Cambodia’s Killing Fields and Genocide: Some Thoughts

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Jan 17 2015 17:58
Cambodia’s Killing Fields and Genocide: Some Thoughts

Since I retired from FT, PT and casual-employment in the years 1999 to 2005, after a 50 year student and paid employment life from 1949 to 1999, I have been recreating myself as a writer and author, poet and publisher, editor and researcher, reader and scholar, and online blogger and journalist. During the years, 1999 to 2014, I have taken an interest in the subject of genocide. The following prose-poems, some 14 A-4 pages and 4000 words, are a reflection of this interest.

Readers who find the following far too long for their reading sensibilities are advised to: (i) skim or scan, (ii) read until your eyes glaze over or you lose interest or (iii) just stop reading now. I do any one of all three of these choices all the time . If I did not and tried to read everything, I'd drown in words. The following is for those with a special interest in the subject.
Counting Hell

Last night I revisited Cambodia’s Killing Fields on the ABC's 4 Corners program “Where Are They Now?”1 I read some of the commentary on the subject and the writing of Bruce Sharp2 interested me the most. In his essay Counting Hell, Sharp wrote that we are confronted with incomplete and inconclusive evidence, and it is tempting, therefore, to say that we will never really see the full picture of what happened in Cambodia’s Killing Fields from April 1975 to January 1979. It is also tempting to say that after more than thirty years have passed, it is time to move on. So much of the contemporary scene and of history is so often “a time to move on.” History is, as Edward Gibbon once wrote, “little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind.”

To the German-Swiss novelist and poet, Hermann Hesse, as he put it in his The Glass Bead Game, the study of history means “submitting to chaos and nevertheless retaining faith in order and meaning. It is a very serious task.” Perhaps the most apt definition of history insofar as The Killing Fields is concerned is the one from James Joyce in his Ulysses. “History,” Joyce wrote, “is a nightmare from which I am trying to wake.”

Historians are accustomed now to the idea of genocide. Cambodia was not the first occurrence of genocide and it will not be the last. There have been a myriad newer crimes since 1979. “Do we still need to worry about the old ones?” Sharp asks rhetorically. Why should we bother with numbers? One and a half million, two and a half million deaths in Cambodia: does it matter? There was once a time when these were not merely numbers. These numbers had names, and that is why it matters, he concludes.2-Ron Price with thanks to1 “Where Are They Now?” 4 Corners, ABC1 TV, 27/6/’11, 8:30 p.m., 2the link:, and 3the internet site Cambodia, 1 April 2005.

It was a big year ’79. Those killing
fields came to an end, the revolution
in Iran took place and I settled into a
life in Tasmania at the age of 35 Y.O.
I was in Ballarat at the CAE during all
those years of 1 to 2 million deaths in
Cambodia. I was busy reading so many
books, helping the Baha’i community &
surviving another 4 years of marriage-
family and community responsibilities
until I was worn-out due to my own wars,
my own hell with bipolar-disorder……and
Cambodia was at least a million miles away
in another world, indeed, another universe.
Ron Price
28/6/'11 to 9/10/'14.


Part 1:

Levon Chorbajian notes in the introduction to Studies in Comparative Genocide by Adam Jones1 that "our current state of theorizing about genocide is the product of a recent, incomplete and evolving process as well as a contested one." Chorbajian points out that the "systematic study of genocide is only 25 years old. The relative newness of this field of inquiry lends the subject of comparative genocide studies much of its urgency and vigour. It also accounts, as Chorbajian suggests, for continuing debates over core definitions and applications.-Ron Price with thanks to 1Adam Jones, Studies in Comparative Genocide, edited by Levon Chorbajian and George Shirinian, Macmillan, 1999.

This book has its origins in a conference on genocide held in Yerevan, the capital of the Republic of Armenia, in 1995. The conference brought together many of the most prominent names in this young field, including Yehuda Bauer, Vahakn Dadrian, Helen Fein, Henry Huttenbach, the Cambodia specialist Ben Kiernan, and Ervin Staub, author of The Roots of Evil. The published papers from the conference, though predictably uneven, represent an exceptional contribution to the theorizing of genocide, and to the continuing search for markers and "early warning" signs that might allow outside forces to intervene more intelligently, and directly, in cases of genocide and other mass atrocities.

Part 2:

Studies in Comparative Genocide was published the year I took a sea-change and retired early after a 50 year student-working life: 1949-1999. I have taken an interest in the subject of genocide due to my association with the Baha’i Faith for over 60 years. The literature on genocide in relation to the Bahá'í community of Iran is now extensive, and there is now an extensive documentation that can easily be accessed in cyberspace. Baha’is, and the precursor religion with which it is intimately associated, Babism, have been officially persecuted since the 1840s. Some 200 Baha'is have been executed and hundreds of thousands forced to convert or be subjected to the most horrendous disabilities since the revolution in Iran in 1979. Systematic targeting of the leadership of the Bahá'í community by killing or disappearance was focused on the Bahá'í National Spiritual Assembly and Local Spiritual Assemblies across Iran in the last 35 years. Like most conservative Muslims, Khomeini believed Bahá'ís to be apostates and issued a fatwa stating:

It is not acceptable for a non-Muslim to change his religion to another religion not recognized by the followers of the previous religion. Jews who become Baha’is have a choice to accept Islam or be executed.

Part 3:

Khomeini emphasized that the Bahá'ís would not receive any religious rights, since he believed that the Bahá'ís were a political rather than religious movement. Allegations of Bahá'í involvement with other political powers have long been repeated in many venues with resulting denunciations from the president. Conversion from Judaism and Zoroastrianism to the Baha’i Faith is well documented since the 1850s; such a change of status removed any legal and social protections.

More recently, documentation has been provided that shows governmental intent to destroy the Bahá'í community. The government has intensified propaganda and hate speech against Bahá'ís through the Iranian media; Bahá'ís are often attacked and dehumanized on political, religious, and social grounds to separate Bahá'ís from the rest of society. Of all non-Muslim religious minorities the persecution of the Baha’is has been the most widespread, systematic, and uninterrupted. In contrast to other non-Muslim minorities, the Baha’is are spread throughout the country in villages, small towns, and various cities, fuelling a social-paranoia throughout Iran.

Since the 1979 revolution, the authorities have destroyed most or all of the Baha'i holy places in Iran, including the House of the Bab in Shiraz, a house in Tehran where Bahá'u'lláh was brought up, and other sites connected to aspects of Babi and Baha'i history. These demolitions have sometimes been followed by other crimes like the desecration of cemetaries in a deliberate act of triumphalism. In addition the Bahá'í Institute for Higher Education(BIHE), "an elaborate act of communal self-preservation", has been systematically raided. Between 1987 and 2005 the Iranian authorities closed down the Institute several times as part of the pattern of suppressing the Bahá'í community. Between September 30 and October 3 1998, and most recently again in 2014, officials from the Ministry of Intelligence entered the homes of academic staff of the BIHE, seizing books, computers and personal effects as well as shutting down buildings used for the school.-Ron Price with thanks to “Cultural Genocide,” Wikipedia, 19/9/’14.

It is such a long story going
back to the 1840s and in my
lifetime to the 1950s, & me
in a culture where people do
not give a tuppence what are
your religious beliefs as long
as you drink beer or wine, &
take an interest in football, &
don’t take religion seriously.

Religion here is like a custom;
It’s something you take on like
a feeling you get when you go
into a church. Catholic, Jew, &
Protestant—a complacent trinity,
part of a small, safe & familiar
world they grew-up in and so
hang-on to like an old-doll or
dummy for psycho-comfort….

Ah well, it’s better than all that
fanatical anti-Baha’i stuff I’ve
been reading about in Iran all my
Baha’i life. I think I’ll take the big
doses of indifference that have been
my lot since I was in my teens, and
my friends found out I actually took
my religion seriously and it was not
the same stuff they all got in church
and did not give a tuppence-apeny
for, anyway, most of the time..time.

Ron Price
19/11/’12 to 9/10/'14.

Part 1:

The rule of the Pol Pot-led Khmer Rouge first came onto my radar in the late 1970s when I was up-to-my-ears in my own life's battles. I had my own psychological killing fields to worry-about as I bottomed-out yet again on my journey, my life-narrative. Last night Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were back on my agenda at about 3 a.m. when I got up from my 12 hours-in-bed-a-day for a cup-of-tea.

"The Khmer Rouge: A Question of Justice" on SBSONE1 was being televised in the middle of the night and the middle of an Australian autumn season. The focus of this film was the faltering attempts at providing Khmer Rouge victims with long overdue justice. When the atrocities were ending and the Khmer Rouge were ousted from rule in Cambodia in early January 1979, I was just settling-in to my second period of years in far-off Tasmania where I had first come back in September 1973 to a job at what is now the University of Tasmania. With a wife and 3 children, and the rigors of bipolar disorder winging their wild-fires on my emotions I was simply unable to take-in the horrors of April 1975 to January 1979 and, for that matter, the next 19 years of Khmer Rouge soldiers waging guerilla warfare.

Part 2:

In 1999 I stopped my 60 to 80 hour a week life of nose-to-the-grindstone stuff that had kept me busy in a myriad of different ways from 1949 to 1999. I took an early retirement at the age of 55 and began working out how to go on a disability pension. This I achieved by the age of 60 in 2004. I was finally able to devote myself to a life of writing and editing, research and study, poetizing and publishing. The court set up in the late 1990s and, with Pol-Pot finally dead, it began its work in 2006. By then I had also retired from PT and casual employment and was engaged in a 60 hour literary-work-week at the bottom-end of the world in my third period of years in Tasmania.

Watching this doco on TV last night made me more aware of the incompetence and ineffectiveness of the court, the corruption, the lengthy trial proceedings and the complicated political issues involved in the years 2006 to 2014. Since I retired form FT work in early 1999 neither Cambodia's local civil society organizations nor its citizens have had much say in the functioning of the tribunal. They follow it on TV for the most part and justice can not be arrived at due to the fact that the court can not prosecute individuals who are currently part of the government.2-Ron Price with thanks to 1SBSONE TV, 2:40 a.m. to 4:20 a.m., 8/10/'14 and 2Lak Chansok, "Can Khmer Rouge Survivors Get Justice?" The Diplomat, 30/5/'14.

2 Lak Chansok is a lecturer at Institute of Foreign Languages’s Department of International Studies, Royal University of Phnom Penh, and has been a research fellow at the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace.