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Useful Notes: Cambodia
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.

Then The Vietnam War came. Officially, Cambodia was neutral, even though its sympathies were with the North Vietnamese. This and the fact that some Vietcong forces along with the native communist guerrillas of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge, sheltered in Cambodian soil prompted the United States to support a state coup led by General Lon Nol, plunging the country into a civil war. And just to add insult to injury, the States decided 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 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 communist mismanagement, at least weren't murdered by gardening hoesnote  en masse) 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. Meanwhile, the original Khmer Rouge controlled much of the countryside and, eventually, a third faction of royalists called Khmer People’s National Liberation Front appeared on the scene. This civil war continued until 1991, after the Khmer Rouge guerrillas lost the last semblance of popular support, and an agreement between the parts could be achieved.

In what can only be described as a major What the Hell, Hero? moment, the United States and much of the United Nations sided with China to continue to recognize the genocidal Khmer Rouge as the legitimate government — even letting them keep the UN seat for Cambodia — as opposed to the invading, Soviet-backed, but at least non-genocidal and 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 backing Pol Pot's regime.

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.

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 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.

The Cambodian flag
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.
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