Violence inevitably breeds hardship for those caught in the crossfire, according to Philip Short, journalist and author of Pol Pot: History of a Nightmare.
“In any violent upheaval, whether war or revolution, innocent people suffer. US officials speak of collateral damage. Maoist officials talk of breaking eggs to make an omelette,” he said, testifying before the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday. “In Democratic Kampuchea, collateral damage knew no bounds.
“In that sense, Pol Pot and the Kampuchean Communist Party pushed the logic of communism to its extreme, and the result, as you know, was a terrible catastrophe.”
In his testimony, Short made the case that the sheer inflexibility of the Khmer Rouge’s ideals were, in fact, the source of its greatest blunders, and that the regime’s blind commitment to ensuring absolute equality – even in the realm of its subjects’ thoughts – only resulted in its subjects being equal in their abject poverty.
“I just want to say that there is a great deal of logic in this,” said Short of the Khmer Rouge’s policy of collectivisation and co-operatives. “It is possible to imagine that a system like this could have been just and fair and equitable, and carried out many of its goals, without the suffering that was carried out.”
However, the implementation, he said, had been irredeemably botched. The party’s own twisted internal logic, unflinchingly adhered to, resulted in some of its greatest crimes, including the starvation of more than one million Cambodians.
Small, practical steps that would have alleviated much of the population’s suffering – but would have also softened the party’s ideological stance – were “not permitted in Democratic Kampuchea on principle”.
“The Democratic Kampuchea regime did itself unnecessary damage and the people unnecessary damage, because it was wedded to iron principles,” Short said.
The one place where the logic broke down, according to Short, was the glaring disparity between party cadres and everyday peasants – a disparity that far outstripped even other radical regimes.
“The [Communist Party of Kampuchea] was, in many ways, like a monastic sect, with the same rituals, with the same abnegation of material things, with the same embrace of hardship and suffering, with the same idea of sacrifice, with the idea that you should sacrifice everything,” Short testified.
However, he later added, such asceticism wasn’t evident in photos from the era showing “bloated” party officials – including co-accused Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan – while tens of thousands starved.
“It was particularly shocking in both extremes because the people of Democratic Kampuchea had nothing – so little,” he said. “It [was] made more flagrant by this preaching of abstinence.”