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
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