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"Our journey for peace begins today
and every day.
Each step is a prayer,
each step is a meditation,
each step will build a bridge."








The suffering of Cambodia has been deep.

From this suffering comes great Compassion.

Great Compassion makes a Peaceful Heart.

A peaceful Heart makes a Peaceful Person.

A Peaceful Person makes a Peaceful Community.

A Peaceful Community makes a Peaceful Nation.

And a Peaceful Nation makes a Peaceful World.

May all beings live in Happiness and Peace.

STEP BY STEP - Maha Ghosananda
Meditations on Wisdom and Compassion

Foreward by Dith Pran
Preface by Jack Kornfield

Editor's Introduction
Rarely in human history has a nation been so embroiled in war, autogenocide, forced labor, social engineering, and self-destruction as Cambodia in the late twentieth century. A small tropical country, wedged precariouly on the Southeast Asian peninsula between Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and the South China Sea, Cambodia's history dates back 2,000 years. From the ninth to the thirteenth centuries, known as the Angkor Period or "Golden Age," Cambodian (or Khmer) kings controlled vast portions of the Indochinese peninsula, and led an empire marked by scientific, culture, and religious achievements. Druing other periods, Cambodia fluctuated between independence and being dominated by neighboring states and other foreign governments.

In the mid-nineteenth century the country was colonized by France, becoming part of French Indochina. To insure domestic peace, the French allowed the Khmer kings to remain as symbolic leaders. In 1953, after a century of colonial rule, King Norodom Sihanouk peacefully negotiated Cambodia's independence. In accordance with the sovereignty agreement, the king abdicated his throne and declared himself a candidate for popular election. With overwhelming popular regard for the Khmer royal lineage, the people elected Sihanouk to be head of state and he assumed the title of Prince. For the next decade Cambodia enjoyed independence, peace and prosperity.

By the mid-1960s, North Vietnamese troops had begun establishing hidden sanctuaries in the Cambodian countryside. Prince Sihanouk, citing increased American activity in Vietnam and accusing the U.S of making border incursions into Cambodia, a neutral country, severed economic and military relations with the United States.

In 1969, the U.S. began bombing the Cambodian countryside to destroy North Vietnamese military installations and supply lines. The bombing wreaked havoc on the country's rural population and agrarian economy. Business, military, and intellectual groups began harshly criticizing Prince Sihanouk's policies, and in 1970, while Sihanouk traveled abroad, there was a bloodless coup, ending the centuries-old lineage of monarchs. Lon Nol, a general who had the backing of the Americans, was named by the coup leaders to be head of state.

The new government quickly drafted a formal alliance with the U.S., and the bombings increase in frequency invaded Cambodia, killing and wounding civilians and destroying marketplaces, ricefields, and village in their search for Vietnamese Communists.

The continued bombing, along with the ending of the traditional monarchy, widen the political rift between Cambodia's rural and urban classes. The peasants, who had held the royalty in the highest esteem, found Lon Nol's policies to be ill-conceived and exploitative. In their desenfranchisement lay the seeds of a revolution that would change Cambodia forever.

An indigenous Communist movement had been brewing in Cambodia since the early 1930s. Led by young urban intellectuals, many of whom had studied in Paris along with the Vietnamese Communists, the party saw the growing discontent of the rural population as an opportunity to put their ultra-Marxist theories into practice. As the party's ranks swelled with disaffected peasants and farmers as well as rural adolescents, Prince Sihanouk joined them, and he became their titular head. With this sudden credibility, the Khmer Rouge—as the party came to be known—attracted vital arms support from China. Solath Sar, a young scholar, assumed the leadership, although his identity was hidden from the public. Years later, he was introduced only under his nom de querre, Pol Pot.

Aerial attacks forced the North Vietnamese troops deeper and deeper into cambodia, and they allied themselves with the Khmer Rouge to combat the pro-American forces of Lon Nol. The countryside became decimated, and once-prosperous farmers hasd to forage for food in order to survive. Thousands fled the villages for the security of Phnom Penh, Battambang, and other urban areas.

The U.S military action in Cambodia ended in August 1973, but the civil war continued. The Khmer Rouge took control of an increasing number of towns and villages, often ingratiating themselves to the villagers by launching elaborate civic projects, praising Buddhism, and vilifying Lon Nol.

By the Spring of 1975, Cambodian's cities were in a state of crisis, overwhelmed by the influx of villagers that had tripled their populations. Inflation raged, and displaced families and orphaned children wandered the streets, hopelessly searching for food, medicine, and shelter. Between 1967 and 1975, and estimated on million Cambodians were killed or wounded and two million left homeless. The country that had been known as the "the ricebowl of Indochina" was now on the verge of famine.

On the morning of April 17, 1975 just two weeks before the North Vietnamese marched into Saigon to end the Vietnam War, Khmer Rouge forces had succumbed. Cheers rang through the streets, as many citizens believed that peace had come at last.

But the next day at dawn, the Khmer Rouge declared "Year Zero," the beginning of a new era, and began an extreme program of social reconstsruction. All city dwellers young and old, rich and poor, were to march to the countryside to live and work as peasants.

"Take nothing with you, "the soldiers insisted. "Angka [the Khmer Rouge organization] will provide." Frightened and dewildered, most people obeyed. Many who tried to gather cooking pots, heirlooms, personal items, or foodstuffs were shot. Hospital patients who were too sick to walk were hurled from window. As tensions grew, the Khmer Rouge soldiers offered false encouragement. "You will return in three days. These are only temporary measures." More than three million citizens of all ages were marched to rural communes, and thousands died of heat, exhaustion, thirst, dysentery, and stress.

"Year Zero" and Pol Pot's ultra-Marxism were to be the basis of another glorious "golden age." Angka (not to be confused with Angkor, the ancient empire) soughst to create a self-reliant, pure, classless, agrarian culture. Cities were to be abolished; jungles and fallow fields were to be reclaimed, using elaborate irrigation systems to multiply agricultural yields. The new egalitarian utopia would erase all vestiges of modernization and Western influence. To realize these goals, the Khmer Rouge isolated their country under a thick veil of secercy. Roads on the border were secured and communication was severed.

The Khmer Rouge removed Prince Sihanouk from titular power and placed him under house arrest. The country was divided into eight section leaders. Interpretation of ideology and harshness of discipline varied from sector to sector. Each citizen was assigned to a work unit. traditional peasant dress of loosely-fitting black pajamas and shortly-cropped hair became the norm for all ages and both sexes.

Housing was assigned by Angka. Since th Khmer Rouge had razed many villages while seizing power, these shelters were built without walls to give Khmer Rouge cadres a clear view of household activities.

Manual labor replaced mechanization. All Cambodians became peasant laborers, regardless of age, heatlh, skills, or former profession. Under guard, they silenty cultivated fields with hoes and sickles, ox-carts, and water buffalo, or by hitching themselves to plows. Labor details extended up to eighteeen hours per day, seven days a week. Children as young as three and the very elderly worked alongside able-bodied adults. "Those who work eat," was the inflexible motto. But the outdated farming methods soon produced insufficient rice yeilds, and food had to be rationed strictly—those who were ill and could not work received even less. As food suppllies dwindled, desperate villagers secretly began to forage for roots, leaves, bark, insects, or rats, even though in some sectors the personal gathering of food was a punishable offense.

The Khmer Rouge designed irrigation systems that they hoped would rival the legendary waterworks of the Angkor kingdom. But without the aid of engineers or modern technology, the systems failed. Drinking water became infested, water for crops became scarce, and the already small harvests withered. Malnutrition and overwork took their toll. Starvation, dysentery, cholera, malaria, and stress-related illlnesses abounded. Many villagers became blind from vitamin deficiency. Medical treatment was strictly rationed and limited to traditional folk methods.

To forge the Year Zero and their own control, the Khmer Rouge outlawed almost everything that evoked Cambodia's cultural foundations. Cambodia had been a land steeped in tradition, and among the strongest ties were those of the family. In many sectors, family life was abolished—children lived separately from parents, either in individual quarters or on work sites miles away. In many cases families lost all contact with one another.

Even in sectors where families remained intact, community concerns took precedence, and the traditional order of respect was inverted. Children, "unspoiled vessels of Angka," were granted authority over adults. Children could issue work assignments to adults and were encouraged to report on adults' violations of Angka's policies. Parents lost the right to choose mates for their children. Khmer Rouge cadres arranged and performed all marriages, and revolutionary ceremonies replaced Buddhist rituals. Weddings were often held in the fields so that work flow would not be interrupted. Young couples who met secretly without Angka's sanction were punished. In some instances, the naked corpses of young lovers were displayed in public places, offering a grim reminder not to challenge Angka.

Private lives and feelings remained under close scrutiny. One could be severely punished simply for complaining. In many instances people were forced to watch in silence as their loved ones were murdered, since to cry out would be to question Angka's judgment. Memories, too, were forbidden. Since Year Zero marked the dawn of new time, sentimental yearnings were considered to be a hindrance to progress. One could be punished for speaking of the Buddha, the king, or days gone by. Singing old songs or telling old tales was considered a crime against the state. "Angka is like a pineapple," people were told.
"Its eyes can see in all directions."

"What is infected must be cut out," became the philosophy for social "purification." Those who challenged Angka's political position or those found to be from less than "pure" peasant stock were to be systematically eliminated. Singled out for extinction were members of former government and military operations, monks and nuns, ethnic minorities, and anyone who had received formal education. Executions often took place without trials. In extreme cases, fair skin, the wearing of eyeglasses, or speaking in a non-peasant dialect was sufficient cause for execution.

"To keep you is no profit, to destroy you is no loss," the Khmer Rouge declared. To survive, families shed their former identities and fabricated elaborate details of past residence, lifestyle, and profession. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, and business leaders feigned knowledge of farming, hoping to avoid the horror of mass execution. In severe cases, whole families, including infants, were killed and buried together in mass graves.

To enforce its power, Angka sponsored regular and involuntary indoctrinational sessions, called "educational meetings," to proclaim the glories of the state. At times villagers who had violated rules were paraded before meetings for public humiliation or corporal punishment. Thousands of "incorrigibles" were shipped to re-education centers and subjected to meager rations, hard labor, and torture. At Tuol Sleng, a former high school in Phnom Penh, thousands of photographs and detailed records provide evidence of over 12,000 deaths—men, women, and children hanged, drowned, disemboweled, mutilated, or electrocuted by Khmer Rouge cadres.

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