- Paperback: 632 pages
- Publisher: PublicAffairs; 1st PublicAffairs ed edition (November 10, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1891620002
- ISBN-13: 978-1891620003
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.5 x 8.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 34 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #190,557 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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When The War Was Over: Cambodia And The Khmer Rouge Revolution, Revised Edition 1st PublicAffairs ed Edition
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Elizabeth Becker's When the War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution is a heart-rending history of modern Cambodia--a state whose people have, in the last 30 years, endured war, political upheaval, international betrayal, and genocide. Beginning with the Khmer Rouge overthrow of the U.S.-backed Lon Nol regime in 1975, Becker examines the historical patterns of violence and authority within Cambodian culture that made the Khmer Rouge's slaughter of close to 2 million people possible.
Becker integrates interviews with Cambodian leaders and ordinary citizens with a penetrating analysis of the politics of the cold war and humanitarianism. For example, she follows the story of Mey Komphot, a banker, who, like millions of others, was displaced from his life in Phnom Penh and marched to a labor camp. She also explores how the United States, as well as many states within the United Nations, refused to acknowledge the forced departures and the killing in order to appease China's hunger for punishing Vietnam's 1978 invasion of Cambodia. By contrasting the concerns of states with those of people, Becker shows how the international order has repeatedly betrayed the people of Cambodia. When the War Was Over is more than just an authoritative account of the Cambodian Revolution; Becker's trenchant portrait of the dynamics of power and human suffering serves as a warning about how diplomatic imperatives can blunt the United Nations' ability to preserve human rights and life. --James Highfill
From the Publisher
"Burns with its own fire, the fire of a dedicated writer who witnessed the incomprehensible and worked long and hard to comprehend it. It is indispensible for understanding our times and the noble and terrible sides of modern man. It is a powerful and important book." (William Broyles, Jr., The Washington Post Book World) "When the War Was Over is an extraordinary synthesis of journalism and scholarship. There's a reportial immediacy to much of the book while at the same time it has the virtue of historical perspective. . . . This is an important, compelling, often touching book." (Strobe Talbott, author of Deadly Gambits) "Becker writes history as history should be written." (Financial Times)
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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.
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.
If you've ever struggled to understand a national sociopathy this book won't explain it to you, but it's along for the ride.