First They Killed My Father
HISTORICAL CONTEXTS, KHMER
ROUGE RHETORIC, IMPACTS OF
GENOCIDE, AND CONTEMPORARY
PROPAGANDA…
Contemporary events surrounding and
antecedents leading to genocide…
 The Vietnam War in neighboring
Vietnam from 1959 to 1975
 United States bombing in
Cambodia from 1969 - 1973
(ordered by Nixon and intended to
be kept secret from the populace)
("The CGP, 1994-2008" ).
 First secret bombings dubbed
Operation Breakfast in honor of the
meal consumed by Nixon and
advisors when deciding to carpet
bomb Cambodia. Subsequent plans
in Operation Menu included
Operations Lunch, Snack, Dinner,
Dessert, and Supper.
 U.S. forces destroyed thousands of
miles of Cambodian soil and killed
over 150,000 people during
Operation Menu (Carvin).
Contemporary events surrounding and
antecedents leading to genocide (cont.)…
 Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, taps into rural resentment of the
Lon Nol government in Cambodia to gain support for his
guerrilla coup.
 At the end of a civil war, the Khmer Rouge displaces the former
government in April in 1975 (Carvin).
Basic Propaganda of the Khmer Rouge
 Much like Hitler’s exploitation of the “volkgeist”
(the spirit of the people), Pol Pot and the Khmer
Rouge utilized the idea of the Khmer to ensnare
the belief and obedience of his followers.
 For the Germanic people, “The volk…was not
simply the people of a country, but a spiritual
entity out of which a people's particular culture
and customs develop. Literature, music, art,
folklore, and religion…are manifestations of the
spirit of the people, or the ‘volkgeist’” (Balvo).
The Jews were painted as enemies to this
national spirit or embodiment of the German
way of life.
 The Khmer Rouge employed a similar pattern –
treating the Khmer influence as an endangered
cultural root crowded by the infestation of
outside, Western influences.
Basic Propaganda of the Khmer Rouge
 Not unlike Hitler’s conception of
the “true” Aryan German as the
blonde-haired, blue-eyed
peasant, the Khmer Rouge
valued the “old people”:
peasants in rural districts who
were seen as hard-working,
honest, and untainted by the
Western and modern world.
 On the other side of this didactic
coin were the “new people”:
Cambodians living in urban
centers who were educated
and/or had been exposed to
elements of the modern world
were considered enemies of the
Khmer Rouge (Carvin).
Basic Propaganda of the Khmer Rouge
 New rules were quickly implemented
for the displaced populations shuffled
out of urban existences and relocated
to rural work camps: religion,
personal property, money,
communication with the outside
world, and acknowledgment of family
connections were strictly forbidden.
 The Khmer Rouge claimed that as of
April 17th, 1975, Cambodia entered
“Year Zero”: all past responsibilities
and rights were null and void.
 The Khmer Rouge used secrecy as a
prime propaganda tool, limiting the
amount of information citizens have
about the new government. Most
citizens are only aware of a faceless
Angkar, or “the Organization”, harshly
dictating their fate (Carvin).
S21: Tuol Sleng
 Among the Khmer Rouge known as
“the place where people go in but
never come out.”
 This prison admitted several
thousand people during the Khmer
Rouge years. Only a handful
survived the experience (Carvin).
The Khmer Rouge Cambodian Genocide
 Angkar slogan: “Keeping new people is no benefit…losing them
is no loss.”
 Whether from starvation, lack of proper medicine, outright
murder in the killing fields, or through harsh interrogation, the
Khmer Rouge reign (from 1975 - 1979) claims the lives of
approximately 1.4 to 2.2 million (Carvin).
United States’ Response to Genocide
 Aware of at least some of the
Khmer Rouge’s atrocities,
our nation decided to not act
to intervene.
 U.S. Secretary of State,
Henry Kissinger: "You
should also tell the
Cambodians that we will be
friends with them. They are
murderous thugs, but we
won't let that stand in our
way. We are prepared to
improve relations with
them” ("The CGP, 19942008" ).
Cambodia today…
 The impact of the Khmer Rouge
genocide still echoes on. The
country is still recovering
economically, physically, and
emotionally. The illiteracy rate is
staggering, land mine victims are in
abundance, and survivors still suffer
from their experiences.
 The Khmer Rouge was not officially
disbanded until Pol Pot’s death in
1998.
 Trials of some of the surviving
Khmer Rouge leaders began in early
2009 ("The CGP, 1994-2008" ).
Visual Propaganda Examples – Vietnam War
 During the Vietnam/American War, both sides of the conflict used
images and words to try to shape public opinion. Above are two
examples of American propaganda supporting the war. The poster on
the left encouraged Vietnam citizens to trust American troops for
military support. The leaflet on the right showed the harsh fate of the
Viet Cong, subtly warning the Vietnamese to choose the “correct” side
in the conflict ("The CGP, 1994-2008" ).
Visual Propaganda Examples – Vietnam War
 This American-made
poster shows a
mourning Vietnamese
soldier holding the
body of his son, killed
by the Viet Cong. The
staggering image calls
into question the
motivation and end
results of the Viet
Cong’s struggle ("The
CGP, 1994-2008“) .
Visual Propaganda Examples – Vietnam War
 In America and Europe, there was a strong surge of anti-war sentiments. The
poster on the left corrupts the well-known Uncle Sam recruiting poster to
reflect the high mortality rate of U.S. infantry during this military struggle. The
poster on the right advertizes an anti-war rally in London (Carvin).
Visual Propaganda Examples – Vietnam War
 On the left is a copy of the cover of John Kerry’s anti-war book, The
New Soldier (1971). Kerry, a decorated war veteran, become a wellknown anti-war spokesman. On the right is an American-made poster
highlighting the death of innocent children in the Vietnam/American
war ("The CGP, 1994-2008" ).
Visual Propaganda Examples – Vietnam War
 The Americans and Europeans
were not the only ones
engaged in propaganda
warfare. Both the Viet Cong,
the Southern Vietnamese
forces, and rebellious factions
working in South Vietnam in
support of the Viet Cong
created propaganda leaflets
and posters. The poster to the
right is a pro-Viet Cong image
featuring an idealized V.C.
soldier and supportive female
citizens (Carvin).
Visual Propaganda Examples – Vietnam War
 The poster on the left warns Viet Cong members of their impending doom. The
leaflet on the right encourages members of the American army to defect and/or
demand America’s retreat from Vietnam ("The CGP, 1994-2008" ).
Major Resources
Balyo, Mike. "Nationalism." History 112 World Civilization. Chemeketa
Community College, Web. 5 Oct 2009.
<http://terra.chemeketa.edu/faculty/balm/handouts/hst111ntlsm
.html>.
Carvin, Andy. From Sideshow to Genocide: Stories of the Cambodian
Holocaust. 5 May 2009 <http://www.edwebproject.org/>.
"The CGP, 1994-2008." Cambodian Genocide Program. 2009. Yale
University. 5 May 2009 <http://www.yale.edu/cgp/>.