A UN-backed court in Cambodia has begun trial of the most notorious of the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge, the Communist party which in accordance with archetypal Communist doctrine visited unspeakable torments upon that small nation in the late 1970s. Though wholly unequal in scale to the calamity of Communism in southeast Asia once America retreated, this trial represents an attempt to grant some approximation of justice, some mere shadow of retribution, for a nation subjected to the worst of human depravity.
The name Khmer Rouge is half-French in derivation, and indeed the doctrinal content of this particular Communism, this particular effort to apply the theory of Karl Marx, is an immediate derivative of the French Communist Party. Pol Pot and other Communists learned their revolutionary politics in Paris, imbibing of them deeply enough to effect “the most radical social transformation” in all the long and bloody history of politics as social transformation. What these revolutionaries undertook, in the words of the French scholar Jean-Louis Margolin, was "to implement total Communism in one fell swoop, without the long transitional period that seemed to be one of the tenets of Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy.” (The Black Book of Communism, p. 577.)
At least one in seven, and probably as much as one in five Cambodians perished at the hands of the Khmer Rouge in what may be the most concentrated massacre in all of history. By comparison, it would be as if the Commonwealth of Virginia alone were to witness 1.5 million of her citizens murdered in under four years.
Kaing Guek Eav -- who will go down in infamy as one Comrade Duch, and whose trial began last month -- ran a camp which admitted 15,000 people, 99 percent of whom were tortured to death.
As the calamity of Communism approached in Cambodia, surging into the vacuum of power left behind by the retreat of American forces from neighboring Vietnam, Western Liberal intellectuals were curiously nonchalant. Some were even pleased. It didn't matter to them how many times this armed doctrine ended in blood and treachery; they were always prepared to give it another try.
But by 1975 there could no longer be any doubt as to what Communism had meant for Russia or Eastern Europe; and little enough doubt what it meant for China, North Korea, and Cuba. Whatever could it mean for southeast Asia?
Our Liberals were flippant as to that question; and their flippancy was made into policy. Pitiful appeals for American aid — “the Cambodian people have put their trust in America” — were rejected by Congress. Celebrity Leftists preferred to talk about Vietnam. On the eve of “one of the great mass murders of the last century,” according to The New York Times, a reporter in that selfsame paper conjectured that “it is difficult to imagine how [Cambodian] lives could be anything but better with the Americans gone.” Across the country in Los Angeles, an editorial declared that the isolation of Cambodia would be “good for the Cambodians themselves.” A columnist wondered whether Communism really matters in Cambodia. (Hayward, The Age of Reagan, p. 407.)
It is passé to speak plainly about the character of the Communist enterprise. Efforts like The Black Book of Communism are greeted with annoyance, stiff pedantry, and polite prevarication. No scholar ever paid a professional or social cost for being soft on Communism. Che Guevara is a fashion symbol. Now and then some fool will tell you that the problem with Communism is that it was never properly tried.
Well the Khmer Rouge was Communism properly tried. Money was instantly abolished; property-owners were dispossessed, making way for complete socialism in several years; the "oppressive classes" were simply extinguished. Whole cities, dens of wicked Capital and Property, were emptied in mass deportations.
The Khmer Rouge's ascendancy to power was also the fruit of the anti-war movement of the Sixties, itself now resurgent, in 1974, hard on the heels of Watergate. Resisting Communism in southeast Asia was yet more “cultural arrogance,” as a New York Times columnist put it. Amerika was the real threat to peace in the region. All that grand idealism of the Sixties, all that righteous protest, all that presumption of virtue — the doomed Sirik Matak answered it bravely in a letter of reply to the US Ambassador to Cambodia’s offer of evacuation: “You leave, and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under this sky. But, mark it well, that if I shall die here on this spot and in my country that I love, no matter, because we are all born and must die. I have only committed the mistake of believing in you.” (Hayward, The Age of Reagan, p. 408.)
The Cambodia Communists shot Mr. Matak in the stomach, and left him to die in agony. He died a patriot of the highest order; to him Liberal America was a faithless friend, and her Liberals no friends of liberty.
Hardly anyone in America remembers him — least of all the Sixties “idealists” whose self-promotion captured the hearts of much of the American political class, and whose policy of studious indifference betrayed Cambodia.
Perhaps the most dreadful fact about Communism was the efficiency of the ruin it wrought, the sheer unrelenting single-mindedness of its lunacy, as exemplified in the concentrated slaughter inflicted by the Khmer Rouge. When the Communists conquered, the ferocity of the subjugation that followed destroyed whole societies.
It deprived them of their best and brightest, their bravest, their most resilient, above all their most independent, leaving broken people behind. Worse: leaving behind compromised men, collaborators and informers, men who had saved themselves by betraying innocent friends. Guilt in Communist atrocity became very widespread. That is, the ruthlessness of this initial subjugation and purge insured that very large numbers of the survivors were implicated in unspeakable crimes. Most people have not the strength to endure the cruel fate that likely awaited a resister; and even those possessed of such strength could not count on it when family members were threatened. Who among us would remain silent when his child is put to the knife? In a word, the Communists systematically dispossessed nations of human spirit. The level of despair and demoralization such cruelty-induced betrayals might engender is immeasurable.
This despair includes many in the West as well. I think it is a plain fact that the Left cannot face up to the truth of Communism in part because of the blood on its hands. Will The New York Times renounce the Pulitzer Prize awarded to its reporter Walter Duranty, who in his stupidity helped Stalin starve the Ukraine with hardly a whisper of condemnation from the West? Will the legacy of the Roosevelt Administration survive a thorough scrutiny of its appalling credulousness toward “Uncle Joe”?
Will all the defamers of Whittaker Chambers, the anti-anti-Communist parrots, the implacable defenders of Alger Hiss and Harry Dexter White and all the others, the quiet connivers at subversion, the romancers of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro — will all these characters concede their horrible errors, repudiate their words, and face down the facts of this monstrous history? I think not.
The massive falsehood of it all is too much; a great edifice of lies will not fall of indifference or neglect. It will only fall when truth assails it, and minds are turned to perceive its whole awful untruth. Only when men see that a strange amalgam of Prussian ideas and Russian brutality, French zeal and American complacency, hardened into a force which, marching out of the ruins of a collapsed autocracy in the East, nearly overran civilization and brought about a new Dark Age — only then will the scales fall our eyes and the truth of Communism be made known to all.
That will be a day for rejoicing, even in far-flung Cambodia, where a small but real attempt to vindicate the truth is being undertaken.