Award-winning journalist Elizabeth Becker started covering Cambodia in 1973 for The Washington Post, when the country was perceived as little more than a footnote to the Vietnam War. Then, with the rise of the Khmer Rouge in 1975 came the closing of the border and a systematic reorganization of Cambodian society. Everyone was sent from the towns and cities to the countryside, where they were forced to labor endlessly in the fields. The intelligentsia were brutally exterminated, and torture, terror, and death became routine. Ultimately, almost two million people—nearly a quarter of the population—were killed in what was one of this century's worst crimes against humanity.When the War Was Over is Elizabeth Becker's masterful account of the Cambodian nightmare. Encompassing the era of French colonialism and the revival of Cambodian nationalism; 1950s Paris, where Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot received his political education; the killing fields of Cambodia; government chambers in Washington, Paris, Moscow, Beijing, Hanoi, and Phnom Penh; and the death of Pol Pot in 1998; this is a book of epic vision and staggering power. Merging original historical research with the many voices of those who lived through the times and exclusive interviews with every Cambodian leader of the past quarter century, When the War Was Over illuminates the darkness of Cambodia with the intensity of a bolt of lightning.
Becker, a Washington Post reporter and longtime Asia hand, spent seven years researching and writing this impressive book, which tells in full the story of the Cambodian tragedy. The Khmer Rouge, attempting the ultimate revolution, operated from a philosophy of racial superiority and purity resembling that of Nazi Germany. "Cruelty,'' writes Becker, ``as embodied in the concept of purityeither as pure Communist, pure Cambodian, or pure loyalisthad replaced thinking.'' Her descriptions of the Cambodian holocaust are horrifying. The narrative includes fresh material on Khmer Rouge leaders, Lon Nol, Prince Sihanouk, the torture and execution center at Tuol Sleng, and the efforts of U.S. State Department officials to prevent the Vietnamese invasion. Finally, the author describes her own haunted return to Cambodia, meetings with Pol Pot and Ieng Sary, and a terror-filled night during which a colleague was murdered. Becker concludes that while the Americans and Vietnamese are responsible for much of Cambodia's sorrows, ultimately the Cambodians were victims of their own leaders, traditions and history. Photos.