Cambodian Genocide Denialism in Counterpunch

I was shocked by the latest issue of Counterpunch which includes a truly offensive article full of praise for one of the greatest mass murderers in human history, Pol Pot.

“The Pol Pot the Cambodians remember was not a tyrant, but a great patriot and nationalist, a lover of native culture and native way of life. He was brought up in  royal palace circles; his aunt was a concubine of the previous king. He studied in Paris, but instead of making money and a career, he returned home, and spent a few years dwelling with forest tribes to learn from the peasants. He felt compassion for the ordinary village people who were ripped off on a daily basis by the city folk, the comprador parasites. He built an army to defend the countryside from these power-wielding robbers. Pol Pot, a monkish man of simple needs, did not seek wealth, fame or power for himself. He had one great ambition: to terminate the failing colonial capitalism in Cambodia, return to village tradition, and from there, to build a new country from scratch.

…St Francis and Leo Tolstoy would have understood him.

The Cambodians I spoke to pooh-poohed the dreadful stories of Communist Holocaust as a western invention.”

As if praise for Pol Pot were not enough, the author doubles down with support for Stalin and Mao.

“…To me, this recalled other CIA-sponsored stories of Red atrocities, be it Stalin’s Terror or the Ukrainian Holodomor. The people now in charge of the US, Europe and Russia want to present every alternative to their rule as inept or bloody or both. They especially hate incorruptible leaders, be it Robespierre or Lenin, Stalin or Mao – and Pol Pot.”

I consider this article to be on par with Holocaust denialism and praise for Hitler. Counterpunch is a leftist periodical but it is not without mainstream support and respect so I think this is worth calling out.

For the record, the most credible sources all estimate excess deaths under Pol Pot’s brutal regime of between 1.4 and 2.2 million people, approximately 20-25% of the entire population. The estimates come from three types of sources, 1) Interviews with survivors about relatives and neighbors killed, 2) Demographic estimates from before and after the Khmer Rouge which even today show massive discrepancies, especially for men of the relevant ages and 3) Surveys of mass graves. A good review is here. See also Yale’s Cambodian Genocide Project which does not overlook US involvement. None of this is especially controversial so Wikipedia is a good overview:

In power, the Khmer Rouge carried out a radical program that included isolating the country from foreign influence, closing schools, hospitals and factories, abolishing banking, finance and currency, outlawing all religions, confiscating all private property and relocating people from urban areas to collective farms where forced labour was widespread. The purpose of this policy was to turn Cambodians into “Old People” through agricultural labour. These actions resulted in massive deaths through executions, work exhaustion, illness, and starvation.

…Modern research has located 20,000 mass graves from the Khmer Rouge era all over Cambodia. Various studies have estimated the death toll at between 740,000 and 3,000,000, most commonly between 1.4 million and 2.2 million, with perhaps half of those deaths being due to executions, and the rest from starvation and disease.

The U.S. State Department-funded Yale Cambodian Genocide Project estimates approximately 1.7 million. R. J. Rummel, an analyst of historical political killings, gives a figure of 2 million.

A UN investigation reported 2–3 million dead, while UNICEF estimated 3 million had been killed. Demographic analysis by Patrick Heuveline suggests that between 1.17 and 3.42 million Cambodians were killed, while Marek Sliwinski estimates that 1.8 million is a conservative figure. Researcher Craig Etcheson of the Documentation Center of Cambodia suggests that the death toll was between 2 and 2.5 million, with a “most likely” figure of 2.2 million. After 5 years of researching grave sites, he concluded that “these mass graves contain the remains of 1,386,734 victims of execution”.


Comments for this post are closed