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  • Genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda: New Perspectives
  • Omar McDoom
Genocide in Cambodia and Rwanda: New Perspectives. Edited by Susan Cook (New Brunswick, Transaction Publishers, 2006) 299 pp. $49.95

Along with the Holocaust, Rwanda's genocide and Cambodia's politicide (mostly Khmer-on-Khmer violence) stand out as key cases in this field of study. This collection of nine articles explores aspects of each that have not been the subject of extensive research. Consequently, although the book will interest specialists, those seeking an introduction [End Page 335] to the major themes in genocide studies or to these particular cases should look elsewhere. None of the articles explicitly compares Rwanda and Cambodia, but Cook's preface artfully identifies commonalities and classifies the articles into four groups, albeit by a mix of disparate criteria, "to facilitate comparative analysis" (vii).

Group I, comprising the first three articles, examines the importance of political discourse in genocide. Philip Verwimp's contribution uses textual analysis of entirely new primary material—speeches of Juvenal Habyarimana, Rwanda's assassinated President—to make the original suggestion that the roots of a genocidal ideology were evident early in Habyarimana's presidency, beginning in 1973. He argues that ordinary Rwandans implicitly understood the anti-urban, anti-intellectual and pro-peasant discourse flowing through these speeches as anti-Tutsi messages. Verwimp's analysis, however, includes none of the speeches that followed the outbreak of Rwanda's civil war in 1990, largely recognized as a turning point in interethnic relations; these might have weakened his otherwise bold and insightful claim that the "civil war was not the cause of the genocidal plan" (3).

The other two articles in this grouping are more intuitively related, each using historical analysis to examine the relationship between the Khmer Rouge and the neighboring countries of Vietnam and Thailand. Dmitry Mosyakov relies on newly declassified material from the Soviet Union's diplomatic archives to show that the relationship between Hanoi and the Khmer Rouge was much more nuanced, particularly after 1973, than the hostile rapport implied in "Western" accounts during this period. Notwithstanding the substance of his argument, Mosyakov might have moderated the ambition to "present an objective and impartial picture of what was happening" by acknowledging the risks of over-reliance on one resource (41). Thirty-three of the thirty-four primary documents cited are from the Soviet archives.

Puangthong Rungswasdisab's contribution, in contrast, draws on a remarkably broad range of secondary and primary sources, particularly local and regional newspapers, and attributes the Khmer Rouge's evolution from enemy to ally of the Thai government to a plethora of domestic and external factors. She argues that the principal ones have national self-interest as an overarching rationale, centering on Thai "perceptions of national security and the lucrative trade [with the Khmer Rouge]" rather than "the ideological conflict between Thai 'Capitalism' and Khmer Rouge 'Communism'" (104, 105).

The two articles in Group II examine social institutions in genocide. Although the value of the comparison is dubious, given that one presents an institution as the cause of genocide whereas the other looks at the consequences of genocidal policies on an institution, the individual anthropological work is excellent. Charles Mironko interviewed 110 Rwandan self-confessed perpetrators in their native tongue (thereby avoiding interpreter effects), faithfully reproducing his interviews without any noticeable "editing." He argues that the perpetrators' consistency [End Page 336] in referring to attack groups during the genocide in terms of the precolonial institution of ibitero, or hunting groups, is more than an attempt to interpret their participation. It explains their participation. Unfortunately, Mironko does not reveal his sampling method and does not discuss any potential selection bias implied by interviewing only those who were willing to confess.

Kaylanee Mam's research on the strength of the family unit during the Cambodian genocide, based on a sample of forty-six respondents, is, in contrast, explicit about its methodology. Mam provides a helpful table disaggregating the survivors interviewed by region and demographic background. She systematically analyzes seven policies that the Khmer Rouge purposively implemented to destroy the family unit and to replace familial bonds with loyalty to Angkar (the organization), thus contradicting an established claim to the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1530-9169
Print ISSN
0022-1953
Pages
pp. 335-338
Launched on MUSE
2007-08-16
Open Access
No
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