Friday, February 13, 2009

The trial of Duch

Notwithstanding Zimbabwe's horror, it is cold comfort to recall the regime that almost certainly represented the zenith of the philosophy of Marxism-Leninism.

The one regime that ran the steamroller over society, not caring the bones it broke in the process, to make all as one. It eliminated money, as an instrument of capitalism. It executed all those who were educated, it worshipped the illiterate manual labouring peasant, and damned those who had other skills, languages or abilities. It was the ultimate regime of backwardness, it was anti-technology, anti-trade, anti-foreign and anti-capitalist. Mass manual labour was meant to bring happiness, 1975 was designated Year Zero, and around 2 million people died of famine or executions.

It was Democratic Kampuchea, now again Cambodia - run by the Khmer Rouge. Many on the left cheered its victory, including Keith Locke, who undoubtedly ignored the hazy reports from the Khmer Rouge controlled parts of the country of brutal oppression. Images that can be seen in China Pictorial weekly propaganda magazines of the age - peasants disturbingly subdued all dressed identically, with images of Saloth Sar (Pol Pot). Even the vile linguist Noam Chomsky, who evades like a weasel the fact he claimed reports of massacres and brutality in Democratic Kampuchea were CIA propaganda.

Ironically, the communist regime of Vietnam overthrew the Khmer Rouge, because of border incursions, the particular nationalist brutality of the Khmer Rouge against the Vietnamese, and knowledge of the horror that had damned its neighbour.

I need not tell the story of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. The film "The Killing Fields" tells part of it. The book by Haing Ngor "Surviving the Killing Fields" tells you far more about the brutality, inhumanity and bloody minded sadism of the regime.

Phnom Penh was evacuated of virtually all residents, except for some belonging to the regime, and for a prison set up there. Tuol Sleng was set up as S-21, an interrogation centre and prison. Few left alive. 17,000 went through it, the numbers who survived are no more than 20. The man who led S-21 was Duch. He is a mass murderer and sadist. He forced prisoners to torture each other. He demanded confessions that prisoners worked for the CIA or KGB, and would torture until they said so - if they didn't, they would be killed. If they did, they would be left to die of their horrible injuries. He took photos of them all before they were tortured and executed. Tuol Sleng today is a museum of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge, with the eery photos of those who were murdered there covering the walls.

Duch converted to Christianity in the 1990s and has begged forgiveness, but so few of his victims are alive to even offer it. Cambodia finds it difficult to confront its past, with all too many of those in power today having had some role in "Democratic Kampuchea". So it is pleasing regardless to read in the Times that he is about to go on trial. Never, ever should the perpetrators of sadistic tyranny feel they can get away with it, plead forgiveness and all will be well. Cambodia lost nearly 1 in 3 of its citizens because of the Khmer Rouge.

As a footnote, Malcolm Caldwell, a Scottish academic and Marxist, thought the world of the Khmer Rouge. He wrote glowingly of the peasant revolution, and loved it so much, he went there to see it for himself. The Khmer Rouge murdered him on that trip, following days when he was awe inspired by what he saw. Such poetic justice.

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