Today marks 40 years since Cambodia was overtaken by the Khmer Rouge, a period of almost four years where approximately 2,000,000 people (a quarter of the population) were killed. This day is known as ‘Operation Eagle Pull’, was the United States military evacuation by air of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. At this time, the Khmer Rouge surrounded Phnom Penh and since it was seen the Khmer Rouge would be victorious, the US government evacuated US nationals and allied Cambodians by helicopter to ships in the Gulf of Thailand.
Just five days later the Khmer Republic collapsed and the Khmer Rouge occupied Phnom Penh.
When the Khmer Rouge occupied Cambodia they isolated the country. Factories, hospitals and schools were closed. All private property was confiscated. Currency was abolished. Religion was not allowed. People were relocated from urban areas to collective farms with forced labour.
Cambodia was turned into a classless society, with the urban population, known as the ‘new people’ being forced into agricultural communes. Given the ‘new people’ had very little knowledge about agriculture, famine occurred, as it was often ‘every man for himself’ in order to survive, and people wouldn’t help others out of fear.
Executions, work exhaustion, illness and starvation killed a quarter of the population. An estimated 90% of the educated population perished (including those who were stereotyped to be educated, such as those who wore glasses), and those intellectuals who survived did so mostly due to lying about their lives or pure luck.
On January 7th, 1979, Vietnamese armed forced and the Kampuchean United Front for National Salvation invaded Cambodia and captured Phnom Penh.
Although the country was rebuilt, the horrific scars remain today.