Behind the Killing Fields: A Khmer Rouge Leader and One of His Victims

Behind the Killing Fields: A Khmer Rouge Leader and One of His Victims

Behind the Killing Fields: A Khmer Rouge Leader and One of His Victims

Behind the Killing Fields: A Khmer Rouge Leader and One of His Victims


In recent history, atrocities have often been committed in the name of lofty ideals. One of the most disturbing examples took place in Cambodia's Killing Fields, where tens of thousands of victims were executed and hastily disposed of by Khmer Rouge cadres. Nearly thirty years after these bloody purges, two journalists entered the jungles of Cambodia to uncover secrets still buried there.

Based on more than 1,000 hours of interviews with the top surviving Khmer Rouge leader, Nuon Chea, Behind the Killing Fields follows the journey of a man who began as a dedicated freedom fighter and wound up accused of crimes against humanity. Known as Brother Number 2, Chea was Pol Pot's top lieutenant. He is now in prison, facing prosecution in a United Nations-Cambodian tribunal for his actions during the Khmer Rouge rule, when more than two million Cambodians died. The book traces how the seeds of the Killing Fields were sown and what led one man to believe that mass killing was necessary for the greater good.

Coauthor Sambath Thet, a Khmer Rouge survivor, shares his personal perspectives on the murderous regime and how some victims have managed to rebuild their lives. The stories of Nuon Chea and Sambath Thet collide when the two meet. While Thet holds Chea responsible for the death of his parents and brother, he strives for understanding over revenge in order to reveal the forces that destroyed his homeland in the name of creating utopia.

In this age of suicide bombers and terror alerts, the world is still at a loss to comprehend the violence of zealots. Behind the Killing Fields bravely confronts this challenge in an exclusive portrait of one man's political madness and another's personal wisdom.


I don’t know why it happened like that, why they tried the
extreme way. When we were students, we thought in a good
way and did everything step by step. I joined the movement
because I thought something good would come out of it. But
finally, it turned bad and now my name is connected to a bad
— Mey Mann, a Khmer Rouge intellectual who had sailed
to Paris with Pol Pot in 1949, before he died

The corroded, rusting pistol, a relic from his glory days as Pol Pot’s most senior lieutenant in charge of Cambodia, always stayed nearby, just in case. The top surviving Khmer Rouge leader knew that in his beloved country he was despised by many. And the enemies who have dogged him for half a century, the enemies who have tried to destroy Cambodia, were still out there, ready to take him down at any moment. But the man who considered himself to be the moral leader of the Khmer Rouge said he won’t go easily, for he was a survivor. The frail eighty-three-year-old grandfather has long outlived the nearly 2 million Cambodians who perished under the Khmer Rouge rule. And he has endured longer than his best friend, Pol Pot, who died from supposedly natural causes in April 1998. Nuon Chea, who was also known as Brother Number Two by his comrades, said he had not come this far for nothing.

“They might kill me while I’m sitting here,” he mused. “But if something happens, I will not allow them to shoot me first. Why should I be killed when I have struggled for decades and have not died yet?”

Those who would be happy to see Nuon Chea follow in Pol Pot’s footsteps may not have to wait for long. Nuon Chea himself believes he will die soon. The effects of years of warfare have taken their toll on his body. In a remote area of the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin in northwestern Cambodia where he lived before he was taken into custody, Nuon Chea . . .

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