When I was around thirteen I spent a summer living with my older sister. One of her part time jobs was to curate and run films for a movie night at the local library. One evening I was visiting her at the end of her shift when the janitor popped in to tidy up. They knew each other and chit chatted as they worked. The conversation somehow came around to where he was from and how he ended up in Boulder, Colorado.
“I’m a refugee from Cambodia.” He told us in heavily accented but good English. “The US government placed me in Colorado because there were openings here.”
“Did you come here with your family?” my sister asked
He sort of stared off and breathed out and almost like he was in a trance, told us his story. I don’t know why he chose us to tell it to. I think he trusted my sister, she has a way about her that people are drawn to and the dark quiet library had a magical,safe feeling to it.
“My whole family was killed in Cambodia.” He said. My mouth went dry as he began talking. I felt like my heart stopped beating as he told us his unfathomably tragic story about his escape from Cambodia. “They were murdered in front of me. Some were tortured. I was lucky enough to escape but I lost everyone.”
My sister found some Kleenex for him as his eyes overflowed and he unloaded all of the unspeakable details of the labor camps, the murders, the disease, his escape. It was late when we left him. We were deeply shaken. I couldn’t believe what I had heard.
At that time I didn’t know anything about Cambodia, but the little I know about it now is that it’s a beautiful country, right next to Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, Cambodia was engaged in a civil war. Its government was fighting the Khmer Rouge, a Viet Cong and Chinese backed insurgency led by a guy named Pol Pot. The United States began bombing Cambodia illegally in 1969 to destroy Viet Cong delivery routes but also to take out the Khmer Rouge but it was not effective and when US troops left the area in 1975, the Khmer Rouge came in and took the capitol.
The day after the Khmer Rouge took over the capitol, they immediately ordered all of its citizens to evacuate the cities and begin a long march out into the country where the population was put into forced labor camps and were worked to death farming the land. They died of starvation, disease, torture and execution.
In the next four years that followed the Khmer Rouge murdered a third of the citizens of Cambodia. A third, over two million, some estimates are closer to 3 million when you take into account the starvation and disease. In 1979 Vietnam invaded Cambodia and took the Khmer Rouge from power, although the leader was never brought to justice.
Why am I writing about this? Well, the pandemic has gotten me thinking a lot about examples of governments either killing their own citizens or having such disregard for them that they die en masse. It turns out it happens a lot and there’s a word for it, Democide.
This word was proposed by a professor at Hawaii University named RJ Rummel in 1994. He wanted to expand on the topic of Genocide which is when a government murders a group of its own citizens based on their race, ethnicity, religion or culture. But he felt like there should be a term for the many other examples of mass murder perpetrated by governments on their citizens more broadly, not necessarily because of their race, religion or culture. His definition for Democide is explained by Wikipedia like this, “The murder of any person or people by a government, including genocide, politicide and mass murder.” The Khmer Rouge perpetrated Democide on the people of Cambodia.
The tricky thing about Democide is that a lot of times governments make it look like it’s due to acts of nature or just plain incompetence so that they can’t be found culpable. It becomes like murder in plain sight that the whole world witnesses but the government just shrugs its shoulders and says, “it’s not our fault, it’s nature or the enemy of the people…” or whatever and does nothing but watch as its citizens suffer and die based on their mishandling of circumstances. Circumstances they created with their reckless disregard for the population.
For instance, China’s Mao Zedong created a mass famine in China during his “Great Leap Forward” campaign. He was obsessed with making the whole population into farmers so China would no longer rely on the outside world. But all that farming by people who had no idea how to farm, stripped the land and caused a famine that killed millions of people by starvation but the Chinese government just blamed the weather. The population was worked to death, tortured and executed…but Mao’s like, “It’s the drought!!!” The Khmer Rouge based their mass murder on China’s “Great Leap Forward”.
There are tons of other examples of Democide, a lot of them involve Stalin but this has happened all over the world since the beginning of time, probably. But why though? Why let your own people suffer and die? Well, first of all, there’s the aspect of the personal sociopathy of the leaders of these countries. A lot of dictators and autocrats are just total narcissistic psychopaths that enjoy inflicting suffering on others. Second, they are usually paranoids that end up viewing almost everyone as an enemy or a potential enemy that must be removed. Finally, it’s about controlling the population and maintaining power. When a population is terrified, starving, physically and emotionally exhausted, sick or injured and made to be distrustful of each other it is much less likely that there will be an uprising and therefore the government’s agenda can be achieved more easily.
I’m not saying that the Trump administration is as brutal as Communist China or the Khmer Rouge but like all abuse, there are different levels of it and it’s best to call it what it is before more damage is done. Yes, Americans are not being sent out to the country to be worked to death in labor camps but the chaos and suffering that is being inflicted on the citizens of the United States right now due to our leadership during this pandemic is geared towards exhausting, terrifying, depressing and paralyzing us so that their political agenda can be achieved while everybody is distracted.
Our president is up for reelection very soon. To keep his poll numbers up he’s been telling us it’s a hoax since February. We are literally on our own while our government basically denies that a pandemic is even happening.
“No need for masks!” they tell us. “It will go away magically by Easter!” They told us. “We slowed the spread!” they say. “We’re opening back up! The worst is behind us!” They declare. Trump holds mass maskless political rallies where zealots scream out Covid droplets in their ecstasy to behold their leader. “It’s Kung-flu from J-ina!” Trump jokes racistly at these rallies. “I slowed down the testing so there won’t be so many cases!” He insanely declares.
The government is treating the virus that has killed 127,000 Americans so far in just a few months, as if it is a joke that hysterical liberals have invented. Their purposeful cruelty regarding this pandemic is shocking. Just this week, the Trump administration has stopped funding COVID testing centers, has declared they will no longer be funding COVID research and they’ve gone to court to dismantle the ACA so that during a worldwide pandemic, millions of Americans will lose their health insurance.
Trump has held two “Super Spreader” political rallies in COVID hotspots at a time when the CDC declares that there should be no group gatherings at all. They have set a dangerously bad example of mask wearing being pointless and weak when scientist tell us if 80% of the population just wore masks, the virus would be almost wiped out. The Trump administration has risked the health and lives of all Americans in order to insure reelection and maintain power, just like Rummel warned.
Something else that I thought was interesting about Rummel’s research was that Democides are rarely found in strong democracies. “Political mass murder grows increasingly common as political power becomes unrestrained…where power is diffused, checked and balanced, political violence is a rarity.”
I don’t think we will be distracted though. I think us Americans are smart enough and care enough about each other to do the work that our government is unwilling to do. I look forward to November where we can check some people’s power and regain political balance and a sense of normalcy. All we have is our vote, our masks and our love for our fellow Americans, let’s use all of these.
Love you guys!