This non-fiction book was written by Loung Ung, a Cambodian-American childhood survivor of “Democratic Kampuchea — Cambodia. It’s a true story and her personal account of her experiences with her family during the Khmer Rouge regime.
It’s harrowing, shocking, and heartbreaking. By chance, I stumbled upon the movie directed by Angelina Jolie on Netflix.
As hard as it was to watch, I’m glad I found it — it taught me more valuable lessons about Cambodia and its kind people.
It’s important to know these events happened because of the US-Vietnam war, in which Cambodia had no part. Cambodia was a neutral country.
What happened to the Khmer people could and should have been avoided.
“In March 1969, President Richard Nixon authorized secret bombing raids in Cambodia, which escalated opposition to the Vietnam War in Ohio and across the United States. Nixon believed North Vietnam was transporting troops and supplies through neighboring Cambodia into South Vietnam.” Ohiohistorycentral.org
The bombings continued until August 1973, with around 100.00 innocent Cambodian civilians killed and thousands more maimed and wounded.
In 1970 President Nixon ordered the occupation of parts of Cambodia, which escalated the destruction and enabled the rise of the Khmer Rouge to power.
The American troops soon withdrew, leaving chaos behind and the Khmer people exposed and desperate. Because of the United States’ occupation and bombing, the Cambodian government was overthrown by the Khmer Rouge.
The Khmer Rouge was an extreme communist organization, far worse, more oppressive, and far more aggressive than the same type of regime the Americans were fighting in Vietnam.
America knew this, of course, but continued to support the Khmer Rouge’s rule, resulting in the violent destruction of property and the killing of approximately 2 million Cambodians.
The brutal facts:
US Air Force data revealed that over 2.7 million tons of explosives were dropped during the secret bombing of Cambodia — a neutral country.
Through execution, starvation, and forced labor, the Khmer Rouge systematically killed nearly a quarter of the country’s population.
The end of the tyranny:
“On January 7, 1979, Vietnamese troops seized the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, toppling the brutal regime of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge.” History.com
The Khmer people were forced to endure terror and genocide for nearly a decade, caused by America and without help from America. Think about that when you think about what’s going on in Ukraine today!
The tragic events and atrocities:
Every major city in Cambodia and its residents were evacuated and forced to work as prisoners in the fields.
The people were stripped of their property, money, and all belongings. They were made to dye their clothes black and wear the Khmer Rouge neck scarf.
They were denied their personal identity, and individualism was outlawed — everyone was to be the same.
People with education and intellect — lawyers, doctors, architects, and government officials were explicitly targeted and eliminated.
The young children were brainwashed in classes, teaching them only to believe in and trust the leader.
They had to make and plant landmines and boobie traps. Half the kids died or were dismembered because of those landmines as they tried to escape the crossfire during the Vietnamese invasion.
- Kids from 5 and upwards were forced to labor in the fields
- They were made to watch as adults, including their parents, were beaten and then killed
- They were beaten, tortured, and murdered for stealing 1 vegetable from the fields
It was shocking and beyond comprehension.
I want to thank Loung Ung for authoring this critical book so the world can understand what really happened in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge and why.
I’d also like to thank Angelina Jolie for directing and producing this film.
Young Miss Loung Ung’s character is played as the 8-year-old daughter with her family of 4 siblings and her parents.
The 4 children and mother survived — her father was killed.
Now I understand Angela Jolie’s sentiments about Cambodia. I read long ago that she had adopted a child from Cambodia, but I didn’t know the backstory.
“Jolie fell in love with Cambodia while filming her role as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider. She found the poverty-stricken country still recovering from the genocide inflicted by the Khmer Rouge regime, which led to the deaths of nearly a quarter of the population from 1975 to 1979.”
“I found people who were so kind, warm, open, and very complex. You drive around here and see many people with many things but not often expressing happiness.” Angelina Jolie in People.com
I fully agree with Angelina’s sentiments. I’ve now been living in Cambodia for 1 year. I didn’t know what to expect when I arrived. I was a little worried that it may be a challenging country to live in.
To my surprise, the opposite turned out to be the case. I soon fell in love with Cambodia and the incredible patience, kindness, and sincerity of the Khmer people.
They went through terrible things, which happened not so long ago.
The people are not bitter because of this. Instead, they are humble and grateful to be alive. And they are happy to welcome us Westerners to visit and live in their Magical Kingdom.
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