Today is April 17th, the anniversary of the beginning of an end for Cambodia, or “Year 0”. On this day in 1975, Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge duped and bullied Phnom Penh’s residents and refugees into leaving their city on the pretext that America would soon bomb the city. They were told it would be a few days before they could return home, perhaps a week at most. Instead, it would be four years for some, and never again for nearly a third of the population who would be dead by then from starvation, easily preventable diseases, and execution.
In an effort to drive out communist fighters, relentless and overwhelming bombing by a secret American offense led to well over 100,000 innocent Cambodian deaths. The massive scale only bolstered support for the Khmer Rouge, enabling them to eventually control Cambodia’s population in brutal work camps.
Artists and intellectuals were targeted the regime, who viewed their knowledge and ideas as threats to their new goal of an agrarian society. Cultural history was crushed by the deaths of beloved musicians, painters, and writers. The loss of government workers and teachers left very few educated survivors. By 1979, Cambodia’s rich legacy was in ashes, its infrastructure in ruins, and the loss of life estimated at two million.
Today we remember those lost during the genocide. We will honor their memories by working to reclaim the beauty and strength still residing in the heart of this resilient country and its people.