier. Hundreds of thousands of Cambodian families began the long march to their home villages in the hopes of finding surviving relatives. In many cases, though, Cambodians returned to find nothing left of their former lives - no homes, no possessions, and most tragic, no relatives. The Khmer Rouge came hauntingly close to succeeding in their radical attempt to erase all memories of the old Cambodia. Vietnamese occupying forces, who themselves were hardened by the brutalities of the Vietnam War, were shocked as they soon discovered the legacy of the Khmer Rouge. Throughout the countryside, Cambodia was pockmarked by sunken depressions of dirt, as if hell had sucked in small pockets of earth in the hopes of devouring the world above it. As we all soon discovered, the depressions were indeed the stuff of hell, for each marked the spot of another mass grave: the graves of the hundreds of thousands of Cambodians slaughtered by their own countrymen.

Survivor Stories
No matter how much research and effort is put into a history of the Cambodian genocide, it is nearly impossible to convey the personal impact of this horrific tragedy without having experienced the events directly. Therefore we have invited survivors of the holocaust to share their stories with you. Each story is an intimate account, a memoir, a testament to the insanity that swept Cambodia in April 1975 and the years that followed. Some survivors fared better than others; all lost many members of their immediate and extended families. These brave individuals bore witness to the genocide; may their stories serve to remind us why we can never allow this madness to happen again. The Tonle Sap Massacre, by Ranachith "Ronnie" Yimsut A young boy miraculously survives the killing fields Hope, by Mardi Seng Five siblings and their experiences in the collective farm camps Hear Me Now: Tragedy in Cambodia, by Sophal Leng Stagg A girl's story of enduring separation from her family Destination Unknown, by Dara Ea A refugee makes the difficult adjustment to life in America

The Tonle Sap Lake Massacre
By Ranachith (Ronnie) Yimsut Ronnie Yimsut was 13 years old when the Khmer Rouge swept into Phnom Penh in 1975. He and his extended family were removed from their homes in Siem Reap, near the famed ruins of Angkor, and forced to work in collective camps. During the last week of 1977, Ronnie's family was horded up for the last time before being killed by the Khmer Rouge. Of the dozens killed on that December day, only Ronnie survived. Today Ronnie is a landscape architect for the National Forest Service. He lives in Bend, Oregon, with his wife and two children.

It was a chilly evening of December 22, 1977, when a group of armed Khmer Rouge cadres herded what was left of my family and neighbors to an unknown destination. At the time we were at a forced labor camp in Siem Reap, Angkor Province, in what was then known as Democratic Kampuchea - Cambodia as we call it today. Our group was counted one by one by the armed men, some who were more like boys my age at the time. There were 87 of us all together and 7 of them. None of us knew for sure where we were going. However, after we had experienced similar move many times previously, we didn't really care where we were heading next. We all got used to such relocations. It was almost routine for us. This time it felt a little different. They seemed to try to accommodate us, to go out of their way to try to please us. It was an act that we were not used to. It made us feel uneasy about the whole plan. Why were they so nice to us this time? The last 24 relocations were miserable and the soldiers were very rough. In fact, they were so rough that some of my family died in the process of relocation. The soldiers' acts were very suspicious, but we didn't really care. It was a nice change, yet a change that we were having a problem swallowing whole. Perhaps their policy had changed? It was yet to be seen. One exhausting day of walking later we stopped at a former Buddhist pagoda on the way to some place they refused to tell where. Our escorts ordered us to stop and wait. We were more or less pleased to have a chance for a breather stop, no matter how short it was. However, the place was not an ideal resting area. We had always known that it was a "processing center." It was also a place where people got punished or even executed for a minor infraction. They called it a "Work Camp," but we all knew it simply as "The Death Camp." We waited and prayed that they won't keep us here permanently. Approximately 20 minutes later, they herded us out again. Twenty minutes may not be long, but it is an eternity when one life or future is at stake. It was a nerve-wracking experience. We knew that we had passed through "gate one" at last. Two days later, we all arrived at a place called Tasource Hill. I had been here several times during my time in the Mobile Brigade - it was another labor camp. There were thousands and thousands of people working, digging for a huge canal project. It was a sad sight to see. I thought I was just skin and bones, but the people I saw there were in worst shape than I was. It was not long after we arrived at Tasource Hill before they put everyone, including small children, to work among other people. It was then that I finally realized our faith had paid off - or so I thought. We were forced to work all day and almost all night for five agonizing days by a new batch of soldiers. Those who brought us over had long since departed. The new guards were cruel and had no mercy. Many died in front of me from heat stroke, sickness, exhaustion and starvation. But most people died from beating they received from the soldiers. And many were quietly taken away in the cover of the night to almost a certain destination: death. All that time I wondered when our turn would come. I wished it would arrive sooner so that we didn't have to suffer like those before us. People from my group began to drop like flies in the muddy bottom of the canal. Very few even bother to take them to get a proper burial. The dead and near dead were scattered all over as far as my eyes could see. We were all too exhausted and too weak to move. Every now and then a group of people came by to collect the dead bodies. Very few mourned for the dead. Even the relatives showed very little emotion because they knew that the dead would suffer no more. We were all like a bunch of living dead. I thought that it would be much easier if they just came and took us away. When were they going to end our misery? I waited and waited. It never came. A pointed object poked at me very hard and woke me up from the muddy bottom of the canal. I slowly opened my eyes to look at the teenage soldier who continued to poke me with his seemingly over-sized AK47 rifle. He was no older than 12, just a few years younger than I was, but much, much fatter. He was yelling angrily for me to get up from the mud. "Go ahead and shoot me!" I said to myself. I was ready to die. It was hopeless. I finally pushed my weak, skinny body up from the mud and wearily walked into a direction where my group was being congregated. It was our time to go, at last. I began to have mixed feelings about the sudden relocation plan. Normally, we would stay in one place for weeks or even months at a time before they shipped us out again. I had wished for them to take us away and now that the time had come, I was having second thought. Nonetheless, after five long days and nights without substantial food or rest, I was more than ready to go - where I was going was irrelevant. I just wanted

to get out of this place even if it meant sudden death. By the look of others, including my family, they were all ready to go as well. After all that they had put us through, especially the last five days, nothing could be worse. Nothing would matter anymore. They ordered us to file in a row of four. A small group of soldiers who were to escort us were made up of all ages, some as young as 10. There were only five of them to escort what was left of my original group of family. By then there were only 79 of us altogether. During those five awful days at Tasource Hill, eight had died, including six children and two elderly men. I wondered why there were so few of them if they were going to kill all 79 of us? The oldest soldier came over in front us and spoke loudly so that everyone could hear him. He told us that we were being moved to the Tonle Sap - the Great Lake - to catch fish for the government. He also said that there will be food to eat. Suddenly, people began talking among each other about the news. We were all very skeptical about the seemingly miraculous news. However, it made sense as most of us in this group were at one time commercial fishermen on the Tonle Sap. They told us just what we wanted to hear: the food, the chance to catch and eat fresh fish from the lake, the chance to get away from the misery of Tasource Hill. It all sounded too good to be true. I was completely fooled by the news. Well, perhaps I had a little doubt, but so did the rest of the people in my group. We would have to wait and see what the future would hold for us. They took us south through a familiar muddy road toward the lake, which was about six or seven miles away. The last time I walked on this very same road was just last the year before, when I was on another Mobile Brigade project. The longer we were on that road, the more relaxed we were. Perhaps they were telling us the truth? We seemed to be heading in the right direction. There were only five of them. They couldn't possibly kill all 79 of us - Could they? After about three miles of walking, They asked us to stop and wait for the rest of the group to catch up. People were very weak and the three-mile hike took its toll. Another child died on the way. After some hesitation the soldiers allowed the mother to bury her child. It was another 20 or 30 minutes before they caught up. They wanted us to move on quickly before the setting of the sun. They asked all the able men, both young and old, to come and gather in front of the group. The men were then told to bring their tools, especially any knives and axes they had with them. They said that the men needed to go ahead of the group to build a camp for the rest of us. The men were soon lined up in a single file with their tools in hand. I watched my brother Sarey as he walked reluctantly to join the line after saying goodbye to his pregnant wife, Oum. I told him that I would take good care of my sister-in-law. The group disappeared shortly in the darken sky. That was the last time I ever saw Sarey and the rest of the men again. The sky was getting darker and a chillier. The notorious Tonle Sap mosquitoes began to rule the night sky. After about 30 minutes or so, The two soldiers that led the men away returned. They quickly conferred with their fellow comrades. One or two of the people from my group overheard something quite unbelievable - the shocking news quickly spread among the people within the group. I learned later that they said something like, "a few got way." It only meant one thing: the men were all dead except a few who managed to escape. It was about 7 or 8 o'clock in the evening when we were ordered to move on again. By this time the children who still had enough energy to cry were crying and screaming as loud as they could. It was mainly from hunger and exhaustion, but also from the attack by the swamping mosquitoes. Amidst the crying of the children I could hear the sobbing and weeping of the people who lost their loved ones. I still had my doubts about the whole situation, although the odds were stacked against us. If we didn't die of starvation, exhaustion, or mosquitoes bites, there was a good chance that we might be killed by the hands of the soldiers. The thought of me actually coming face to face with death now terrified me for the first time. I had thought of escaping right then, but could not do it after a long consideration. I didn't have the heart to leave my family, especially my pregnant sister-in-law who was already a week overdue. Besides, where would I go from here? I would eventually be recaptured and killed later on. If I were to die, I preferred to die among my loved ones. There were plenty of opportunities for me to escape, but I just couldn't do it. So I reluctantly trekked with the rest of the group, with my sister-in-law Oum over my right shoulder and a small bag of belongings on my left. Somehow it seemed ironic: we were knowingly walking toward our deaths just like cattle being herded towards a slaughterhouse. We all knew where we were heading; even the children seemed to know it as well. I still had a little doubt despite everything I had seen and heard thus far. Perhaps it was a faint hope - a hope that these Khmer Rouge soldiers were not the cold heart killers we thought they were. Perhaps. A few miles before we were to reach the Great Lake, they ordered us to turn off to the west instead of continuing down south as planned. It was a very muddy, sticky road. My feet seemed to stick in the mud every single time I put them down to go forward. The progress was slow and cumbersome. A few people got stuck there just like in a quicksand bog and the soldiers would go back to them to kick and beat them up. I still don't know if they ever made it. I was busy helping Oum and myself move forward and didn't really care

anymore. All that time I was trying to calm myself down and keeping a clear mind. Oum was beyond help. Her quiet weeping had now became a full-blown scream. She was in bad shape, physically and emotionally. Oum said that she had stomach cramps or was in labor; she wasn't sure. It was to be her first child. She didn't know much about child birth or contractions, and neither did I. All that I could do was drag her across the muddy flats so the soldiers won't come and beat us to death right there and then. It was pathetic. We were no more than 300 yards off the main road when they asked us to sit down on the edge of a small shallow canal that ran east to west. Both of our legs stretched forward; we had to shut up or they would to beat us up. In a matter of minutes a large group of at least 50 people suddenly emerged from a hidden place in the nearby forest. It was really dark by that time, but I could tell from their silhouettes that they were soldiers with AK-47 rifles, carbines and large clubs in their hands. One of them began to shout loudly at us as the rest surrounded the group with their rifles, aiming directly at us. People began to plea for their lives. The soldiers screamed for all of us to shut up. They said that they only wished to ask a few questions - that was all they wanted. They also said that this was an interrogation and that they suspected there were enemies among us. They claimed there were Vietnamese agents in our group, which I knew was a bogus claim since we all had known each other for many years. It was all a tactic, a dirty trick to keep us calm, weak and under their control. But the tactic had been very effective because all the strong men who could have rised against them were the first ones to go. Those people left in my group were women and children, the sick and the weak. They had us right where they wanted. It was all a premeditated plan. A soldier walked towards me, yanking away a cotton towel and shredding it into small strips. I was the first one to be tied up tightly by the soldiers with one of the strips. I was stunned and quite terrified. I began to resist a little. After a few blows to the head with rifle butts, I could only let them do as they pleased with me. My head began to bleed from a wound. I was still semi-conscious - I could feel the pain and blood flowing down on my face. They were using me as example of what one would get if they got any kind of resistance. They quickly tied the rest of the group without any problems. By this time it was totally chaotic as people continued to plea for their lives. I was getting dizzier as blood continued to drip across my face and into my right eye. It was the first time that I had tears in my eyes - not from the blood nor the pain, but from the reality that was now setting in. I was numb with fear. I was beyond horrified when I heard the clobbering begin. Somehow, I knew that this was it. Oum's elderly father was next to me and his upper torso contracted several times before he fell on me. At that moment, I noticed a small boy whom I knew well get up and start to call for his mother. Suddenly there was a warm splash on my face and body. I knew it was definitely not mud - it was the little boy's blood, perhaps his brain tissue scattering from the impact. The others only let out short but terrifying sputtered sounds. I could hear their breathing stop cold in its tracks. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion; it was so unreal. It happened in a matter of seconds but I can still vividly remember every trifling detail. I closed my eyes, but the terrifying sounds continued to penetrate my ear canals, piercing my ear drums. The first blow came when I was laying face down to the ground with a corpse partially covering my lower body. It hit me just below my right shoulder blade - I remember that one very well. The next one hit me just above my neck on the right side of my head. I believe it was the one that knocked me out that night. The rest of the clubbing, which included at least 15 blows, landed everywhere on my skinny little body. Fortunately, I did not feel them until much later. I do not remember anything after that, except that I slept very well that night, unconscious from the beating. I woke up to the familiar sound of mosquitoes buzzing like bees over my body. Only this time there were tons and tons of them feasting on mine and other peoples' blood. I was unable to move a muscle, not a one. My eyes were opened, but they were blurry. I thought I had been blinded. I was disoriented. I could not remember where I was. I thought I was sleeping at home, in my own bed. I wondered why there were so many mosquitoes. They didn't bother me at that time because I could not feel a thing. Where was I? Why can't I move? I was still tied up with the cloth rope. After a few minutes I was able to see a little, but everything else was still blurry. I saw a bare foot but I didn't know whose it was. Suddenly, reality set in at full blast and I broke into heavy sweat. The memories of the events that happened earlier came rushing back and smacked me right in the head. I realized the sharp dull pain all over my body and head. I was very cold. I had never been so cold in my entire life. Fear ran rampant in my mind. I suddenly realized where I was and what had happened. "Am I already dead? If I am, why do I still suffer like this?" I kept on asking myself that same questions over and over again, but always came to the same conclusion. I was still alive. I am alive! But why? I could not understand why I was still alive and suffering. I should have been dead. I wished then and there that I was dead like the rest of people laying around me. The faint light of a new dawn broke through the sky, revealing my shriveled, blood soaked body in the mud. It must have been about 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning, January 1, 1978. "Not a Happy New Year today," I thought. It was still dark and cold. My motor skills came back little by little until I was able to move with great difficulty. I pushed myself to sit up by supporting myself on the pile of dead bodies. I began to work to untie myself from the cloth rope. I broke the rope after a few painful tries. My eyesight was also back, but I wished then that I was blind after seeing the scattered bodies laying at every direction. Some of them were beyond recognition. Some were completely stripped naked. Blood stains which had already turned to a dark color gave the area a new dimension. It definitely was not a sight for sore eyes.

I wanted to look around for my relatives, but was unable to turn around. My neck was stiff with pain. My head hurt - oh how it hurt so badly. I could only feel around me with my two hands. Everywhere I touched was cold flesh. My hands were both trembling and I could not control them from shaking. I cried my heart out when I recognized a few dead bodies next to me, one of which was Oum and her unborn child. I suddenly remembered the bare foot I saw when I woke up - it was hers. Her elderly father and her two sisters were all piled on top of each other and side by side as though they were embracing just before they lost their lives. I could not go on. My cries turned to a sobs; it was the only sound around besides the mosquitoes which continued to torment my almost bloodless body. I began to fade and feel as though my life was slipping away. I passed out again on top of the dead bodies. I was totally out cold. I woke up to the sound of people coming toward the killing field. I sat up and listened closely. I began to panic: "They are back to finish me off," I told myself, "They are going to bury me alive!" They might as well. I had nothing to live for. Technically, as far as the Khmer Rouge were concerned, I was already dead. I was ready to give up as the voices got closer and louder, but my survival instinct finally took control. I pushed myself, inching my way towards nearby bushes. I was no more than 20 feet away from where I was earlier but I now commanded a good view of the area. The people soon arrived at the site. I was right - the soldiers were back with a new batch of victims with them. Most of the people were men, but there were a few women. Their hands were all bounded together around the back, but with real rope instead of cloth. "There's no way they can get out of that rope," I said to myself. One of the soldiers gave a command. In the broad morning light, I again witnessed the slaughter of human lives. In a matter of seconds they were all clobbered to death, just like the rest of my family and friends whose bodies were still scattered on the muddy ground. My heart just stopped. My entire body shook convulsively and I wanted to throw up. My left hand squeezed tightly over my mouth so I wouldn't accidentally cry out and give myself away. I felt as though I was going through the same ordeal all over again. My mind just couldn't take it anymore. My mind went blank and I passed out again. It wasn't until the next night before I was really awake. A whole day had gone by just like I wasn't there. I remembered waking up several times during the day, but everything was kind of foggy. Soon after I woke up, more people were coming toward me again. I assumed they were more victims to be killed. I did not wait to find out. I decided then that I wanted to live. I began to slip away from the area by crawling on all my elbows and knees. I couldn't walk at all, even if I had wanted to. I was no longer bleeding, but I knew that I was in a bad shape. I was hungry and very thirsty. My lips cracked like mud in the hot sun. My entire body cracked from the layers of mud and blood that had baked in the hot sun. I had to find water soon or I would died of thirst. I worked my way west along the shallow-dried up canal and then turned north. By this time it was really dark and chilly. I found myself in the middle of a forested area. Impenetrable brush. I went back and forth trying to find a way to get through the thick forest and ended up back where I had started, near the killing area. After the fourth or fifth time trying, I found myself in the middle of the forest, lost and frustrated. I knew that I was getting very weak and needed to find my way out of this tangled web of thick thorn brush soon if I was to stay alive. I spent the night right where I was, crying myself to sleep. That night I slept like a log. For the next 17 days I found myself hiding out in the forest. I slept only in the daytime and spent my nights raiding one village after another for whatever I can find to eat. My injuries healed quickly and I began to put on some weight thanks to the food that I had stolen from the surrounding villages. I never stayed in one place for long. I kept on the move and always watched out for any sign of danger. I knew that they were searching for me but I was able to keep a step or two ahead of them. They always counted bodies and if one was missing, they always searched and usually recaptured the escapee. It was very difficult for me at first, but I soon became expert in the arts of raiding food and eluding capture. I am sure I must have frustrated a few Khmer Rouge soldiers who searched for me during my 17-day reign as king of the jungle. Life during those 17 days was never easy. Every single day I waited for the moment when I would get the chance to avenge the death of my family and friends. One day that opportunity arrived. I stumbled accidentally on a group of escapees who were also hiding in the forest. I almost got killed because they thought I was a Khmer Rouge spy. The only thing that saved me from certain death were my recent injuries; they believed my story. The next night all of us - over 200 men and women - broke up into three groups and went out to attack a Khmer Rouge garrison for food and weapon. Despite our lack of organization and weapons, we were willing to go against an army with only sticks, stones, a few knives and two recently dug up grenades. The element of surprise was gone when the old-rusty grenades failed to explode. Most of us got mowed down like weeds. There were heavy casualties. Many died or were wounded during the attack and counterattack - it was a total failure on our side. Although we obtained a few pistols and rifles we didn't reach our objective, which was to get food and weapons and take over the garrison. However, many of us were able to hurt or kill quite a few soldiers during the attack. I may have killed at least one and hurt a few others with my homemade "cave man's club." At 15-years-old I was the youngest in the group, but I fought just as bravely or even braver than any of the men or women there. I was burning and boiling inside with hate. I was fearless. Life meant nothing to me. I decided to live only to kill the Khmer Rouge, and that one night I was a savage animal with nothing but rage. Most of us were killed or captured during the army's full-scale counterattack. Our hideout in the wood was shelled day and night for three days until hardly anything was left standing. I decided to stick with the three leaders whereever they would go. The four of us managed to get away and head to Thailand. After 15 days

of hiking the 150 miles to the border we found ourselves in a Thai prison. The Thai authorities considered us as "political prisoners" simply because we arrived when they closed the border. And the four of us were not alone, as there were over 600 others like us who were kept in a 75x75 meter cell. Living conditions were bad and the treatment we got from the Thai guards was even worst, but I must admit that I would rather be in a Thai prison than in the hands of the Khmer Rouge anytime. At least we were fed and clothed like a human beings - much better than the Khmer Rouge would have done. And because I was the youngest of the prisoners I got better treatment than the others; I even got to know some of the guards really well. I used that privilege to my best advantage. I weighed a little less than 80 pounds when I first arrived in Thailand. Within 4 weeks, I managed to gain over 20 pounds. We spent five months in the Thai prison before we were eventually moved to a refugee camp near the ThaiCambodian border. While I was in the refugee camp I waited for a recruitment drive to join the freedom fighters against the Khmer Rouge, but they did not accept me because I was "too young and too skinny." I even tried telling them that I was almost 18, but it was no use. I was stuck in one place and got very frustrated. I could not go back to fight, and staying in the camp would only lead me to commit suicide. My life had no meaning at that time. There was nothing to live for. I thought that I should live so that I may one day avenge the death of my loved ones. My purpose in life was gone when they refused to let me fight the Khmer Rouge. I thought I should end my life just like my fellow refugees who had already killed themselves. But then I thought some more. "That is too easy!" I told myself. "I am a survivor. I will not died so cowardly." My life began to turn around when a CBS News producer named Brian Ellis showed up at the camp one day. I was interviewed for a documentary called "What Happened to Cambodia?" which was later broadcast in the United States. Mr. Ellis took me outside of the camp for the very first time in months. I tasted freedom and I liked it a lot. That day with Mr. Ellis was special and I have never forgotten it. My life began to change for the better after Mr. Ellis left. That one encounter with Mr. Ellis change my perspective about life - I got a reason to go on living. It was also a chance for a new life and an education. After the broadcast I was contacted by a cousin named Khen Chen who worked for Voice of America in Washington DC. I was eventually sponsored by Khen and her husband Chun to come to America. I arrived in Washington DC in late October, 1978 after a long, miserable eight months in Thailand. The other three men who escaped with me would eventually settl in a third country as well. Two of them are now residing in the United States and another is currently in France. They all remarried and are doing well. I went on and made a new life for myself. I graduated from high school and eventually got a degree from the University of Oregon in 1988. I am now married to Thavy, a Cambodian women, and have a young daughter. I am currently working for the U.S. Forest Service in Bend, Oregon as a District Landscape Architect, which I have done since my graduation. Life could not be better for me now. I still have nightmares about the massacre on that dark December night. It has never completely gone away from my mind and I am still horrified just thinking about it. Time does not heal such an emotional trauma - at least not for me. However, I have long since learned to live with it. Although it hasn't gone away from my mind, my life must and will go on. Brian Ellis (the CBS News producer), whom I had not heard from for 10 years, decided to show up at my graduation with his crew for a follow-up story. It was great to see the man, and he continues to influence my life. We are now good friends and keep in touch with each other, though he is no longer with CBS News. During the winter of 1984, I received a shocking letter from a refugee camp in Thailand via my cousin Khen in Washington, DC. The letter was from my oldest brother Larony, who was supposedly dead since the fall of Cambodia in April 1975. My family received news that he was killed by the Khmer Rouge while he was in a hospital, where he was recovering from wounds he sustained from a landmine. That was the last time anyone heard from him until his letter arrived in 1984. At the same time, I also learned that my only sister, Malennie, was also alive and well. On top of that, they were both married and had three children each. Both Larony and Malennie were not with the family so they were able to survive the Khmer Rouge madness. They and their families, ten people all together, worked their way to Thailand following the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia in January 1979. In January 1989, after five years of struggle, they were finally granted permission to enter the United States from the refugee camp in Thailand. This was after a long battle with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. By the time they arrived in Oregon, the family had grown from ten people to twelve people. Each family had a new baby who was born in the camp just weeks before their resettlement to the United States. They are now doing well, residing in Oregon. It was a heartwarming and emotional reunion after so many years of loneliness and separation. The last time I saw my brother Larony was in 1973. For my sister Malennie it was April 1975, following the Khmer Rouge takeover of the country. I had not seen their families until they all arrived at Portland International Airport in 1989. I am fortunate that I did not lose my life nor the rest of my family. On February of 1992, I returned to Cambodia for the very first time for four weeks. I arrived in Phnom Penh and then went on to Siem Reap, my home city. It was more than just another trip. It had been more than 17 years since I last stepped on the ground of my home city. It was also more than 14 years since I had last seen, heared, smelled, and tasted my Cambodia. It was highly emotional, to a point that it almost unbearable. The pain and the anger returned to my once traumatized memory. However, I felt that the Cambodia I now saw

was more traumatized than I was. Peoples' lives are much better now than during the Khmer Rouge years, as I can still vividly remember, but their lives are still on hold and waiting. We all agreed that a healing process is a must in order for all parties concerned to have a lasting peace. I learned a long time ago that one may forgive, but one must never forget the past. We must go on. Life goes on and forgiveness is the key to it all. I have also realized that revenge is not the answer to my pain and anger. Instead the answer was forgiveness of the people who had hurt me, both physically and emotionally. I never achieved inner peace until after I had forgiven the murderous Khmer Rouge. In a strange way I have to thank them, for they made me who I am today: a stronger person. I waited a long time for a chance to return to my native land. What I saw there was a country in a very sad situation. Cambodia is still devastated from the many years of war and foreign intervention. From the economic embargo by the United States to the destructive military machines of China, the former Soviet Union and Vietnam. People are still "camping out" rather living their lives the way it should be, settled permanently. It was a sad sight to see. Nonetheless, the people are doing what they can in trying to put their lives back together. It is an uphill battle for a people who are at least 20 years behind the rest of the world. My return trip to Cambodia gave me a new insight and a new goal in life for me to reach for: to help rebuild my homeland. I feel just like the salmon, whose urge to regenerate is very strong despite the hardship and the danger, it becomes their primary goal in life. I am alive today for such a purpose - to help regenerate and rebuild Cambodia to her best potential. The door is opening little by little now, yet the waiting game continues. I feel that the longer I wait the more uneasy I become. I feel that I am a person caught between two cultures: I am not quite Cambodian and not quite American. Sure, I am fairly successful here in the United States and I have adapted to American life and culture well. But the longing to return home has always been utmost in my mind. I have seen Cambodia and I am not even sure if I could make it with that culture or lifestyle. Nonetheless, I am willing to try because Cambodia will always be home to me despite the fact that I have nothing left there anymore. This is how I feel about Cambodia and why it is so important to me to help with the healing process. It is not just for Cambodia, but for me as well. After all, I am still one of the walking emotionally wounded that need to be healed. A poem of mine: Life is living. Suffering was faith. Struggling because there's hope. Life is everything all together.

Hope
By Mardi Seng Mardi Seng was 10 years old when the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh. Because Mardi and his family were from the area around the capital, they were labeled as New People. New People could include city dwellers, civil servants, teachers, educated people, French speakers; in other words, those who weren't poor village peasants or Khmer Rouge cadres (the "Old People") were classified as New People and thus suspected as traitorous allies of the former Cambodian government. As Mardi tells in his story, being labeled as New People was tantamount to a death sentence for much of his family. With the help of his grandmother, Mardi and his four siblings miraculously survived and escaped into Thailand before settling in the United States. Today both Mardi and his younger brother Lundi are active members of the online Cambodian community and contribute to numerous Internet resources. A dedication from Mardi, Lundi, Theary, Dar and Sina: "We dedicate this story to our grandmother. Her strength, courage, wisdom, vision, and love have been the inspirations in our lives, without which we would not be here..."

Recently I was listening to a public radio program about Angola. The report stated that the Angolan political factions adopted a widely used military strategy among "Third World" countries; the strategy was to starve the innocent Angolan people so that the opposition would surrender because of this act of animosity. The reporter estimated that about 1,000 people died every day from bullet-wounds, diseases, and hunger related

causes. In the report, a blind five year old boy was crying; his blindness was caused by severe hunger. Compassion overwhelmed me; I wept. In my world of peace and affluence, I am removed from the horror of war, of hunger, and of disease. But I share the pain, the horror, the anguish of children and of innocent people who have grown up in war-torn countries like Angola, Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Cambodia. In the first 14 years of my life, I saw, experienced, and tasted the horror of war which will stay with me for eternity. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you my story of war, hunger, suffering and death, but also of peace, hope and life. My name is Mardi Seng. I was born in Cambodia in 1965. My father, Im Kao, was a junior high school teacher even though he only finished the ninth grade. My mother, Chen Id Seng, was a tailor. They were the proud parents of four sons and a daughter. I am the oldest child. In late 1968, the war in Vietnam began to spill into Cambodia. Americans bombed the Cambodia-Vietnam border. The once unknown communist insurgent group, the Khmer Rouge, gained support and took control over many remote villages. Early in1970, Cambodia was pulled into the conflict; in April of that year General Lon Nol succeeded Prince Sihanouk in an American supported coup d'etat. My father was drafted by Lon Nol's army. He spent many months at the battlefront; he came home about three to five weeks during a year. Sometimes my mother would take us to visit my father along the front. On the first visit, my sibblings and I were so excited about seeing the weapons - artillery, rocket launchers, bazookas and M-16's. But that night, the excitement turned into terror and fear as the Khmer Rouge bombarded the camp with rockets and artillery. My mother comforted us in a misty earthy trench while my father left to command his company. Beginning in May 1974, my father, his company and three other companies were put under siege by the Khmer Rouge for 11 months. During that period, they lived in trenches which spread over one square mile. They were bombarded day and night and could not walk on the level ground. One day in late March 1975, the Khmer Rouge army left the stranded Lon Nol army to assist their comrades in capturing the capital city, Phnom Penh. Four days later my father was reunited with us in Phnom Penh. He was wounded. He could not see with his left eye. But thank God, my father was alive. April 17, 1975, two weeks after my family was reunited, the Khmer Rouge toppled the Lon Nol regime. On that same bright, warm, glorious and victorious day, a new era began: not of peace and tranquility, nor of hope and prosperity, but of suffering, torture, hunger, diseases, work camps, reeducation, and systematic killing. On the 17th, the Khmer Rouge began evacuating and emptying people from all of the cities and towns in Cambodia. They told the people that the Americans would drop bombs in the city, so everyone had to leave. The streets were filled with a sea of faces. Traveling was slow; everyone walked. Occasionally people had to step off the street to let a GMC army truck pass by. Sadness reflected on the adults' faces. Children cried because of hunger and of exhaustion from the tropical heat. My father was weak because of his wound. My mother carried my five-month-old brother; my two other brothers and I assisted my grandparents and three aunts in carrying our belongings. In four hours we had traveled only about half a mile. My family was silent and anxious as we moved slowly. While we were deep in thought, a Khmer Rouge soldier crept up behind and jerked my father by the arm. "Are you a Lon Nol soldier?" the soldier threatened. The world stopped during that eternal three second pause. "No, I am a teacher" my father reluctantly replied. "What happened to your eye and this band-aid?" he asked. My mother trembled. "A rocket landed in my school and debris hit my eye," my father replied. As the soldier walked away, we sighed with relief. It was almost two in the afternoon - we were hungry and tired. My grandfather suggested that we could take a short break in a small abandon house along the road. The house was a beautiful white house. A few of the windows were broken. Four or five families rested in the yard. No one was inside. We walked into the living room; there was a family of five lying there, dead. They died from multiple gun shot wounds; blood covered their faces and bodies. We walked out and joined other people in the yard. Everyone's reaction to this barbarous scene was not one of shock and horror but of casualness and coolness. I will never forget that living room. At three o'clock we were only a block away from that house. My grandfather asked me to get some water for my siblings. As I pushed my way towards a house, I saw a boy who was not much older than I was. He was wearing a large green camouflage army shirt. The shirt was not large; it was just the boy was too small for the

shirt. A Khmer Rouge soldier walked up to the boy, pulled him by the collar, put his pistol against the boy's head, and fired. April 20, 1975. Many things had happened in the last few days besides sleeping in the streets and escaping death. It would require many hours to recount the horrors, the inhuman treatment, and the unjustifiable killings - not that any killing of human life is justifiable. The Khmer Rouge's propaganda requested professors, previous government workers, educated men and women, and army officers to join the new regime to rebuild Cambodia into an utopian state. Having experienced enough suffering, many Cambodians responded to this noble calling. For the love of his country, my father joined thousands of other Cambodians on this calling that ended all sufferings: death. April 20, 1975. My father died so that my family might live. In November of 1975, after walking 90 miles, we arrived at my father's parents' farm in a small village. My grandparents and my mother's three sisters who had left Phnom Penh with us lived in the next village, about two miles from where we lived. On the first day on the farm, my father's youngest sister (my siblings and I did not know any of my father's family; the last time I saw them was when I was four years old) took me and my two brothers to take care our family's water buffaloes. In the field many children came to greet the newcomers. I was impressed with their vocabulary. They were very nice and proper to each other; they addressed each other as "comrade." One boy asked, "Comrade, what is your name?" "My name is Mardi," I replied. I pointed to my two brothers and said, "these comrades' names are Sina and Lundi." They broke down and laughed; we joined them in the laughter but we did not know why. Later that day, my aunt told me that I should not address my siblings as "comrades." I was embarrassed. Four months had passed. My siblings and I really enjoyed living on the farm. The sense of peace, tranquillity and contentment overwhelmed us. There was no war nor suffering, hunger nor material need. Life was basic and simple. But in life nothing is forever. In March 1976, the hot and dry season began. A dining hall was erected in every village. Angka ("The Organization" - what everyone called the Khmer Rouge government) wanted to provide for all of our needs. This way, people would not have to cook for themselves; equality also could be achieved. But this was also a method of control. Since we ate in the dining hall, many things started to change. People worked for longer hours. Young people (ages 15 to 25) worked from five the morning until midnight. We had less food to eat even though we had just harvested a good crop. We could not walk from one village to another without a permit - not even to the next village. They started to mistreat the "new people" (the city people like us). There was worry and fear on the adults' faces. "Bang, bang, bang" the dinner bell resounded to break the silence of busy workers. Some men and women, with their eyes squinted and their right hands over their foreheads to block out the merciless bright sun, estimated the time of day. The sound of the bell always brought smiles on peoples' faces. The children filed along narrow paths from their homes and strolled innocently toward the dining hall. The adults - all dressed in black, some with straw hats and some with white/red or white/blue checker krama (a native cloth scarf with many uses) - marched toward the dining hall. The sight was both haunting and dramatic. In the dining hall, the children sat at one end of the room because the adults complained that these children had no manners. They would stir up the soup to get the meat and leave nothing for the adults. A group of ten people sat around a table and on each table there was a bowl of soup and a bowl of stir-fry. The soup consisted mostly of vegetables and water. There was no meat. The usual lunch or dinner consisted of two or three chickens for 500 people. At the other corner of the room were the Chinese 'new people.' They always sat and ate together. In August 1976, the rainy season started. Water covered most of the land. The grass was green; buds sprouted; water vegetation emerged from the fields. The rice patties were teeming with life - frogs and tadpoles, large fish and small ones, herds of water buffaloes and children. The children were responsible for the care of the herd of water buffaloes and bulls. In a field away from the village, while my two buffaloes enjoyed the freshness of vegetation, I chased after a frog. Angka did not want us to fish or catch frogs to supplement our diets, but I was hungry. The frog tried to escape and jumped into a newly dug hole. I did not take much notice of the hole then; I was too involved with my potential dinner. I jumped into it after the frog. I got it.

Getting the frog out of the hole was not easy because the lip if the hole was over my head. The hole was rectangular in shape - it was about 2.5m X 2m. I was a little curious because I did not remember seeing it there the previous day. In the dining hall, two days later, I noticed that I had not seen some of the Chinese new-people. I asked my mother where these people went, but she did not know. The next day, I went back to that hole in the hope that I would catch another frog, but the hole was filled. It was no longer a hole or even a simple grave - it was a mount of bodies. It smelled awful; 15 to 20 people rotted in that grave simply because they were Chinese. In the next couple of months, many new people disappeared at night. When nights fell, fear and terror reigned. Many questions haunted my mind. "What is death? What does it feel like? I am so young, I do not want to die. Why do people kill?" I did not understand the reasons for taking lives. I still do not understand. I was afraid of death. I still am. I daydreamed what it would be like to live with my two uncles in France or my other uncle in the U.S., and what would it be like to go to school. Every night I dreamed that Angka killed me and my family, but I always barely escaped because I knew how to fly. The nightmares persist to this day. Two of my mother's sisters were married in the middle of 1977. One aunt moved away to live with her husband in a nearby village. The other couple lived with my grandparents in another village. Angka did not like the new people because the new people had been "corrupted by American imperialism and need to be cleansed." My grandparents' family and their in-laws were the only 'new people' left in their village. But even this might change, I thought. One day in August 1977, the news spread over the village that my grandparents' family and their in-laws would be killed that night. My mother's youngest sister wailed all afternoon, saying good-bye to all the villagers. My grandmother bathed and dressed in her best dress, ready to go. At dusk four men with ropes, guns, and bamboo sticks sat only ten yards from my grandparents' hut, and waited for night fall to take the two families away. The Khmer Rouge did not use guns and bullets to kill passive, innocent people. They tied up their victims, sat them next to the grave, and hit them on the backs of their necks. Most of these victims did not die from the blow but from suffocation because they were buried alive. At about 8 o'clock, one of the aunts finally became exhausted from her wailing. They sat in silence, like sheep waiting to be slaughtered. In the midst of a moonless night, one could see the glow of hand-rolled cigarettes floating across the rice patties toward the group of men. A man came up and talked to those men. My grandparents and family could not hear the conversation, but the result of the conversation was life-giving. Ten minutes later, the men walked away. The family was overjoyed. My other aunt who lived in her husband's village was not as lucky, though. She, her husband, and all of the new people in their village were buried alive in two mass graves. December 1977, a Cambodian rebel group aided by the Vietnamese government invaded Cambodia. My village was 15 miles from the Vietnamese border and only seven miles away from the battlefront. We could hear the sound of the battles. Sometimes we had to sleep in trenches because of the artillery bombardment. Vietnamese planes usually made bombing raids on the Khmer Rouge camps during the day. My siblings and I, while tending to our buffaloes in the fields, witnessed spectacular air shows. At 2pm every day for a month or two, four planes dive-bombed the Khmer Rouge camps as anti-aircraft guns on the ground fired at them. One afternoon in late December 1977, half a mile from a Khmer Rouge camp, grassy open fields were filled with children and their water buffaloes. Children gathered near the field under trees for protection from tropical heat and played games in small groups, while the buffaloes walked lazily and enjoyed the luscious grass. My water buffaloes were on the far side of this open field and led other buffaloes away from the herd. My two brothers walked toward the buffaloes to stop them from straying. A few minutes later, I followed. We were about a quarter of a mile away from the wooded area, entering the open field. My brothers, about 50 meters in front of me, pointed toward the eastern sky. In the midst of the deep blue cloudless sky, four World War II T-28 planes were on a dive, not at the nearby camp but at me and my brothers in the open field. We were stunned and stood there motionlessly watching the dive. We were helpless; there was no cover. I think the pilots thought the black buffaloes were the khmer Rouge soldiers because the soldiers dress in black uniforms. While the planes were diving toward us, we heard and saw the explosions of the anti-aircraft shells in the air. At the bottom of the bomb dive, we could see the pilots in their planes and the writing on the bombs. We fell to the ground and placed our hands over our ears because of the loud noise of the airplane engines and the explosion of the anti-aircraft shells. I was terrified. I thought that was it for me. I still can picture those bombs under those wings. But thank God, the anti-aircraft shells were fired so rapidly that the planes had to fly away. January 1978. The Khmer Rouge soldiers had receded and camped in my village. The villagers had to move to a different village away from the battlefields. My grandfather had permission to stay in the village to tend to his tobacco crop. One afternoon, the soldiers who used our house as their camp offered my grandfather a bowl of soup. The bowl was so full that my grandfather had to drain some of the broth out. My grandfather was arrested for draining the broth and was tied upside down, hanging off a tree on his own property.

The next day, the villagers came back to the village because the Vietnamese had pulled back. My siblings and I went to the fields to tend our buffaloes. In the late afternoon, my two brothers and I came back from the fields. There was a gathering of people in our house. My mother and my father's three sisters were wailing. My father's mother was caring for my crying sister and four-year-old brother. My 84-year-old greatgrandmother was lost in thought. My mother walked up to us and said, "They will take us tonight." In that moment, my strength left me; my brother Lundi jumped off his buffalo and screamed "No, I don't want to die!" and ran away. My aunts held us and we cried. My mother encouraged us to eat so that we had strength to walk for that night. The sun was setting and Lundi was still in hiding. My brother Sina and I went to look for Lundi. We found him crying himself to sleep in an old storage hut. We took him home. It was dark. There were about 40 family members who came to say goodbye. We awaited death with fear and trembling. The men came for us. With them was my grandfather. His arms were tied behind his back. "I don't want to go; I want to live," Lundi begged and ran to my great-grandmother and cried. Her eyes, filled with sorrow, stared straight ahead into the darkness of the night, and she softly ran her fingers through his hair. Her heart was broken and she passed away later that night. Two men tied my mother's arms above the elbows behind her back. I carried my four-year-old brother Dar; Sina held my sister's hand while Lundi carried our extra clothes. My grandfather, mother and my siblings and I were led into the darkness by four armed men. It was known to every Cambodian during that time that if one was taken away during the night it meant death for that person. We knew we were going to die that night. We walked for two hours and stopped at this compound. To our relief, we could not see any open graves. We were not familiar with the area because it was too dark. The compound was a prison. Our legs were chained together in one of the three buildings. We were physically and emotionally exhausted from the ordeal and slept very soundly. The next morning was an incredibly beautiful morning. We were alive. The morning sun was brilliant; the birds were singing; we were still breathing. How can I explain how I felt? Life! Life is so beautiful. As my two brothers and I surveyed the ground, we noticed there were covered graves everywhere. Some were old; the covered ground sank a bit. Some were new; the ground heaved up and blood oozed out due to the intense heat of the tropical sun. And to our dismay, some graves were not covered at all. We lived in the prison camp for five months. During those months we witnessed and experienced inhumane events. A few hundred prisoners came and never left. A few tried to escape but were gunned down and left to rot in an open field. Even in the midst of these trials, we still hoped; hoped for supernatural events to take place. The supernatural events did happen, but relief occasionally took place in natural ways. One early evening in late June 1978, a monsoon rain had passed by and left a tremendous amount of water in the fields. A group of prison guards walked lazily toward our building. "Mardi. Sina. Lundi. Come with me," our guard called. "We're going to the next village to find stranded buffaloes." My two brothers and I knew that was not true because when we counted them two hours earlier; all 112 of them were accounted for. My mother knew what was going on; she tried to put my sister Theary and youngest brother Dar to sleep. A guard unchained Sina, Lundi and myself and walked us away from the camp. The clear quiet night was incredibly beautiful; the heavens declared the glory of God. Against the pitch dark canvas of infinite space, thousands of stars radiated like diamonds. The waning moon reflected its golden rays off the water-covered fields. The scene was one of peace, tranquility and contentment. In the midst of the splendor, I forgot about my situation until Sina whispered to me, "Did you see, there were a lot of guards with ropes, guns and shovels outside the prison compound?" "No," I answered. He looked at me and his face was saddened. I understood his thoughts. Tears rolled down our eyes but we did not cry. Thoughts raced through my mind. Anguish burdoned my soul but I was relieved that at least three of us would survive this insane act of genocide by Angka. We stayed at a nearby village for the night. There we told Lundi what was happening back at the prison. We tried to comfort him. In our silence, we prayed that Theary and Dar did not wake up while they took our mother away. We felt (and still feel) guilty that our mother died and we lived. But it was her wish that she should die so that we might live.

The next morning we hurried back to the camp with the hope to see at least Theary and Dar. The prison was unusually empty. With relief, we found my sister and brother. They were crying as they searched hopelessly for their mother. Sina and I picked them up and told them that everything would be all right. A prisoner told me that they had been crying on-and-off since the middle of the night because they could not find their mother when they awoke. That same morning, a guard told us to go back to our village. In January 1979, Vietnamese overthrew the Khmer Rouge regime and established a puppet government. Seizing this opportunity, my mother's mother took her family and us to escape into Thailand. While waiting for sponsorship, we lived in refugee camps in Thailand for one and a half years. December 23, 1980. My family arrived in Michigan under the sponsorship of Millbrook Christian Reformed Church. The Church has provided an incredible amount of support to my family. With the Church's and family's support and direction, my three brothers, sister and I have thrived in this great country. We have been active and involved in our church, community, and school activities. Lundi and Theary, who did not know a word of English upon their arrival to this country, both placed in the annual National Spelling Bee for the city of Grand Rapids, and were mentioned in the United States Congress. Lundi also graduated from his junior high school as a valedictorian. Theary was her high school's class Salutatorian, while Sina, Dar and I placed in the top ten percent of our classes. Sina is finishing up with his electrical engineering program at Grand Valley University in Michigan. Lundi, who is in medical school, graduated from the University of California at Irvine as a Biological Sciences major. Theary is in her third year in the International Relations program at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Upon graduation, she plans to go on to law school. Dar is in his first year at University of California at Irvine, enrolled in the pre-med program. I am attending Northeastern University in Boston in an MBA/Co-op program. I have been given the honor of working for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) as a bank examiner for my co-op work period. My work experience with the OCC has been a beneficial, functional, and practical experience. The people with whom I have worked are professional, capable, supportive, and amiable. I have enjoyed my OCC experience immensely. I hope to work for the OCC upon my graduation from Northeastern University. My most influential rationale to work for the OCC is to gain work experience and knowledge about the American banking system, so that someday in the near future, professional American-Cambodians like myself can go back to Cambodia to assist in rebuilding Cambodia. I am now planning to take my grandmother and Lundi to visit my father's relatives in Cambodia. This will be the first time in fourteen years. For fourteen years, my soul has been stirred restlessly, aching to possess serviceable skills to contribute in the molding of a self-sufficient state of Cambodia. For fourteen years, my heart has uttered countless prayers for peace in Cambodia, for her well-being and for its cultural preservation. For fourteen years, my spirit has yearned to be with her, to care for her people who have agonized over the pain of wars, starvation, diseases, and experiencing the hopelessness of social and cultural annihilation. During my preparation for this trip, emotions fly high; ideas race ceaselessly. Untenable expectations await disappointment. But in the midst of this uncertainty and anxiety, one thing is for sure; that it will not be America... In the time since Mardi wrote this essay, he received his MBA degree and now works as internal auditer at Fleet Financial Group. Mardi is married and has two beautiful children. Sina is currently working as an engineering manager and recently tied the knot with his girlfriend Nancy. Lundi is in the midst of his medical residency and hopes to serve his community one day... Theary has graduated from Georgetown and is now in her second year at the University of Michigan Law School. Dar is wrapping up a dual art major/pre-med program at UC Irvine, hoping to attend medical school in the future and to be a part of the Cambodian healing process.

Hear Me Now:
Tragedy in Cambodia By Sophal Leng Stagg Sophal Leng Stagg was nine years old when she and her family were forced to leave their home in Phnom Penh in April 1975, joining the millions of Cambodians who were devastated by the Khmer Rouge. It is for this reason that she relates the details of her experiences during the four years that she and her family lived under under the oppression imposed by this brutal regime. Today, Sophal and her husband, Bill Stagg, run the Southeast Asian Childrens Mercy Fund, a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to raising awareness of the genocide as well as collecting much needed funds for children in Cambodia. As Sophal says, "I am determined to tell our story. I believe our story must be told by all survivors, again and again, to prevent a repeat of the inhumanities that existed during Cambodia's darkest years." Sophal's husband Bill Stagg adds the following words: "The Cambodian holocaust, while well documented in such treatments as the movie The Killing Fields and in the autobiography by Dr. Haing S. Ngor, has been almost totally ignored outside of southeast Asia. If, however, we have learned nothing in the continuing struggle of man's inhumanity towards others, we can confidently state that such lessons in history will be repeated as long as they are overlooked by the world community. The continuing reliance upon witnesses to such events serves as a constant reminder of the need to bring them to our attention.... "The gruesome reality of Cambodia during the years 1975-1979 awaits the exposure it deserves. Lest we forget! The enormity and brutality of the Cambodian holocaust staggers the imagination; its horrors cry out for explanation. It reminds us to what depths humanity is capable of sinking and pushes each of us to examine our own conscience and our relationship with our fellow human beings." Sophal, Bill and their family live in Florida. Twenty years and what seems like a dozen lifetimes have passed since the events that I describe in the following words transpired and, although I can now look back with less emotion, the memories of that time are as vivid as if they happened yesterday. I cannot completely explain my reasons for the need to write about these experiences except as a testimony to those whose lives were lost and can no longer speak for themselves. On the night of April 16, 1975 we were awakened by the terrible sounds of bombs and guns, close at hand. The explosions were so near that our house shook with each burst. To the mind of a terrified nine-year-old girl, it seemed that the gunfire was aimed directly at me. My parents led us to a shelter underneath the house and there, in total darkness, my mother clutched my sister Chan and me to her body and comforted us with her warmth and love. Although she must have been frightened as we were, her first thought was for the safety of her children. Needless to say none of us slept that night. Early the next morning, Papa went out to inquire about the circumstances of the battle. We huttled together in one room hoping for the best, but fearing the worst. When he returned, we could tell from the worried expression on his face and the change in his demeanor that the news was foreboding. He told us that the Khmer Rouge was everywhere, marching up and down the highways waving their flags and celebrating their victory at the conquest of the capital city. Although he was clearly concerned for our welfare, my own reaction was to hope that this new development would at least put an end to the warfare and killing. Maybe by now, I thought, Cambodia would once again be at peace and my family could return to our treasured customs. I soon learned that the people I loved the most would begin to experience the worst horrors imaginable. We knew our lives would be changed forever. What began as a hasty departure from our homes and neighborhood soon became a massed confluence of families in an ever-growing crush of frightened, confused humanity. The forced evacuation of the one million residents of the capital city had begun. This was the beginning of immeasurable pain and suffering for the Cambodian people. By the end of 1976, I was convinced I would not reach my next birthday. The Khmer Rouge had again shown me how endless their cruelty was. Up to this time, regardless of the hardships I endured, I always found comfort in the fact I would see my mother at the end of the day. I was taken by force away from my mother and assigned to a far away work group. Now my heart was broken and the will to live was gone. Without my mother I was now unable to communicate and could only look into the darkening skies as if searching in my despair for some sort of comfort. As the stars shone with unusual brilliance, the round full moon seemed to

offer a sign of warmth and sympathy. I began talking to it as if it was a loved one who was there to comfort me. The next three years brought with it starvation, sickness and death as my companion. We endured misery which words can never fully describe and a numbness to life itself. I got sicker with each passing day. There was virtually no muscle left on my body at all, just skin and bones. My head was bigger than my trunk even though my body was swollen from starvation. I lost my vision and the use of my legs. I was yellow with hepatitis and was ready to die if it were not for my greatest fear - I would not die without my mother. As I lay motionless I recalled my mother's voice urging me on and not to accept death, for it was this that saved my life. The Khmer Rouge would not kill me. Peaceful times have gone away Long gone, so far, so far away Let me live as I will you Peaceful times as we once knew The young, the old, so sad these days So sad, so scared, are we I have closed my eyes to run away Run away to peaceful days Mother please stay with me Don't go, please stay close to me I need you now to help me see To see the days of peace for me Help me find those peaceful times The times we laughed when we were free No more pain, be at peace. I survived Cambodia's darkest years to tell my story - as I believe all survivors of genocide should do. It is of profound importance that our youth be made aware of the horrors that existed in our past and understand that history must never repeat itself. While public awareness is raised by such displays as the Holocaust Memorial in Washington, an enormous amount of effort in education, prevention and intervention is needed to control this devastating human disease. May the suffering of all genocide victims impact the hearts and minds of our students and teachers, making them aware of the consequences of hatred, indifference and apathy which continues to manifest itself today.

Destination Unknown
By Dara Ea Dara Ea, 41, came to the United States of America in February 1981 along with many Cambodian refugees. Dara and his family were fortunate in that they only lost three family members during the Khmer Rouge regime. They escaped to Thailand shortly after the Vietnamese invasion before settling in California two years later. Dara returned to Thailand to serve as a translator and statistician at the Cambodian refugee camp in Buriram. Back in the United States, Dara eventually went to technical school and college before enlisting in the US Marine Corps for four years. After receiving his honorable discharge he returned to life as a civilian, working for the U.S. Postal Service in San Jose, California. Dara's life away from Cambodia has been a success, but the adjustment to life in America was difficult for him and the thousands of other Cambodian refugees who settled here, as he tells in his essay, Destination Unknown.

The jet aircraft full of refugees took off from Bangkok, sailing through the sky of darkness like explorers navigating the menacing seas of Southeast Asia. The refugees faces were glazed over with worry, yet they were happy knowing that they would now live in peace, having fled their homeland after many years of civil war. They were granted political asylum to resettle in a new country - the United States of America - thanks to the kindness of President Carter. The plane soared smoothly through the air, taking these refugees from Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos to a destination unknown. For years, the people of Southeast Asia had enjoyed their lives in their own homeland, despite the bad times. The Vietnam War created civil wars in Cambodia and Laos. Cambodians brought their own country into isolation, thanks to Pol Pot and his communist party. They brought their country down to ground zero where everyone was forced to become farmers, working like slaves. The Pol Pot regime killed over one million of their very own people, trying to erase the images of the past. They visualized a society of pure communism. Below the plane the seas sprayed salty waves, relentlessly nibbling coastlines, slowly eroding the edges of distant lands. This lonely aircraft was lead by a crew who spoke a funny language. They spoke English so fast the none of us could understand. The crew chose one of our own who knew English enough to translate their air safety speech into Khmer. It didn't mean anything because our minds were in chaos. We didn't know what to expect. Our lives now were depending on those international organizations who had helped us since the day we made our last step out of Cambodia. Meal time was quite an adventure. We didn't know what kind of food they would give us. A little tray with a small package wrapped with plastic wrap, two pieces of bread with some vegetable and meat in between. A little bottle of orange was to the side with a little paper napkin. We tried a bite and went no further - it tasted funny. So we kept them in our bags for later, just in case something happened before those pretty ladies (the flight attendants) took them away. Food was a commodity for many years in Cambodia. We traveled two days and two nights thanks to the time zone changes. It was very difficult to sleep because the seats were all upright. There were a few benches for the flight attendants where we could lay down. They were very nice to let me sleep for a while. The plane descended after a few hours in the air. All around we could see tall buildings standing by the ocean. The nose of the airplane pointed straight at the top of a very tall building. Were we going to hit it? We found out that we were landing at Hong Kong's international airport. They fueled the airplane, preparing for a long trip across the Pacific Ocean. The crew made us stay in the airplane for about an hour; then we took off again. It was scary because there was nothing in front of us but water. A little mistake could take everyone on board to the bottom of the ocean. The pilot was our savior. He carried us to the air safely. Hong Kong now was behind us. We went up until everything disappeared. There was nothing except the sky and bright light. We now began to think about how we were going to deal in America. Our lives would never be the same. We had heard some stories from friends and relatives - everything sounded wonderful. Everything should be better than what we had. A little house with a little freedom would bring us happiness, we thought. Cambodia brought our lives to disaster. What else could be worse? The plane eventually landed in a dark place we had never heard of. It was night. Our flight attendant told us that we were in Alaska. "Alaska?" we asked ourselves. "Where is it?" It was very cold. The only thing we saw was light hanging over a building. We continued our journey after a short stop there.

We landed at the Oakland, California airport at about 7:30 am. Our nice short sleeves shirt, thin pants and sandals made us look very presentable for California. Our clothes were tailored made. We wanted to wear our very best to come to this great new homeland. We rushed out of the airplane and walked to a building nearby. Some Cambodian workers were there to welcome us. Boy, it was cold. The customs agents were something else. We walked through a narrow gate to a waiting agent who checked all of our documents given us by a United Nations organization that had prepared everything we needed for our resettlement. Then we proceeded to a large table where we had to pen all of our luggage. They checked everything for so-called contraband. We didn't have anything illegal except some medicine, syringes and a few bottles of antibiotics. They didn't take them away, though. We had heard story about Laotian refugees, especially the Hmong people, who carried those big smoking pipes with them wherever they went. Those things were normal in Laos. Unfortunately, Americans considered them as illegal drug paraphernalia. They confiscated them before they allowed them to proceed. Some Hmong asked the agent to send them back - they couldn't survive without those pipes. Unfortunately, they had to give up the pipes and continue on. I didn't see anything like that when our plane load of people arrived in Oakland, though. They sent us to a large heated room because we were miserable out there. It was really cold. Someone brought us some thick coats. They were ugly and very heavy, made of something like nylon. We put them on and they sure made us warm. The sun was up and shiny but it was still cold. It was very strange - Cambodia was never cold. They then took us to a place which we had no idea what it was. There was a big building where we found a lot of bunk beds in a large room. someone told us that it was military base. We didn't care because were so tired. We dropped everything and laid down on the bed and went to sleep. We didn't even know where the restroom was. We just didn't care. Two days and three nights in the airplane was enough for us. However, it was so strange. We left Bangkok at 3:30 am on the 21st of February, 1981. And we arrived at 7:30 am the same date at Oakland Airport. How could that be? Was it our mistake? It must be something about the time zones, I thought. After a long sleep, they gathered us one more time and took us on a long trip. They said that we were going to San Francisco International Airport. Our journey from the military base was amazing. We crossed a long bridge, longer than anything we had ever dreamed about. "How can they make the bridge like that?" we wondered. Then we arrived at a crowded airport, where our sponsor showed up and took us away before they put us on another plane. Everyone went to San Francisco because some had to continue their journey to another state in order to reach their final destination. From the airport, our sponsor drove us along this highway - everyone was driving so fast. We had never seen so many lights along the highway. It was early evening when our sponsor picked us up after work. We arrived at his house where we were given luxurious fruit to eat: apple and grapes. Those fruits were so expensive - only rich people could eat them, even just once in a while. This small three-bedroom house was now filled with 17 people. It was incredible. Furniture took more space than anything else. We stayed there for only a short period of time because our sponsor set up a new place for us. We then moved into a four-bedroom house. We used all the space available. There was nothing inside. No pots, no pans, no spoon, nothing. We started from scratch. We went to a refugee agency where they handed us about $300.00 each. We took the money to pay for the rent and the deposit, to buy all necessities needed to start our lives again. We went to that supermarket nearby looking for rice. There was none. But chicken was very cheap, as well as some vegetables. We ate chicken day in and day out; that was what we could afford. Everything was so different. There were many types of people in America. Many of them didn't like us. They gave us all kinds of hateful signals but we just ignored them. We associated with other Cambodian people who had just arrived. Many more people started to pour into the Bay area. There was an apartment where many Cambodians started their new lives. It was only about a mile from where we lived. So most of our free time was at these little homes where we could socialize with each other. No one else could help. The only way to live was to stay together and support one another. In Cambodia we used to live in the mainstream. National pride, both good and bad, was always in our mind. Back then there were Chinese people who conducted a lot of local business. We Cambodians never liked them very much because we blamed them for the inflated price of goods during the Lon Nol regime. Many of these Chinese were eventually killed by starvation during the Khmer Rouge years. The Khmer Rouge didn't even have to kill them by hand - harsh conditions alone were enough to kill them. But now it was our time to face racism, here in America. There were many people who didn't accept us well. Many of them believed that the federal government had given us thousands of dollars when we arrived. They didn't know how hard it was to restart our lives here. Most of us were forced to join welfare while we went to adult education schools to learn English. It was so embarrassing for us to go back to school, to the 9th grade. We felt demeaned by society. Some people looked at us like we just came out of the dirt. Some even continue to do so today. Our house was located right in middle of a small court. There were about 15 houses in the neighborhood. One Mexican family lived about three doors away. A nice Korean family lived right next to us. The rest belonged to white families. They never talked or said hello to us. That was a culture shock. People in our old village knew

each others. It was very different here. They really didn't care about their neighborhood at all. That Korean family was the only one to communicate with us one in a while. Eventually they moved out. Our Cambodian community became stronger as thousands settled in the area. Many more Asian markets were opened where we could buy the food we normally eat. We had a small car where we could do our chores without using public transportation. Cambodians did many things different from mainstream America. We carried a bag of rice on our shoulder aboard the public bus - this was new to others. We also spoke a funny language where other ethnic groups could only see the movement of our lips and had no idea what we were talking about. More and more of us started to learn to drive and received their driver's licenses. Our "driving school" was a Cambodian friend who had his license first. We could not afford a driving school. However, it worked for us. Many didn't drive that well after they received their driver's license. All street signs and signs were in English, which was difficult some Cambodians had no clue what those signs were for. A policeman stopped a Cambodian one time for going through a red light. The policeman asked why the driver didn't stop at the red light. The driver replied that he stopped, looked left and right, and there was no car. That was why he drove through. The policeman then tried to tell him about the law and how he should drive. Unfortunately, the driver's English was not that good enough to understand, so he started to say everything in Cambodians. The policeman was so frustrated he got mad and gave up - he told the driver to get out of there. It was his lucky day - no ticket was issued. Then was joked about it that we should act like we didn't know English when the police stop us - they would have no way to communicate with us, so they would let us go. That's not true anymore now. They have translators and other policemen who can speak multiple languages. I had the opportunity to work in Thailand where I worked for the Thai government, United Nation representatives, and a group of the Joint Voluntary Agency who interviewed refugees and prepared papers for the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service). I got to know a lot of refugees from Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. There was a Laotian family whom I knew very well. The husband was in his mid 50s. His family came to live in the area where I live. They had quite a story. His family knew almost zero English when they came to the United States. Everyone went on welfare at that time. But he said that welfare was not good for them. He found a job just a few months after he arrived as an electronics assembler. He saved money from working hard. I found out that he bought his own home in just a few years in this country. There were many who took advantage of the welfare system. They went to school learning as much as possible and then found good jobs to survive. Those people are now doing very well and are off welfare. There were many others who just wanted to stay on welfare for the free money. They learned to find jobs that paid under the table and wouldn't effect their welfare money. Those people normally make more money than average working people because they didn't have to pay taxes. Is it fair? No, it's not. What can we do though? They have to pay reparations when they get caught. It's rare that they get caught for doing so, though. It has been many years now since we first arrived in the United States. Our area has changed so much since so many refugees have some from all over the world, mostly from Southeast Asia. Many Asian stores and shopping centers have been created. It's easier now to find the foods we want. There are bigger restaurants we can find that can accommodate our large traditional wedding ceremonies. There are mortuaries dedicated to our traditional burials. America's Asian population has been booming, making up 20% to 45% of general population in certain areas in California like Stockton, Long Beach, and San Jose. Many people have moved here because the weather resembles the weather in Southeast Asia. Many of us have settled into permanent jobs where we earn our living, especially those of us in the younger generation. Many of our children now have graduated from higher educational institutions across America. Asian refugees with college education are now all over America. We have seen doctors, lawyers and engineers come from our Cambodian families. But much of the general society still views us differently. Hatred and other attitudes disappear a little bit at a time. The Asian community has the highest growth among minority groups in the United States. Government agencies across the country are aware of our cultural differences and have taken steps to prevent racism. We have kept a low profile while we send our children for the best education we could afford. These children are now integrated into the society. Building new businesses has become popular among Asians, especially in technology areas. We have seen many electronic companies owned or run by Asians. We also see a new generation picking up the challenge I the government. It's getting better and better. Many people now realize that Asians have a high capacity to provide for themselves and are not like the "chinks" they once thought we were. This is our golden opportunity.

Saturday, November 8 A Day in the Killing Fields
8am, Bangkok's Don Muang International Airport, departure gate 41. I'm sitting at the only gate that has free seats available. To my right an anxious crowd gets ready to board a flight to Singapore. Just beyond them it's mayhem as people vie for standby tickets to Ho Chi Minh City. But here at Gate 41, I've got all the stretching room I need, because through the doors just ahead of me sits a Royal Air Cambodge ATR 72 bound for Phnom Penh. I wonder if we'd be the only people on this flight. Perhaps we were indeed crazy for even wanting to go in the first place. But this was a trip I had to make. Ever since seeing the film 'The Killing Fields' years back I've struggled with answering the difficult question of how on earth an entire nation could literally commit suicide. Suicide. Our world is full of countless histories of atrocity, where one culture vents its wrath on another culture. This century alone, we've witnessed Jews, Armenians, Roma, Bosnians, Tutsis, just to name a few, led to their deaths for reasons no more logical than hate or fear itself. Yet in Cambodia, there was no dominant ethnic group oppressing a minority, no country wiping out its neighbor in the name of nationalism. In Cambodia, Khmers killed other Khmers, first over political struggle, then over social ideology, and finally over bloodlust and paranoia as ends in themselves. This small Asian nation not much larger than the state of Missouri exterminated as many as two million of its own brothers and sisters. Two out of seven Khmers starved or murdered in less than 45 months: April 17, 1975 to January, 1979. As a Jew I've always struggled with the legacy of the Holocaust, and over time I've begun to understand just how Germany could have committed such an egregious crime against humanity. As abhorrent as the Holocaust was, from a strictly historical and disinterested perspective I can understand the chain of events that led to it. Same thing in Bosnia and Rwanda - terrible events, though not entirely unpredictable. But Cambodia made no sense to me. How any country could perpetrate in my lifetime a crime so hideous as to have 11-year-old boys literally executing their own parents with a blow of a shovel to the back of their heads, all for the "capitalist" crimes of speaking French, wearing glasses, being a teacher, was beyond my scope of understanding. I had to experience Cambodia as a nation, as a people, as a culture, just to begin to understand it.

Right now, I'm flying at 15,000 feet over western Cambodia, on our way to Phnom Penh. It's a beautiful day, and I can see dense forests below. I thought I'd be uneasy at this particular moment, but I'm actually quite excited. Back in Bangkok, our travel agent had made arrangements for a guide to pick us up at the airport and take us around for the day, so we'd never have to worry about being alone. There are about 30 people on our flight - Thais, Khmers, Japanese, Indians, even a few Americans. I had been nervous we'd be on a deserted flight. Why the hell would anyone come to Cambodia unless they had to? Well, it looks like we're not alone. Cambodia possesses one of the most unique cultures and histories in Asia, and to experience this nation, it would seem I'm willing to put my faith in humanity ahead of the obvious risks. I will be on guard for these four days in Cambodia, but I will enjoy it. Damn it, I will enjoy it. It's 10:30am, and our plane is descending into Phnom Penh. I've filled out my visa application and customs form. There's no turning back now. Like it or not, within the hour I'll be on the ground in Cambodia.

The plane completes a rather bumpy landing in near-perfect weather - 80 degrees, crisp and dry, sunny. Thank goodness for the end of the southeast monsoons earlier this week. Pochentong International Airport is no larger than an American municipal airport. The arrival lounge is clean and orderly, a surprise considering that artillery shells decimated the control tower and radar system four months ago. Inside the terminal we queued through a line of immigration officers who sternly examined our visa applications and passports. At the end of the queue, a young female officer looked up at me and gave me a beautiful Khmer smile, a singular gesture that cut through so much of the residual doubt and weariness in my head. Having paid the $20 dollars cash required for the visa stamp, Susanne and I completed immigration, breezed through customs and made reservations at the tourism desk for a downtown Phnom Penh hotel. The Hawaii Hotel was a three-star located near the Central Market, and at $42 a night it was well above our usual hotel budget. But Cambodia was still near the top of the U.S. State Department Traveler Advisory List: kidnapping and murder of Westerners was not unheard of here, so we decided to ere on the side of caution. First, though, we needed to meet our guide for the day, whom we had hired through the MK Ways travel agency in Bangkok. We were expecting a man to greet us with our names on a placard, but outside we could only find a horde of young and eager taxi drivers, all of whom shouted for our attention. We remained inside the terminal, away from all of the ravenous touts, and waited. After 10 minutes of mild concern, we saw a smiling young man holding a sign bearing our names - it was welcome relief. We introduced ourselves to the guide;

his name was Rith (pronounced like the word 'writ') and he was 29 years old - a bit of a shock for he didn't look a day over 21. We informed Rith of our reservations at the Hawaii Hotel, so he gathered our car and driver for the short drive to downtown Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh is alive with people. A city of around one million residents, yet I doubt there are any buildings in town that are over four or five stories tall. Motorcycles and scooters whiz by in packs like bicyclists in Beijing. There are so many cars and people moving about, yet I wouldn't go so far as to describe it as traffic, especially after having experienced the hellish gridlock of Bangkok. The moldy whitewash buildings look warn and tired, yet still possess an eerie French Colonial ambiance. A ghost town repopulated, quite literally. I wondered if the streets of Port au Prince or Dakar ever felt like this. Many of the streets are potholed or unpaved, and there are no working traffic lights, yet nearly every car I see is a Toyota Camry, a Honda Accord, or a new model Nissan pickup truck. Here was a city a hair's width away from anarchy, yet its assortment of automobiles were more akin to American suburbia. A first of many paradoxes, undoubtedly. But beyond the dustiness of the streets and the peeling white paint, Phnom Penh was bright and vivacious as sunbeams shone off turn-of-the-century villas along treelined boulevards. The people here went about their daily business in a cheerful way, despite the decades of suffering and despair. A bicycling boy in a school uniform rides by, ringing the bell on his handlebar to compete amongst the motorscooters. Well dressed teenage girls sharing a cyclo taxi covertly point and giggle at young men while waiting to turn at an intersection. Men talk on cellular phones and scoop heaping spoonfuls of curry and rice into their mouths at a streetside cafe. This is not the Phnom Penh I expected. Rith dropped us at the hotel and we agreed to regroup in two hours, around 2pm. This would give us time to freshen up and eat lunch, but we hadn't anticipated being out of our guide's protective reach for any length of time that day. At first we contemplated holing up at the hotel, but Susanne and I agreed that it was certainly safe enough to visit the Central Market as long as we looked out for each other and used some common sense. We locked up our valuables in the room and with only our cameras in hand, we walked outside and strolled to the market. The sky was bright and blue as men approached us on three-wheeled cyclos, motioning to see if we wanted to hire them for a ride. I'd motion back to say no, and in most cases, they would pedal away, with only one or two of them pestering us for patronage. We had to dodge the traffic to cross 53rd street - no stoplights in town makes this an adventure every time - in order to reach the outer stalls of the Central Market. Rows of fresh flowers and vegetables greeted us on our right, while to the left women squatted over small charcoal fires to tend to roasting peanuts and chestnuts. Many of the stalls were devoted solely to touristy items like t-shirts ("I survived Phnom Penh", "Tintin in Cambodia," "Danger: Landmines"), Angkor paperweights and Cyclo taxis, Phnom Penh small Buddha statues, so considering the current dearth of visitors to Phnom Penh, I wasn't at all surprised by the continuous calls in French and English beckoning us to visit their shops. I paused at one stall where a lovely girl, perhaps 10 years old, was selling kramas, those ubiquitous checkered cotton scarves you see Khmers wearing in all types of weather. I was interested in buying a krama, so I asked how much they were. One dollar each for the big ones, three for two dollars for the smaller ones, she said (Cambodia is largely a U.S. cash-only economy thanks to consistent inflation that has brought the Cambodian riel down to 3600 riels per dollar). I wasn't ready to buy anything just yet, so I made a mental note to return here on my way out and told her I'd be back. I guessed from the look on her face that she heard that a lot from Westerners. At the center of the stalls is a large orange building with a roof of concentric circles thinning out into a pyramid. "An art deco ziggurat," in the words of the Lonely Planet guide. We entered the building and were amazed to find a brilliantly lit arcade of gem sellers, wristwatch dealers, makeup counters and perfume shops. Cambodia's answer to Macy's. But as we wandered awestruck through the aisles, the sobering reality of Cambodia set itself upon us. A young boy, perhaps 12 or 14, ragged, half blind and with a noticeable limp, began to follow us around with his arms outstretched. "Papa, monsieur. Mama, madame. Papa..." he chanted, his blank, sunken eyes staring at us. I tried to ignore him, for I knew that giving alms in such a public place would take the finger out of the dike and release a flood of needy street urchins upon us. So we began a sad, sad game of cat and mouse as we tried to lose him in the maze of stalls. But it was to no avail for he would keep up with every turn, arms outward, "Mama, Papa..." Susanne noticed that he would back off when we neared the policemen sitting around the market entrance. So I visited the counter closest to the police, feigning interest in some jewelry. The poor wretch darted away, fearing retribution from the cops. Meanwhile, I pointed at a piece of ivory sitting in the gem case, asking the saleswoman what it was. She handed it to me

as I realized it was a tiger's canine. "Very cheap, monsieur," she said. "You buy, yes?" Embarrassed and a bit saddened that I hadn't recognized what it was, I handed it back to her and declined politely. Susanne and I returned to the young girl with the collection of kramas. I selected two scarves: a black and white and a red plaid with yellow threads. As I removed two dollars from my pocket, another wave of beggars surrounded us, most of them amputees from landmines. They were the first of many amputees I'd see in my short stay in Cambodia, a country where one out of every 250 people had been maimed by landmine explosions. I handed the two dollars to the girl and thanked her - "Aw kohn," the only Khmer I knew at this point. The beggars got very close to me and pressed at my arms and shoulders. "Monsieur, monsieur," they said in unison. I thought to myself: even if I did give them the couple of dollars in my pocket, it wouldn't change anything. I couldn't save these poor souls even if I tried, so I closed my eyes, swallowed hard and walked away, not looking back. We crossed the road back to the hotel, with me left feeling a little blank and unsure. Rith and our driver met us downstairs at 2pm. Our first destination was the Silver Pagoda. The Pagoda was part of the King's palace compound, but the rest of the palace has remained closed to the public ever since King Sihanouk returned to the throne a few years back. Through the compound gates we found a glorious courtyard bedecked with stone stupas and golden pagodas of all shapes and sizes. This was Phnom Penh at its proudest. The pagoda was built in 1892 by King Norodom, Sihanouk's great grandfather, as the eternal residence of Cambodia's Emerald Buddha, a Baccarat crystal statue modeled after the Emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok. The pagoda's main courtyard is used for the interment of royal ashes under its stupas. We circled the Silver Pagoda, marveling at its size and glistening panels. Inside, Rith noted that the floor was constructed entirely of solid silver tiles, over 5000 of them, each weighing more than a kilogram. At the center of the temple was a golden shrine for the Emerald Buddha. In front of it, though, stood a sight even more impressive - a solid gold, life-sized Buddha statue weighing nearly 200 pounds. Beyond my initial shock over its mere existence, I was puzzled as to how on earth this treasure could have survived the destruction of the Khmer Rouge. As Rith explained, the answer was quite simple. The Khmer Rouge had a public image to protect among the international community, despite its attempts to isolate Cambodia from the rest of the world. So they kept the Silver Pagoda as a token conservation effort, just in case foreign dignitaries might want to visit it. Nevertheless, the gold and crystal Buddhas were still quite lucky, for more than half of the other priceless relics kept at the Silver Pagoda were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. Rith led us to a tree-enshrouded hill, an earthly representation of the mythological Mt. Meru (the nexus of time and space in Hinduism and Khmer Buddhism). A group of Khmer schoolchildren was playing there and we soon caught their attention. Next thing I knew, we were posing for pictures together, laughing over their bad English and our worse Khmer. Eventually it was time to move on so we returned to the car, were approached once again by an amputeed beggar in military fatigues. The car drove off before he could get very close, though, as he struggled across the road on one crutch. Our next stop was Tuol Sleng, the infamous S-21 interrogation center of the Khmer Rouge. Before 1975, Tuol Sleng was a typical Phnom Penh high school. From 1975 to 1979, though, it was without a doubt the most horrible place on earth. Within these walls, 17,000 prisoners, including entire families, were incarcerated, interrogated and tortured here, all for the soul purpose of extracting confessions from them before execution. Of the 17,000 inmates who entered Tuol Sleng, only seven people - seven - are known to have survived. The rest of them either died inside or met their fate in the killing fields of Choeung Ek, just outside of town. My first impression of Tuol Sleng was its familiarity - it reminded me quite vividly of my own high school in Florida, which was built in a similar outdoor courtyard style. As I looked around I saw my own high school draped in barbed wire, with the gasps, moans and screams of the damned emanating from inside. I was snapped out of this ghoulish daydream when Rith introduced us to Phalla (pronounced "Palla"), a Khmer woman who would be our guide. Phalla appeared to be in her mid 40s and she had a round and freckled complexion with almost Polynesian features. Immediately I wondered what had happened to her during the Khmer Rouge years - she would have been in her mid-twenties at the time, perhaps my age or younger. But I knew this wasn't the moment to ask such things; maybe she would tell us in the course of the tour. On the far left end of the courtyard, Phalla showed us the graves of the last 14 victims of Tuol Sleng. They were all killed in the days and hours leading up to the successful occupation of Phnom Penh by the Vietnamese in early January of 1979. Condemned internationally as a ruthless invasion, no one in the West could have realized at the time that this occupation was tantamount to the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps by Russian forces during the waning days of World War II. Phalla brought us to a series of stark, grim rooms lit only by meager sunlight, each containing a rusty bed frame, a pair of leg shackles, plastic gas containers for

urine and feces, and a large black and white photo of the victim found in that room. Cell by cell, Phalla told us in graphic detail the method of execution applied to these last victims of S-21, their throats slashed with rusty knives, their faces caved in with shovels. Each story seemed more hellish than the one preceding it. We visited five of these rooms, more than enough to visualize the horror that had taken place there. "You do not need to see them all, sir, ma'am," Phalla said to us. "I think you have seen much to understand.... Do you understand?" It wasn't a rhetorical question on her part - Phalla repeatedly asked us if we could understand her English, which was actually quite good. But each time she asked "Do you understand?" I could only hear the deeper question, "Do you see what happened here? Do you see what happened to us?" All I could do was nod my head and say "Yes," my eyes fixed on hers as if my soul depended on it. We continued the tour by entering a complex of prison cells, cubical enclosures made of thin brick and mud plaster walls. Phalla pointed out that even a child would have the strength to knock down these walls - the plaster creaked as she pressed it with one hand - yet the prisoners of Tuol Sleng were so weak and exhausted from torture and malnutrition they rarely attempted a breakout. No will to escape. I squeezed between two of the walls to get a prisoner's perspective. I'd estimate the space was three feet wide and five feet long - not enough room to sleep flat on the floor. The air was thick and filled with dust, a million specks of dirt illuminated by horizontal rows of sunlight. Ten seconds in the cell was enough for me - claustrophobia set in as I squeezed through the wall to freedom. The prison cells were followed by empty rooms that featured row after row of black and white portraits of prisoners. The Khmer Rouge photographed each inmate before sending them off to death by bludgeoning at Choeung Ek. The walls stared back at me: face after face of children, the elderly, mothers and babies, the beaten, the doomed. Many of them had thick metal shackles around their necks. Others had their heads propped upwards by sharp clamps, for they lacked the strength to sit up. But their faces spoke volumes. Some of them looked confused or frightened. A few even looked angry. But most of them, above all else, looked totally hopeless. Hopeless from having accepted the fact that they were the walking dead, with no chance of reprieve.

As we crossed over part of the courtyard to the next complex of buildings, I noticed some boys playing volleyball directly behind the rooms with all the inmate photographs. Volleyball! I couldn't believe my eyes. But then I thought about it and realized that Tuol Sleng, as horrific a place it is, is only one set of buildings in a country that has seen countless atrocities in countless places. If every single place in Cambodia that had seen such atrocities were cordoned off from returning to the mundane pleasures of normal life, there might be no plot of land large enough left in the country for a few boys to play a simple game of volleyball. And by playing this game on this very spot, they seemed to be reclaiming Tuol Sleng for themselves: "Damn the Khmer Rouge and what they did to us!" I wondered if these boys ever thought about it - none of them was even old enough to have lived during the Khmer Rouge regime. The next several rooms continued to display more photographs, including postmortem portraits of those who died in custody of excessive torture, as well as pictures of the living conditions in the mass detention cells upstairs where hundreds of people were shackled to barren floors, huddled together 24 hours a day. The meticulousness of these murderers! Like the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge were obsessed with record keeping. But unlike the Nazis, who merely kept a running tally of the dead, the Khmer Rouge managed to take a picture of every prisoner that came through Tuol Sleng. 17,000 photographs, 17,000 dead. I stared at the faces of the condemned and read the documents charting those who had confessed, those who died in custody, those who committed suicide, and those who were transferred to the killing fields for "processing." Suddenly I realized how the Khmer Rouge - a fighting force of ignorant, prepubescent country boys led by a welleducated cadre of former monks and teachers - could commit these crimes against humanity. The Khmer

Rouge didn't hate their fellow Khmers, at least not in the common emotional sense. Hate is too draining of an emotion to sustain for so many years. No, for the Khmer Rouge to kill or starve two million of their own people, they were warped by years of war and brainwashing to no longer care. To no longer recognize the value of an individual, the value of a human life. And by no longer caring, the Khmer Rouge stopped seeing their victims as people, members of families. The Cambodian people were objectified, commodified until they were seen only as tools of the Khmer Rouge machine, and when a particular tool malfunctioned or refused to work properly, it was coldly discarded, without compassion or notice.

I have read reports of incidents where Cambodians killed certain individuals, gutted them, and roasted their livers on sticks before sharing it as a communal meal. There was a time when I would think of the image and it would shock me. But now, as I stand here at Tuol Sleng, I am no longer shocked, for now I understand. The Khmer Rouge successfully reduced all Cambodians, if not the human condition itself, to nothing but raw meat. And Khmer society was consumed because of it. What a calamitous waste.

As Susanne and I stared at the pictures on the wall, Phalla began to say more about her own experiences during the Khmer Rouge years. She was from Phnom Penh, not far from Tuol Sleng. When the Khmer Rouge arrived on April 17, 1975, the people of Phnom Penh celebrated, for they thought rebel occupation of the capital meant the end of the five-year-long civil war. But within hours, the Khmer Rouge started to evacuate the entire population of Phnom Penh into the countryside, where the people would serve on collective farms. April 17, 1975 was Day Zero for the new Cambodia - Democratic Kampuchea as they called it. Everything before that moment was now meaningless. Phalla and her family were evacuated and forced to work in the fields. Over the course of four years, she and her kin were moved like cattle across the country from one farm to another. And despite the success of their farming, hundreds of thousands of people starved to death, for the crops were all destined to feed Khmer Rouge forces in their continuing struggle against Vietnam. If you were caught eating your own crops, you faced summary execution - though more often than not, you'd first be brought outside of the camp to an empty field so no one would hear you scream.

Pen Phalla, Tuol Sleng guide and Khmer Rouge survivor "There were times when I wanted to kill myself," Phalla admitted. "I was sent on a boat from Battambang and I wanted to jump off and commit suicide. I wanted to jump in the water. But then I thought of my daughter, and I could not jump. I could not commit suicide." In most cases, the Khmer Rouge made it very difficult for Cambodians to kill themselves. They took away their kramas so they wouldn't hang themselves. Prisoners had to eat their daily rice ration with their hands, lest they hack at their wrists with the dull edge of a spoon or the points of a fork. The last room contained a map of Cambodia displaying the major collective farm camps as well as the forced migration routes that crisscrossed the countryside. The map, about 15 feet square, was made almost entirely of human skulls. Phalla began to speak.

"My husband was killed with a bamboo stick. My daughter starved because I had no food for her. My mother and father were killed with shovels near Battambang. My sister, her husband and children were killed with knives in Kratie. My aunt, uncle and their family drowned while trying to flee into Vietnam. It is very sad." Susanne and I were speechless. What could we say? Phalla stood there with a closed-lipped, bittersweet smile on her face - I could see she was reminiscing about earlier, happier times. Perhaps she was thinking about her dead child - if she were still alive, I bet she would have been about my age, perhaps a bit younger. I wanted to give her a hug, do something, but all I could manage was to bow my head and stare at the floor in silence. I had expected Tuol Sleng to be a grim place, but I assumed that my experience there would be on par with a visit to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. I could not have been more wrong. While the Holocaust Museum is a powerful, fitting reminder that allows current generations to bear witness to the Holocaust, it is but a museum and nothing more. Tuol Sleng is a living instrument of genocide. It served as the base for some of the worst atrocities we have known this century. And to be told the tale of Tuol Sleng by a survivor of the killing - this courageous, persevering survivor - made me feel somewhat small. We parted company with Phalla and Tuol Sleng and began the 30 minute drive to the killing fields of Choeung Ek. While Tuol Sleng served as the place where 17,000 Cambodians were condemned to death, Choeung Ek is their final resting place. Here, amongst the rice paddies and water buffalo, Khmer Rouge soldiers carried out the orders from Tuol Sleng, bludgeoning thousands of people to death with shovels and hoes, burying them in mass unmarked graves. In 1980, 8985 bodies were exhumed here, with the remaining 8000 corpses left in situ. Today, a small pagoda stands at Choeung Ek to commemorate the dead. 8000 of their skulls sit inside as evidence, arranged in stacks according to age and sex. We arrived at Choeung Ek just before sundown. The drive took longer than planned because the main road had been washed out during the monsoons. Children flew kites along the rice paddies while cattle and chicken wandered the streets like a village in India. We were the only people at Choeung Ek that evening, save some local children who were playing in a tree not far from the entrance. We approached the pagoda and ascended it from the front. Directly inside sat row after row of human skulls, each tier labeled for gender and age. Male: 10-14 years. Female: 15-21 years. This was the end result of Cambodia's failed four-year flirtation with communism. No justice for the workers, no liberation of the village farmer. Only a pile of skulls.

Though the remains were protected on three sides by a thick pane of glass, the stacks of skulls in front of us were open to the elements. I got closer and closer, staring at the cold, off-white bones. For reasons I still cannot understand, I had the urge to reach out and touch them, but I resisted. I circled the pagoda as the fiery red and orange hues of the setting sun reflected off its protective glass. Behind the pagoda I found a series of earthen pits - the remnants of the mass graves. I walked between the rows of pits and mounds, then crouched to the ground, wanting to get a closer look. I ran my hand through the soil, and as if reaching from the grave, a long, thin, white bone protruded out of the ground. I stared at it for a few seconds and touched it, possibly to prove to myself that it was real. I heard Susanne and Rith coming in my direction, so I did the only thing that seemed right: I gently pushed the bone fragment back into the ground and covered it with soil, hoping that I had disturbed its eternal rest for only a brief moment. We returned to Phnom Penh in silence. What do you say when you've just borne witness to genocide? The streets teemed with activity as hundreds of motorscooters, bicycles and Toyotas passed by. Every now and then I'd see a large tent extending from an open-air restaurant as well dressed Khmers stood around and chatted over champagne. Ah yes, it was wedding season, Rith had mentioned earlier. Rith broke the icy

silence by asking when we were flying on to Angkor. The next morning, I said. The smalltalk continued haltingly as we drove to the hotel. There was only so much to say. And to think that we were only here to experience this for a single day. Rith and his fellow Khmers would relive the memory every day for the rest of their lives. Rith dropped us off at the hotel and wished us a safe journey to Angkor. We thanked him for his kindness and help - Susanne and I probably wouldn't have had the courage to visit Phnom Penh on our own. We then departed, returning to the Hawaii Hotel with an empty stomach and a heavy heart. We had hoped to get an early night's sleep, but Susanne and I talked much of the evening about the tragedy of Cambodia and its legacy. We had come here to Phnom Penh to learn about the Cambodian auto-genocide and to work our way to Angkor, but what we really found here was the courageous spirit of the Cambodian people. Whether the tragedy is indeed over for Cambodia remains to be seen - Hun Sen's violent coup this July and the extrajudicial killings that followed it hearken back to a time most Khmers thought had long passed. But it was clear to me today in the eyes, the words and the smiles of the Khmers we met that the brave Cambodian people will survive, no matter the odds.

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