The Killing Fields




Director:    Roland Joffé.

Starring:    Sam Waterston (Sidney Schanberg), Dr. Haing S. Ngor (Dith Pran), Craig T. Nelson (US army officer), John Malkovich (news photographer), Spalding Gray (some US governmental operative).

Khmer Rouge in Cambodia; mass extermination


In the 1970s, New York Times journalist Sidney Schanberg and Cambodian journalist/translator Dith Pran are trapped in the Hitlerian Khmer Rouge revolution in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge overthrew the Lon Nol government and soon the mass killings begin. Schanberg flees trying to bring Pran with him, but is forced to leave him behind. Instead, Pran winds up in the Pol Pot death camps.  Back in New York, Schanberg is wracked with guilt about the possible fate of his friend back in Cambodia.  

It's just a shame that there was no intervention by the UN or other international group to stop the genocide.

I avoided watching this movie for a long time.  It thought would be too depressing to watch.  I don't like watching population groups being wiped out of existence.  But the movie came on TV the other day and since there were no other historical movies on, I decided to bite the bullet and watch it.  I am glad I did.  The story really kept my interest because I knew the Khmer Rouge had exterminated somewhere around 2 million people and this created a dread in me that kept me nervous pretty much throughout the movie. 

When the reporters stayed in Phnom Penh, I was fearful for what would happen to them.  Apparently, they underestimated the ruthlessness of the Khmer Rouge.  And all this despite the excesses on the political right by Hitler and on the political left by Stalin.  How naive the reporters were.  If they only had known what I know now, they would have gotten the hell out of there.

It was also upsetting to watch news clips of President Nixon lying through his teeth, totally oblivious of the havoc he was causing and sowing in poor Cambodia.  (It reminded me of the deceptions of President Bush II about the outcome of a war in Iraq.)  All those millions of Cambodian men, women and children murdered for the glory of a leftist political objective.  You can't trust extremists on the political right or left. 

Of course I felt bad for Dith Pran and his family, but also for Schanberg as he was being torn up by his guilt feelings. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

Historical Background:


In the Vietnam War, the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese used the eastern part of Cambodia for a base of operations for attacks on South Vietnam. 

1965  --  Prince Sihanouk of Cambodia signed an agreement with China and North Vietnam for the use of Cambodian ports and bases of operation in Cambodia.

The United States starting bombing along the Vietnam/Cambodia border.  But the farther east the US bombed, the farther west the Vietcong went into Cambodia. 

1970  --  when Prince Sihanouk was in Beijing, General Lon Nol seized power in Cambodia with US approval. The General declared Cambodia the Khmer Republic. The result was an immediate civil war. 

Prince Sihanouk lent his name in support of the maoist Khmer Rouge under the leadership of Pol Pot.  The Khmer Rouge had the support of China, the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese.

1975  --  the Khmer Rouge captured the Cambodia capital Phnom Penh.

The Khmer Rouge started a policy of extermination.  They forced entire populations into the country where they had to work on collective farms.  Many Cambodians were eliminated, especially intellectuals (teachers, professors, journalists, writers, people who wore glasses) and professionals.   

Around 1.7 million people were killed.  The "Killing Fields" were areas where large numbers of Cambodians were killed and buried.  Prince Sihanouk was arrested and members of his family were massacred.

The United States withdrew all its forces from Vietnam.

1978  --  the Vietnamese attacked the Khmer Rouge and pushed them to the Thai border.  The Vietnamese set up a puppet state in Cambodia.

1989  --  Vietnam finally withdrew from Cambodia. 

1993  --  a new government created with Prince Sihanouk as king. 

1998 (April 15)  -- death of Pol Pot, reportedly of a heart attack.

1998  --  surrender of the remaining Khmer Rouge. 

The Khmer Rouge were never tried for any war crimes.

2006  --  there is an attempt to bring some of the Khmer Rouge leaders to justice under international law. 


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