The Killing Fields then and now



The Killing Fields was on TV recently. Maybe you remember it. It’s about a journalist and his translator during the time of the Khmer Rouge take over in Cambodia in the 1970s. It came out in 1984, won eight BAFTAs and three Oscars and starred Sam Waterson and Haing S. Ngor.

The movie hasn’t aged a bit. It worth watching both for its depiction of the extremes of war, and of the deep personal relationship between the two men.

It also shows you the violence of the Khmer State in the years after the war.

What struck me while watching the film, however, wasn’t so much its historical resonance, as that it reflected something that is happening right now.

I’m talking about the Islamic State.

The Khmer Rouge were utterly insane. After taking power they engaged in a process of social engineering in which the urban population was forced into the countryside to work the land, and tens of thousands of intellectuals, educated people, and professionals were murdered.

Theirs was a peculiar, fundamentalist, barbaric strain of communism. Not unlike the Islamic State, which practices a peculiar, fundamentalist, barbaric strain of Islam.

The Khmer Rouge no longer exist, of course. No one is being murdered for being bourgeois in Cambodia any more. People are, however, being murdered in Syria and Iraq for being Christian, Shiite, Yazidi, Kurdish, foreign or a member of the Syrian Armed Forces.

So the question you have to ask is this: what is it that links these two organisations? Is there something uniquely murderous about Cambodians and Arabs? Or is there something else which might account for this psychotic behaviour?

And the answer to this is, yes. Both Cambodia and Iraq suffered extensive bombing by the Americans in order to “bring democracy”. Both nations were traumatised by the awesome violence of the American State.

The Khmer Rouge reign was ended by a Vietnamese invasion in 1979. The Vietnamese, too, were communists, but of a more sane variety.

Likewise we should stop interfering in the Middle East, and allow the people of that region to put their own house in order.

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