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Democratic Kampuchea: An Irresponsible Government

by Lay Vicheka

April 29, 2005

Introduction

Men are innately self-centred. Due to this characteristic, countless problems are flourished, and if there is no any official institution to govern men’s negative nature, the whole state would steps toward anarchy. Single-mindedly targets to offer possible benefits to its people, nearly all government in the world is divided between the three; executive, legislative, and judicial. Professor George Mckenna, in one of his excerpts called “Why Government,” claims that government has four basic compulsions to be executed (McKenna, 1998, 7).

Democratic Kampuchea, on other hand, drew a completely outlook from what Professor George Mckenna has claimed above. All of the people who have survived the Pol Pot regime would refer to this government, as not to service the people, but to enslave its own people, and some would even depict the leaders as "worse than Hitler" and a "genocidal maniac" (Chandler, 1999, p.4). And many have explained the ghost of three; Pol Pot, Ieng Sary and Kieve Samphan, as insane philosophers. A confidential CPK document asserted that the “expulsion of the population from Phnom Penh is a measure one will not encounter in any other country’s revolution.” in a similar vein, Ieng Sary told a German correspondent in1976, “it is still too early to announce what we are doing in our country. Since our action is not based on models, we are learning in the course of the experiment (Chandler, 1991, p.204).” Probably the only government whose philosophy has totally molded Cambodian moral/legal/economic system into a complete earthly utopia, Democratic Kampuchea draws a lot of curiosity from the world’s states and inhabitants. 

Democratic Kampuchea is the government that ruled Cambodia from 1975-1979. This regime is governed by Pol Pot, Ieng Sary and Kieve Samphan and other subordinates. This regime is notorious for its “auto-genocide” which means slaughtering its own people (having the same nationality as the leaders). Democratic Kampuchea is considered as one of the weirdest regimes in the world, due to its destruction of its own nation and people. For years, the world has dramatically turned their attentions to this 1975-1979 regime. For better understand about Democratic Kampuchea government, I suggested:

David P. Chandler (1999). Brother Number One.

Ben Kiernan (1985). How Pol Pot Came To Power.

David P. Chandler (1991). The Tragedy of Cambodian history.

Or visit Documentation Centre of Cambodia. 

Many questions are still remained unanswered; why the government killed too many people? Who was/were responsible for the demises of over one million Cambodian citizens? How would those history traitors be punished? To answer many of the questions above, a glimpse into Democratic Kampuchea’s governance would dramatically benefit. Did Democratic Kampuchea do anything among the four to fulfill what we call the obligations of the government?    

I. Establishing Justice?

The term “justice” is extremely convoluted to express in words. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle…etc, all have different opinions for this term “justice”. Not only amongst the people, different forms of government; capitalism, socialism, and democracy, also provide different perspectives. We could define the word justice by presenting a figure of a blindfold woman with a set of scales. The scales symbolize balance and fairness; the blindfold stands for impartiality (McKenna, 1998, 7). “Justice does not necessarily mean treating everyone alike; otherwise all workers would receive the same pay and all students would earn the same grade, regardless of performance or effort. The impartiality of justice is not completely indiscriminate” (McKenna, 1998, 7). For Aristotle’s perspective, just is “the proportional,” meaning that each person should be given what is due to him or her (McKenna, 1998, 8).

Justice was never been done in the Pol Pot regime. What Pol Pot had promised that his regime would bring the innovative circle for the people; justice, opportunity for the uneducated and the poor, turning elite’s political power into people’s hands, etc, were been done very little. On the outset of its governance, Democratic Kampuchea divided people into two groups; “base people” and “new people”. This I would call the second apartheid, like in South Africa. The new people had much harsher living conditions and torture, compared to the base people. Even in the one-party-one-candidate election, base people were not allowed to vote at all. Resulting from this, one query has been arisen; why Democratic Kampuchea had discrimination on its own people? We can venture to answer the question that, because Pol Pot had long had revengeful mentality.

For the whole reigning period of Democratic Kampuchea, Cambodian people were forced to devote their lives to unpaid labour force to fulfill the earthly “collective agrarian utopia” policy. CPK soldiers were taught the culture of detest toward Royal dynasties, intellectuals, the rich, and Sihanouk and Lon Nol’s adherents. Over the years, they has been trained to hate “enemies of the organization” – the Americans, who bombed the country, the traitors allied to the Americans, and the city-dwellers, who had refused to join the revolution. They were taught to relish their resentments; a CPK cadre told Sophy “we were so angry when we emerge from the forest that we didn’t want to spare even a baby in its cradle (Chandler, 1991, p.253).” Before 1977-1978, revenge between classes was widespread. One handwritten document, entitled ‘Who Leads the People’s War?’, illustrates the absolute character of Democratic Kampuchea’s government with a veiled reference to Sihanouk:

Therefore the only leaders of the people’s war are the layer of the people who experience the greatest expression, the greatest pain, and have the greatest anger are the most absolute in waging war to exterminate the exploiting classes, the imperialists, the feudalists and the capitalists. These layers of people are the toiler class. And the highest Organization, the top general command, the vanguard force, with the boldest line of attack for the toiler class, is the toiler Party, which is adorned with the greatest brilliance of Maxist-Leninist consciousness and endowed with a political line and political standpoint of serving above all the interests of the producing class, and of the nation...(Ben Kiernan, 1985, p.326)

In September 1977, Pol Pot encouraged the farming strata of people by comparing them to the empire of Angkor Wat;

Long ago we have Angkor. Angkor was built during the slaving era. Slaves like us built Angkor under the exploitation class so the royal people can live in happiness. If our people can built Angkor, they can do anything (Chandler, 1996, p.246).

All the culture and tradition; language, religion, clothing, food, etc, of ethnic minorities and even of Cambodian people were abolished, except the Khmer language was the only cultural item to be retained. Familyism was still seen among the top leaders of Democratic Kampuchea; relatives of the leaders were not to be evacuated or tortured (Chandler, 1993, p.210). All people were not allowed to have access to lawyers or judges at all, they were convicted by the Democratic Kampuchea’s soldiers only, though Chapter 7, Article 9 stated that “Justice is administered by people’s courts, representing and defending the people’s justice, defending the democratic rights and liberties of the people, and condemning any activities directed against the people’s State or violating the laws of the people’s State (Jennar, 1995, p.85). 

II. Ensuring Domestic Tranquility?

Philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr noted that “every community seeks consciously and unconsciously to make social peace and order the first goal of its life” and he also added that “for the simple reason that chaos means nonexistence” (McKenna, 1998, 9). As stated above, because men are innately self-important, government is the compulsory institution to cater domestic tranquility. Madison wrote that since men were no angels, we require some kind of armed umpire to keep us from harming one another (McKenna, 1998, 9). Professor George McKenna proclaimed that coercion is the available source of the government to stabilize the state (McKenna, 1998, 7), and no one can hold this source besides the government, which is comprised of people. What about the Democratic Kampuchea, had them done such an obligation? 

In May 1975, a spokesman of Democratic Kampuchea publicly proclaimed, “more than two thousands year of Cambodian history has end. A little hostile glance into the politics of Democratic Kampuchea, one (especially one living outside Cambodia) may think that Democratic Kampuchea did provide stability to the people, because for nearly the whole of its reign, there were no serious internal and external upheavals. This stability was caused by removing all the human rights and even the natural rights of the Cambodian people only. Such a compressed stability is not called “genuine stability”, because the government’s deployment of force to attain. For Plato, to attain the stability of the whole state, each individual must have stability in the soul as well (Forsyth & Soper, 1988, p. 24). Imagine, how could you sleep if you didn’t have enough food? How would you feel if you were convicted guilty without having a chance to protest back? 

III. Providing for The Common Defense?

Government is an aggregate of similar ideology, so that such an organization is formed to service the people. James Madison claimed that because man is different from angel; endless ambition, man is deem to be curiously argumentative. We can draw an equation from this that, government is supposed to have the same mentality; one government could invade another government for beneficial or malicious purpose.  

As April Seventeen arrived, government soldiers were told that the war had finished and all Khmer was to become brothers who should integrate to get Kampuchea Krom back from Vietnam. And one Special Centre Assembly for Cabinet Ministers and all zone/region secretary was held. In that special meeting, among the eight points stated by Pol Pot, seventh point; expel the entire Vietnamese minority population, and eighth point; sending soldiers to the border especially to the Khmer-Vietnamese border (Ben Kiernan, 1985, p.361-362). Ta Mok added that all place that has palm trees, is belonged to Khmer. Democratic Kampuchea constitution, Chapter I, Article 1 which stated that “The State of Kampuchea is an independent, unified, peaceful, neutral, non-aligned, sovereign, and democratic State enjoying territorial integrity (Jennar, 1995, p.83)” also devote to defense Khmer territory and Khmer people against foreign invasion in any form. However, do these all mean Democratic Kampuchea did response to the third obligation, thus worth called “a responsible government”? 

If not under any form of foreign pressure, many has come up with a rhetoric why people were forced to bury their heads into giant collective farms, in order to attain the yielding policy of the revolutionary organization? And how was the annual farming yield vanished?  

Democratic Kampuchea was deemed to have a lot of similarities to the Cultural Revolution of Mao Zedong in between 1966-1976. Those similarities were seen in that Mao Zedong forced all the Chinese schools to be closed, and after months, he encouraged the Red Guards to abolish all the traditional values and bourgeois things, in order to test the party’s followers by criticizing them. The commanders ordered their subordinates and soldiers to take control schools, factories and government agencies. Step by step, this revolution moved to become stricter and stricter. Many elderly people were not only mentally attacked but also physically (cultural revolution, internet, p.1-2). Other resemblances were seen in turning all the private property into state ownership and the great leap forward approach. Ben Kiernan wrote about Chinese financial aids to Democratic Kampuchea that; in September 13, 1975 diplomatic source in Beijing claimed that China increased un-aligned financial/military aids to Cambodia up to one billion USD and twenty millions USD as rewards. This was thought as the most impressive aids of China ever been given to any country (Chandler, 1991, p.260). David P. Chandler added that; most farmers, happy or unhappy, were owed to their creditor, China (Chandler, 1991, p.239). Many new people saw the point that they had to work to feed themselves and to increase the agrarian productivities. Such a stance was diminished after the 1975’s output was seen to deliver to far-away unloaded destination by government trucks. In fact, the government delivered thousand of tones of rice to China to pay the debts. The 1976’s finished rice was to be deliver as well, but due to excessive demands from the government, starvation became widespread (Chandler, 1991, p. 239).  

All the above evident has unveiled the Democratic Kampuchea that hadn’t protect people from foreign invasion at all. In contrast, people were enslaved to pay the debts of the government back to China 

IV. Promoting The General Welfare?

Maslow asserted that People desire for hierarchy of motives; starting from physiological needs to safety needs to love needs, esteem needs, and finally self-actualization needs (Myers,1990, 314). Besides the three chronological obligations of the government written above, government is assigned to be the welfare-supplier to all the Cambodian citizens. Business regulation, helping the disabled and orphans in the form of payments or shelters. For this purpose, varieties of institution, governmental organizations, and non-governmental organizations have been established to accelerate the process. Constitution also claims the role of the government on this goal.

Government should be like a tree that unconditionally and tirelessly provides shade to all who are in need. Or like the parents who cater cares for the children. Government would always heroically venture to sacrifice everything for the goods of its citizens, as Buth Savong, Cambodia’s Buddhist philosophy scholar, wrote in his book called “The Lesson for Life”;           

In the dry season, absence of wind, in the middle of field, the heat is enormously high, but the tree can still bare such an ordeal respectfully.

Look! Admire the tree that provides cool shade to men and animals, always be tolerant to the sun’s ray, in accordance to her nature.

Likewise, the guardian/breadwinner is the comfortable shade of the other, he or herself has to possess the quality of endurance, struggle for the hardship.

Admire the parents! Both of them are the guardians/breadwinners of the child/children, how have they endured the suffering (Buth Savong, 2003, p.58)…

Or like in the book entitled, “The Tao Inner Peace”, Diane Dreher suggested the style of leadership through Taoist philosophy. In that book, she stated that leader would resemble the water, which is always cool and timelessly beneficial.

                        “The best people (government) are like water.

They benefits all things,

And do not compete with them.

They settle in low places,…” (Dreher, 1990,180).

Democratic Kampuchea’s general welfare was far below zero, people were forced to live their lives back into the primitive tradition during antiquity. 

Conclusion

Government is a mean to an end! There is no need at all, if men are innately insightful, philosophical, psychologically enlightened. But since men are evil creatures, government is required to cease the upheavals of the people. The four basic duties stated above, is initial answer to the question “why government?”. Still government has many more compulsions to be executed to be worth called people’s government. Democratic Kampuchea didn’t fill any among the four obligations as they did contract with the people, while campaigning for popular support. Such a gang government is not supposed to last long, because they deploy forces to make people respect them.

Professor Atiyah, in one of his edition called “Promises, Morals, and Law” wrote that; A human being has only very limited capacity to improve his lot in the world when he acts entirely on his own. It is only by exchanging his surplus goods, and the products of his labour, with others, and by thus joining with them in cooperative activities that man has been able to create the wealth which satisfies the wants of human race. No single person acting on his own could begin to make one-thousandth of the goods which he uses in his daily life-the food he eats, the house he lives in, the car or train in which he travels to work, are all the result of co-operation by an unimaginable number of people. So it is easy to agree that anything which encourages or facilitates human co-operation is, other things being equal, of great utility (Atiyah, 1995, p.30-31). Democratic Kampuchea government is thought to be full of milk of self-interest; turning the whole society to fit their needs. Perhaps now we can venture to answer the question why did Democratic Kampuchea last too short? by using Professor Atiyah’s statements and because they turn the whole society into self-interest.   

Bibliography

· George McKenna (1998). THE DRAMA OF DEMOCRACY. McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.: USA. 

· Raoul M. Jennar (1995). The Cambodian Constitution (1953-1993). White Lotus Co Ltd, Bangkok.: Thailand.

· Cambodian constitution (1993).

· David G.Myers (1990). Exploring Psychology. Worth Publishers, Inc.: USA

· Buth Savong (2003). LESSON FOR LIFE. Phnom Penh Printing House.: Cambodia.

· Diane Dreher (1990). THE TAO INNER PEACE. HarperCollins Publishers.: New York.

· David P. Chandler (1993). history of cambodia. WO.S Printing House, Bangkok.: Thailand.

· Chandler P. David. Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1999.

· David P. Chandler (1996). Facing The Cambodian Past.

· http://members.fortunecity.com/stalinmao/China/Cultural/Cultural.html.

· David P. Chandler (1991). the tragedy of cambodian history; Politics, War, and Revolution Since 1945.

· Murray Forsyth and Maurice Keens-Soper (1988). THE POLITICAL CLASSICS. Biddles Ltd Guildford and King’s Lynn.: Great Britain.

· Ben Kiernan (1985). how pol pot came to power; A History of Communism in Kampuchea, 1930-1975.

· P. S.ATIYAH (1995). PROMISES, MORALS, AND LAW. Oxford University Press: USA.

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The author is a second year student of law at the University of Phnom Penh.

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