February 3, 2010
Appearing as a guest on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show on January 29th, “Hardball” host Chris Matthews compared what is going on in the Republican Party to the re-education camps in Cambodia during the reign of Pol Pot. Interestingly enough, the video (which I viewed yesterday morning) is no longer available, but Newsbusters has the quote:
What's going on out there in the Republican Party is kind of a frightening, almost Cambodia re-education camp going on in that party, where they're going around to people, sort of switching their minds around saying, if you're not far right, you're not right enough.
Have we really gotten to the point where anyone could compare what’s going on in either the Republican or Democrat Parties to the vicious and brutal way in which Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge came to power in the last century?
Born out of a struggle against French colonialism in the 1940s, the Cambodian Communist movement really began to gain momentum during the civil war in the 1970s that unseated Prince Sihanouk as the head of state. By 1973, 85 percent of Cambodia was in Khmer Rouge hands and by 1975, the civil war ended as Phnom Penh, a major city, fell to the Communists with Pol Pot at the helm.
During the next three years and eight months of Pol Pot’s rule, Cambodians faced dark days, where close to 2 million – nearly 30 percent of the nation’s population – died by starvation, torture or execution. Declaring “Year Zero” when Phnom Penh fell, Pol Pot engineered a “purification” effort in which all signs of Westernization – capitalism, culture, religion and other foreign influences – would be eradicated, thus creating an isolated Maoist agrarian state.
Anyone who resisted was killed outright, foreigners were expelled and embassies closed, and the Cambodian currency was abolished, along with markets, schools, newspapers, religious practices and private property. The Khmer Rouge also identified anyone they considered a threat, including members of the Lon Nol government, public servants, police, military officers, teachers, ethnic Vietnamese, Christian clergy, Muslim leaders, members of the Cham Muslim minority, members of the middle-class and the educated. The reasoning was that only “pure” people could build the revolution. These individuals were detained in prisons, interrogated, tortured and then executed. The most notorious of these prisons, S-21, was a former high school. Estimates were that it held 14,000-20,000 prisoners during its years of operation, of which only about 7-12 survived. Like the Nazis, the prison kept precise records of who entered the prison and died there, in order to prove to the Khmer Rouge that they had been eliminated. It is now the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum.
Everyone else was forced to relocate to agricultural re-education labor camps, where families were separated and everyone lived in primitive conditions. This became known as the “killing fields.” Unending political indoctrination and brainwashing was the order of the day. Children were encouraged to spy on their parents. Basic rights were denied, and people could not leave their cooperatives. If three people gathered and talked, they could be accused of being enemies of the state and arrested or executed.
The “Four Year Plan” decreed that nationwide, Cambodians were expected to produce three tons of rice per hectare. This could only be accomplished by everyone working 12 plus hour days in order to harvest rice all 12 months out of the year.
Didn’t work hard enough? Didn’t like your living conditions? Grieving over the death of friends or family, or stealing food because you were starving? These were among the crimes punishable by death, along with the audacity of wearing jewelry or engaging in sexual relations or expressing religious sentiments.
This is what Chris Matthews thinks is happening in the GOP today? To compare any political activity in the U.S. to the tragedy in Cambodia just shows how low some pundits will go in order to make a political point.
But then again, this is the same man who crassly declaredthat during the recent State of the Union address, he “forgot [President Obama] was black tonight for an hour” and also said that when the President went to speak to cadets at West Point, he was going into “enemy camp.”
Matthews apologized for those other gaffes. It’ll be interesting to see if he apologizes for this latest slip of the tongue.
Those of us who follow politics can all get a little hot under the collar no matter which side of the aisle upon which we reside. However, a little sense of proportion can go a long way toward not only the civility of political discourse, but also bearing in mind that “those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.”
We should also be thankful that, no matter what your political views may be, our unique system of government means we have not had to endure the horrors the Cambodians – and other victims of such regimes – endured.
Pam Meister is the editor of FamilySecurityMatters.org.