The Barbarity of Marxism and Revolution
Last summer, I went to the Young America’s Foundation conference in Washington DC. As part of the ice-breaking exercise, we were asked to introduce ourselves and say why we were conservatives. I came up with a pretty bland line about loving my country and disliking taxes.
After travelling through Asia this summer, visiting many living cities and historical locations, I now know why I’m a conservative.
One reason is that I have seen the benefits of free markets and liberalisation throughout Asia (more on that another time).
The other is that Edmund Burke once talked about the evils of revolution. After visiting Cambodia, I have seen the remnants and ghosts of a barbaric communist revolution.
I grew up in Asia and I can remember waking up one morning, with the TV news reporter saying that Pol Pot had died. I asked my dad who he was, and dad simply replied: ‘Pol Pot was the second most evil man in the 20th Century’ – in his mind, second only to Hitler.
When I visited Cambodia, I just had to learn about the Khmer Rouge so I went the Genocide Museum at Tuol Sleng (commonly known as S-21) and the Killing Fields at Choueng Ek. Both are in Phnom Penh.
These were the most harrowing experiences that I have ever been through.
S-21 was the prison for Cambodia’s most serious political prisoners. Formerly a school, it is the most harrowing place I have ever visited.
When you walk up to the museum, you see a grey concrete building. Barbed wire is coiled on top of the outside walls.
You pay for your ticket. You enter the first building. You are then subjected to an assault on your very sense of humanity.
The first thing you see in the first former classroom you enter is a bed. There is no mattress. Just the frame with an ammunition box and a shackle. This classroom was a torture chamber furnished only with a makeshift iron maiden. There are dozens of these rooms throughout S-21.
After the torture chambers comes the holding cells. These are classrooms that have been subdivided with brick partitions with all the floor space of four seats on the London Underground. They look like compressed stables. Considering the lack of ablution facilities, they must have smelled like stables, or worse.
Whilst going around the museum you see many other horrible facts of life at S-21. Firstly, the rules of the prison: They forbid anything that could allow any sense of independent thought. Rule 6 is particularly cruel: crying is forbidden when getting lashes or electric shocks. Rule 4 forbade you from thinking about an answer whilst you were interrogated. Dissent against the regime (this was very broadly defined) got you sent to S-21. Only 4 people survived.
The worst interrogations took place at the gallows. Prisoners were dangled upside down until they lost consciousness from the pain. When they lost consciousness, the guards dunked the prisoners’ heads in a jar of filthy water (used as a sort of fertiliser) to wake them up so that the beatings could resume.
There is a picture of every one of the thousands of prisoners who entered. Only four prisoners who entered survived.
When you go to S-21, there is a silence that is respectfully observed. Even the birds adhere to it and they do not sing in the main area of S-21.
The Killing Fields at Choueng Ek are more serene but scary all the same. You are given an audio guide (with the voice of a Khmer Rouge survivor).
Three things struck me about this site.
First was the simplicity of the execution methods. People were killed in some of the most inhumane manners. There is a tree where Khmer Rouge soldiers killed babies by holding their legs and swinging the children so that their heads were dashed against the trunk. The intention behind this was to stop the children growing up to avenge the deaths of their parents. In another place, the sharp bark of a palm tree was used to cut the throats of (adult) prisoners.
Second is the sheer scale of the death. When you walk around, rags and bones still surface. The prisoners were buried in mass graves. Many of these mass graves have been exhumed. All that is left are deflated depressions in the ground.
Finally, the sheer mechanisation of human death is horrifying. At Choeung Ek, there is a stupa, seven storeys high with the skulls of many of the dead. They are itemised by the way these people died. It is just frightening to think that people could have so many methods of killing human beings for the sake of an ideology that impoverished so many in one country.
Reading about Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime, it’s easy to see why this was among the most horrible regimes in the world.
Upon seizing power in 1975, the Khmer Rouge set about a revolution in Cambodian society. They wanted to make Cambodia an agricultural workers’ paradise. Education was banned (ironically, considering Pol Pot was a teacher), intellectuals and anyone who stood up to the regime were murdered or sent to camps. People were deported around the country to till the land. Phnom Penh became a ghost town (in contrast to the bustling city that it is today).
The Khmer Rouge abolished religion and religious worship. You can see this in Angkor Wat, the iconic Cambodian site, where you see many decapitated Buddhas. They confiscated private property and any form of private enterprise, which included simple activities as non-commercial wild berry picking, was punishable by death. It was also highly xenophobic as Cambodians of Chinese and Vietnamese origin, and almost all foreign nationals in the country, were murdered by the regime.
Despite its high levels of xenophobia, the Khmer Rouge was supported by left-wing academics from Sweden from strangely named ‘Swedish Cambodian Friendship Association’. To quote Lenin, they were ‘useful idiots’ who spread the message across the world that the Khmer Rouge had ‘liberated’ Cambodia. It is horrifying to think of those (on the right and the left) who idealise elements like Hamas, factions of the Syrian rebels or Chavez’s Venezuela. The lessons of history sadly repeat themselves.
In short, the Khmer Rouge sought revolution to implement its radical communist vision.
In doing so, it trampled on every aspect of humanity that people are accustomed to: free speech, the rule of law, private property, custom, tradition, religion, history, love, free trade, free enterprise and liberty. It took everything to implement its radical and cruel ideology and trample on the things that make us human.
The human cost of the Cambodian genocide was around 2,000,000 souls (a quarter of the country at the time). It is a brutal reminder of the human cost of the barbarity of marxism and revolution. That is why I’m a conservative.
Laveen is a trainee solicitor and an active member of the Conservative Party. Follow him on Twitter: @LaveenLadharam.
This article is part of our ongoing ‘Why I am a Conservative’ series, in which supporters of CfL talk about their beliefs and values. If you would like to take part please email blog@con4lib.