The Horrors of Communism as Revealed in The Killing Fields

I recently watched the 1984 film, The Killing Fields, for the first time. It is a deeply profound movie which changes you and stays with you long after you see it.

It is the story of a friendship between two journalists, an American (Sydney Schanberg) and a Cambodian (Dith Pran), set against the backdrop of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge’s tortuous and oppressive reign in Cambodia. The cast includes Sam Waterston as Schanberg, Haing S. Ngor (a Cambodian gynecologist who endured living under the Khmer Rouge and won an Oscar for his role as Dith Pran in the film), John Malkovich, Julian Sands, and Craig T. Nelson. It was directed by Roland Joffé. The name of the movie comes from Pran’s term for the site of the mass killings in the Cambodian genocide. The movie is rated R. It contains a lot of violence and some foul language so it’s not appropriate for children. The lessons of the film, however, still need to be passed down to the next generation.

There may not be another film that so clearly captures the horrors of communism as well as The Killing Fields. For those unfamiliar with the history of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge was the name given to the communist regime which ruled Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia) between 1975 to 1979. It was a time of great suffering for the Cambodian people. Nearly 2 million people are estimated to have died under the murderous policies of Pol Pot, the prime minister.

“We must be like the ox, and have no thought, except for the Party. And have no love, but for the Angka. People starve, but we must not grow food. We must honor the comrade children, whose minds are not corrupted by the past.” Haing S. Ngor, The Killing Fields

Hundreds of thousands of people also died from starvation and disease. Cambodians were taken out of the cities and forced to work on collective farms. They were indoctrinated in Communist reeducation camps. Private property, religious freedom, and individual liberty were all eliminated. Family ties were severed, and snitching on others became commonplace. A “Year Zero” policy was instituted in which old customs were forbidden. Intellectuals like doctors and other professionals were killed. The only thing that was allowed was loyalty to the party. It was truly a nightmare, and the movie does a superb job of portraying the hopelessness of the people under this harsh regime.

“The wind whispers of fear and hate. The war has killed love. And those that confess to the Angka are punished, and no one dare ask where they go. Here, only the silent survive.” Hang S. Ngor, The Killing Fields

I won’t give away any spoilers, but the bulk of the movie deals with Dith Pran trying to survive the extreme hardships of forced labor, starvation, and torture at the hands of the communist leaders of the Khmer Rouge. Pran’s friendship with Schanberg adds warmth and humanity to a film whose brutal realities might otherwise overwhelm the viewer.

After I watched the movie, I reflected upon what I had just seen. I worried about a similar tragedy happening here in America. At one time that seemed far-fetched, but sadly that is not the case anymore. One thing that I kept thinking about was how many young people seem to be unaware of communism’s murderous past. Socialism and communism seem to be in vogue these days, and I think that is largely due to both ignorance and indoctrination. Many of our youth are not only failing to learn the history of communism, but they are also being taught to hate America, capitalism, and Western Civilization.

It should probably be noted that the film doesn’t present the United States in the best of light, either. It offers harsh criticism of Nixon’s bombing campaign in Cambodia and even suggests that he was partly responsible for what happened there. But that is a minor aspect of the film. The vast majority of the movie deals with the terrible conditions under the Khmer Rouge.

If we take a look back, communism has resulted in horrendous suffering, mass murder and violence, starvation, and the loss of personal liberty nearly everywhere it has been tried. Just look at the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, Cuba under Castro, and China under Mao, who interestingly supported the Khmer Rouge (Mao even met with Pol Pot in Beijing). This evil ideology has been a complete disaster.

Communism has killed at least 100 million people (The Black Book of Communism) since the Bolsheviks took power in Russia in 1917, with 45 million of those dying under Mao in his Great Leap Forward (The Washington Post, “Remembering the Biggest Mass Murder in the History of the World”).

Communist China looms large in geopolitics these days as power seems to be shifting from the West to the East. China poses a real and serious threat to the United States of America. Its communist leaders have no interest in personal or religious freedom. They have one concern–loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party.

“We are not waging war against individuals. We are exterminating the bourgeoisie as a class….Do not look for evidence that the accused acted in word or deed against Soviet power. The first question should be to what class does he belong….It is this that should determine his fate.” –Martyn Latsis, an official of the Cheka, Lenin’s secret police, in a 1918 instruction to interrogators

Most alarming of all is what is currently taking place within the United States. American films are regularly censored by the studios to placate Chinese officials, cancel culture seeks to punish people for “unorthodox” non-woke views, freedom of speech is no longer valued, people are encouraged to snitch on each other for not wearing masks, and vaccine mandates are promoted. In some places, those who don’t comply are expelled from college, prevented from entering restaurants, and generally shamed. In addition, Marxist philosophies such as Critical Race Theory (CRT) are being taught in schools and also in books like Ibram X. Kendi’s, How to Be an Antiracist.

Private property has even been attacked by the Biden administration when the CDC attempted to halt evictions during the pandemic. Thankfully, the Supreme Court ruled against the CDC’s power grab, saying it needed Congressional approval.

Woke General Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, in the context of the January 6 Capitol Riot, that he wants to understand “white rage.” He went on to say that he has read Mao, Stalin, and Lenin, but he made it clear that that didn’t make him a Communist. He seems more concerned about diversity than getting all the Americans out of Afghanistan.

Social media companies routinely ban conservatives for their political views as well as anyone who posts information about COVID that doesn’t line up with what Anthony Fauci has said. President Trump was banned from Twitter and Facebook while he was still President.

And wokeness isn’t limited to secular institutions. It has entered the evangelical world. Woke leaders abound, and running down America or hating on Trump now seem commonplace among preachers. Left-wing ideologies and agendas which were once reserved for the world have now, sadly, entered the church house.

One could not be blamed for thinking that we are in the middle of a Marxist revolution. Many don’t see it because the changes to our society are often subtle. The revolution sometimes takes the form of Cultural Marxism, which originated in the Frankfurt School in the Weimar Republic in Germany. Since Marxism seems to have failed in the economic sphere, its proponents now seek to first transform the culture. The proverbial frog in the slowly boiled water comes to mind as we observe the incremental changes in our society which seem to align with Marxist ideologies at the expense of traditional American values.

“A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another.” –Mao Zedong

Sadly, many Americans have given into fear and seem to value safety and Big Brother’s handouts more than they value freedom or liberty. Businesses and churches alike were forced to shutter their doors for months last year during the pandemic but were promised aid by the Federal government. Many went along with it in the name of loving your neighbor or public safety. Those who didn’t comply were sometimes harassed and even arrested by authorities drunk on power.

What everyone needs to realize is that communism and freedom cannot coexist in the same place. They are antithetical to each other. Communism has no place for freedom because it interferes with obedience to the state. Communism has no place for religion because it is a competitor to people’s loyalty to the party. And communism has no place for freedom of thought or speech because the party must suppress the truth in order to stay in power. Communism’s shortcomings and failures are evident to all. That is why it is always enforced with violence. It never wins in a battle of ideas.

We must do a better job of teaching the next generation about the horrors and history of communism. We must remember the sufferings and miseries it inflicted upon others so that we do not have to learn the dangers of such ideologies the hard way like millions before us. We must speak out against the encroachments upon freedom that we see taking place in the West while we still can. And we must prefer liberty over safety, for as Benjamin Franklin said:

“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

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