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Genocide High School

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Thousands of armed soldiers enter your hometown and demand by force that every person in the city relocate to the countryside immediately. Groups of people channel out of homes, schools, shops, government buildings, places of worship, and hospitals to march to remote areas. What remains is a ghost town overnight. Visualize this same exact scenario ongoing in hundreds of towns and major cities throughout your country. Sadly, during the mid to late 1970s, this situation was a reality for the people of Cambodia, phase one of a four-year nightmare.

During the Vietnam War, the Communist Party of Kampuchea, better known as the Khmer Rouge, were victorious in their campaign to overthrow the former Khmer Republic. Once a republican state backed by the United States, the Khmer Republic fell in April of 1975 to the Maoist influenced group. They went on and founded the Democratic Kampuchea about a year later.

The ideology of the Khmer Rouge was to reform the society of Cambodia back to its ancient ways. In order for this to be achieved, the Rouge stripped all people of political and civil rights. Religion, currency, marriage, some aspects of language, art, literature, and music were abolished under this new regime. By doing so, Pol Pot, the leader of this new movement, reset the calendar back to ‘Year Zero.’ The goal of flipping the country upside down was to make all members of society field workers to indeed return to their ancient ways.

This led to the start of the Cambodian Genocide, where about one to three million people died within four years. Anyone who was a doctor, lawyer, teacher, politician, monk, and in some cases those who wore glasses were killed for being an intellectual. To add to this, essentially all minor ethnic groups were killed as well. Mass killings, malnutrition, torture, and forced labor led to a high percentage of deaths. For these reasons Pol Pot and his party ‘cleansed’ Cambodia of Western ideas and foreign influence.

One noteworthy site of the genocide was Tuol Sleng, officially known as Secret Prison 21(S-21). Located in the capital of Phnom Penh, a former high school, was a prison complex for “opponents” of the regime and was used as an interrogation center. Reconstructed months after the victory of the civil war, in August 1975, this site would hold up to 1,500 prisoners at any given time. What makes this site notable is that out of the nearly 20,000 that have been imprisoned at Tuol Sleng, there were only 12 known survivors. Essentially, almost everyone sent to Tuol Sleng died.

Once captives arrived at S-21, they were documented by way of photograph and had to give a comprehensive autobiography prior to their arrest. Afterwards, they were stripped down to their underwear and taken to cells. In large cells, prisoners were all shackled by their feet to a central bar, while those in smaller cells were chained to the walls. Prisoners were forbidden to speak to each other and if they did so, were subjected to beatings. Within these crowded and filthy conditions, inmates were prone to skin disease of all sorts. They lived off spoons of rice porridge everyday and had to ask guards for permission to drink water. Infants as young as two years old were imprisoned in those walls.

Espionage and conspiracy to coup Pol Pot were the two most common accusations made against inmates at S-21. Therefore, almost all



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