Less killing fields, more eco-tourism.
The place where everybody goes on vacation
, Cambodia (Khmer: ព្រះរាជាណាចក្រកម្ពុជា, Kampuchea
), officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia (Khmer: ព្រះរាជាណាចក្រកម្ពុជា Preăh Réachéanachâk Kâmpŭchéa
) is full of tropical jungles, abandoned temples, guerilla warfare, and young women saying “Me love you long time” (Vietnamese
women, mind you). Or at least that’s what the media wants you to think.
Once the Khmer Empire, disputes with its neighbors pushed King Norodom to become a protectorate of France and, eventually, part of the French Indochina. When Norodom died, the French began to manipulate the elections of the next kings to ensure the Cambodian submission. Eventually they enthroned King Norodom Sihanouk, thinking they could manipulate him
. Unfortunately for them, he was Genre Savvy
enough to realize it and achieved the country’s independence in 1953.
And then all hell broke loose. When The Vietnam War
came, Cambodia found itself near the middle of the great tug of war between the Communists in the North and the anti-Communists in the South of Vietnam. Officially Cambodia was neutral, but it soon found itself dragged i nto the war. First the North Vietnamese and Vietcong guerrillas setting up a truly massive state within a state to serve as a springboard and supply base for the NVA, Vietcong, and the Cambodian Communist guerrillas of the Khmer Rouge to attacks in the South and the rest of Cambodia. In turn, the United States supported a state coup led by General Lon Nol before deciding to bomb Cambodia without warning to catch the communists unaware. They did, but they also caught the Cambodians and the US representatives in Cambodia off-guard. The result was a true nightmare that saw the Communists decide to openly seize power in between periodic bombings by the Allies.
The civil war ended in 1975 with the victory of the Khmer Rouge rebels
and their leader, Pol Pot. They renamed the country into Democratic Kampuchea
and soon decided to move the population into the deep countryside on forced marches. Why? To destroy everything and start the nation from Year Zero
. The harsh conditions, forced labor and famine caused thousands of deaths. The Khmer Rouge also destroyed anything considered Western, including libraries and temples, and their death squads killed all the ethnic and religious minorities (Chinese, Vietnamese*
, Javanese, Buddhist monks, Muslims, Catholics), anyone with a connection with the old regime and anyone considered an intellectual (usually that meant teachers, anyone who used to work at libraries, universities or hospitals, and even anyone who wore eyeglasses
since that was a sign of literacy).
The Khmer Rouge enjoyed broad popular support of the poor, uneducated peasant masses of village Khmers, who were envious towards "those city guys
", which wasn't helped by the fact that a lot of city-dwellers were ethnically Chinese, and were overrepresented in the rich classes. But soon it turned out that Khmer Rouge
in general, and the dictator Pol Pot in particular, didn't make any distinction between two populations. Their motto was "To keep you is no benefit; to destroy you is no loss," and they cheerfully applied it to anyone. Pol Pot's regime led to the death of around 2 million people out of a population of 8 million. It's estimated that as many as 4 million died as a whole. The Cambodian Genocide has often been described as an auto-genocide, where a people tried to commit genocide against itself
Pol Pot was also kinda lousy with geography, despite studying in France
, and believed that he could continue his mad rampages across the border, in the Khmer-speaking areas of Vietnam
. Naturally, the Vietnamese (even Vietnamese Khmer, who, despite being a forgotten minority living in the middle of nowhere, and thus bearing the brunt of Vietnamese Communist mismanagement and oppression, at least weren't exterminated by gardening hoesnote
) didn't take too kindly to this. In 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia, got rid of the Khmer Rouge and put a puppet state in its place, run by former Khmer Rouge defectors. In the meantime Pol Pot and original Khmer Rouge tried to flee to the countryside or abroad, only for Pol Pot to be taken prisoner by a schismatic member of the Khmer Rouge and kept under house arrest until he died under questionable circumstances. But if you would think this would be the end of matters, it wasn't. With most of the hardline nutjobs forced into the background the Khmer Rouge and the groups that were rapidly splintering off of it had control over chunks of the countryside and were in a position to contest the Vietnamese satellite government. In time a third faction
of royalists called Khmer People’s National Liberation Front appeared on the scene. This civil war continued in a flurry of low level skirmishing, plenty of nasty business, man made famine, and other nightmares until 1991, when an agreement between the parts could be achieved.
For reasons that could only make sense in The Cold War
that we won't mention here, the United States and much of the United Nations sided with China to continue to recognize the Khmer Rouge groups descended from Pol Pot's regime as the legitimate government — even letting them keep the UN seat for Cambodia — as opposed to the invading, Soviet-backed, but at least non-batguano crazy Vietnamese regime. One of the first states to break with this policy was Sweden, which withdrew its support after a groundswell of protest from Swedish voters angry that its elected representatives were helping to prop up Pol Pot's zombie.
Cambodia today is a constitutional monarchy (unusually for an ex-communist country, they not only restored the monarchy, but also restored the former monarchnote
) that, aside of a coup in 1997, has a steady government. Unfortunately, it is probably too steady
as the Prime Minister appointed by the Vietnamese- Hun Sen
- has ruled with an iron fist and has even admitted he wants to keep power well into old age while maintaining a play theater of constitutional government.
The most famous
tourist traps landmarks
are Angkor Wat (the building seen on the flag), a humongous temple complex, home of Buddhist tradition (formerly Hindu) and the killing fields, where the mass killings of the Khmer Rouge took place and the hundreds of skulls are displayed for the whole world to see the atrocities of Pol Pot and his followers.
Cambodia also has a dispute with Thailand about the Preah Vihear Temple, an Hindu temple built during the reign of the Khmer Empire. The temple was awarded by the International Court of Justice to Cambodia, who has claimed it because to its historical significance and the French border lines, but Thailand still refuses to let it go. Regular skirmishes tend to happen around the temple from time to time as a result; usually they try to aim to the other army and miss the temple, though.
Cambodia in fiction:
The Cambodian flag
- The Killing Fields, a British movie about a couple of journalists, an American and a Cambodian, whose friendship is suddenly torn apart by the Khmer Rouge regime.
- The documentary S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, about the S21 extermination camp.
- Holly, about an American in Cambodia who discovers the sordid world of child prostitution, and decides to rescue a 12-year-old Vietnamese girl from that grim fate.
- Holy Lola is about a French couple who come to Cambodia in order to adopt a baby. The director of the aforementioned documentary S-21 shows up As Himself to provide a bit of perspective on recent Cambodian history.
- The song “Holiday in Cambodia”, the Trope Namer of the eponymous trope, deals in length with the usual stereotype of the zone. It also has mentions of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot.
- Monsoon, one of the Winds of Destruction from Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, is Cambodian and is heavily implied to have suffered extreme trauma during the days of the Pol Pot regime.
- In Eternal Darkness, Mantorok's temple is found in the Angkor Thom region, and one of the playable characters, Ellia, is a Khmer slave girl in the year A.D. 1150. Later on, Dr. Edwin Lindsey, an archaeologist, returns to the same temple, now in ruin and riddled with plantlife.
Blue and red are traditional colors of Cambodia; at the center is the Angkor Wat
, obviously the country's most iconic landmark. The Angkor War and the blue and red stripes symbolize Buddhism, the King and the people, respectively.