Year Zero: Francois Ponchaud

Cambodia: Year Zero

Francois Ponchaud was a French Roman Catholic priest and missionary to Cambodia where he worked for over ten years. He was among the last foreigners forced to leave Phnom Penh. He continued his work recording the stories of refugees who made it to the camps in Thailand and Vietnam. His book was published while the Khmer Rouge were still in power.

“On March 31, 1977 The New York Review of Books published my account of my book under the signature of Jean Lacouture, which provoked considerable reaction in all circles concerned about Asia and the future of socialism. With the responsible attitude and precision of thought that are so characteristic of him, Noam Chomsky then embarked a polemical exchange with Rober Silvers, Editor of the NYR, and with Jean Lacouture, leading to the publication by the latter of a rectification of his initial account. Mr. Chomsky was of the opinion that Jean Lacouture had substantially distorted the evidence I had offered, and considering my book to be “serious and worth reading, as distinct from much of the commentary it has elicited,” he wrote me a personal letter on October 19, 1977, in which he drew my attention to the way it was being misused by anti-revolutionary propagandists. He had made it my duty to “stem the flood of lies” about Cambodia – particularly, according to him, those propagated by Anthony Paul and John Barron in “Murder of a Gentle Land.”

From Wikipedia:

“The term Year Zero, applied to the takeover of Cambodia in 1975 by Pol Pot, is an analogy to the Year One of the French Revolutionary Calendar. During the French Revolution, after the abolition of the Frenchmonarchy (September 20, 1792), the National Convention instituted a new calendar and declared the beginning of the Year I. The Pol Pot takeover of Phnom Penh was rapidly followed by a series of drastic revolutionary agrarian socialism policies vastly exceeding those of the French Reign of Terror and culminating in the Cambodian Genocide.

The idea behind Year Zero is that all culture and traditions within a society must be completely destroyed or discarded and a new revolutionary culture must replace it, starting from scratch. All history of a nation or people before Year Zero is deemed largely irrelevant, as it will (as an ideal) be purged and replaced from the ground up.”

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