My father was born before the end of World War II in Kampong Chhnang, Cambodia on February 1, 1945. His motherland remained under the French Protectorate since 1853. Laos and Vietnam also lived under France’s iron fist. The subjugation, repression, discrimination, and exploitation of Cambodge, Laos, and Vietnam incited the leaders of these three nations (coined by French as Indochina) to rise against France.
Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese leader who founded the Indochinese Communist Party in 1930, saw communism as a mean to overthrow colonialism. Russia and China, the communist hegemonic forces, acted as its mother and father. As the saying goes, the rest is history.
Due to humiliating defeat by the Vietcong and North Vietnamese, strong oppositions from leaders of these three Southeast Asian Nations, and a global shift from colonialism to communism, France granted them independence. Cambodia officially received her independence on November 9, 1953.
While Cambodia became a constitutional monarchy dominated by the Sangkhum Reas Niyum Party, which was autocratically ruled by Prince Norodom Sihanouk, and slowly advanced on her own, North Vietnam and South Vietnam fought each other to unite as either a communist or democratic country. Prince Sihanouk responded with strong repression against those who disrupted and caused chaos to his rule and peace in Cambodia, sending the left-wing and right-wing groups to hide out in the jungle. The leftists found alliance within the Vietnamese communists.
After the Vietcong and North Vietnamese had obliterated France militarily, the United States swooped in to guard against the domino effect of communism in the region.
The Cambodian’s right-wing found alliances with South Vietnam and then with the United States of America. Unhappy with how Prince Sihanouk’s handled the situation with the Vietcong and North Vietnam, General Lon Nol and Prince Sisowat Sirik Matak, the Prince’s trusted man and cousin, led a bloodless coup in 1970. The country saw another change in government, known as the Khmer Republic.
America found itself in a rut and was loosing the war badly to North Vietnam. Its people wanted their soldiers to return home. In his presidential campaign, Richard Nixon vowed to bring the American troops back. He won the election. Henry Kissinger became his Secretary of State.
Under the Nixon and Kissinger’s administration, the United States and South Vietnam indiscriminately bombed Cambodia and its civilians, young and old, into smithereens. They contented the Vietcong was using Cambodia as its hideout. Some Western historians estimated from twice to three times the bomb drops than those in Japan during World War II. The “Breakfast,” “Lunch,” “Snack,” “Dinner,” and “Dessert” bombing campaigns destroyed more than 500,000 Cambodian lives and the country’s infrastructure.
The United States and South Vietnam did not defeat or destroy the Vietcong; instead, it routed them to go deeper into Cambodia. The bombing campaigns and instigation and infiltration by Vietnamese communists gave rise to the cambodian left-wing radicals that had already been reduced to a small number by Prince Sihanouk.
Western leaders’ arrogance against the Prince sent him straight to China, which supported the Cambodian communists, for assistance. Chinese leaders acted as the mediators between Prince Sihanouk and the Khmer Rouge, the force that he reduced. Anger, hatred, revenge, infiltration over the American’s bombings and the current government’s corruption pushed the fed up people to side with the beloved Prince and the Khmer Rouge.
After five years of civil war with the American-backed and corrupt Khmer Republic, the China-backed and disciplined Khmer Rouge emerged as the victor. From 1975-1979, the communists ruled the people and country with an iron-fist, killing and torturing former Republican soldiers and civilian supporters of Lon Nol who were seen as traitors to their country for siding with the United States. They executed educated and city people and those who were seen as a threat to the regime. They ruled the country based on suspicion and personal revenge in their attempt to create an equal and classless society.
My family lived under the Khmer Rouge regime. Like millions of other citizens, we lived in constant fear and torture. Segregated from his beloved parents and siblings, my father had seen things that were incomprehensible in the human world.
The back and forth provocation and political aggression by the Khmer Rouge’s former ally, Vietnam, resulted in the latter invading the country. Under Vietnam’s occupation, unaccounted Khmer citizens were tortured and killed by the Vietnamese communists or using the hands of their puppet regime to kill more Khmer men. Those men who were left over from the killing by the Khmer Rouge regime were sent to the land mine infested jungle to clear the forest, purportedly to protect the country against Pol Pot and his followers, died in great numbers. It was known as the K-5 plan. Anyone refused was threatened with bodily harm and execution.
As for those of us who were displaced in the refugee camps, we suffered human rights abuses by the hands of the Thai soldiers. For some of us, we got off easy. For the unfortunate ones, they suffered more than we’ll ever know. Men were tortured, buried alive, robbed and killed; women were raped and killed; and children disappeared.
Lastly, the current government, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, consists of former Khmer Rouge members. Their corrupt ways and relentless human rights abuses against the poor and weak continue to destroy the fabric of Khmer society and the country's advancement.
Cambodia went through many changes, none of them had worked out for its people. The power may have switched from one hand to another, but the destruction and pain remain the same.
My father saw what revolution did to his country. He lost nearly all of his family members. It caused him to be sleepless and emotionally traumatized. Every day and night, I watch my thin and frail father chain-smokes to suppress his pain and haunting memories. He was only a civilian. I can’t imagine what is going through the minds of those who were in the front line.