Youn soldiers wearing typical  Khmer scarves
Khmer Rouge Occupation

 

Khmer forces marched into the capital city on April 17th, 1975. Initially, the people of Phnom Penh celebrated in the street expressing their relief at the end of a five-year civil war. However, celebrations did not last for long. The Khmer forces were embittered by warfare and wasted little time implementing their rule over the people. The people of Phnom Penh were told to abandon their homes. When the soldiers were questioned they simply stated that the United States had plans to bomb the city. In reality, the abandonment represented the first of many changes that defined the next four years. The new party announced that Cambodia had entered into Year Zero, and was now under control of the Democratic Kampuchea.

Those residing in cities were forced into the countryside. City dwellers were considered 'new people' who represented the evils of capitalism. The Khmer forces believed that the 'old people' or country peasants, were the only productive members of society. The new Cambodia was to be founded on an agrarian concept in which everyone worked in the countryside. These new rules were a product of Angka ("The Organization") which was the secretive upper-levels of the new ruling government. The leader of the new government, Pol Pot, went by the alias Brother #1 and endorsed a utopic agrarian society. However, the Khmer Rouge party adopted brutal new policies in which the individual person was often sacrificied in an attempt to acheive this "ideal" society. Despite the thousands of deaths Pol Pot has been quoted as saying, "for the love of the nation and the people- it was the right thing to do". Angka banned previous structures like religion, family, money, and private ownership. Essentially, the people of Cambodia were expected to hold allegiance only to the new government- no other loyalties were allowed to be maintained.

The Cambodian people were forced into work camps where they were expected to produce an average national yield of 1.4 tons of rice per acre. Workers were forced to labor for 12 hour days to meet these impossible demands. Often, they worked without being properly fed and on an insufficient amount of rest. The Khmer Rouge forces abided by the motto that, "keeping 'new people' is no benefit, losing them is no loss". Thus, if a 'new person' was sick or unable to work adequately in the fields they were often commanded to dig their own graves. They were then struck in the back of the head and buried, dead or alive. The soldiers demonstrated an indifference toward the lives of the Cambodian people. The soldiers found numerous reasons to kill workers. If a worker associated with a relative, spoke French, demonstrated signs of education, practiced religion, wore glasses, or was connected to the previous government in any way, he or she often faced murder.In order to evade certain death, 'new people' attempted to acclimate quickly to the new lifestyle in order to disguise themselves as 'old people'.

When the workers were not laboring in the fields, they were forced to attend 'livelihood meetings'. These meetings were filled with propaganda in an attempt to spread the ideals of Angka. During these meetings, those who had committed an infraction were encouraged to confess, those who had witnessed something were encouraged to reveal their suspicions. the soldiers would applaud these confessions and ensure the workers that they had done the right thing. After the meetings, however, those who had confessed were often murdered.

Under the new government, children were seen as pure and the government took great efforts to mold them into Khmer Rouge supporters. In most cases, the children were used to spy on their parents and reveal 'new people' who were attempting to mask their identities. If a child turned in his parents, he was given more respect. Often, the children ended up maintaining the work camps.

 

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