Why did you kill? From the first day I arrived in Cambodia to conduct ethnographic research, I had wanted to pose this question to a Khmer Rouge who had executed people during the genocidal Democratic Kampuchea regime (April 1975 to January 1979)- When the Khmer Rouge—a radical group of Maoist-inspired Communist rebels—came to power after a bloody civil war in which 600,000 people died, they transformed Cambodian society into what some survivors now call “the prison without walls” (kuk et chonhcheang). The cities were evacuated; economic production and consumption were collectivized; books were confiscated and sometimes burned; Buddhism and other forms of religious worship were banned; freedom of speech, travel, residence, and occupational choice were dramatically curtailed; formal education largely disappeared; money, markets, and courts were abolished; and the family was subordinated to the Party Organization, Ângkar. Over one and a half million of Cambodia's eight million inhabitants perished from disease, over-work, starvation, and outright execution under this genocidal regime (Kiernan 1996).

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