The Khmer Rouge was the totalitarian ruling party in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 that flourished to some degree because of the unrest fostered by the war in Vietnam. Led by the dictator Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge is remembered primarily for its policy of social engineering and the deaths this caused. Brutal and arbitrary executions and torture carried out by its cadres against anyone suspected of belonging to several categories of supposed enemies:
- anyone with connections to the former government or with foreign governments
- professionals and intellectuals – in practice this included almost everyone with an education, or even people wearing glasses (which, according to the regime, meant that they were literate)
- ethnic Vietnamese, ethnic Chinese, ethnic Thai and other minorities in Eastern Highland, Cambodian Christians (Most of whom were Catholic, and the Roman Catholic Church in general), Muslims and the Buddhist monks
- “economic sabotage” for which many of the former urban dwellers (who had not starved to death in the first place) were deemed to be guilty by virtue of their lack of agricultural ability.
Estimates of the number of people who died as a result of the Khmer Rouge’s policies varies widely, but the most common figures are between 1.4 million and 2.2 million—perhaps one-third the population of Cambodia.