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Khmer Rouge

After the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge regime took over Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh in 1975 and its dictator Pol Pot declared “Year Zero”, a period of “cleansing” the country from all foreign influences believed to be evil threats to his agrarian utopia. All people were driven out of the city to the country side and forced into farming. Only the uneducated survived but all traces of literacy were eradicated. All foreigners were immediately expelled. Embassies, media networks, schools, hospitals were closed. The use of foreign languages and practice of religion was banned.

Totally, Cambodia was sealed off from the outside world. During this short but horrific regime, over a third of the country’s population was killed, by murder, by forced labor and starvation. This Cambodia genocide became a period of “Killing Fields” where large numbers of the murdered population were buried. (Totten, William, Israel 2004: 345) Khmer Rouge had been the dark ages of Cambodia and a time of reversals in the social order. Soldiers became the new elite and they eat well and lived comfortably. Urban elite, if not eliminated were forced to hard labor. Even monks were eliminated.

To survive, people tried to hide by denying their status and formal education, rank, and connections to the royal family. There was also reversal to age as a marker of status as children were taken and trained as soldiers while the elders, who were previously respected, were cast aside as useless and unproductive. There was also shift in gender roles as young women could be female soldiers and female group leaders. With these shifts, language also changed as some words were deleted from daily vocabulary that used to mark status, basic words replaced by peasant terms.

(Lubin 2010: 1) These abnormalities indeed had nearly ruined and erased Cambodia’s culture and identity. A CBSnews. com Online (2000) article discussed the dilemma as Cambodia struggles to restore its fallen culture as the aftermath of the regime. Despite it nearly phasing out Cambodia’s population, the rule of Khmer Rouge was not widely known. Only a few Americans realized that for these mass killings none of the murderers have been tried and the truth that the United States helped brought about the crisis that gave power to Khmer Rouge remained at a shadow.

For this reason, according to Mark Levy, former reporter of Cambodia Daily, how to teach the lesson in a politically-correct manner is a problem so as not to add to the agony of the victims. Even Cambodians are having a hard time using those lessons because their children simply cannot accept and believe what really transpired during those times. The family that has been treasured by Cambodians was destroyed by the regime even taught children to hate their family. Some children left with unknown identity. And the embarrassing truth that U. S. had provided the engine for Khmer Rouge to stage and the U.

S bombing of Cambodia killed many thousands even before Pol Pot came to power remained questionable on whether the regime will be openly discussed. As for Cambodia, it’s not clear how or whether the anniversary will be officially remembered. The United States began accepting Cambodians in 1979 and offered a refugee program. Although Cambodians find it difficult to adjust to American society and culture, especially the older generation who have witnessed the bitter past. Today, many Cambodian community organizations help maintain their ethnicity.

Cambodian Buddhist monks offer Cambodian language classes as they were given the freedom to practice their religion and build temples in the U. S. Since music is important to traditional Cambodian culture, traditional music ensembles perform in almost all large Cambodian communities in the United States. (Bankston III 2010:1) The art of dance is also beginning to revive in Cambodia and there are a number of Cambodian dancers in the United States, although it may be difficult to bring this part of the culture back to life, since an estimated 90 percent of all trained dancers died during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Only a handful of survivors emerged and dedicated to resuscitating their cultural traditions especially dance. One of those who miraculously survived was Pich Tum Kravel, an actor, poet, and director and former director of the National Conservatory Chheng Phon. Only by human memory that the expertise was handed down through the generations from master to pupil and never documented and the leading teacher in 1981 at the re-established School of Fine Arts was late Chea Samy, who ironically was Pol Pot’s sister-in-law.

(Fawthrop 2009:1) And by collecting every piece of memories of survivors, the performing arts were revived and preserved until today. Only the sad thing is that elder Cambodians still suffer from special mental and physical health problems as a result of their tragic history. Almost all lived under the extreme brutality of the Khmer Rouge regime are in a traumatic state because of their experiences leaving them in a sense of powerlessness that affects many, even as they settle in free communities in America.

They suffer continuously from emotional anguish which often leads to physical ailments and the strange malady often referred to as the “Pol Pot syndrome” still haunts them which include insomnia, difficulty in breathing, loss of appetite, and pains in various parts of the body. (Fawthrop 2009:1) Evidences of slaughter of a generation of educated people scattered in the countryside along with land mines, which left the nation in extreme poverty. The Cambodia’s Killing Fields are the silent yet unforgettable landmarks of the cruelty and insanity of the Khmer Rouge.

Although the Killing Fields have become attractions to tourist, it quickens the deep wounds and recalls the horrible memories inflicted on Cambodia and its people that will forever remain in history. The hope to prevent further atrocities and parallel insanities from occurring make this part of history a consolation. References Bankston III , Carl. (2010) Cambodian Americans. Every culture. com retrieved 19 May 2010 from http://www. everyculture. com/multi/Bu-Dr/Cambodian-Americans. html CBSnews. com (2000) (Murphy, Jarrett, producer) Remembering the Killing Fields.

April, 2000 retrieved 17 May 2010 from http://www. cbsnews. com/stories/2000/04/15/world/main184477. shtml Fawthrop, Tom. (2009) Khmer Culture: How Cambodian culture re-emerged after the devastating Pol Pot years. Bangkok Post Aug 24, 2009 retrieved 17 May 2010 from http://www. eturbonews. com/11242/how-cambodian-culture-re-emerged-after- devastating-pol-pot-years Lubin, Lisa. (2010) The Killing Fields of Cambodia: Never Again?. Encyclopedia Britannica Blog. 7 May 2010 retrieved 18 May 2010 from http://www. britannica. com/blogs/2010/05/the-killing-fields-of-cambodia-never-again/

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