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History's lessons

Dear Editor,

For over 600 years, Cambodia has steadily declined from its previous place of glory

and power. Like any great empire, a period of decline is expected, but why did Cambodia's

decline result in the rise of the Khmer Rouge and ultimately genocide in Cambodia?

I do not seek a definitive answer to this question, but merely wish to briefly express

my thoughts on this issue and the means by which Cambodia can move beyond its current


History has generally given credit to the leader(s) of a nation as the force that

molds and changes a nation. To a certain extent, this is true because leaders generally

possess the powers to direct the movement of a nation.

However, with such movement, there must be a force that supports and pushes the movement

forward. That force is the people, the accumulation of acts, thoughts, ideas and

experiences of the people. A nation's history is not molded by leaders alone, but

by society and all the factors that come into play within that society. Thus, Pol

Pot did not rise to power by the mere force of his own will, but the will of millions

of Cambodians who supported him.

The rise of the Khmer Rouge did not just happen by some mere chance, but events in

Cambodia's history were a backdrop to the inevitable rise of Pol Pot. The existence

of injustice, corruption, oppression of the peasants and tyrannical rulers have dominated

Cambodian society for centuries. Thereby, when Pol Pot promised the peasants equality,

power and justice, the peasants willingly welcome it with open arms.

Furthermore, by 1970 the moral degradation within Cambodian society was complete.

For centuries, the value of human life, morality and compassion were not reinforced

in the minds of Cambodians. Although Cambodian religion advocates these principles,

the general population did not fully comprehend nor apply these principles in their


With all these factors and Pol Pot's insane policies, Cambodian history was expressed

in the most cruel and atrocious manner, genocide. The murders and atrocities that

occurred during the Khmer Rouge period were not conducted by Pol Pot alone, but by

thousands of willing participants from Cambodian society.

As a result of the role Cambodian society played in the making of Cambodian history,

some may argue that Pol Pot is not personally responsible for the atrocities since

he derived his power from society, and thus is only a reflection of what society

wanted at a given time.

This argument is partially correct, in that Pol Pot was a reflection of what Cambodian

society wanted, which is an end to oppression and equality for all. However, the

means by which Pol Pot chose to produce this outcome is not an accurate reflection

of what Cambodian society wanted or expected. Once Pol Pot had the power, he unleashed

this power and the people became tools for him to use and dispose of.

Even though Cambodian society is the force that moves Cambodia forward, it does not

possess the power to direct that force. Pol Pot and his regime were in possession

of that power, but chose to abuse and misuse that power which resulted in millions

of deaths.

Instead of using his regime as a means to pull Cambodia out of its moral decline,

he used the moral decline in Cambodia's society to pursue his insane policy of cleansing

Cambodia of its current thoughts, ideas and system. His method of cleansing Cambodia

was to kill anyone who was associated with what he considered to be the cause of

moral degradation and decline of Cambodian society, such as foreign influence, capitalism,

a society based on class and other numerous irrational reasons.

Thus, Pol Pot cannot attribute his policy of genocide to the development of Cambodian

history nor the society at large. As evident today and during Pol Pot's rule, his

method did not pull Cambodia out of its decline. On the contrary, it resulted in

further moral degradation and decline in Cambodian society.

The betterment of society cannot be accomplished by abolishing, thoughts, ideas and

history. The total destruction of these concepts is absolutely impossible, because

it is eternally embedded in the identity of mankind, and thus cannot be treated like

soiled hands to be cleansed by water. The only way society can be improved is to

mold and shape existing thoughts and ideas through time and patience. It took centuries

for Cambodia to be in such a state of decline, and thus it will take centuries more

before it is able to evolve into a just and balanced society.

Cambodian leaders will also need to address their own moral spirit as well as the

moral spirit of the Cambodian people in order to resolve the majority of problems

Cambodia is faced with today. The lack of material goods by the Cambodian people

can no longer be used as an excuse for moral degradation. It is generally not the

lack of basic needs that caused Cambodians to kill each other, it is the lack of

compassion and the devaluation of human life which are the core of the problem. Furthermore,

Cambodian leaders need to refrain from using the current decay in Cambodian society

to further their own interests, instead leaders should set a good moral example so

that Cambodia can move beyond its decline. Pol Pot used the decay in society to further

his interest and the result is disastrous for Cambodia as a whole.

Furthermore, the ascension of a nation state does not depend on its leaders alone,

but on the quality of its people. A nation with strong morals will most likely bring

forth an enlightened leader, whereas a maladjusted society will most likely bring

forth a leader such as Pol Pot. It is the culmination of an enlightened people and

enlightened leader that make a nation great, and this is what Cambodia should strive


Ratha Pann



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