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The Rise of the Khmer Rouge (Part 3)

The Rise of the Khmer Rouge (Part 3)

Perhaps the most influential foreign nation however in the rise of the Khmer Rouge was in fact China, whose successful communist revolution under Mao Zedong set a precedent for Pol Pot to follow. Indeed the Khmer Rouge’s successful appeal to the peasantry mirrors that of the CCP in China and, also alike 1940s China, 1970s Cambodia saw a civil war effectively between the united communist masses and the ignorant Government forces. The Kuomintang in China were not government forces per se but their similarity to Lon Nol’s regime and eventual loss despite better resources is remarkable. Pol Pot took much influence and strategy from Mao and Chandler argues that the single greatest influence from China in the rise of the Khmer Rouge was undoubtedly the Cultural Revolution. There is speculation as to whether or not and to what extent China aided the Khmer Rouge with financial and even military support in their rise to power pre 1975 but what is known is that Pol Pot visited China amidst the Cultural Revolution in the late 1960s and one may observe that the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror implemented many of the cultural revolution’s themes. Therefore China can most definitely be argued to have strongly influenced the Khmer Rouge positively (for the communists) in their rise to power and furthermore to have somewhat moulded Pol Pot’s actual reign from 1975 onwards also; though the influence of China as a model of a successful communist peasant uprising is not sufficient in itself to explain the rise of the Khmer Rouge. Indeed as we have previously stated, though China may have influenced the Khmer Rouge’s political practises, ultimately their implementation of these practises did not entail their entire manifesto and only contributed to the Khmer Rouge’s own ideology. As Edwards notes, though the Khmer Rouge’s methods were often Chinese in origin, they were not without precedent in Cambodian history also.

Considering finally then the purely external factors, many such as Kiernan and Shawcross argue that the Chinese influence may be considered an external factor though one might argue that in fact there are elements of native Cambodian thought also within the Khmer Rouge’s ideology so it is really a grey area of mixed ideological and political implementation. They also argue however, that the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power was not only aided but even made entirely possible by the encroachment of the Vietnam War onto Cambodian soil and it is certainly an important factor. In 1969, one year after the harrowing Tet Offensive, the US began to increase bombing in the hope of finally bringing an end to the war by forcing Hanoi to negotiate and when they saw the civil war in Cambodia chose also to heavily bomb them in the hope of forcing negotiations. In actual fact the United States were largely bombing civilian targets and even destroying entire villages, as a post in the Boston Globe stated, noting that refugees were swarming to the cities from villages that had been destroyed and where entire communities were almost wiped out. The result of the bombing worked strongly against the United States in actual fact, primarily because it increased a resentment for the US and therefore in a knock on effect Lon Nol’s Khmer Republic also, and made the nationalistic Khmer Rouge seem a far more appealing option; especially for people who had lost their homes to the bombing and were rejected by the Khmer Republic Government for being a lower social class. Secondly, the bombing forced the experienced Vietnamese Communist soldiers in Cambodia further West and therefore closer to the Khmer Republic Government which, under the militarily inept Lon Nol, suffered numerous morale destroying losses. Effectively by carpet-bombing Cambodia with B-52 bombers the US had provided an excellent source of propaganda against themselves and created a recruiting package for the nationalistic and communist Khmer Rouge. To say it was the most important factor in Pol Pot’s rise to power however as M. Haas concludes throughout his book, would be to undermine the importance of the political turmoil in Cambodia prior to US intervention.      


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