Category Archives: Book

Quagmire: Nation-Building and Nature in the Mekong Delta

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Winner of the George Perkins Marsh Award

In the twentieth century, the Mekong Delta has emerged as one of Vietnams most important economic regions. Its swamps, marshes, creeks, and canals have played a major role in Vietnams turbulent past, from the struggles of colonialism to the Cold War and the present day. Quagmire considers these struggles, their antecedents, and their legacies through the lens of environmental history.

“This work is an original and innovative approach to the contemporary history of Viet Nam.” -Environmental History

“Biggs is clearly a major talent, who has written a path-breaking book that enables us to see, experience, and interpret the delta anew.” -Journal of Contemporary Asia

David Biggs is associate professor of history at the University of California, Riverside.

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Strolling Around a Disappearing Gem

Source: http://www.phnompenhpost.com/index.php/2012061556830/7-Days/strolling-around-a-disappearing-gem.html

Friday, 15 June 2012 Sean Gleeson
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The Sporting Club, a popular retreat for Protectorate officials, in a dilapidated state in 1993. It was later demolished and replaced, according to Filippi, by “a most inelegant set of structures”. Photograph: supplied

Jean-Michel Filippi’s passion for Cambodia’s architectural golden age is tempered only by his restrained frustration at its rapid erasure.

Author of the new book Strolling Around Phnom Penh, a walking tour of 150 years of local history, Filippi sees a lot to lament in the city’s changing urban character.

In the 1960s, newly independent Cambodia led the region in the pursuit of an audacious vision for its capital. Abdicating from the throne to lead the country’s post-colonial government, Norodom Sihanouk commissioned a number of bold works from French-trained Cambodian architects.

The great edifices of that time were aimed at propelling Phnom Penh firmly into modernity after nearly a century of colonial presence: the National Theatre, sprawling education campuses and low-income apartments by the banks of the Bassac River.

Each was a masterpiece of architectural innovation, relying on a balance of natural ventilation, climactically suited construction materials and aesthetic grandeur.

“In the ’60s, all those architects were remarkable because it was the only modern architecture that was both functional and beautiful in all of Southeast Asia,” Filippi says.

Drawing inspiration from the brutalist trends in Europe, the most striking feature of development at this time was the fetishised use of concrete in almost every major building project.

At one time, the renowned architect Vann Molyvann was accosted by a student, expressing amazement that the recently constructed concrete bridges to Koh Pich were left unpainted. Vann’s imperious reply was that an architect should not be ashamed of the material they use.

“Concrete was an ideology of the ’60s everywhere in the Western world. Concrete was no more something ugly. All of a sudden concrete was not only seen to be beautiful but also a symbol of modernity. It meant that you had no need to paint it – in fact it became absurd to paint concrete,” Filippi says.

Evidence of this ambitious vision’s decay is nowhere more apparent than in the infamous White Building on Sothearos Boulevard, originally constructed to provide low-cost housing for civil servants and now a rundown haven of poverty and vice.

One of a dwindling number of buildings left over from the period, it is widely assumed to be slated for the same process of eviction and demolition as some of its former neighbours. Even without such an intervention, decades of neglect could see the building collapse on its own at some time within the next decade.

Filippi’s greatest sorrow is the lack of appreciation for the legacy of the pre-war era, particularly the unwillingness to temper development with an appropriate use of space. In his book, Filippi cites the construction of Naga Casino next to the Buddhist Institute as the development boom’s most obscene consequence.

“I believe in the aesthetic. I’m the kind of person who believes that in order to create a regime, a new life, a new vision of politics, you need to act on town planning and architecture. This is absolutely fundamental,” he explains.

Contrary to expectation, Filippi does not blame the anti-urban policies of the Khmer Rouge, but the upheaval caused by the arrival of the United Nations in Phnom Penh after the Paris Peace Accords.

“You can very well use the metaphor of national theatre. It wasn’t killed by the Khmer Rouge period. Obviously, the Khmer Rouge didn’t help that, but it still existed. What happened in 1992 was very simple: all of a sudden, they gave up. I have the impression that at the time, when you had that fantastic rain of US dollars on the country, people began to equate being Khmer with poverty, and what was coming from outside was prosperous.”

The story of development in the last 20 years has been the utter rejection of the city’s past innovation, in favour of modern developments indistinguishable from the other metropolises of the world. While the trained eye can still follow the city’s history from 1865 to the present, the opportunity diminishes with each new monolithic, glass-plated addition to the skyline.

When considering the prospects of a belated appreciation for Phnom Penh’s unique style, Filippi is less than sanguine.

“If we consider the notion of patrimony, this doesn’t exist in Cambodia,” he rues. “Not yet. There is a kind of complex in Cambodia about being too far behind, what they want is of course to look like the others. At the same time they will tell you here that old is not beautiful. To preserve what is old in some sense is seen as a kind of mistake, so to be modern is to build a tower – nothing looks more modern than that – at any price.”

Free the 15 Protest

In front of the National Assembly. More information here: http://freethe15.wordpress.com/

Venerable Loun Savath: Free the 15 Protest

The Venerable Loun Savath. Still ‘frocked’… Phnom Penh Post article.

Free the 15 Protest

Free the 15 Protest

Free the 15 Protest

Free the 15 Protest

Free the 15 Protest

Design Like You Give a Damn 2: Building Change From The Ground Up

Check out the project that first brought me to Cambodia – Page 214! Excerpt.

Design Like You Give A Damn [2] : Building Change From The Ground Up
http://www.amazon.com/dp/0810997029

Photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ny_sed/sets/72157606756492214/with/2746535638/
www.angkorhospital.org
From Cook+Fox:With increased attention from tourists visiting Angkor Wat, the Angkor Hospital for Children was struggling to balance outreach with effective care and patient privacy. The Center for Friends Without a Border was conceived as a place to share the hospital’s work while inviting all people to connect across lines of distance, culture, and economic diff erence. To effectively mediate visitors’ experience of the hospital, the building would need to foster a sense of connection while discreetly shielding patients from observation.The core message of the project is one of respect and global kinship. In this spirit, Friends Without A Border sees the health of Cambodia’s people and its environment as inherently interconnected. In response, the Center would articulate an ethic of ecological, cultural, and economic sustainability,translated into the simplest, purest possible gesture of loving kindness. It would also serve to demonstrate the best ideas and technologies from all cultures in support of sustainable development for Cambodia.
Rather than focus on Cambodia’s neediness, the building is inspired by the richness and achievements of Khmer culture, including the monumental architecture of the Angkor period. In a nation whose forebears managed the monsoon rains through ingenious feats of engineering, wise stewardship of water is a potent cultural legacy. Functionally and symbolically, water lies at the heart of the new building, where an inverted roof channels rainwater to a central pool, open to the sky through a square aperture. In the rainy season, the collected water flows to an underground reservoir, where it will be used for flushing toilets and cleaning the building.Taking its square proportions from both sacred and contextual geometry, the building is organized into nine bays, each defi ninga diff erent programmatic function. To honor Izu’s founding intention, a gallery for exhibiting artwork is integral to the plan, and doubles as teaching space for large groups. Clean lines and extensive shading make the Center a cool, peaceful refuge fromthe street, simultaneously screening the visitor’s gaze and opening it to the operations of the hospital. With each visitor, the hope is that the essential spirit of Friends Without A Border will ripple outward, replicating successful ideas and inspiring others to give generously of themselves.

Dr Celine Pierdet on Phnom Penh

http://ucompiegne.academia.edu/CelinePierdet/Papers

Dr Céline PIERDET is an associate professor at the Université de Technologie de Compiègne.
She has written several articles on Phnom Penh and its flooding infrastructure as well as defending her dissertation at the University of Paris 1 – Pantheon-Sorbonne in 2008.

ABSTRACT – We assimilate to an opened system the city of Phnom Penh which has spread in the floodplain of the Mekong river by dikes and embankment successive. The major crisis suffered under the Khmer Rouge damaged hydraulic networks. Since 1979 through ad hoc interventions of actors “pioneers” on the networks the city-system comes into resilience, despite the occurrence of new crisis. While these networks are hardly rebuilt, the high land and property speculation for years 2005-2008 leads to a densification and a high standing of the urban fabric, what is a source of new imbalances for this system.

Key-words: city-system, resilience, networks, floods, speculation, investors, Phnom Penh

Her PhD is available at the Municipality of Phnom Penh (2nd floor – urban affairs) and at the National Archives.
An interesting passage from La résilience du système hydraulique de Phnom Penh au risque des investisseurs privés:
Land evictions, which slows in 2003 election time again with renewed vigor since 2008. Residents are
then expelled from the city-center to the periphery, on land just backfilled and unequipped, away from sources of employment. From 2004, the construction of hotels for tourists attracted more investment. Speculative projects of office property, shopping malls and luxury apartments in the center or periphery immediate then multiply and displace small operations housing and tourist hotels. The face of the city changes gradually studded with towers dozens of floors.

The Cambodian land speculation practice until mid-2008 in order to grow their savings very quickly, without resorting to bank loans. Have limited resources, the municipality of Phnom Penh can only freeze the land
to counter investors. And any planning document does still an order disposing of the common land. Urbanization is almost anarchic. Since 2008, if the projects already under progress, other begin in late 2009, with a year late. The sums of money invested in land and projects of high standing, sleep while waiting market recovery, which has strong consequences on the entire economic activity.”

More soon…

The Killing of Cambodia: Geography, Genocide and the Unmaking of Space

Can’t get my hands on this book…
Source: http://www.ashgate.com/default.aspx?page=637&calcTitle=1&title_id=9439&edition_id=10496

Between 1975 and 1978, the Khmer Rouge carried out genocide in Cambodia unparalleled in modern history. Approximately 2 million died – almost one quarter of the population. Taking an explicitly geographical approach, this book argues whether the Khmer Rouge’s activities not only led to genocide, but also terracide – the erasure of space.

In the Cambodia of 1975, the landscape would reveal vestiges of an indigenous pre-colonial Khmer society, a French colonialism and American intervention. The Khmer Rouge, however, were not content with retaining the past inscriptions of previous modes of production and spatial practices. Instead, they attempted to erase time and space to create their own utopian vision of a communal society. The Khmer Rouge’s erasing and reshaping of space was thus part of a consistent sacrifice of Cambodia and its people – a brutal justification for the killing of a country and the birth of a new place, Democratic Kampuchea.

While focusing on Cambodia, the book provides a clearer geographic understanding to genocide in general and insights into the importance of spatial factors in geopolitical conflict.

Contents: Imagining genocide; Irruptions and disruptions; The improbable revolution; The un-making of space; The placelessness of democratic Kampuchea; The political and the subject; A political understanding of genocide and justice; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author: James Tyner is Professor of Geography at Kent State University, USA.

Reviews: ‘In The Killing of Cambodia, James Tyner takes a uniquely geographic perspective on the complex topic of genocide. He demonstrates why it is not so much the “making of history” that tells the story of genocide but the “erasure of space” that will lead us to consider important and difficult questions about genocide.’  Shannon O’Lear, University of Kansas, USA

‘Tyner correctly views the Cambodian genocide through the lens of competing geographical imaginations. In re-telling the genocide as a geographical history, he helps to remind readers of why social space is fundamental for our intellectual efforts to answer difficult questions about the horror of political violence.’  Carl Dahlman, Miami University Ohio, USA

‘…Tyner’s book demonstrates the incredible complexities involved in understanding the Khmer Rouge tragedy, and offers up several additional insights such as the erasure of space to help comprehend this tragedy. I would highly recommend it for anyone working in Cambodia, or those working on issues of genocide or development in post-conflict or post-socialist situations.’ Asia Pacific Viewpoint

‘…a powerful postmortem of Cambodia’s death…’  Envrionment and Planning C: Government and Policy

Milieu + the Déclassés in French Phnom Penh

Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation 1860-1945 Penny Edwards

From Chapter 2: Urban Legend

“By 1888, the administrative elite had formed notions of an underclass of European undesirables who frequented the cafes of Phnom Penh and who cohabited, or conversed with, Cambodians outside the course of official duty, encouraging the grown of a third “class” that blurred colonialism’s neat divisions: the déclassés. This badge of dishonor embraced “social misfits”, young Cambodian women led astray, Cambodian students who had journeyed to France in search of education and returned with new vices and misplaced airs and graces, and what one French administrator referred to as our “most despicable European colonials.”

“These attempts to direct the traffic between Europeans and Cambodians were mirrored on the ground by the construction of new material divisions in the urban landscape, lessening the room for social and cross-cultura maneuver…”

“…crossings between milieux correlated with the fluid movements across Cambodge’s boundaries long demonstrated by the mobility of the Cambodian monkhood in their search for erudition in Siam and farther afield, in Sri Lanka — movement that the government of Indochina was determined to stop.”

“Cartography’s dual abstracting and contraction of Cambodge and neighboring places and people were materialized in microcosm through the construction of culturally and ethnically distinct milieux in Phnom Penh. The concept of “milieux” encompassed climate, disease, hygiene, pestilence, criminality, class and sexualtiy. In the Metropole, policies to contain and police the milieu focused French architects and intellects on social integration in the urban environment.

The demography of the colonies, with their minority white populations, focused architectural, intellectual, social, and medical attention overwhelmingly on issues of racial segregation. In 1906, the future governor-general of Indochina, Pierre Pasquier, noted with alarm that the French office in Indochina sometimes lost his Western outlook and developed “a new mentality close to that of the colonized people, which threatens to destroy his personality and even his morality.” Pasquier exhorted his peers “to conserve all the qualities of [their] race” so as to prevent their absorption by the native milieu.

As a preventative measure against such absorption, late-nineteenth and early twentieth century designs for the new colonial capital in Cambodge included the construction of a French quarter, designed to reinforce the “Frenchness” of its residents.  In turn, legislation and urban planning encouraged the segregation of the diverse “races” of the colonies – Khmers, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indians and Chams – into culturally specific, economically stratified, and racially segregated milieux within which each of these groups could thrive uncontaminated by the degenerative cultural influences of other groups. These milieux, or “quarters,” were built equivalents of cartography’s blind patchwork.

The beginnings of a separate quarter for Europeans in Phnom Penh can be traced to 1866, when, soon after the decision to move the capital there, France’s representative in Cambodge, Doudart de Lagree, advised Europeans to set up their homes near his offices, so as to create a special district. This directive was based more on concern about creating safety in numbers against the new capital’s high crime rate and frequent fires than in elaborate theories of race. However, with the installation of fire hydrants, an improved security environment, and the growth in Phnom Penh’s population, fire hazards were increasingly displaced by racial anxieties and ideas of national difference as the leading preoccupation of urban administrators.”

“By the turn of the century, the capitals segmentation into distinct French, Cambodian, Chinese, and Vietnamese districts had disentangled and ossified the ad hoc arrangements of space and race that had characterized Phnom Penh as well as native-European relations during the first decades of colonial rule. This ruban zoning was compounded by the allocation of resources and the selective use of legislations. An electricity generator provided lighting for the European and central Cambodian quarter, although “shadowy streets” characterized the Cambodian villages of the city’s outskirts, colloquially known as “little Takeo.” Here, under legislation enacted in 1884, Cambodians and Asiatics, but not Europeans, lived under a curfew of light and were not allowed to venture outdoors after 9 p.m. without a lantern.”

“In 1905, the protectorate’s new emphases on providing “comfortable, but simple residences” for Europeans, had led to the design and installation of the first freestanding villas for whites. On the ground, however, prescriptions for a specifically European milieu were hampered by economic realities. Few but the highest-ranking Europeans could afford to live in the European quarter…”

Cambodge: Urban Legend

Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation 1860-1945 Penny Edwards

From Chapter 2: Urban Legend

“Elsewhere in French empire, the spatial and architectural foundation of colonial cities encouraged the possibility of combining modernism and tradition. In Cambodge, colonial architecture and town planning had a reverse effect. By promoting notions of the incompatibility of Khmer and non-Khmer symbols of national, grouped as these were in distinct milieux, they are implicitly segregated notions of antiquity (associated with Angkor and “Khmerness”) from modernity (associated with the French Quarter and the protectorate’s government offices.)

In 1889, a French visitor to Phnom Penh dismissed the colonial capital as a “place of transit”, preempting ethnologist Claude Levi-Strauss’ condemnation of the new Brazilian city of Goiania, some forty years later as a “place of transit – not of residence.” This trope of transience tallied with common colonial castings of indigenous lives and spaces as ephemeral, fleeting, shadowy, and transgressive.

Clear distinctions were made between the indigenously built environment of the “golden age” of Angkor – which was deemed, like one of many twelfth- and thirteenth-century stone structures that has survived, as marking a stage of civilization from which Cambodians had ever since been in a state of flight, like nomad of history who had not yet found a firm footing in firm structures and the present, seen as unanchored, both in its predominate form – flammable wood – and design.

Considering Khmer palaces too makeshift to represent real power, European planners were brought in to supervise the construction of lasting monuments to “majest” in stone, brick, cement and concrete. A primary facet of this transformation was the development of a “national style,” first articulated as such in the national pavilions designed in a presumed “purely Cambodian style” for Europe’s grant nineteenth-century exhibitions.

Like other French colonial cities, Phnom Penh’s emerging geometric cityscape paid tribute to Rene Descartes vision of a “well-ordered” town laid out “on a vacant plane as suits [the engineers] fancy.” Colonial approaches to the city also reiterated notions of an unspoiled rule essence versus a corrupting urbane environment. Constructing a Cambodian quarter was one way of quarantining that quintessential, rural Khmerness, colonial planners inscribed the notion of the vanished Khmer on the very Quartier cambodgien (Cambodian quarter) that they built. The grafting of Angkorean symbols onto the new capital’s streetscape correlated witht he crafting of a new profile for the Khmer monarchy, with the Angkorean undertones and opulent dimensions, through palace construction and ceremonial function that allowed Kind Norodom I and his successors to embody the splendor – but not the substance – of kingship on a scale unseen since the fall of Angkor.”

“In the first two decades of the protectorate, the king retained complete power over the treasury as well as the farming of opium, fisheries, pig farms, gambling and other concessions, and he was the undisputed owner of all land in the kingdom. At Oudung as in previous royal capitals, wood and that housed royalty, mandarins, and peasants, while masonry was generally reserved for temples, reliquary stupas, and funeral monuments. Wood has been used by royalty and peasants alike since at least the third century, and early Chinese accounts note that rulers in the region lived in tiered, wood buildings, while commoners resided in thatched wooden houses raised on stilts, know in French as paillotes. This trend continued after the fall of the Khmer capital at Lovek in 1594, with the construction of the new royal palace at Oudong as a walled compound of wooden buildings. Most elaborate was the house of the queen mother, who remained at Oudong after the transfer of the royal capital to Phnom Penh in 1864.

The quality of building materials – which ranged from bamboo matting and thatch to fine timbers — and craftsmanship varied from one dwelling to another according the the rank and status of their owners. But the location of a residence and its proximity to sacred sites acted as more significant indicators of power and status. Centuries of upheaval, the perennial threat of war and relocation, and indigenous notions of power all ensured that political potency was vested in enduring ceremonial items and human constellations of kin and clientele, both of which could be quickly mobilized, rather than elaborate palace complexes or lavish personal abodes. Displays of power and ways to earn and express merit in the built environment took the form of the construction or renovation of a Buddhist monastery or ancestral temple, hospice or library.”

“In 1884, the French Protectorate, anxious to end its dependence on the king’s gift or loan of land and buildings, dealt a fiscal deathblow to the Cambodian monarchy in the form of a convention that established four categories of property ownership: royal property, public property, inalienable public reserves that could be leased, and inalienable private property. In October 1889, to achieve his goal of “sanitizing, developing, and embellishing” Phnom Penh RSC de Verneville issued a new convention securing the protectorate long-coveted development rights over Phnom Penh, whereby Norodom ceded all land and property rights in Phnom Penh to the protectorate, in exchange for an annual rent of thirty thousand piastres.”

“…RSC de Verneville began work on a canal that flowed into the Tonle Bassac River to form a triangular moat around the French quarter, thus protecting and isolating Phnom Penh’s European population. The resultant landfill transformed large tracts of swampland into the foundations of a future roads and streets…. A new printing house, treasury, pharmacy, customs house, and a new streets completed the capital’s transformation from a rambling morass into a highly segregated and hierarchical city.”

“The city was best known for its vast tracts of mosquito-infested swampland, the stench of stagnant water and human waste, and frequent outbreaks of cholera. In the wet season, boat travel was necessary between different sections of Phnom Penh.”

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.”

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.”