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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Why did they kill? (2)

Why did they kill? (2)

Why did they kill? (2)

I read with great interest and gratitude the article written by Henri Locard on Alexander L Hinton's well acclaimed book, "Why Did They Kill," (Post, September 9, 2005). The following paragraphs caught my attention.

 

"Similarly, although Hinton does mention the question of totalitarianism, the relish of the pursuit of absolute power is not given the emphasis it deserves. I understand this is not the subject of the book. But one cannot quote Mao only once [144], the arch-model, the guide for the DK leadership. When Pol Pot eulogizes Mao at the time of his death in September 1976, he becomes an apologist for the greatest killer in the 20th century - 70 million deaths, according to his latest biographer, Jung Chang (Mao, the Unknown Story, 2005).

 

"Hinton brushes aside the theory so often put forward that the perpetrators were 'ideological automatons' [23] as too easy an explanation, and he wishes to go beyond what he regards as a superficial approach.

 

" 'Perpetrators are not automatons who, for identical reasons, blindly carry out the dictates of the State.' In other words, Hinton wishes to reintroduce free will and personal responsibility into the criminal behaviors of the perpetrators. I wonder if this is not unconsciously projecting a Western conception of education into the Cambodian hinterland."

 

I also found Hinton's book practically ignored the historical and ideological context of the motivation for the "killing fields". The Cambodian behavioral trait may be of some influence in this mass and free killing of innocent Cambodians and other minorities, but not all.

 

One cannot ignore the role of Communism in this massacre. Stephane Courtois clearly showed that the crimes committed under the name of Communism are neither accidental nor country-specific, but systemically particular to Communism, when he wrote:

 

"The history of Communist regimes and parties, their policies, and their relations with their own national societies and with the international community are of course not purely synonymous with criminal behavior, let alone with terror and repression. In the USSR, and in the 'the People's Democracies' after Stalin's death, as well as in China after Mao, terror became less pronounced, and society began to recover something of its old normalcy, and 'peaceful coexistence' - if only as 'the pursuit of the class struggle by other means' - had become an international fact of life. Nevertheless, many archives and witnesses prove conclusively that terror has always been one of the basic ingredients of modern communism. Let us abandon once and for all the idea that the execution of hostages by firing squads, the slaughter of rebellious workers, and the forced starvation of the peasantry were only short-term 'accidents' peculiar to specific country or era. Our approach will encompass all geographic areas and focus on crime as a defining characteristic of the Communist system throughout its existence."

(Courtois, Stephane (editor); "The Black Book of Communism; Crimes, Terror, and Repression, Harvard University Press," Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1999, p3).

 

To demonize the demons as Hinton did by making this crime against humanity country-specific can only serve to perpetuate the current [regime] in Cambodia, by allowing the regime to contrast itself to this lowest standard of human behavior that is the Khmer Rouge.

 

Having said that, I must thank both Mr Locard and Mr Hinton for bringing this part of the Cambodian history to enrich the public knowledge in general and in Cambodia in particular.

Naranhkiri Tith, PhD - Former professor, School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, Washington, DC

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