Never Meet Your Heroes (Khmer Rouge Version)

Malcolm Caldwell was a Research Fellow at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London beginning in 1959. Caldwell was also a diehard Marxist and one of the leading Western supporters of Communist dictators such as North Korea’s Kim Il-Sung and the Khmer Rouge’s Pol Pot.

In a 1978 article for New Age, for example, Caldwell criticized Penguin Books’ handling of the paperback version of Francois Ponchaud’s Cambodia Year Zero, which described the human rights atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge upon its takeover of Cambodia.

Now the clear implication [of a blurb quote from reviewer Jean Laceuteure] is that Kampuchea’s communist leaders are prepared callously to liquidate all but some small fraction of the total population–discarding with brutal ruthlessness the old and unfit. That is, indeed, the implication which Lacouture wished us to draw from the sentence…

The basic point is that, for all the flourish of corroborative detial, Ponchaud’s guesstimates of 1 million or so “peace” (i.e., post-liberation) deaths basically rest, as he has again admitted privately, upon the following sources: US and French embassies in Southeast Asia, and “American care services in Bangkok.” . . .

I’m sorry if all this bores you, butt you will see what we are up against trying to clear the thickets of black propaganda in order to open up real discussion on the Kampuchean Revolution–its means, its significance, its achievements to date, and its promise. It is good that more and more visitors are now going to the country and adding their eye-witness reports to those of the earliest visitors and to official statements. It is clear that we are faced with a really radical rural revolution, breaking away in important respects from all previous models . . . I am, in fact, hopefully holding back completion of my own book on Kampuchea lest a chance presents itself to see for myself.

Caldwell got his chance to visit Cambodia to see for himself the wonders of the Khmer Rouge.

On December 22, 1978, he met privately with Pol Pot in Phnom Penh. Later that evening and shot and killed by one of the men assigned to guard him.

To this day there is no definitive answer as to why Caldwell was murdered. Several of his guards were tortured by the Khmer Rouge to produce confessions that detail a grand counterrevolutionary conspiracy “to prevent the Part from gathering friends in the world.”

Another possibility is that Caldwell was murdered on the orders of Pol Pot for some unknown reason.

Writing in 2010 about Caldwell’s murder, Andrew Anthony cited American journalist Elizabeth Becker who had been touring Cambodia with Caldwell at the time of his murder,

But why would he [Pol Pot] seek international support by killing one of his few remaining friends from abroad? It makes no sense. “Don’t apply rational thinking to the situation,” Becker cautions. “It was crazy. Crazy. Malcolm’s murder was no less rational than the tens of thousands of other murders.” . . . In the end, Becker’s conclusion seems to be the most satisfactory: “Malcolm Caldwell’s death was caused by the madness of the regime he openly admired.”

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