At Quilette (a great website), Matthew Blackwell recounts the three-year long genocide in Cambodia perpetrated by Pol Pot and his communist Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh in 1975, hailed as heroes. However, the cheering lasted but a few hours, cut short by the Khmer Rouge’s order for the city to be evacuated. The genocide – the infamous killing fields — had commenced immediately. “The new regime tried to eliminate every vestige of the old government — and every vestige of society they considered a threat, including people who had committed no crime besides wearing reading glasses.”
Blackwell also writes:
Amazingly, even as Cambodia disintegrated, the Khmer Rouge benefitted from unsolicited apologetics from intellectuals at the West’s august universities. Just as Mao, Stalin, and Hitler enjoyed disproportionate popularity among academics and university students, Pol Pot and his promise of a communist utopia in South East Asia elicited sharp defences from many radical Western academics… [T]hese professors downplayed reports of atrocities perpetrated in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, and printed vicious attacks against anyone who disagreed.
Is that really so amazing, though? One person’s genocide is merely another’s “rationally conceived strategy for dealing with the urgent problems that faced postwar Cambodia.” After all, we had
…a group of bright, erudite people “ready to tolerate the worst crimes as long as they are committed in the name of the proper doctrines.” According to [Raymond] Aron, those proper doctrines—equality, classlessness, unselfish dedication—were something like pictures in a children’s book; enticing images that seduced the most imaginative among us—our intellectuals.
And, by all means, dismiss any available contrary evidence, such as that offered by the lucky few that managed to escape the genocide. After all, refugees “naturally tend to report what they believe their interlocutors wish to hear,” according to Noam Chomsky.
Dr. Malcolm Caldwell was a colleague of Chomsky’s who viewed Pol Pot’s experiment so positively (praising its “promise of a better future for all”), he was invited for a carefully stage-managed visit. But that was the last thing the Marxist scholar ever did:
A few hours later [Caldwell] was killed in his hotel room by Pol Pot’s soldiers. Some have speculated that he was murdered because he had confronted Pol Pot with what he had seen in the country. Others suggest that he was killed by rogue soldiers who didn’t want him to return to the West and write supportive things in the media about the brutal regime, as he had done in the past. Elizabeth Becker, one of the other journalists on the trip, hid in her hotel bathroom as she heard the gunshots. Later she stated that, “Caldwell’s death was caused by the madness of the regime he openly admired.”
How can our so-called intellectuals be so incredibly stupid and naive? George Orwell said it best: “There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”
My favorite passage from this essay is this:
[T]he scars of the Pol Pot regime lie open; the country wears its past on its sleeve, as if to say to visitors, “After everything we’ve been through, if you can’t look at this, then why are you here?”
Bottom line: real socialism has been tried.