Cambodian Civil War 1967–1975
By Stacie Chapman, Jenny Olix, and Caroline Stechison

The Cambodian Civil War sprung from tensions between communist Khmer Rouge and the non-communist government of Cambodia, eventually leading to the Cambodian Genocide.

In the middle to late 1800’s, France took control of Vietnam and Cambodia. The region became known as French Indochina. Thai and Japanese forces occupied Cambodia from 1941 to 1945, during World War II. After the war, Cambodia moved toward independence. France recognized Cambodia’s independence in 1953…In 1955, King Norodom Sihanouk gave up the throne to take a more active role in politics. He took the title of prince, and became prime minister in 1955 and head of state in 19601[1].

Immediate Causes:
The Cambodian Civil War began from tensions between King Sihanouks neutral administration and the newly appointed Prime Minister, Lon Nol. In the capital, Phnom Penh, disagreements between the educated upper class created pressure on the rural communists, which lead them to an insurgency.
The revolt was in the semi-communist area of Battambang, where there were a high percentage of landowners. The uprising began because of Lon Nol’s increase in revenue on rice. The villagers attacked a tax brigade. The umbrage soon spread to eleven of the eighteen provinces in Cambodia, and the communist party began to grow[2].

Long-term causes and effects:
On March 18, 1970, the National Assembly voted Sihanouk out of power, and granted Lon Nol emergency powers, and the title of Head of State. The result was the creation of the Khmer Republic, supported by the U.S., and the abolition of the monarchy. After this the Khmer Rouge sought after an alliance with Sihanouk to gain the support of his loyal peasant citizens.
In the end, the Communists won and seized control of all of Cambodia, renaming it the Democratic Kampuchea. At this point they forced many Cambodian citizens from towns and cities into rural areas where they were forced into supervised work camps.


When Prince Norodom Sihanouk was overthrown in a pro-American coup in 1970, Pol Pot and eager Khmers leaped upon their chance. Communist Vietnam quickly allied with the Khmer Rouge and provided the shambling guerilla force with weapons and training.[4]

During the war, ninety-five percent of the population was relocated to collective farm where they put into effect Pol Pot’s Four Year Plan to spread communism to all areas to all areas of Kampuchea and create an economy based upon agriculture. His plan relied upon a massive peasant population to work with relatively limited resources to produce an immense amount of grain. However, this plan did not take into consideration the natural geography and climate of Cambodia.3 As a result, when a good harvest was produced, the majority was placed into government storerooms, therefore causing starvation throughout the nation.
The wars most damaging effect was on the production of rice. Rice was an essential export for the Cambodian economy and with this cease in production it caused a weaker income. When the National Assembly appointed Lon Nol Head of State, he recognized the economic struggles. General Nol attempted to reconstruct the economy by increasing import taxes and interest rates, eliminating credit, and creating a more flexible currency exchange policy. Even with the vast effort and support from several other countries, the economy still suffered. In 1975, the economy collapsed, and the country was surviving mainly on imported food financed by the United States.

The U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War caused them to drop bombs on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, causing the deaths of over 600,000 innocent civilian lives. Many of the bombs that struck Cambodia hit in relatively uninhabited areas. Although declassified maps show that a number of bombs hit some of the most densely inhabited provinces, and the countryside around Phnom Penh. This had the unintentional affect of drawing immense support for the Khmer Rouge. The stronger support was a catalyst for Pol Pot’s rise to power.

Political Impact:
During the war, Lon Nol and Pol Pot’s forces were pitted against each other. Pol Pot allianced the Khmer Rouge with Sihanouk and China. China had been supplying 5 million dollars in weapons a year to the communist cause and Pol Pot had organized an independent revenue source for the party in the form of rubber plantations in eastern Cambodia using forced labor. For the next several years, with support from Sihanouk and the Chinese government, Pol Pot was able to enforce a number of decrees to support his power further. This was so successful that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were able to gain the international recognition of 63 countries as the true government of Cambodia. A move was made at the United Nations to give the seat for Cambodia to the Khmer Rouge. The government prevailed by two votes.[3]
In September 1975, a new government formed a Supreme National Council with new leadership. The aim was negotiating a surrender to the Khmer Rouge. It was headed by Sak Sutsakhan, who had studied in France with Saloth and was cousin to the Khmer Rouge Deputy Secretary Nuon Chea. Pol Pot's reaction to this was to add the names of everyone involved in the coup to his post-victory death list. The resistance to a communist government finally collapsed on September 17, 1975, giving Pol Pot total power to create his Republic of Kampuchea.

Social Impact:
With the rule of the Khmer Rouge, came several social changes for Cambodian lives. Minorities such as the Chams were forced to conform to Cambodian styles of dress and appearance. Soon these new policies were spread to the whole population. The 1972 policies were aimed at reducing the peoples of the liberated areas to a sort of feudal peasant equality. Refugees and peasants disagreed on these policies. Generally, the peasants found these policies favorable and the refugees, unfavorable.
Some of these policies led to the Cambodian Genocide. Most commonly known, were the Killing Fields, where masses of civilians would be murded and buried. People receiving more than two warnings were sent for "re-education", which meant near-certain death. Hundreds of thousands of people were tortured and murdered. Over time, almost thirty-percent of the population had been killed. The soliders who carried out these assignments for Pol Pot were mainly men and women from peasant families, including children.

Works Sited:

[1] Ledgerwood, Judy L. “Cambodia.” World Book Advanced. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2009. <>.

[2] “Cambodian Civil Wars.” N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Sept. 2009. <,6,>.

[3] “Cambodia.” Encyclopaedia Britannica Online School Edition. N.p., 2009. Web. 15 Sept. 2009. <>.

[4] “Cambodian Civil War 1970-1975.” N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Sept. 2009. <>.

[5]“The Widening War.” Library of Congress. Lib. of Congress, n.d. Web. 15 Sept. 2009. <>.

[6] Murphey, Rhoads. East Asia. 3rd ed. New York: Pearson Education, 2004. Print.

[7] “Khmer Rouge.” SIRS Discoverer. N.p., 2006. Web. 28 Sept. 2009. <>

[8]“Into the Maelstrom: Insurrection and War, 1967-75.” Library of Congress Country Studies. Lib. of Congress, n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2009. <>.

[9] Grenville, J.A.S. A History of the World in the 20th Century. 1980. Cambridge: HarperCollins, 2000. Print.