20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on January 25, 2000
A wonderful anecdotal account of the Khmer Rouge Kampuchea. Elizabeth Becker did a great job of researching the materials and wrote this book in an easy to read style. Don't get a wrong impression, because it is truly a gift to be able to write in an easy to read style and at the same time be very informative. Becker has this gift. I did a thesis paper on a topic inspired by this book. Becker wonderfully wove accounts of all aspects of lifestyles from various Cambodians prior to the takeover by Pol Pot and his Marxist thoeries, and then what happened to each and every one of them during the Khmer Rouge. I really got wrapped up in all of the peoples' accounts. Take the time to read this book, because it presents a shocking portrail of what happened in Cambodia
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 2000
Worth the price just for the detailed account of the conduct and aftermath of the less than totally successful $2 billion United Nations effort to bring peace and democracy to Cambodia. Becker's account of the December 1978 killing of Malcolm Caldwell is riveting. Her incorporation of the personal stories of victims of the Pol Pot regime's Tuol Sleng extermination center helps readers better understand the atmosphere of those terrible days. Readers wanting further detail on Tuol Sleng should read David Chandler's "Voices from S-21" and Vann Nath's "Cambodian Prison Portrait".
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2009
If I am able to give this book more than a five-star rating review, I would do so. I read many books about Cambodia and I absolutely like this one the most. It contains very important information that is relevant to Cambodia's history before the downfall of the Khmer Republic of President Lon Nol. It also provides useful information about the Khmer Rouge regime of Pol Pot and his clique. In addition, it elaborates the world's superpowers (U.S., Russia, Britain, China and France) to find a resolution to the Cambodian conflict in the 1980s and the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia after January 7, 1979 invasion.
This book is superb. It was written in an easy-reading style, without ambiguity, confusion or repetition. Every detail throughout the book is credible and obvious, especially during the Pol Pot regime. I can confirm it because I am one of the survivors of that brutal and savage regime that murdered approximately two million innocent people.
I strongly believe that the author of this book has enormous amount of knowledge and experiences about the Cambodian affairs. As a Washington Post journalist, she had to live in Cambodia during the Khmer Republic (March 18, 1970-April 17, 1975)after the overthrow of Prince Norodom Sihanouk. Therefore, she has become an expert on Cambodian political affairs. I sincerely thank her for this extraordinary accomplishment of publishing this book. This book would be a masterpiece for future generations of Cambodian people to read and understand about what went wrong that led to the murderous regime of Pol Pot. The peace process was also an important part of this book. It described the complicated issues and difficulties in finding an acceptable resolution among the foreign ministers of the five countries of the world's superpowers.
Unfortunately, Cambodia became the battleground for the world's superpowers namely the United States, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic, and China. The innocent Khmer people were caught in the war and paid the ultimate price with the loss of two million lives. The Soviet and the Chinese were afraid of direct confrontation with the United States, thus they used the Vietnamese as their puppet to teach Americans a lesson over the U.S. Protection of Taiwan and other world issues and the [alleged] Cambodian civil war was entangled with it. As a result of it, Cambodia was thrown into a bloodbath of the twentieth century.
A segment of this book describes the story of Sita Deth which is very compelling due to the fact that S-21 (Toul Sleng prison) that was run by Kaing Kek Eav (revolutionary name Duch). He gave order to his prison guards to kill approximately 16,000 men, women, and children who were held there. The victims were merely former bureaucrats of the defeated Lon Nol regime, soldiers, policemen, students, teachers, professors, doctors, lawyers, bourgeoisie, and capitalists. Other innocent people who were brought to Toul Sleng prison were implicated by other prisoners who received extreme method of tortures and they just confessed to anything to relieve the excruciating pain for the moment. The majority of the prisoners were accused of working for the American CIA even though they repeatedly admitted that they didn't even know the acronym C.I.A.
I highly recommend this book to every Khmer people to read and understand this tragic history so it wouldn't be repeated in the future. In addition, Westerners who are interested in Southeast Asian history and the involvement of the superpowers' political game in Indochina should read it as well.
124 of 166 people found the following review helpful
on September 23, 2000
Elizabeth Becker vociferously condemns American policy towards China, as one major reason the world ignored Pol Pot's massive deportations and slaughter, after the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. Yet, it was Elizabeth Becker (along with many others in the antiwar U.S. media) in her Washington Post articles who mocked those who were trying to tell the world about the communist genocide. When Lon Nol came to Washington, D.C. in October 1978, asking for American aid in hopes of stopping the Khmer Rouge genocide against their own people, it was Elizabeth Becker who called his visit "an embarrassment." And two months later, Becker was invited to visit Pol Pot's Cambodia (one of very few journalists) where she eluded her eyes to Cambodia's destruction, and even wrote that Pol Pot's "system was working." Western academics and the liberal media denied the brutality of the Khmer Rouge before and after 1975. If Elizabeth Becker and others within the media did their job, instead of denouncing those who tried to tell us the truth before, during and after Pol Pot's communist struggle, history may have been very different.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 7, 2012
I was looking for an account of the slaughter of over a million persons during the Khmer Rouge dictatorship of Cambodia, 1975-1979. Though many details are lacking because of the regime's secretiveness, Elizabeth Becker's book has provided me with a good solid understanding of what happened. And much else as well.
As a journalist for the WASHINGTON POST in December 1978, Becker was one of three English-speaking writers invited to Cambodia (called Kampuchea at the time), for an audience with Khmer Rouge dictator Pol Pot. Her first-person narration of this dangerous adventure was my favorite part of her book. But Becker was also in Cambodia before the Khmer Rouge took control. So she has--and conveys to readers--empirical knowledge of the country and its people before and after the Khmer Rouge devastated it.
She fattens up her book with much information besides the four years of Khmer Rouge rule, enough so that we get a pretty good history of 20th century Cambodia. Though her tale ends in 1998, when Prince Sihaunouk was still the monarch, I updated my knowledge via the Internet, and the country seems much the same as it was in 1998. At least regarding political repression. Economically it seems better off.
For me, the book was perfectly organized. Here and there Becker wanders from Cambodia, but she lays a foundation for something that becomes relevant. She filled in my gap of awareness regarding what happened in Vietnam after the North Vietnamese gained control. And she narrates details of the evolution of international diplomacy that led to Cambodia's present form of government. I appreciated it all, as well as her easy-to-follow writing.
My 1998 trade paperback has a portfolio of eighteen photo plates, and supplements of chapter notes, bibliography and sources of information (including interviews), a chronology, and index. The only thing that I missed are maps.
The information that Ms Becker has provided me leaves me with a couple of misgivings. One is that a simple reading does not impart lasting knowledge. And it is important knowledge too. So be it. I'll bask in the moment. The other misgiving concerns our human existence, one that allows self-important, egotistical, unqualified, close-minded and ignorant persons to gain control of a country.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 28, 2012
There are a number of excellent works on Cambodia. Shawcross's "Sideshow" is excellent, but limited because it was written shortly after the Khmer Rouge took power, and lacks the longer perspective. Having worked with NGO's in Cambodia, the history becomes relevant to those attempting to reduce the current corruption. The Vietnam War, Sihanouk, the Lon Nol period, the Khmer Rouge period, and the Hun Sen period all have become part of a stew that is present day Cambodia. Even for those of us keenly interested in the history, the events of the past are extremely confusing. Sihanouk was a master-manipulator-balancer, but he was the spine running through the periods. The alliances, the fights, the Cold War, the ideologies, intertwine in a way that requires this methodical examination. Becker has parsed obscure events, as well as the people who remained secretive to the core. She has weaved virtually all of the important details, from Samlaut, to the UN elections, into a logical narrative that removes not only the fog of war, but the fog of a sordid history.
In addition, Becker captures the moral ambiguities of the history: Should we as Americans have supported the communists or the racists like Lon Nol? Should we have really supported the Khmer Rouge after we knew about the genocide, against the Vietnamese who invaded? Should we have supported the Chinese who allowed Kissinger to sell out the US in Vietnam, and Lon Nol in Cambodia? There is certainly enough doubt and guilt to go around. No one looks good except perhaps those who somehow survived it all.
I found Becker's descriptions of her two weeks in Phnom Penh, and the murder of Malcolm Caldwell, worthy of its own story. I know where she was, and I could visualize events. I personally have met some of the characters mentioned in Becker's study, and I found her descriptions to be accurate. I have heard many personal stories of the horrors, visited the killing fields and have struggled to figure out the extent of the depravity marking the period. Becker's history rings true.
Although the writing kept me interested throughout, I did find myself at times skipping a few pages because of the excess detail. But for the scholar, I see the utility of the detail.
Anyone who wants to learn about the history needs to read this book. It's the gold standard for understanding the issues. I would also recommend Shawcross and Chandler, as well.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2006
Elizabeth Becker's WHEN THE WAR WAS OVER stands out from the many fine books written about Cambodia during the 1970s for one major reason: she was one of the only Westerners invited into the country, and conducted one of the very few interviews with Pol Pot. As it turns out, the visit did not go smoothly, and she ended up having to be evacuated out as the Vietnamese army swept towards Phnom Penh.
Becker's writing is more scholarly than accessible, so - unless you already have an interest in the subject - you may find this to be rough going. Nonetheless, her research is airtight, and her recountings of developments in Cambodia between April 1975 and her late 1978 visit are methodical.
Becker did become known as - initially - a skeptic of the first wave of horror stories emerging from the country, and she doesn't address this directly here, but she does posit (on page 153) a fundamental quality of the Cambodian revolution that would indicate why so many outsiders (and many Cambodians as well, pre-revolution) were so severely caught off-guard by the speed and extremity of the insanity that descended upon the country: the 'front' government-in-exile (from which the Khmer Rouge emerged) was constructed as "a hall of mirrors," with the apparent leaders actually figureheads, stationed in faraway neutral spots and delivering speeches, while the real leaders - unknown and pseudonymous, contrived - with machiavellian precision - to usurp a messy and extremely violent civil war and turn it into an ill-considered, theory-drenched utopian revolution. This facade did not completely disintegrate until nearly 2 years into the existance of a genocidal regime whose leaders were essentially unknown.
Becker makes this compelling, and digs into the humanistic and psychological extremism of the story. Afforded the opportunity to travel to Cambodia, she and two journalist companions were shown a number of factories and potempkin villages, spotting bits of evidence (in spite of the manicured presentation given them by their KR minders) that would essentially confirm the horror stories they had been hearing. Becker was allowed to interview Pol Pot, who discoursed in a fashion so paranoid and disassociative as to call his psychological stability into question; Becker's recollection of the event is notable for it's ornate grimness. And then Becker and her travelling companions were ambushed, on the eve of the invasion that ejected the KR from power.
A vast, comprehensive, difficult and disturbing history of Cambodia from 1975 to the end of 1978; of specialized interest perhaps, but also a valuable history of one of humanity's worst atrocities.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
If you're looking for a book detailing the personal experiences of survivors of the killing fields, this book is not for you. "When the War Was Over" focuses more on the politics within Cambodia and the countries which affect it. Entire chapters are devoted to the political climate in Vietnam, the United States, China, the Soviet Union and Thailand. Elizabeth Becker analyzes them in excruciating detail, but I did come away with a deeper understanding for how the problems in Cambodia developed and the aftermath of the wars.
This book does require quite a bit of concentration. At times, I would lose track of who a certain politician was or what was his role. I felt like I was reading a textbook. It would make a good reading assignment. Very analytical, a little dry, maybe needed a more human element. The personal stories were short and quickly buried beneath the behemoth mound of politics. Overall, an enlightening experience, but I had to push myself through it.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 14, 2013
Over the years I'd read numerous accounts of the tragedies inflicted by the Khemer Rouge. The first hand accounts of those victimized. But what most all of these lacked was any explanation of the events and personalities behind this movement. When the War Was Over provides that perspective. It explains the cultural and historical underpinnings of Cambodian culture, and the personal biographies of the individuals who would become the Khemer leadership. It describes the organizational structure of the system established during and after the civil war which resulted in the Khemer Rouge coming to power.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 22, 2001
The book is very well written. The account is detailed, and the author keeps the reader interested and wanting to know more. The history is woven very well with personal stories. I read the book during my travel to Cambodia and finished it upon my return. It was an excellent companion to make my visit more memorable experience. This book is a must read if you are interested in Cambodia.