Why Did They Kill?
Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide
Publication Year: 2004
Published by: University of California Press
Title Page, Copyright, Dedication
List of Figures
This project would never have been possible without the help of a number of people and institutions. Enormous thanks go to Bradd Shore, my doctoral advisor in the Department of Anthropology at Emory University, for his support, encouragement, and critical insights about this project. He was extremely generous with his time, even when he was the ...
List of Personages
The more closely one studies a particular genocide, the more one uncovers its special characteristics. But the careful scholar also becomes aware of certain general themes found in all genocides. Alex Hinton goes far toward connecting the particular with the universal in this most ...
Introduction: In the Shadow of Genocide
Why did you kill? From the day I arrived in Cambodia to conduct anthropological research, I wanted to pose this question to Khmer Rouge who had executed people during the genocidal Democratic Kampuchea regime, which lasted from April 1975 to January 1979. When the Khmer Rouge, a radical group of Maoist-inspired rebels headed by Pol Pot, ...
Part One: The Prison Without Walls
In 1973, when Khel was fifteen, the Khmer Rouge set up a loudspeaker in his village, located in Speu district in Kompong Cham province, and began urging people to fight against General Lon Nol, saying that Lon Nol had betrayed the country when he seized power from Prince Sihanouk. Khel said he volunteered to enlist with the Khmer Rouge ...
1. A Head for an Eye: Disproportionate Revenge
In April 2000, the Phnom Penh Post published an interview with a former Khmer Rouge cadre who had studied in Paris with Pol Pot and helped to found the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK). When asked why Pol Pot killed millions of people, the former cadre, who chose to remain anonymous, replied, “As far as the killing is concerned, I don’t ...
2. Power, Patronage, and Suspicion
In December 1976, Pol Pot is thought to have made the above remarks at a meeting of the Party Center. While the Khmer Rouge had periodically purged its ranks in the past, Pol Pot’s obsession with finding the “sickness” that was “rotting society” marked a rapid escalation of this process. The Party Center’s paranoia quickly reached places like Region ...
3. In the Shade of Pol Pot’s Umbrella
When the Khmer Rouge came to power, they took control of a society that had been devastated by war, social upheaval, and economic collapse. Such circumstances are conducive to the emergence of high-modernist authoritarianism, since high-modernist regimes are often willing to use coercive force to implement a radical program of social engineering, ...
Part Two: The Fire Without Smoke
What happened to Reap after he entered Tuol Sleng? Only traces of his life remain—in the corpses and mass graves left at Phnom Bros, in the memories of those who knew or heard about him, in the multiple drafts of his confession, which concluded with a thumbprint and signature, and in references to him in other Khmer Rouge documents, such as the confessions ...
4. The DK Social Order
Like other Tuol Sleng documents, the disturbing passage cited above— an August 1978 interrogator’s description of how he tortured Oum Chhan, the former head of a mobile work team in the Eastern Zone— reveals much about the dynamics of violence at Tuol Sleng and other DK “spaces of death.” It is impossible to know exactly what happened in ...
5. Manufacturing Difference
As this Khmer Rouge broadcast suggests, constructions of belonging and exclusion lie at the center of genocide. Genocidal regimes manufacture difference in a number of important and interrelated ways, including the crystallization, marking, organization, bodily inscription, and mimetics of difference. First, genocidal regimes construct, essentialize, and ...
6. The Dark Side of Face and Honor
To more fully comprehend the violence perpetrated at Tuol Sleng and elsewhere in DK, we need to consider yet another level of analysis, the dynamics of group-level interactions. Vaen Kheuan did not interrogate Oum Chhan in isolation; he was a member of a larger unit of interrogators. Similarly, when Lor went to Choeung Ek and killed “one or two ...
Conclusion: Why People Kill
At the 1979 People’s Revolutionary Tribunal in Phnom Penh, which convicted Pol Pot and his cronies in absentia for genocide, Denise Affonço provided gruesome but detailed testimony about an episode of liver-eating that she observed in an area of Battambang province that was suffering from ...
Note on Transliteration