Quotations: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge

This selection of Vietnam War quotations pertains to Cambodia during the Vietnam War and then under the Khmer Rouge. It contains statements and remarks about the Vietnam conflict by notable political figures, military commanders, contemporaries and historians. These quotations have been researched and compiled by Alpha History authors. If you would like to suggest a quotation for this collection, please contact us.

“Everything I saw at Angkor proves to me unequivocally that Cambodia was once rich, civilised and much more heavily populated than it now is; but all these riches have disappeared and the civilisation has died out.”
Charles-Emile Bouillevaux, French missionary, circa 1858

“Unhappy is the Cambodian. Hemmed in between the Siamese… and the Annamites [Vietnamese], who together have robbed him of his richest provinces; rendered stationary by the operation of a feudal law which prevents him from acquiring lands of his own… a vigorous hand is needed to support him and enable him to preserve his autonomy, while the [benefits] of European civilisation are gradually brought to bear upon him.”
Francois Garnier, French military officer, 1884

“People usually refer to the bombing of Cambodia as if it had been unprovoked, secretive U.S. action. The fact is that we were bombing North Vietnamese troops that had invaded Cambodia, that were killing many Americans from these sanctuaries, and we were doing it with the acquiescence of the Cambodian government, which never once protested against it, and which, indeed, encouraged us to do it… Why is it moral for the North Vietnamese to have 50,000 to 100,000 troops in Cambodia, why should we let them kill Americans from that territory… and why in all these conditions is there a moral issue?”
Henry Kissinger on the bombing of Cambodia in 1969

“No country has ever experienced such concentrated bombing. On this, perhaps the most gentle and graceful land in all of Asia, President Nixon and Mr Kissinger unleashed 100,000 tons of bombs, the equivalent of five Hiroshimas. The bombing was their personal decision, made illegally and secretly. They bombed Cambodia, a neutral country, back to the Stone Age. And I mean Stone Age in its literal sense.”
John Pilger, Australian-born British journalist

“Wherever we went, we saw thousands of cheerful people working at water conservancy construction sites. We… were deeply impressed by the magnificent scenes of collective labour… Their broadcast system carried songs over the entire worksite, and the people were digging, hauling and building energetically, though the sun was beating down hard.”
Chinese journalists reporting from Khmer Rouge held areas, March 1975

“Men in black will come from the forests… the houses will be made empty and people will no longer circulate in the streets… the educated men will fall much lower than the ignorants. There will be an era without Buddhism.”
Prophecy attributed to a Cambodian Buddhist monk

“If I didn’t worry about the Khmer Rouge, it was because I didn’t believe they could be any worse than the Lon Nol regime… For every story we heard about the Khmer Rouge atrocities, there were several about the Lon Nol regime – mostly massacres of Vietnamese civilians… Every day we heard accounts of government soldiers stealing chickens and livestock from civilians in the countryside, or setting up roadblocks to collect bonjour. But we never heard of the Khmer Rouge stealing anything, even a piece of paper or a grain of rice. It was said that the guerrillas kept to a strict and honourable code of behaviour – no gambling, no abuse of peasants and, above all, no corruption.”
Haing Ngor, Cambodian physician and writer

“The Khmer Rouge approached the house in vehicles, yelling over megaphones for everyone to get out of their houses… When I was walking on the streets I saw 13 and 14-year-old children wearing green uniforms. I asked someone ‘Who are these kids wearing green uniforms?’ He said they were communists called the Khmer Rouge… I saw these kid-soldiers pointing guns and yelling at people to get out of their houses and walk faster. They said ‘All people, do not worry about your houses… You will just be gone a few days and then you will come back…’ And so we walked.”
Bun Yom, Cambodian civilian, describing the events of April 1975

“Beloved brothers and sisters, workers, youths, students, teachers and functionaries, now is the time! Here are our Cambodian People’s National Liberation Armed Forces, brothers! Rebel! It is time for you to rise up and liberate Phnom Penh!”
Radio broadcast in Phnom Penh, April 16th 1975

“[Prime minister] Long Boret had stayed in Cambodia, thinking that he could have some kind of dialogue with the Khmer Rouge. When he realized that that was impossible, he raced to the airport with his family in a jeep to try and get out of the country. When they arrived at the airport, they got on a helicopter with some military officers. One officer brutally shoved him off the helicopter. The copter took off. The Khmer Rouge captured Long Boret and his family and killed them all.”
John Gunther Dean, US ambassador to Cambodia 1974-75

“We saw Pol Pot’s behaviour and heard his words and he did not seem to us to be a killer. He seemed kindly. He did not speak very much. He just smiled and smiled… And his words were light, not strong. In general you would estimate that Pol Pot was a kindly person, simple, with a mass view. But his methods were confrontational, he was a killer.”
Heng Samrin, Khmer Rouge leader

“…The militarisation of language, the preference for ‘Red’ over ‘expert’, the theory that peasants are to be learned from rather than taught, the idea of class as an ideological rather than economic category, the notion of continuous revolution, and the emphasis on revolutionary will…”
David Chandler, American historian, on elements of Khmer Rouge ideology

“The new rulers of Cambodia call 1975 ‘Year Zero’, the dawn of an age in which there will be no families, no sentiment, no expressions of love or grief, no medicines, no hospitals, no schools, no books, no learning, no holidays, no music, no song, no post, no money – only work and death.”
John Pilger, Australian-born British journalist

“After two hours we reached the market place called Phsar Doeum Kor, where there were two piles of bodies in civilian clothes, as if two whole families had been killed, babies and all. Two pieces of hardboard stuck out of the pile and [on them] someone had scrawled in charcoal ‘For refusing to leave as they were told’. From here on, both sides of the road were covered with dead bodies, some soldiers, some not.”
Someth May, Cambodian teenager, recalling his family’s flight from Phnom Penh in 1975

“People were terrified by the killings but their terror gave them courage. Reports circulated of villages elsewhere turning on soldiers and hacking them to death with machetes and hoes… An underground opposition had sprung up called the Khmer Blanc [White Khmer]… Their only desire was to kill in revenge as many soldiers and cadres as they could.”
Bunhaeng Ung, Cambodian survivor

“You see the ox, comrades? He eats where we command him to eat. If we let him graze in this field, he eats. If we take him to another field where there is not enough grass, he grazes all the same… When we tell him to pull the plough, he pulls it. He never thinks of his wife and children… Comrade Ox never refuses to work. Comrade Ox was obedient. Comrade Ox did not complain. Comrade Ox did not object when his family was killed.”
A Khmer Rouge parable

“To build a democratic Cambodia by renewing everything on a new basis, to do away with every reminder of colonial and imperial culture… To rebuild a new Cambodia, one million men is enough. Prisoners of war, people expelled from the cities and villages controlled by the government, are no longer needed, and local chiefs are free to dispose of them as they please.”
An unnamed Khmer Rouge official, January 1976

“My refusal to serve Pol Pot’s Kampuchea from April 1976 carried with it some responsibility for the elimination of my relatives. But in working with the Khmer Rouge, I would have betrayed the confidence of the millions of my compatriots who were the victims of worse horrors. I torture myself thinking about this.”
Norodom Sihanouk, on his resignation as head of state in 1976

“The life is worse than a cow’s…. There is no rice ration unless we work. I ate a rat. It was delicious… God please forgive me with the ordeal I have suffered.”
Yasuko Naito, Japanese widow of a murdered Cambodian official, April 1976

“We have overcome all our obstacles, undertaking actively our production work based mainly on the principle of self-reliance. Since liberation, we have succeeded in solving the living conditions of our people. Particularly, we have solved the problem of food… Nevertheless we constantly have to strengthen our revolutionary vigilance, for our experience has taught us that the enemy will never give up their dark schemes to destroy our revolution.”
Khieu Samphan, August 1976

“We must remove the lazy, it is useless to keep them, else they will cause trouble. We have to send them to hell.”
“The sick are victims of their own imagination… We must wipe out those who imagine that they are ill, and expel them from society!”
“To keep you is no gain; to kill you is no loss.”
Slogans used by Khmer Rouge commanders and soldiers

“Since the Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975, a virtual extermination of a people has taken place [in Cambodia], something the United States helped delay with the massive bombing strikes carried out on behalf of the Lon Nol regime… the fact that the US helped postpone the communist triumph was worth something.”
Former US president Richard Nixon, May 1977

“Our children do not play with toy cars, toy boats and toy guns, which were formerly imported at considerable cost. Our children are happy with driving sparrows away from crops, tending cattle and buffalo, collecting natural fertiliser and helping to build dams and embankments and dig reservoirs and ditches.”
Khieu Samphan, Khmer Rouge leader, September 1977

“We have no reason to reduce or cause our population to level off, for the current size of our population – nearly eight million – is still far too small to cope with our country’s potential, which calls for more than 20 million Cambodian people. Therefore our aim is to increase the population as quickly as we can.”
Khieu Samphan, September 1977

“America cannot avoid the responsibility to speak out in condemnation of the Cambodian government, the worst violator of human rights in the world today.”
Jimmy Carter, US president, April 1978

“We must purify our armed forces, our party and the masses of people in order to continue fighting the enemies in defence of Cambodian territory and the Cambodian race.”
Khmer Rouge radio broadcast, May 1978

“We want only peace, to build up our country. World opinion is paying great attention to the threat against Democratic Kampuchea. They are anxious. They fear Kampuchea cannot oppose the Vietnamese. This could hurt the interests of Asian countries and all of the world’s countries.”
Pol Pot, Khmer Rouge leader, December 1978

“The Pol Pot regime started off with the view that everything in the cities was corrupt… the strength of the country lay in its soil, with the peasants… Pol Pot’s regime took it a lot further than that. They enslaved people to do it. Furthermore, they decided that anybody who was corrupted by the city, that is, anyone who had a Western education, whether doctor or official or their wife or child, it was impossible to re-educate them. So like a cancer they had to be removed, cut out and destroyed.”
Leonard Teale, Australian actor, after visiting Cambodia in 1979

“[Pol Pot] said that he knows that many people in the country hate him and think he’s responsible for the killings. He said that he knows many people died. When he said this he nearly broke down and cried. He said he must accept responsibility because the line was too far to the left and because he didn’t keep proper track of what was going on. He said he was like the master in a house he didn’t know what the kids were up to, and that he trusted people too much.”
An unidentified Khmer Rouge member, speaking in 1981

“For generation after generation, we followed our customs until in 1975 the communists put an end to our way of life. We lost everything, our families, our monks, our villages, our land, all our possessions. Everything. When we came to the United States we couldn’t put our old lives back together. We didn’t even have the pieces.”
Haing S. Ngor, Cambodian doctor, writing in 1988

“I did not see the killing fields. I was practically a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge in the Royal Palace. I was completely isolated. I saw only one man, Khieu Samphan, from time to time. He came to the Royal Palace just to say ‘Hello, how are you?’ I tried to get from Pol Pot … for instance, on the occasion of my birthday … to have my children, my grandchildren. But he said ‘No, no, no. Now they are far from Phnom Penh. They are in good health. But please don’t have a family life anymore, because now, under our new communism, we have to think of our homeland only. No more family life.'”
Norodom Sihanouk on his contact with the Khmer Rouge

“The Khmer Rouge took over and began ruthlessly driving the people of the city into the countryside. Most of the soldier were teenagers, which is startling. They were universally grim, robot-like, brutal. Weapons hung from them like fruit from trees… grenades, pistols, rifles, rockets.”
Sydney Schanberg, US writer, 1980

“New Cambodia (or Kampuchea, as it was called) under Pol Pot and his comrades was a nightmare for the privileged, for the wealthy and for their retainers; but poor people had enough food and were taught to read and write. As for the mass killings, these are just horror stories, averred my Cambodian interlocutors. Surely the victorious peasants shot marauders and spies, but many more died of American-planted mines and during the subsequent Vietnamese takeover, they said.”
Israel Shamir, Russian journalist, writing in 2012

“Answer exactly what you are asked. Never try to dodge the question. Answer immediately without taking even a moment to consider. Do not scream when you are beaten or electrocuted. Do nothing. Sit still and wait for my orders. If there is no order, keep quiet. When I give you a command, obey immediately without protest.”
Orders of Kang Kek Ieu at S-21

“The thing that strikes you about Kampuchea is the sheer enormity of it all. The extermination was simply scientific, much like the Nazi extermination camps. The [killing] was not just the bloodletting that occurs after a conflict of anger. It was the sheer weight. Two million have gone and another similar number are flat out just trying to survive now.”
James Sinclair, Australian doctor, October 1979

“I want my country to be independent, always independent. I have to defend my convictions as a patriot and as a national leader. I have done my best, but as a human being I cannot be perfect. Nobody is perfect.”
Norodom Sihanouk, speaking in 1985