Between 1975 and 1979, the Pol Pot government of Cambodia murdered 1 of every 4 of its citizens. Body count of the infamous killing fields: between 1.7 and 2.5 million out of an 8 million population. To appreciate those numbers, the equivalent would be 75 million Americans murdered. That is everybody in California, Texas, and Florida.
Was the Pol Pot regime a terrorist government? The answer should be as obvious as the corpses. Not so -- it all depends on how you define "terrorist." As I wrote elsewhere, the State Department's definition of "terrorism" exempts all national governments from the terrorist category. The Pol Pot regime was a national government; therefore, …
Which leads to this question: if bin Laden becomes the head of a national government, will he by that fact alone cease to be a terrorist?
To ask the question is to answer it. Out, damn spot!
Unlike the State Department, I believe that a "terrorist government" is no oxymoron.
If you run Pol Pot through the 12 checkpoints of my definition of "terrorist" (see the above "elsewhere" article), he passes most if not all of them. But let's dig deeper …
The question, Was the Pol Pot regime a terrorist government?, calls up another question: Were Pol Pot and his accomplices from the middle class? Get ready, you're in for a surprise.
Let's start at the top:
Pol Pot. Brother Number 1. His family origin is characterized as "moderately wealthy." "His father, Pen Saloth, was a prosperous farmer with 9 hectares of rice land, several draft cattle, and a comfortable tile-roofed house." (David P. Chandler, Brother Number One, Westview Press, p. 8.)
After that, information gets curiouser and curiouser. Focusing our inquiry on top Pol Pot henchmen convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, these rough and tumble profiles emerge:
Nuon chea. Brother Number 2. Security chief. Born into a wealthy Sino-Cambodian family. Read law at the prestigious Thammasat University in Bangkok.
Ieng Sary. Brother Number 3. Foreign affairs minister. Studied political science with Pol Pot in Paris in the 1950s. History and geography teacher. Family background unclear.
Kang Kek Iew (alias Duch). Chief of the notorious S-21 prison camp. Ex-math teacher. Today, a born again Christian. Family origin unclear.
Khieu Samphan. President under Pol Pot. Ph.D. in economics in Paris. Dad was a local judge.
Ieng Thirith. Married to Ieng Sary. Came from a "relatively wealthy and privileged family." Diploma in English Literature. She knows all about Lady Macbeth's "Out, damn spot!" -- she specialized in Shakespeare at the Sorbonne in Paris. Worked as a professor in Cambodia before founding her own school. Older sister married Pol Pot.
Despite cloudy information -- "Hell is murky" Lady Macbeth observed -- one thing is perfectly clear. The pretensions of Pol Pot and his accomplices to leading a "working class/peasant revolution" are as outrageous and defenseless as their killing fields. Here's why:
Nebulous characterizations such as "moderately wealthy" pepper the biographies of Pol Pot and his confederates. Aristocracy? Bourgeoisie? Upper middle class? I will hazard a guess. Behind the murky details, you will find the surprise I mentioned: the madmen were a hybrid of aristocrats and middle class rebels.
The appearance of the aristocracy in rebel movements is nothing new. The godfather of anarchism, Mikhail Bakunin, came from the Russian aristocracy. The father of Francis Picabia, Dadaist painter and collector of cars and boats, was a Spanish aristocrat.
This blog discussed the explosive mixture of middle class rebels and "lumpenproletariat" -- muggers, drug dealers, pimps. The Symbionese Liberation Army that kidnapped Patti Hearst in California in 1974, the Baader-Meinhof gang in Germany in the 1960s and 1970s, and the 2004 Madrid bombers are examples from different cultures.
I have yet to find a significant lumpen element in Pol Pot's upper echelons. That means his brand of terrorism had a different dynamic. It just might explain the unexplainable …
Let's take a glimpse at some major aristocratic and middle class rebel traits:
One of the most revealing exposes ever made of the aristocracy was written by one of its most renowned members, Alexis de Tocqueville. Among his many insights, he identified as aristocratic values: great crimes (les « grands crimes »); superior distain for material well-being (« superbe dédain pour le bien-être matériel »); sumptuous depravation and brilliant corruption (« une dépravation somptueuse et une corruption éclatante »); and laziness (« l’oisiveté »). (Alexis de Tocqueville, De La Démocratie en Amérique II, Gallimard, pp. 747 (III, XVIII), 644 (II, XI), 666, (XVIII).)
In the course of its development, capitalism attacks both the aristocracy and the middle class. As a rule, the decline of the middle class, particularly in the service sector, occurs after the aristocracy is hit. Small wonder that rebels in a middle class under assault are tempted to look for guidance from above -- the more experienced aristocracy. Which means, aristocratic values can take on a second life.
From Tocqueville let us proceed to values held by middle class rebels: "Doctrinairism, formulism, the demand for and acquiescence to a complete sacrificium intellectus, the love of frenzy and the quest for banality, the ego and genius as supreme values, terror and crime as collector’s items ..." (The Source of Terrorism: Middle Class Rebellion, p. 326.)
When the love of great crimes marries frenzy, all hell breaks loose. Pol Pot and his criminal associates clamored for a class analysis of everybody; here it is. Aristocrats + middle class rebels = Pol Pot. Out, damn spot!
Aristocrats or lumpens, neither of the two coalitions with middle class rebels is even remotely understood. It is appropriate that a novelist, Dostoevsky, was the first to explore them (The Possessed.) Appropriate, because the basic difference between the two alliances appears to be tragedy versus atrocity.