The Glorious Seventeenth of April

“The seventeenth of April 1975, a glorious date in the history of Kampuchea, has ushered in an era more remarkable than the age of the Angkors.”

“The city is bad, for there is money in the city. People can be reformed, but not cities By sweating to clear the land, sowing and harvesting crops, men will learn the real value of things. Man has to know that he is born from a grain of rice!”

“In Phnom Penh you eat rice but you don’t grow it. You should go to the country, where you eat the rice you have grown.

-Khmer Rouge Slogans, Radio Phnom Penh

From Cambodia: Year Zero a description of the evacuation of Phnom Penh:

“By dawn, April 17, the (International Red Cross) team was submerged by a title waver of refugees and could take no more. Suddenly, around 7:30 A.M., the streams of people dried up and gave way to an eerie silence. The armored tanks standing in firing position near the French embassy moved toward the city center and assembled in front of the cathedral and the Descartes lycee with their guns pointing north…”

“Soon small groups of young Khmers, hardly into their teens, began moving silently into town from all sides. They were dressed all in black, wearing black Chinese caps and Ho Chi Minh sandals – soles cut out of old tires fastened to the feet with rubber thongs. Hung about them were Chines grenades; B-40s (anti-tank explosives); AK-47s, the famous Chinese assault guns, and strange clips and loaders dangled from their chests. They looked bewildered, on the verge of collapse, utterly remote from the people’s jubilation…”

“An almost physical sense of relief led to general rejoicing. No more rockets to fear; no more blind slaughter; no more compulsory military service; no more of this rotten, loathed regime that didn’t even pay its soldiers; no more food rationing because of the blockade. At last, the peasants could go back and cultivate their rice paddies. The thousands of refugees who had poured into town during the preceding days delightedly turned back to the homes they had fled for fear of the flighting…”

“A few moments later a hallucinatory spectacle began. Thousands of teh sick and wondered were abandoning the city. The strongest dragged pitifully along, other were carried by friends, and some were lying on beds pushed by their families with their plasma and IVs bumping alongside. I shall never forget one cripple who had neither hands nor feet, writhing along the ground like a severed worm, or a weeping father carrying his ten-year-old daughter wrapped in a sheet tied round his neck like a sling, or the man with his foot dangling at the end of a leg to which it was attached by nothing but the skin. “Can I spend the evening and the night here with you?” he asked. “No, you know it’s not possible, you must leave as quickly as you can.” Refusing shelter to the sick and injured makes one feel one has lost one’s last shred of human dignity. That is how the first evacuees left, about twenty-thousand of them.” 

“Then after the sick and wounded, we witnessed the departure of the entire population of Phnom Penh. Before noon, the little men in black were going to every door in the district: “You must leave quickly. The Americans are going to bomb the city. Go ten or twelve miles aways, don’t take much with you, don’t bother to lock up, we’ll take care of everything until you get back You’ll return in two or three days, as soon as we’ve cleaned up the city.”

“The water mains were turned off and the electricity cut to make sure that no on could survive.”

“If you think of the accumulated artisitic and cultural wealth, the capital in buildings and furnishings of a city with a population of six hundred thousand, (which was that of Phnom Penh before the 1970 war), you will have no trouble imagining the waste and spoilage entailed by such an exodus. To that wealth should be added the complete technical infrastructure, no useless, required to operate a modern capital city.”

The good of the people was not the goal of the evacuation of Phnom Penh: its aim was to prove a theory that had been worked out in abstract without the slightest regard for human factors.”

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