After the Killing Fields: Lessons from the Cambodian Genocide

After the Killing Fields: Lessons from the Cambodian Genocide

After the Killing Fields: Lessons from the Cambodian Genocide

After the Killing Fields: Lessons from the Cambodian Genocide


For 25 years, Cambodia's Khmer Rouge have avoided responsibility for their crimes against humanity. For 30 long years, from the late 1960s to the late 1990s, the Cambodian people suffered from a war that has no name. Arguing that this series of hostilities, which included both civil and external war, amounted to one long conflict- The Thirty Years War- Craig Etcheson demonstrates that there was one constant, churning presence that drove that conflict: the Khmer Rouge. New findings demonstrate that the death toll was approximately 2.2 million people- about half a million more than commonly believed. Detailing the struggle of coming to terms with what happened in Cambodia, Etcheson concludes that real justice is not merely elusive but may, in fact, be impossible for crimes on the scale of genocide.

This book details the work of a unique partnership, Yale University's Cambodian Genocide Program, which laid the evidentiary basis for the forthcoming Khmer Rouge tribunal and also played a key role in the international advocacy necessary for the tribunal's creation. It presents the information collected through the Mass Grave Mapping Project of the Documentation Center of Cambodia and reveals that the pattern of killing was relatively uniform throughout the country. Despite regular denial of knowledge of the mass killing among the surviving leadership of the Khmer Rouge, Etcheson demonstrates that they were not only aware of it, but that they personally managed and directed the killing.


I write these words on the twenty-ninth anniversary of the day that a guerilla movement called the “Khmer Rouge” seized state power in Cambodia. That event ushered in a brief, but catastrophic, period known in Cambodia as the “Killing Fields.” It has now been more than a quarter century since the Khmer Rouge were driven from power. After the Killing Fields, Cambodia was forever transformed, and the rest of the world has been slow to learn the lessons of that tragic episode. It has been slower still in attempting to deliver justice for the massive crimes committed in that time. Yet, finally, in 2004, both Cambodia and the world at large appear to be on the verge of rectifying this historic lapse. Justice may soon be coming for the Khmer Rouge.

My 1984 book on the Khmer Rouge, The Rise and Demise of Democratic Kampuchea, traced the history of Cambodian communism from its origins in the 1920s up through the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979. After the Killing Fields picks up the narrative in 1979 and brings the Khmer Rouge story forward to 2004, five years after their final defeat on the Cambodian battlefield. Beginning with a brief overview of the three decades of war and genocide that the Khmer Rouge inflicted on the Cambodian people, this book relates the struggles since 1979 to end the war and bring the perpetrators to account for their massive human rights abuses.

Chapter 1, “The Thirty Years War,” and Chapter 2, “A Desperate Time,” are pieces prepared specifically for this book. Chapter 3, “After the Peace,”

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