Nazis, Stalinists, and Khmer Rouge: Accountability for Genocide
Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Four decades later, the UN-sponsored Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia found Pol Pot’s former deputy leader, Nuon Chea, and the head of state of the former Pol Pot regime, Khieu Samphan, guilty of genocide of the ethnic Vietnamese minority in Cambodia, as well as guilty of perpetrating crimes against humanity. Nuon Chea was also found guilty of a second genocide, that of the ethnic Cham Muslim minority in Cambodia. Khieu Samphan became the world’s first head of state to be convicted of genocide in an international court.
What were the historical and political antecedents of these crimes ? And what ideological influences lay behind them ? To what extent were they foreign-inspired ? To what extent were they indigenous, or home-grown?
Borrowing from Nazism, Stalinism and Maoism
Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime shared some important characteristics with Nazism: virulent racism, the perpetration of multiple cases of genocide, and ambitions of territorial expansionism. But it also demonstrated some important connections with Stalinism, including brutal class warfare, internecine political purges, and the enforcement of mass starvation. On the other hand, unlike Stalin’s regime, the Pol Pot regime pursued a rural bias similar to that of Mao’s China, yet it claimed to outdo the latter with a “Super Great Leap Forward.”
The Khmer Rouge revolution emerged from Cambodia’s specific history and socio-political environment, but its leadership independently adopted some practices similar to those of the Nazis, as well as quite selectively borrowing ideas and practices from both Stalinism and Maoism, carefully rejecting others, while claiming that it “did not copy anyone”.
About Ben Kiernan
Ben Kiernan is the A. Whitney Griswold Professor Emeritus of History at Yale University. He was founding Director of the Cambodian Genocide Program (1994-99) and of the Genocide Studies Program from 1998-2015, and was chair of Yale’s Council on Southeast Asia Studies from 2010-15. His books include How Pol Pot Came to Power (1985); The Pol Pot Regime (1996); Genocide and Resistance in Southeast Asia (2007); Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur (2007); and Việt Nam: A History from Earliest Times to the Present (2017).
Watch the video recording of the lecture here: