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Behind the Killing Fields

A Khmer Rouge Leader and One of His Victims

By Gina Chon and Sambath Thet

Publication Year: 2010

In recent history, atrocities have often been committed in the name of lofty ideals. One of the most disturbing examples took place in Cambodia's Killing Fields, where tens of thousands of victims were executed and hastily disposed of by Khmer Rouge cadres. Nearly thirty years after these bloody purges, two journalists entered the jungles of Cambodia to uncover secrets still buried there.

Based on more than 1,000 hours of interviews with the top surviving Khmer Rouge leader, Nuon Chea, Behind the Killing Fields follows the journey of a man who began as a dedicated freedom fighter and wound up accused of crimes against humanity. Known as Brother Number 2, Chea was Pol Pot's top lieutenant. He is now in prison, facing prosecution in a United Nations-Cambodian tribunal for his actions during the Khmer Rouge rule, when more than two million Cambodians died. The book traces how the seeds of the Killing Fields were sown and what led one man to believe that mass killing was necessary for the greater good.

Coauthor Sambath Thet, a Khmer Rouge survivor, shares his personal perspectives on the murderous regime and how some victims have managed to rebuild their lives. The stories of Nuon Chea and Sambath Thet collide when the two meet. While Thet holds Chea responsible for the death of his parents and brother, he strives for understanding over revenge in order to reveal the forces that destroyed his homeland in the name of creating utopia.

In this age of suicide bombers and terror alerts, the world is still at a loss to comprehend the violence of zealots. Behind the Killing Fields bravely confronts this challenge in an exclusive portrait of one man's political madness and another's personal wisdom.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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Chapter 1. Introduction

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pp. 1-8

The corroded, rusting pistol, a relic from his glory days as Pol Pot’s most senior lieutenant in charge of Cambodia, always stayed nearby, just in case. The top surviving Khmer Rouge leader knew that in his beloved country he was despised by many. And the enemies who have dogged him for half a century, the enemies who have tried to destroy Cambodia, were still ...

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Chapter 2. The Faceless Father

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pp. 9-12

He has never told this tale, a story of a man he hardly remembers. His wife doesn’t know, and he and his siblings never speak of it. The pain is still too raw. It is the tale of his father’s slaying at the hands of his own people, the beginning of the end for Sambath’s family. By the time the Khmer Rouge were ousted from power ...

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Chapter 3. The New World Order

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pp. 13-43

Crammed inside the stifling tank, Nuon Chea and Pol Pot could hardly breathe. Sweat rolled down their faces. They had already traveled for several hours, slowly making their way to Phnom Penh from Peam commune in Kompong Chhnang province, where Nuon Chea had been living for the last few weeks. Afraid straggling Lon Nol soldiers would shoot at them if ...

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Chapter 4. The Lost Childhood

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pp. 44-46

Sambath did not understand who the Khmer Rouge were when the group came to power. He just knew that people were starving and forced to work like slaves. In the mornings, he went to the cooperative to have rice or porridge. Sambath was still allowed to go to school, so he and about 30 other students his age would gather in the classroom. In the beginning, he was ...

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Chapter 5. The Vietnam Factor

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pp. 47-78

The local leaders in Preah Vihear province knew that Nuon Chea was coming, and they had time to prepare. Brother Number Two would see the bounty that graced this cooperative. They made sure he noticed the few well-fed residents, and when he walked into the communal dining area he saw chickens and chunks of meat hanging from wooden posts. The rice paddies were ...

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Chapter 6. The Missing Brother

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pp. 79-81

Thet Vorn, the oldest sibling in Sambath’s family, was in the tenth grade when the Khmer Rouge took over. With his handsome features and gentle nature, he was liked by everyone and had a girlfriend whom he expected to marry. Sambath and the other three brothers and two sisters looked up to him. He lived apart from the family to study in the town, where he learned about health care through ...

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Chapter 7. The Enemies

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pp. 82-120

Nuon Chea was shocked. Khieu Samphan was a man so clean that he wouldn’t even take a new bicycle for his son, preferring a secondhand bike. Nuon Chea wondered why Duch would give such a report on a faithful servant of Angka. By now, at the end of 1978, many of Nuon Chea’s former colleagues ...

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Chapter 8. The Year Zero

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pp. 121-123

When Vietnamese troops marched into Cambodia to oust the Khmer Rouge in January 1979, Sambath’s life was again turned upside down. He moved to the nearby Thmar Koul district with his grandparents, along with his two sisters and a brother, while his two other brothers were sent to live with an aunt. Sambath and his relatives once again became farmers, toiling in the rice fields to put food on the table. This time, they were no longer ...

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Chapter 9. The Implosion

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pp. 124-139

Nuon Chea scrambled to pack his few belongings for his escape from the capital, just before the Vietnamese captured Phnom Penh on January 7, 1979. After months of escalating attacks, Vietnam had sent ten army divisions into Cambodia on December 25, 1978. The size of their forces, along ...

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Chapter 10. The Rebuilding

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pp. 140-143

... Working for the ARC, he received weekly rations of rice and canned fish, a luxury for him. He sold some of his food to buy books and pay for private English classes. Through his work as a health care assistant, Sambath began dreaming of becoming a doctor. ...

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Chapter 11. The Homecoming

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pp. 144-151

A convoy of vehicles carrying dozens of government bodyguards snaked through Wat Koh village and parked in front of a modest-looking home in early 1999. Residents of the farming community, always open to distractions from manual labor, came to see what the commotion was about. Some wondered why a high-ranking government official would ...

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Chapter 12. The Understanding

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pp. 152-158

Sambath couldn’t focus. His mind wandered. He couldn’t shake the feeling of melancholy. He kept thinking about him, how he was doing, if he was taking his medicine, whether he was getting enough to eat. ...

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13. The Killing Fields

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pp. 159-166

Through an airplane window, much of Cambodia seems deserted. For vast stretches there is little evidence that humans inhabit this place. It is a place still ruled by nature. Bright green rice paddies stretch to the horizon, with scattered pockets of banana, coconut, and mango trees breaking up the flat expanses. ...

Bibliography

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pp. 167-168

Index

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pp. 169-176

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 177-178

When we started this project, we didn’t know where it was headed. But from the beginning it was a story we were both passionate about and committed to telling. In that effort, we logged countless hours of traveling to remote areas of Cambodia, contributed our own money to fund the project and worked to make sure we told this story ...


E-ISBN-13: 9780812201598
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812242454

Page Count: 212
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights

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Subject Headings

  • Political atrocities -- Cambodia.
  • Cambodia -- Politics and government -- 1975-1979.
  • Parti communiste du Kampuchea.
  • Genocide -- Cambodia.
  • Cambodia -- History -- 1975-1979.
  • Pol Pot.
  • Sambath, Thet.
  • Nuon Chea, 1926-.
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