Sunday, July 26, 2009

Moral Cretinism Part I
The Omnipotent State

Bones from the Cambodian Killing Fields.

Moral cretinism is not unfortunately a rare phenomenon it exists in so many places and among so many people. It is a lapse in the ability to think that leads to the combination of wickedness and stupidity that is moral cretinism.

This article called Cambodia: Year Zero on Trial, published in the New Internationalist; in September 2008 is an excellent example of moral cretinism.1 The author Brooks Duncan is described as a “lawyer and anthropologist who works in the field of international legal development and human rights.”2

Our author makes a good start by criticizing the trials for being used at least partially has a way of ignoring the well documented abuses of the current Hun Sen government, and the rather terrible / brutal bombing of Cambodia by the Americans between 1969-1973. The abuses by both the Chinese and Vietnamese in Cambodia and the French Colonial regime.3

Alas this good start is soon trashed by our author. For example:

There is little doubt that the defendants were engaged in a brutal civil war in which they ordered murder and destruction on a massive scale between 1975 and 1980, and that they sought to remake the country and start it again at what they called ‘Year Zero’. There is little doubt that they opposed urbanization and sought to turn the country back to an agrarian society.4
Well for one thing the civil war was 1970-1975. Our author’s attempt to contextualize the brutalities of Khmer Rouge rule between 1975-1980 as part of a civil war is purest nonsense. There was no civil war then. Given that the author accepts that the defendants ordered mass murder and destruction what real objection does he have to the trial? After all some justice is better than no justice. However our author doesn’t disappoint.

Our author states:
In order to prove its case, the prosecution will have to demonstrate a motive for the killings. Were the defendants’ beliefs and rationale reasonable? If so, is anything being done to change the circumstances that led to the choice of criminal acts, or is there potential for the same kinds of killings to occur in future? Further, are the trials just of criminal acts, or are they really attempts to outlaw beliefs, the new ‘thought crimes’ of globalism?5
Our author is supposed to be a Lawyer yet he says that the prosecution must provide a motivation for the killings. Actually they do not, they merely have to prove intent to kill, directly or through criminal / irresponsible negligence of the obvious consequences of their acts. What motivated these acts is irrelevant if you can prove the above; it is NOT required. As for the question of is anything being done to prevent such acts in the future. Good question; but what does that have to do with a criminal trial? But in this bit of vitriol we come to the real reasons why our author is upset. That screed about globalization is the real reason. For our author starts to create in his head an hallucination / fantasy about the “thought crimes" outlawed.

Our author makes the point that a document he has read claims, incorrectly, that c. 3 million died under the Khmer Rouge. While the real figure is something between 750.000 – 1,800.000. If his point was that it was bad enough without the need to exaggerate fine but that is not his point, his point seems to be that this is unfair to the defendants. Really so instead of murdering 10 people someone only murdered 5; in terms of being guilty of murder it makes little difference.6

Let us go through some more of our our author’s fantasies.
To quote: But is forced radical de-urbanization a crime against humanity, in a world where urbanization is leading us to an environmental crisis that could result in millions of deaths from similar causes and where forced urbanization through government land-grabs has yet to be put on trial? Is rural culture – or an attempt to recreate Angkorian culture, the agricultural empire that is considered the high point of Khmer civilization and what the Khmer Rouge may have considered a model – to be criminalized?
Most scholars think the Khmer Rouge leaders legitimately believed they were returning the country to its rural Angkorian roots, and that they were seeking to do this in some kind of egalitarian way. The motive wasn’t individual enrichment for √©lites. The Khmer Rouge leaders weren’t impoverishing peasants and buying expensive toys for themselves – as current and previous leaders, who also killed their opponents, have done. That activity is easy to criminalize – but none of those leaders is being put on trial.7
The hilarity begins. Anyone with any knowledge knows that in April 1975 when the Khmer Rouge won the various cities were over crowded and there was a need to move people to rural areas where they could be fed. Also that food was in short supply. So that simply emptying the cities was not the crime. The crime was the brutal way it was carried out and the brutal way those former cities dwellers were treated once they were in the country side. Further it is indisputable that certain Khmer Rouge policies like forced collectivization, deliberately starving certain categories of people and brutal slave labour killed large sections of the population.8 It is entirely the authors fantasy that trying the Khmer Rouge leadership for this is to criminalize rural development.

As for seeking to do development in some sort of egalitarian way! Well that is nonsense. The system was rigid hierarchical and dictatorial, with power concentrated in the center under rule of a rigid one party state with a ruthless and brutal secret police. As for the motive not being individual enrichment. Well certainly Pol Pot and his associates in power lived vastly better than the brutalized masses below them with the best of food and medical care. And one thing Pol Pot and his associates were very rich in was power while the struggling and staving masses below them had very little. Their motive was obviously the enjoyment of untrammelled power over others and its perpetuation into the indefinite future, along with all the prerogatives that go with such power. Oh and the Khmer Rouge did impoverish and exploit the peasants under them to such an extent that many died all in the interest of extending the power of the state, and thus their own power.9 Also they did buy expensive toys for themselves like limousines and planes and lived in nice villas.

The next section is that supposedly the prosecution will criminalize Khmer Rouge opposition to the passivity and hierarchy created by the French.10

This is beautifully ironic in that what the Khmer Rouge leadership wanted was the population to passively obey it. Certainly opposition to it was ruthlessly crushed. So despite our author’s apparent belief the Khmer Rouge leadership heartily approved of passivity and obedience so long has the passivity and obedience was to it.

Our author then puts in the mouth of the Khmer Rouge on trial that most of the deaths were the result of angry out of control youth and outside of the control of the leadership. This is nonsense. The evidence indicates centralized control on a very high level.11

Our author says:
Or did the Khmer Rouge just use the killing machine that the French and Americans created, but with greater damage and the ‘wrong’ results?13
So what! Even if it is true how does it alleviate the guilt of the accused? Aside from the fact that the way the Khmer Rouge killed was vastly more brutal than the Lon Nol regime or the French. This is like pointing to a series of statistics and saying “so many get away with murder so why shouldn’t I?”

Besides as said above it appears that the Khmer Rouge “killing machine” created by the Khmer Rouge was not simply a version of the French American one but one of their own devising.14

Our author talks about the alleged fact that the Khmer Rouge opposed the passivity created by the French and traditional Khmer culture.
…the prosecutors will make their case by saying that their preferred version of Khmer culture – the one foreigners and this trial are now trying to restore – is one of blind obedience and fear of authority, and that the defendants opposed it.15
As indicated above, the Khmer Rouge approved of blind obedience and fear of authority and by terror and mass violence instilled it in throughout Cambodia during their rule. Our author “forgets” that. Of course our author’s version of what the prosecutor's version of Khmer culture is pure hallucination based on fantasy. The prosecutor's are simply out to prove the defendants guilty of ghastly crimes not promote an “ideal” form of society. Besides it appears the Khmer Rouge and the current government want the same sort of “blind obedience and fear of authority”.16

Our author then engages in a word salad about how criminalizing the Khmer Rouge leadership is criminalizing trying to change a system of unquestioning obedience and therefore reversing the principle of Nuremberg that obedience to orders is not a defence.17 This is of course nonsense in that the Khmer Rouge wanted unquestioning, “blind” obedience to their orders and also wanted to instill mindless fear.

As for foreigners trying to restore a system of system of obedience to authority? The idea that the Khmer Rouge opposed it is just ludicrous. The evidence is they were all for it.

Our author then states:
Moreover, if the principles of democracy and justice are to be applied internationally, mustn’t they give all parties equal access to international processes, to hold all abuses of power accountable, rather than selectively to prosecute and enforce the laws discriminatorily against political groups whose ideologies are in the minority, while those who remain in power commit similar crimes?18
So? The world is not perfect. Has mentioned above some justice is better than no justice. But then this is a typical argument used to justify / excuse mass murder. The implication is that x should be allowed to get away with serious crimes because y is getting away with crimes. This is simply contemptible.

About the Khmer Rouge attack on religion our author says:
The prosecution will say that the Khmer Rouge destroyed Khmer religion and culture by attacking Buddhism and monks. That will be easy to prove: the murders are clear and punishable crimes.19
In which case what is the problem with charging the leadership for this crime? I note our author avoids mentioning the mass murder of Buddhist monks that occurred. But our author doesn’t like Buddhism so tries to excuse this rather brutal atrocity.
But the Khmer Rouge leaders on trial could raise troubling questions about whether Buddhism in Cambodia is really Khmer. They will likely note that Buddhism was an Indian religion that arrived well after other religions. They will ask whether this foreign religion, and the monks promoting it, were protecting Khmer culture or making the Khmer more passive, obedient and vulnerable. They will say that they were cleansing the country of an outside religion that symbolized and presided over 600 years of the country’s decline, including the loss of most of its land to Thailand and Vietnam. They will ask about Buddhism’s effectiveness in promoting equality and protecting nature, and point to pagodas in Phnom Penh that have become concrete enclaves filled with the ostentatious funerary towers of the rich. They will ask: how does all the money spent on idol worship and chanting really confront the injustices in society? They will note that Khmer Buddhists do little themselves to promote or protect the country’s history and monuments. They will ask: how does Buddhism promote the development of a strong Khmer society, able to resist military powers both within the region and outside it?

The question for the trial is whether the criminalization of attacks on Buddhism as a religion are designed to protect the Khmer, or are designed by foreign prosecutors Рand the Khmer élite aligned with them Рto criminalize attempts at independence and reform.20
So our author continues to fantasize. Of course once again it should be pointed out that the Khmer Rouge had no problem with blind passive obedience to them. As for Buddhism being of foreign origin. So what! Let us see Christianity is of foreign origin in Europe but would anyone say it isn’t a European religion? As for 600 years of decline; again so what. The fact is Buddhism was an integral part of Cambodian society permeating all aspects of that society attempting to eradicate Buddhism by terror and mass murder is not simply genocide it is also cultural genocide. Let us for example imagine some one trying to eradicate Christianity from England by similar means. It would be not only genocide but cultural genocide. Our Author should look up a few UN conventions. As for confronting the injustices of society? Well Buddhist monks have always been heavily involved in various charitable works.21

As for criminalizing attempt at “independence and reform”, again our author fantasizes. Although is our author saying that mass murder and cultural genocide are “attempts at independence and reform”?

The next section our author then takes up Khmer Rouge paranoia about Viet Nam.
Today, the ever-expanding Vietnamese population will likely go to the same place it went throughout most of the last century with French, then American, support – into the lands of the Khmer and Lao. Vietnamese expansion continued into Khmer lands after the near extermination of the Cham in the 17th century – an empire once the size of Vietnam – who have been almost entirely driven from Vietnam and who now number less than 400,000. This policy of imperialist expansion – tien Nam – has never been rescinded by the Vietnamese. It will be interesting to see how the trials try to make Khmer fear of Vietnamese expansionism into a crime.22
It will of course be more interesting to see how paranoid our author will be. It is fascinating how our author reproduces Khmer Rouge paranoia about Viet Nam. Thus after mentioning the mass murder of Vietnamese by the Khmer Rouge he tries to excuse it in this convoluted manner. As for expansion of the Vietnamese population into Cambodia and Laos. Any evidence aside from hysterical declarations? The conquest of the Cham Kingdom was not a pleasant affair but how this excuses the Khmer Rouge is beyond me. Of course our Author fails to mention how the Khmer Rouge leadership before the Vietnamese invasion did their level best to provoke the Vietnamese with vicious, murderous attacks.23

Of course the author hallucinates about turning fear of Vietnamese expansion into a crime. The crime was of course mass murder of Vietnamese by the Khmer Rouge; which it appears our author wants to forget about.

The next section our author talks about the Cham. Unable to deny that the Cham were indeed the targets of a genocidal assault our author with slacker sarcasm says:
It would, of course, be as ridiculous to think that the Khmer Rouge feared the Cham as it would be for Western countries to fear Muslims – and to suggest that preemptive strikes were necessary for protection.24
It would be easier to take this sort of idiocy seriously if Western Governments were imprisoning their Muslim populations en mass or killing them at genocidal levels. Since they are not the comparison falls flat and is nothing more than a beside the point polemic.

As for accusing various governments of hypocrisy for not supporting a Cham homeland. Just what does that have to do with a prosecution for mass murder? It is another beside the point polemical flourish. I also really liked how after mentioning how twice the Cham took over the government of Cambodia our author mentions that it was a long time ago and that now the Cham are loyal citizens. Then why did the Author mention this at all? It is so obvious what our Author is trying to do and it is not pretty; for our author is trying ever so subtlety to plant the idea that the Khmer Rouge had reason to doubt the loyalty of the Cham.25

Later our author states that opposition to neo-colonial trade policies and urbanization is being criminalized:
They [Khmer Rouge] saw the cities as promoting the excesses of the rich, destroying nature and human dignity, exploiting the poor and promoting squalor, under intense foreign pressure, while doing little to promote anything Khmer. Is it their fear of the kind of place that many observers say Phnom Penh has become today that is being criminalized?26
The hilarity continues. It is especially amusing to note that supposedly the Khmer Rouge were upset about cities destroying “human dignity”. Yeah right! The idea of the Khmer Rouge being upset about the destruction of nature is also hilarious. It is so easy to document the massive Khmer Rouge effort to destroy human dignity via mass murder, torture and genocidal policies. Of course it is also very easy to demonstrate how they promoted squalor and of course attacked and attempted to erase large sections of Khmer culture. Of course our author fantasizes about fear and dislike of urbanization being criminalized. Our author just doesn’t seem to get it that mass murder is mainly what this trial is about.27

Of course our author “forgets” to mention the sort of place that Cambodia became under the Khmer Rouge, which can best be described as a huge Gulag. A city slum is better than that.

Our author then says:
The defendants are ethnically Cambodian or mixed. In order to make a case for Khmer Rouge ‘genocide’ against the ‘Khmer’ people or culture under genocide law, the prosecution will have to define what ‘Khmer’ actually is. That is something they will almost certainly try to avoid, because it is the very thing the foreign community seems intent on denying. Did the Khmer Rouge leaders try to destroy ‘Khmer’ culture, or were they reaffirming it? Who today is trying to define and defend ‘Khmer culture’? The trial materials don’t even mention it.28
Our author is supposedly a Lawyer yet he seems to have missed article two of the Genocide Convention which says:
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

a) Killing members of the group;
b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within a group;
e) Forcibly transferring children of a group to another group.29
So frankly defining who is and is not Khmer is easy. Is our author going to deny that the Khmer are a national and / or ethnic group? Whether or not defendants are or are not Khmer that is entirely irrelevant to the issue of whether or not the defendants are guilty of genocide. I suppose our Author raises the issue mainly to cloud the issue with irrelevancies. As article two of the Genocide Convention indicates the issue is whether or not they committed one or more of the acts listed as genocide.

Our author than fantasizes about the “foreign community” denying Khmer identity / culture. This is pure fantasy. It is of course ironic that it is so easy to demonstrate that the Khmer Rouge were in fact trying to destroy Khmer culture, which the attack on Buddhism was an integral part. The implied idea that foreigners are attacking Khmer culture but not the Khmer Rouge which murdered and destroyed on an impressive scale was even arguably “affirming” Khmer culture is risible. Unless of course Khmer culture consists of torture, murder and destruction.

As for who today is trying to defend / define Khmer culture. How about the present government. Certainly it has been relatively lavish with largess to various cultural institutions.

The final piece of stupidity is our author’s argument that:
‘Sane’ countries allow an insanity defence when they deal with psychopathic behaviour. Were the Khmer Rouge leaders acting rationally in their policies but insanely in their methods? If so, what made them insane?30
Our author is supposed to be a Lawyer! The onus is on the defendant in pleading insanity to prove that they are insane not the prosecution proving that they are sane. Also the author provides zero evidence that the defendants cannot not make such a plea. Further if the evidence is anything to go by an insanity plea is simply absurd. Simply believing in absurd things is not enough, someone must not understand the nature and consequences of his / her acts. The evidence is that the accused understood very well what they were doing.31

The author then tries to blame the fact that one of the defendants was tortured for his behaviour. So? That hardly proves that he was clinically or legally insane. The author then whines about massive consumption of luxury goods by urban elites and consumption of alcohol and tobacco. Which are apparently far greater sins than torture and mass murder. The author further complains about violence by youth today and the lack of psychological services. Of course the violence committed by Khmer Rouge youth during the years of the killing fields is of less concern or the immense psychological damage done to millions by the years of genocidal, brutal Khmer Rouge rule. That disappears down our author’s huge memory hole. Our author is simply not interested in dealing with that psychological harm. He prefers to whine about tobacco and alcohol use instead.32

The author then states the following:
How much is building a real rule of law and true democracy, with the opportunityto discuss alternatives for the country’s future – other than the one the foreign community has imposed again, as in the 1950s and 1960s?33
Whatever is “true democracy” or “a real rule of law”, one can be assured the Khmer Rouge never came within a million miles of either. Mass murder and terror are not conducive to either. But then our author seems to be using Khmer Rouge code. The Khmer Rouge wanted total independence and self sufficiency. Given our author’s aversion to foreigners and their influence it seems a goal he sympathizes with. Of course such a state would of necessity be brutal and very authoritarian if not murderous. One may complain legitimately of the brutality and cruelty of the modern Cambodian government but it seems pretty obvious that it is a radical improvement over the Khmer Rouge. Our author seems stuck in a fantasy land of perfectly independent, culturally and self sufficient economically states. That cannot exist in the real world. Of course the author seems to forget that the solution violently imposed by the Khmer Rouge did not allow for any alternatives period. It is also clear that modern Cambodians do not want anything like the Khmer Rouge back. Once was enough.
The political agenda, like the trials, has been pre-determined by those who are paying for it. Is there really less abuse of power today – or is it only of a different kind, and one that the international community doesn’t criminalize?34
Our author fantasizes about how the trials have been pre-determined without of course providing evidence but by simple (minded) assertion. The statement that is there really less abuse of power or merely a different sort of power abuse is pure polemics and devoid of real content. Once again the author seeks to mitigate and excuse Khmer Rouge atrocities. There are of course different types of abuse of power. One can say categorically that abuse of power that tortures, starves, murders and crushes dissent to the extent that existed under the Khmer Rouge does not exist in anything the same extent in the Cambodia of today and in that sense there is definitely less abuse of power in today’s Cambodia.

This essay is so shoddy, for example there are precisely two footnotes, that I suspect that this whole piece may be a parody of what a truly asinine “defence” of the Khmer Rouge might be like. I further suspect that Brooks Duncan is not the author’s real name but an alias. Certainly the idea that a real Lawyer involved in Human Rights could come up with this piece of intellectual excrement that seeks to excuse such evil acts is breathtaking. I further wonder if New Internationalist published the piece solely for the purpose of creating a stir and so knowingly published a piece of tripe.

Assuming this piece is for real I wonder if Brooks Duncan, whoever he actually is, was once one of the apologists for the Khmer Rouge in the past and is seeking to further exercise his intellectual efforts to excuse the inexcusable.

Well whatever the “real” purpose of this article it is an outstanding example of moral cretinism.


Map of Cambodia

1. See Duncan, Brooks, Cambodia: Year Zero on Trial, New Internationalist, Here

2. IBID.

3. IBID.

4. IBID.

5. IBID.

6. IBID. The best summing up of the death total under the Khmer Rouge is Kiernan, Ben, The Pol Pot Regime, Yale University Press, New Haven CONN., 1996, pp. 456-460. Kiernan gives a figure of at least 1.5 million.

7. IBID. Duncan.

8. See Kiernan 1996, pp. 31-101, 159-250, Twining, Charles H., The Economy, in Editor, Jackson, Karl D., Cambodia: 1975-1978, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ., 1989, pp. 109-150, Shawcross, William, Sideshow, Pocket Books, New York, 1979, pp. 365-392.

9. Kiernan 1996, pp. 159-250, 313-356, Carney, Timothy, The Organization of Power, in Jackson, pp. 79-107.

10. Duncan.

11. See Footnote 8.

13. Duncan.

14. See Kiernan 1996.

15. Duncan.

16. Kiernan 1996.

17. Duncan.

18. IBID.

19. IBID.

20. IBID.

21. Kiernan 1996, pp. 55-59, for more information on the persecution of Buddhist monks. For the text of the Genocide Convention see Kuper, Leo, Genocide, Penguin Books, London, 1981, pp. 210-214.

22. Duncan.

23. For the destruction of the Cham kingdom see Kiernan, Ben, Blood and Soil, Yale University Press, New Haven CONN., 2007, pp. 102-112. For the Khmer Rouge and their provoking of Viet Nam see Evans, Grant & Rowley, Kelvin, Red Brotherhood at War, Verso, London, 1990, pp. 81-113.

24. Duncan.

25. See Kiernan 1996, pp. 252-288, for the mass murder of the Chams.

26. Duncan.

27. See Kiernan 1996. For an example of how the Khmer Rouge regarded the safe guarding of “human dignity” how about Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh. There people numbering in the thousands were tortured into making confessions to non-existent crimes and then murdered. See Hawk, David, The Photographic Record, in Jackson, pp. 209-211.

28. Duncan.

29. Quoted in Kuper, p. 210.

30. Duncan.

31. See Kiernan 1996.

32. See Kiernan 1996, for psychological damage.

33. Duncan.

34. IBID.

Pierre Cloutier

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