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Why Did They Kill?

Why Did They Kill?: Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide

Alexander Laban Hinton
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: 1
Pages: 382
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  • Book Info
    Why Did They Kill?
    Book Description:

    Of all the horrors human beings perpetrate, genocide stands near the top of the list. Its toll is staggering: well over 100 million dead worldwide.Why Did They Kill?is one of the first anthropological attempts to analyze the origins of genocide. In it, Alexander Hinton focuses on the devastation that took place in Cambodia from April 1975 to January 1979 under the Khmer Rouge in order to explore why mass murder happens and what motivates perpetrators to kill. Basing his analysis on years of investigative work in Cambodia, Hinton finds parallels between the Khmer Rouge and the Nazi regimes. Policies in Cambodia resulted in the deaths of over 1.7 million of that country's 8 million inhabitants-almost a quarter of the population--who perished from starvation, overwork, illness, malnutrition, and execution. Hinton considers this violence in light of a number of dynamics, including the ways in which difference is manufactured, how identity and meaning are constructed, and how emotionally resonant forms of cultural knowledge are incorporated into genocidal ideologies.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93794-9
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Timeline
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. List of Personages
    (pp. xix-xx)
  7. Foreword
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
    Robert Jay Lifton

    The more closely one studies a particular genocide, the more one uncovers its special characteristics. But the careful scholar also becomes aware of certain general themes found in all genocides. Alex Hinton goes far toward connecting the particular with the universal in this most grotesque of realms.

    His detailed study of the Cambodian genocide tells us much about its cultural roots in principles of honor, sanctioned rage, and disproportionate revenge. Yet he also makes clear that Maoist principles of mind manipulation or “thought reform” had a considerable influence. My own studies of Chinese thought reform attest to its potential for...

  8. [Map]
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
  9. INTRODUCTION: In the Shadow of Genocide
    (pp. 1-36)

    Why did you kill?From the day I arrived in Cambodia to conduct anthropological research, I wanted to pose this question to Khmer Rouge who had executed people during the genocidal Democratic Kampuchea regime, which lasted from April 1975 to January 1979. When the Khmer Rouge, a radical group of Maoist-inspired rebels headed by Pol Pot, came to power after a bloody civil war in which six hundred thousand people died, they immediately set out to transform Cambodia into an agrarian, communist state. In the process, they enacted policies that resulted in the deaths of over one and a half...


    • Preamble
      (pp. 39-44)

      In 1973, when Khel was fifteen, the Khmer Rouge set up a loudspeaker in his village, located in Speu district in Kompong Cham province, and began urging people to fight against General Lon Nol, saying that Lon Nol had betrayed the country when he seized power from Prince Sihanouk. Khel said he volunteered to enlist with the Khmer Rouge “because I saw others doing this.” During basic training, Khel learned how to shoot a gun, to crawl along the ground, and to duck down quickly when under fire. The Khmer Rouge gave the soldiers lectures on political ideology, instructing them...

    • CHAPTER ONE A Head for an Eye: Disproportionate Revenge
      (pp. 45-95)

      In April 2000, thePhnom Penh Postpublished an interview with a former Khmer Rouge cadre who had studied in Paris with Pol Pot and helped to found the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK). When asked why Pol Pot killed millions of people, the former cadre, who chose to remain anonymous, replied, “As far as the killing is concerned, I don’t think it was only Pol Pot. It was more about revenge—the revenge with Lon Nol [soldiers] for killing their husbands and wives before 1975.”² Later in the interview, the cadre (hereafter referred to as “anonymous cadre”) expanded on...

    • CHAPTER TWO Power, Patronage, and Suspicion
      (pp. 96-125)

      In December 1976, Pol Pot is thought to have made the above remarks at a meeting of the Party Center. While the Khmer Rouge had periodically purged its ranks in the past, Pol Pot’s obsession with finding the “sickness” that was “rotting society” marked a rapid escalation of this process. The Party Center’s paranoia quickly reached places like Region 41 of the Central Zone, where suspect cadres and soldiers were purged. Some, like Reap, the head of Phnom Bros, ended up at Tuol Sleng, where they were forced to confess their supposed treason, thereby confirming the Party Center’s suspicions and...

    • CHAPTER THREE In the Shade of Pol Pot’s Umbrella
      (pp. 126-170)

      When the Khmer Rouge came to power, they took control of a society that had been devastated by war, social upheaval, and economic collapse. Such circumstances are conducive to the emergence of high-modernist authoritarianism, since high-modernist regimes are often willing to use coercive force to implement a radical program of social engineering, and the devastated populace usually lacks the ability to resist these plans.¹ Although the Khmer Rouge faced factional disputes that helped catalyze the DK purges, they nevertheless found themselves in a situation in which they could rapidly centralize control and begin implementing communist reforms.

      In one sense, therefore,...


    • Preamble
      (pp. 173-181)

      What happened to Reap after he entered Tuol Sleng? Only traces of his life remain—in the corpses and mass graves left at Phnom Bros, in the memories of those who knew or heard about him, in the multiple drafts of his confession, which concluded with a thumbprint and signature, and in references to him in other Khmer Rouge documents, such as the confessions of his associates and the execution log that registers the day he was killed. Still, we can piece together a rough picture of what happened to Reap and other victims of the DK purges by drawing...

    • CHAPTER FOUR The DK Social Order
      (pp. 182-210)

      Like other Tuol Sleng documents, the disturbing passage cited above—an August 1978 interrogator’s description of how he tortured Oum Chhan, the former head of a mobile work team in the Eastern Zone — reveals much about the dynamics of violence at Tuol Sleng and other DK “spaces of death.” It is impossible to know exactly what happened in Oum Chhan’s interrogation cell; one can only imagine the pain and suffering he and other prisoners endured. Nevertheless, such texts do help us understand the pattern of violence at places like Tuol Sleng, what might have been going through the minds...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Manufacturing Difference
      (pp. 211-251)

      As this Khmer Rouge broadcast suggests, constructions of belonging and exclusion lie at the center of genocide. Genocidal regimes manufacture difference in a number of important and interrelated ways, including the crystallization, marking, organization, bodily inscription, and mimetics of difference. First, genocidal regimes construct, essentialize, and propagate sociopolitical categories, crystallizing what are normally more complex, fluid, and contextually variable forms of identity. This “crystallization of difference” is often associated with socioeconomic upheaval — as illustrated by the tumultuous events that took place prior the emergence of genocidal regimes in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Nazi Germany — and leads to the dehumanization...

    • CHAPTER SIX The Dark Side of Face and Honor
      (pp. 252-275)

      To more fully comprehend the violence perpetrated at Tuol Sleng and elsewhere in DK, we need to consider yet another level of analysis, the dynamics of group-level interactions. Vaen Kheuan did not interrogate Oum Chhan in isolation; he was a member of a larger unit of interrogators. Similarly, when Lor went to Choeung Ek and killed “one or two people,” he did so in a group context. While the motivations of perpetrators are complex, they, like all human beings, are influenced by their location in specific social settings.

      In Cambodia, one of the key dynamics informing group interactions is “face”...

  12. CONCLUSION: Why People Kill
    (pp. 276-298)

    At the 1979 People’s Revolutionary Tribunal in Phnom Penh, which convicted Pol Pot and his cronies in absentia for genocide, Denise Affonço provided gruesome but detailed testimony about an episode of liver-eating that she observed in an area of Battambang province that was suffering from great famine:

    One day a young fellow named Touch was arrested for digging up a few cassava roots. On learning this, Ta Ling simply said: “Take him to the western forest” (where a special spot had been cleared for such jobs). The condemned man was accompanied by three executioners: Ta Sok, who was in charge...

  13. A Note on Transliteration: Franco-Khmer Transcription
    (pp. 299-300)
  14. Notes
    (pp. 301-326)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 327-350)
  16. Index
    (pp. 351-360)