King Norodom Sihanouk ascended the throne with Cambodia under French rule, and he remained Supreme Commander until the country was drawn into the American war in Vietnam. His socialist economic policies, and his siding with the North Vietnamese and the Viet Cong in the south, led to political dissent from both the right-wing army and the left-wing rebels. The Khmer Rouge communist revolutionaries gained support in some remote provinces. They recruited the poor people and peasants, who “went to the hills” to join them. Though Sihanouk tried to remain neutral, the conflict grew more serious. Vietnamese sought sanctuary deeper in Cambodia.
In March 1970, Cambodia’s Premier General, Lon Nol, deposed the king. He succeeded in taking power with American backing. Sihanouk fled to China and declared support for the Khmer Rouge, who exploited that and drew new recruits to fight for their king. Others joined because they thought Americans were imperialists. U.S. and South Vietnamese troops attacked North Vietnamese militants operating in Cambodia. People moved into the cities as the Khmer Rouge seized outlying provinces.
The Khmer Rouge dropped bombs. On April 17, 1975, they took over Phnom Penh. In the holocaust that followed, two million Cambodians died of starvation, torture, and execution.
“We are forced to fall back on fatalism as an explanation of irrational events (that is to say, events the reasonableness of which we do not understand). The more we try to explain such events in history reasonably, the more unreasonable and incomprehensible do they become to us.”
War and Peace