Monday, October 24, 2011

A Brief Recent History of Cambodia

Last week I was able to chat on my computer with Bill and Jill (shout out!), two of my best friends from back home in the States who just got married before I left for SE Asia.  It was a good conversation except for the fact that they reprimanded me for not updating my blog and demanded I add a new post at least once a week.  Okay okay, my bad.  I realize I've been here for almost 2 months and have only 2 posts.  I admit, that's pretty bad.  So here is the beginning of my concerted effort to write more frequently (we'll see how that goes).  Now back to Cambodia...

To begin I should probably give a little background on Cambodia, since it is necessary to understand its history in order to understand why it is the way it is today.  I know that before I visited the Khmer (pronounced "kuh-mai") nation,  I associated Cambodia with the little that I learned from the Vietnam and American War.  Basically I knew that fighting had spread from Vietnam into Cambodia, and that Cambodia is currently a very poor nation.  I also had some knowledge of genocide within Cambodia following the war.  What I did not realize was the extent of the violence, and how it still affected the country to this day.

The following is a general outline of Cambodia's history in the last 40 years:  At the beginning of the 1970's, Cambodia was struggling internally from opposing political views and poverty.  Eventually, the Khmer Rouge, lead by Pol Pot, gained large support and control of the nation.  This support came mainly from the easily-swayed poor since the Khmer Rouge presented themselves as a party for peace that benefited those who lived in the countryside.  Pol Pot desired to turn Cambodia into an agrarian society, and proposed to China in 1975 that Cambodia would "be the first nation to create a completely Communist society without wasting time on intermediate steps."

And so, in the early 1970's, the purge began.  Until 1979, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were responsible for the deaths of approximately 2 million people.  They killed anyone who didn't fit into their idea of what they wanted in their new society: Buddhist monks, Christian clergy, Muslim imams, intellectuals, doctors, lawyers, artists, musicians, writers, urbanites (because they had little farming ability and were therefore deemed useless), and in some cases even people who wore glasses (a mark of intellectuality).  This purge literally wiped out all of Cambodia's upper class.  This lasted until 1979, when Vietnam invaded Cambodia and forced the Khmer Rouge out of power after Pol Pot showed aggression towards Vietnam and even invaded the country at one point.

As you might imagine, these events left and still continue to leave a huge mark on the nation.  An entire generation of intellectual city dwellers was completely wiped out, and it is still apparent today.  While Cambodia has come a long way since the genocide in the 70's, it still is clearly behind other Asian nations that are advancing at a seemingly endless rate.  After visiting Cambodia, there is no doubt that it is still very third world, but it's also apparent that it is progressing rapidly.  There is a new generation of young people all over the country, and it seemed to me that they have a great desire to become educated and leave a positive influence on their nation.

In my next post, I promise that I'll talk more about what I did in Cambodia, and share a lot of my pictures.  However, I didn't think it was appropriate to launch into my Cambodian experiences without paying tribute to Cambodia's recently tragic past.  

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