Behind the Killing Fields: A Khmer Rouge Leader and One of His Victims

In This Review

Behind the Killing Fields: A Khmer Rouge Leader and One of His Victims (Pennsylvania Studies in Human Rights)
by Gina Chon,Sambath Thet
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010
212 pp. $49.95

This book recounts the never-before-told story of "Brother Number Two," Nuon Chea, who, at age 84, awaits trial for the crimes he committed during the Cambodian auto-genocide of the late 1970s. It details the growth and ideology of the Khmer Rouge movement, the dynamics among its leaders, and its tortured relations with Vietnam. Having spent six years conducting about a thousand hours of interviews, the authors have produced a rare look inside the psyche of a mass killer. They find a faithful son and loyal husband, an idealist, ascetic, and moral purist who blames the Cambodian people for being too corrupted by imperialism and capitalism to implement the pure-minded plans of the Angka ("organization"). Nuon Chea insists that the two million who died were Vietnamese agents, exploiters, wreckers, enemies of the revolution, and hidden traitors -- as well as a few killed by honest mistakes in the course of trying to renovate Khmer society and others who died because local cadres incorrectly implemented the leaders' guidelines. None of it was his fault. This important story -- told with a restraint that makes it all the more effective -- confirms the banality of evil.