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Khmer Rouge

Gerald Ford

Khmer Rouge: Gerald Ford was the 38th American President who served in office from August 9, 1974 to January 20, 1977. One of the important events during his presidency was the Khmer Rouge.

Definition and Summary of the Khmer Rouge
Summary and definition:
The Khmer Rouge was a communist guerrilla force, led by Pol Pot, who held power in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. A month after the U.S. backed Khmer Republic was ousted by the guerilla forces of the Khmer Rouge the US became embroiled in the  problems in Cambodia when an American cargo ship called the SS Mayaguez was seized by the Khmer Rouge.

This resulted in the Battle on Koh Tang which is officially the last battle of the Vietnam War. Pol Pot and the Kymer Rouge were responsible for the killing of 1.7 million people from a population of just 7 million. The mass graves are referred to as the Killing Fields or the Cambodian Holocaust.

Facts about Khmer Rouge
The following fact sheet contains interesting facts and information on Khmer Rouge.

On April 30, 1970, President Richard Nixon, fearing a humiliating defeat in the Vietnam War, escalated the conflict in Indochina by ordering the U.S. invasion of Cambodia.

The U.S. invasion of Cambodia was supported by the Cambodian military government. This alliance resulted in the downfall of the government and the take over of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge led by the brutal dictator, Pol Pot.

Under the merciless regime of Pol Pot, 1.7 million Cambodians, nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population, would be put to death.

What is the meaning of the term "Khmer Rouge"? The word "Khmer" refers to people in Cambodia whose ancestors established an empire in the 5th century AD. The word "Rouge" is taken from the French word meaning red. The 'red' connection relates to the slang word for Communists.

The Khmer Rouge were a guerrilla group driven by communist ideals who held power in Cambodia under the leadership of Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979.

In 1970 Marshal Lon Nol, a Cambodian politician and general, staged a military coup, forcing Prince Norodom Sihanouk out of power and began building up a following in the country. Lon Nol was made president of the 'Khmer Republic' and leader of the US-backed republican army.

The Khmer Rouge was organized by Pol Pot in the Cambodian jungle in the 1960s. In 1970 Pol Pot's force was small but by 1975 had grown to over 700,000 men. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge advocated a radical Communist revolution that would wipe out Western influences in Cambodia and set up a solely agrarian (farming) society.

The US-backed republican army of Lon Nol was kept busy trying to suppress not only Vietnamese communists in Cambodia but also Cambodia's own brand of communists, the Khmer Rouge.

On April 17, 1975 the Communist Khmer Rouge guerrillas crushed the army of Lon Nol, ousted the U.S. backed Khmer Republic and seized the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, taking over of the country.

The term "Year Zero" was applied to the takeover of Cambodia by the Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. The term "Year Zero" is an analogy to the Year One of the French Revolutionary Calendar. The idea behind Year Zero was that all traditions and culture had to be completely destroyed to make way for a new revolutionary ideology to replace it, starting from zero.

The U.S. embassy staff headed by John Gunther Dean, the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia evacuated the city as the United States "abandoned Cambodia and handed it over to the butcher."

The inhabitants of Phnom Penh were driven into the Cambodian countryside at gunpoint where they were executed or starved to death. This pattern was repeated in every city taken over by the Khmer Rouge and has been called the Killing Fields or the Cambodian Holocaust.

In May 1975 President Gerald Ford became embroiled in the  problems in Cambodia when an American cargo ship called the SS Mayaguez was seized by the guerrillas less than a month after the Khmer Rouge had taken control of the capital Phnom Penh and ousted the U.S. backed Khmer Republic.

The SS Mayaguez, with a crew of 39, was on its way to the port at Sattahip, Thailand. The captain of the SS Mayaguez, Charles T. Miller, ordered the radioman to transmit an SOS which was relayed to the US embassy.

The crew of the SS Mayaguez were captured and President Gerald Ford reacted by sending in the Marines to rescue them. Some 200 ill prepared U.S. troops were sent to Koh Tang on a mission to free the captured crew of the SS Mayaguez. This resulted in the Battle on Koh Tang. The ill-fated mission became known as the “Mayaguez Incident” or the last battle of the Vietnam War.

The ill-fated mission became known as the "Mayaguez Incident" or the last battle of the Vietnam War. The Khmer Rouge released the SS Mayaguez crew before the US troops arrived, but went on to inflict casualties on the American force. A total of 41 Marines and Airmen died, with 50 wounded. 23 Marines killed in a helicopter crash during the operation.

The Battle on Koh Tang in Cambodia was officially the last American battle of the Vietnam War. It was the only time Americans battled against the Khmer Rouge.

After the Battle of Koh Tang, President Gerald Ford was criticized for ordering rookie troops into a battle on unfamiliar territory against the Khmers. Mr. Ford repudiated the criticism and called the operation to rescue the SS Mayaguez crew a success.

After the Khmers had taken control of Phnom Penh Prince Sihanouk briefly became head of state and the country was re-named Kampuchea.

The Khmer Rouge regime arrested and executed almost anyone suspected of connections with the former government or with foreign governments.  Cambodia's ethnic minorities together with professionals and intellectuals were also targeted for execution. Religion was banned and Buddhist monks were executed.

The mass killings were referred to as the "purification of the populace" but is more accurately described as Cambodian genocide. The “Killing Fields” of Cambodia refer to the genocide which took place in Cambodia after the takeover of power by Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime.

The Killing Fields of Cambodia was where so many people met their deaths. 20,000 mass graves have been discovered in the areas known as the Killing Fields. It was common practice for victims to be forced to dig their own graves before they were killed. Others were buried alive.

The form the executions took were barbaric. In order to save ammunition, the executions were often carried out using poison. Spades or sharpened bamboo sticks were an alternative method. Babies and young children were brutally murdered by smashing their heads against trees in the "Killing Fields".

The Khmer Rouge continued its policy of de-populating towns and cities. It was the intention of Pol Pot to forcibly create a “peasant society” that would represent “the true Khmer values of Cambodia’s glorious history”. The peasants were herded into collective farms with communal barracks and kitchens.

On April 30, 1977 the Cambodian - Vietnamese War broke out and on January 7, 1979 Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia and its capital, Phnom Penh was immediately captured.

The government collapsed and Pol Pot and the KR retreated back into the jungle. The new government passed "Decree Law No, 1", which allowed for the trial of Pol Pot for the crime of genocide.

Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were supported by the People's Republic of China and Pol Pot ordered continuing guerrilla actions against the government in Phnom Penh until 1997.

On 15 April 1998 Pol Pot learned that the Khmer Rouge had agreed to turn him over to an international tribunal. The same night Pol Pot died. The official story is that he died of heart failure. His body was quickly cremated, before his death could be investigated. No autotopsy was conducted

The mysterious death of Pol Pot led to rumors that he committed suicide, whilst other theories insist that he was poisoned. However he died, the world was a better place when it lost the"Butcher" of Cambodia, the man responsible for deaths of nearly two million innocent people.

Out of a Cambodian population of approximately 7 million, about 1.7 million Cambodians were systematically exterminated, starved, or worked to death by the Khmer Rouge government.

US American History
1945-1993: Cold War Era

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