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Comparative History of Genocide in Southeast Asia: Using Cambodia and East Timor in Asian Civilizations and World History Survey Courses

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The structure of most world history and Asian civilizations survey courses focuses on the major civilizational cores of the world—China, the Indian Ocean Basin, Western Europe, Meso-America, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Dar al-Islam, and so forth—and on the process of integration and globalization (for example, cross-cultural trade, religious conversion, and empire building). Unfortunately, many smaller locales and polities between these larger core areas can be ignored. There are many cases where these smaller areas demonstrate the way in which global forces can impact a seemingly isolated and marginal society. Both Cambodia and East Timor serve as examples of parts of the world where the larger global process dramatically and tragically impacted local historical trajectories. More specifically, these two nations provide us with a comparative model for discussions of colonialism, Cold War politics, genocide, peacekeeping, nation building, and international justice. By considering the development of my unit on the Cold War in Southeast Asia, this brief essay discusses the ways in which a survey course can utilize a comparative history of genocide in Cambodia and East Timor.

These two cases offer the opportunity to draw important distinctions between genocide as a product of domestic political conflicts or as a product of foreign invasion.

There are a number of reasons for pairing Cambodia and East Timor. Both are Southeast Asian states. Both cases of mass murder started in 1975. Both had proportionately comparable death tolls of roughly 20 percent of the population of each state if the estimates of 180,000 dead in East Timor and 1,700,000 deaths in Cambodia are utilized.1 Both were a part of larger, global, Cold War struggles. However, comparative instruction about events in each polity will also accentuate for students the respective uniqueness of what occurred in each state’s recent history. These two cases offer the opportunity to draw important distinctions between genocide as a product of domestic political conflicts or as a product of foreign invasion. Likewise, a comparative discussion highlights the difference between human rights abuses, brutal violence, and mass murder as the product of revolutionary turmoil or as the consequences of a counterinsurgency campaign. That said, it is crucial to avoid the trap of drawing moral equivalencies. While Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge killed to carry out his model of Communism and Suharto’s armed forces killed as part of an anti-Communist reaction, both examples, regardless of political ideology, were brutal and criminal acts. Such a comparative analysis will allow students to critique Cold War violence as a whole, not simply as the “crimes of Communism” or the “evils of dictatorial regimes.”

The study of East Timor and Cambodia even throw the term “genocide” into question. While many teachers frequently refer to mass death in Cambodia from 1975 to 1978 as a genocide, others counter that it was a “politicide.” The United Nation’s 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide defines genocide as various forms of violence and oppression against ethnic, racial, religious, and national groups but explicitly omits violence against political identity as a category.2 Elsewhere, referring to the Indonesian occupation of East Timor, an act of colonization, as genocide, is likely to provoke debate. Was the objective of Indonesian military operations the annihilation of an ethnically distinct Portuguese or Tetum-speaking and Catholic population, or the incorporation of East Timorese into the secular and multiethnic but Javanese-dominated and overwhelming Muslim Republic of Indonesia? Such a discussion requires exploring what is a “genocidal act” and giving serious consideration to the issue of intent. Pairing these two cases challenges students to come to terms with tensions between legal definitions and our common or conventional usage of the term.

The use of these two examples offers a rich opportunity to integrate Southeast Asia into both humanities and social science curriculum. Yale historian and a leading scholar of comparative genocide, Ben Kiernan, who in Genocide and Resistance in Southeast Asia offers the only sustained academic comparison of Cambodia and East Timor, gives a model for comparative history of genocide that draws equally from the humanities and the social sciences.3 Kiernan’s use of historical narrative and the tools of political science and sociology demonstrates how the study of genocide is best approached from an interdisciplinary perspective. In my history courses, the analysis of genocide makes use of readings from a variety of fields. This allows my students to consider multiple, and possibly competing, perspectives on the subject matter, but also to make comparisons between the empiricist tendencies of historians and the theory-driven analysis of political scientists. Specifically, I assign firsthand accounts from Cambodia and East Timor and require my students to use these primary sources to build historical arguments for each case.4 Later, my students read theoretical pieces on genocide as a global phenomenon and critique the value of developing models to understand diverse case studies.5 By combining these two approaches, my course gives students a command of the various boundaries between and connections among several disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, namely the opportunities and limitations of anthropology, history, literature, political science, and sociology, as well as the possibilities of creative interdisciplinary analysis.6 That said, our discussion of Cambodia and East Timor is most firmly grounded in comparative history.

As I have been using these paired examples in my world history and southeast Asian history survey courses in the past decade, I have modified my lectures, reflecting my growing understanding of the complexity of the cases and the problems of crafting a useful and accessible narrative for my students. Such a narrative needs to carefully balance the significance of local events and the global reach of the superpowers, and the tensions between macro and microhistory. I have come to the conclusion that we need to teach the issue of Cold War genocide in Southeast Asia by presenting multiple and at times conflicting narratives. As in Kurosawa’s film Rashōmon, where four eyewitnesses offer very different versions of an act of violence, students learn that the “facts” can vary according to one’s perspective and that context and meaning can be subjective. In the process of understanding and comparing the case studies of East Timor and Cambodia, my students learn to define their own methodology and sharpen their analytic skills, as well as understand that the writing of history and the use of certain death statistics can be political acts.7

My initial inspiration for these lectures came from the film Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media.8 In this impressive documentary, the radical American scholar argues that American corporate media’s ideological constraints determine what stories get covered and to what extent. Chomsky proposes the Khmer Rouge regime and the Indonesian army’s invasion and occupation of neighboring East Timor as two parallel and contemporary case studies. He holds that they offer a rare controlled experiment in history, persuasively demonstrating the silence regarding East Timor at a time when Cambodia was front-page news. He argues that East Timor was the “wrong story” for American corporate media.9 Admittedly, his focus is on the Western media coverage of the two genocides and not in the genocides themselves. Nonetheless, I screen a twelve-minute segment from the film to illustrate the comparison. Chomsky’s perspective is useful for framing the larger historical narrative of mass murder in the late twentieth century. While the horrors of the Cambodian case have received more academic and journalistic attention, his discussion of the deaths in East Timor (an estimated 150,000 of a total population of just over 600,000 in the first four years of the invasion and occupation) offers a solid introduction into a less known historical chapter. For the purposes of my classroom, he provides a concrete example of comparative genocide as an intellectual exercise. This excellent film segment provocatively raises two key issues for students in American classrooms: the American government’s complicity in creating the conditions for these human rights disasters and the selective media coverage. Manufacturing Consent presents the widely accepted consensus that the American bombardment of Cambodia between 1970 and 1975 created the necessary chaotic conditions that allowed the Khmer Rouge to seize power. While an unintended consequence, this American military strategy to break North Vietnamese supply lines to the National Liberation Front in South Việt Nam was inadvertently essential to the rise of the Pol Pot regime. The film clip is particularly good at demonstrating American mass media’s fixation with the human rights disaster in Cambodia as a Communist bloodbath, often assuming a worst-case scenario without proper documentation, and the almost complete lack of coverage of the Indonesian military’s brutal invasion and occupation of East Timor. In a powerful scene, a roll of paper containing the entire New York Times coverage of Cambodia is rolled across a stadium floor, dwarfing the paltry column space devoted to Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor.

Screen captures from Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media.
Screen captures from Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media. Source: YouTube at

The usefulness of Chomsky’s argument lies in its clear binary opposition. While both Cambodia and East Timor are in Southeast Asia and the most intense killing occurred between 1975 and 1979, the cases were on polar ends of the political spectrum. Like so many other cases of Communist totalitarian states murdering their own citizens, the Khmer Rouge genocide was done in the name of an interpretation of Marxism. However, in Indonesian-occupied East Timor, the obsessively anti-Communist Suharto regime did the killing. We must keep in mind that Suharto came to power through the 1965–1966 elimination of the Communist Party of Indonesia (Partai Komunis Indonesia-PKI) when 500,000 to 1,000,000 Indonesians lost their lives and the so-called New Order continued to use Red Scare tactics to justify corruption, human rights abuses, and unaccountability until the dictator fell in 1998.10 Thus, this comparison gives us the “worst-case scenarios” for Communist and anti-Communist mass murder. In my first few versions of a lesson on the Cold War in world history, I presented my students with this tidy package. However, I began to have some concerns that this tidiness could create the idea of a moral equivalency in the minds of some of my students.

Khmer Rouge Genocide

A large building in front of a courtyard. Under the rule of Prince Norodom Sihanouk in the 1960s, Cambodia remained neutral during the American War in Việt Nam. By the late 1960s, the Communists in Việt Nam began to use eastern Cambodia as a transportation hub for supplies bound for Việt Nam and established the Central Office for South Việt Nam (COSVN) in the Cambodian sanctuaries. The United States carried out heavy carpet bombing campaigns in Cambodia to stop Communist supply lines. Sihanouk was removed from power in a military coup led by US-backed Lieutenant General Lon Nol in 1970.

During this time, the Cambodian Communists, known as the Khmer Rouge (French for Red Khmer) and led by Pol Pot, gained new recruits and support, and later began attacks on Lon Nol’s army. By 1975, the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot’s leadership captured the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh and established Communist rule in Cambodia.

The Khmer Rouge began to empty cities and towns in an attempt to eliminate any capitalist and intellectual movements from urban areas. Educated people in the country had to work with their hands in the fields. If they resisted, they were tortured and executed in various killing fields. The prison S-21 was particularly brutal. Of the 14,000 prisoners that entered S-21, only seven are known to have survived. For citizens that were not tortured and executed, political and civil rights were abolished, labor camps were created, and minority groups were heavily persecuted. All citizens worked long days as unpaid laborers, living in communes on minimum rations. Between executions, overwork, starvation, and disease, millions of Cambodians died. The Cambodian Genocide Program at Yale University estimates that 1.7 million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1978, roughly 21 percent of the entire population of the country, with other sources placing the number well over two million.

The Khmer Rouge fell in 1979, when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia and captured Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge leaders retreated into western Cambodia and maintained control of some areas. The Khmer Rouge was part of a coalition government that fought against the Vietnamese for the next decade. After Việt Nam’s 1989 departure, the Khmer Rouge experienced mass defections, the capture of key leaders, and the death of Pol Pot. By December 1999, the Khmer Rouge essentially ceased to exist.


The Cambodian Genocide Program, CGP

The Killing Fields Museum of Cambodia,

Peace Pledge Union,

SarDesai, D.R. Southeast Asia: Past and Present. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2010.

Unfortunately, the Chomskyian model has some serious shortcomings. Most importantly, even though Chomsky himself is extremely critical of what he perceived as the Manichean dualism of Cold War politics, the model replicates the either/or approach to Cold War history, a perspective that misleadingly paints the world as Communist or anti-Communist. Here, ideology is overprivileged. While this fits in with the earliest explanations of the Khmer Rouge from scholars, such as the most prominent historian of Cambodia, David Chandler, more recent studies of the Khmer Rouge by Ben Kiernan stress the racial and ethnic component of the killings. Chandler argues a simplistic Cold War paradigm: that the Khmer Rouge is simply the most extensive Marxist revolution in history. Such a line of reasoning assumes that Marxist states will always be oppressive and violent. Kiernan, no advocate of totalitarianism himself, developed a more nuanced and complex model that placed more emphasis on nationalism and racial thinking in the Khmer Rouge regime. Kiernan pointed out the stages and varieties of Khmer Rouge violence, noting that at different stages both class and race were more or less important.11 As non-Khmers (ethnic Vietnamese and Muslim Chams) were killed at much higher rates and as the party itself had only a very loose and confused command of Marxism, the blood red line from Marx to Lenin to Stalin to Mao to Pol Pot is a Cold War oversimplification. Furthermore, such logic is at a loss to explain the Sino-Soviet rift and the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1978. Chomsky’s use of the Timorese case also has some holes in it. East Timor’s main independence movement, Fretilin, was a leftist coalition and not an orthodox Communist party, and the impoverished rural island would hardly be fertile grounds for
building a Marxist utopia. The Suharto regime’s claims of stopping the tropical island from going over to the Soviet camp need to be greeted with great skepticism. Chomsky’s narrative runs the risk of overemphasizing the Cold War component of what was really just Indonesian territorial expansion.

As non-Khmers (ethnic Vietnamese and Muslim Chams) were killed at much higher rates and as the party itself had only a very loose and confused command of Marxism, the blood red line from Marx to Lenin to Stalin to Mao to Pol Pot is a Cold War oversimplification.

From left to right: 1978 photo of Pol Pot. Source: Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
From left to right: 1978 photo of Pol Pot. Source: Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies at; Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum photo by Adam Carr, Source: English Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons at; photos of victims that were imprisoned at S-21. Source: Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies at http://

As I rethought these lectures, I turned to a more recent documentary film, The Trials of Henry Kissinger, based on the book of another dissident intellectual, Christopher Hitchens.12 In Hitchens’s condemnation of Kissinger’s foreign policy, he also uses Cambodia and East Timor. While not part of a tight comparative discussion, as in Manufacturing Consent, The Trials of Henry Kissinger has two roughly five-minute sections that focus specifically on each case study. Here the emphasis is on how American Cold War strategies had disastrous consequences in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. Journalist and witness to the American bombardment of eastern Cambodia Elizabeth Becker and Pulitzer Prize-nominated author William Shawcross detail how American bombardment of Vietnamese bases and supply lines on Cambodian territory created social chaos. Following Shawcross and Becker, Hitchens agues that Kissinger’s efforts to break the North Vietnamese-run National Liberation Front via the “secret bombings” destabilized Cambodia, creating the only conditions in which the Khmer Rouge could come to power.13 Kissinger also played a crucial role in Indonesia’s seizure of East Timor. Faced with the loss of Việt Nam, Laos, and Cambodia in April 1975, Hitchens argues that propping up anti-Communist strongmen was an essential American Cold War tactic. This meant supporting dictators such as Suharto; there is also a section on General Pinochet’s overthrow and the murder of Chilean President Salvador Allende in an American-sponsored coup not coincidentally named “Operation Jakarta.” The film and the book stress President Henry Ford’s visit to Jakarta the day before the December 7, 1975, attack on Dili. Declassified documents show that Ford and Kissinger essentially green-lighted Suharto’s invasion of a neighboring state. In this narrative, the US’s Cold War interventions in Southeast Asia set these genocides in motion. In interviews with journalist and victim of Indonesian military violence Amy Goodman, photographer and political activist Elaine Brière, and former Timorese resistance leader Constancio Pinto, the film argues that the brutalities of the Indonesian invasion and occupation could not have been possible without supplies of arms and specific aircraft from the United States and its allies. While genocide was not the intended outcome, the narrative holds that concern for local suffering was not an issue for the superpowers. National Security Archive Fellow and historian of US-Indonesian relations Bradley Simpson has detailed American support and preference for “authoritarian development” in postcolonial Indonesia.14

Yes, American arms and aircraft were used in East Timor but the pilots dropping the napalm on Timorese villages in Jakarta.

General Suharto just after his appointment as president of Indonesia in March 1967. Source: Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty website at; Indonesian invasion troops on the streets of Dili, East Timor in 1975.
From left to right: General Suharto just after his appointment as president of Indonesia in March 1967. Source: Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty website at; Indonesian invasion troops on the streets of Dili, East Timor in 1975. Source: The Sydney Morning Herald atю; screen capture of East Timor family grave crosses from the documentary The Indonesia Genocide in East Timor. Source: YouTube at

While persuasive to an American university audience concerned about or entertained by the misadventures of the CIA, this narrative also has certain failings. With its focus on the American superpower, we run the risk of creating a neocolonial history where all agency lies in the hands of the Americans. Yes, American bombs devastated Cambodia, but Saloth Sar’s transformation into Pol Pot was a phenomenon of Cambodia’s colonial encounter with France, the influence of Mao Zedong’s radical excesses during China’s Cultural Revolution (1966–1976) and tensions with Vietnamese Communists in Hanoi.15 Yes, American arms and aircraft were used in East Timor, but the pilots dropping the napalm on Timorese villages were Indonesians operating under orders from officials in Jakarta.16 To comprehend the brutality of the invasion and occupation, the motivations of the Indonesian officers and soldiers must be taken into account.17 In this regard, Hitchens’s model fails. The macrohistory of a superpower ignores the microhistory of local agency.

A third approach and my current model begins with recognizing these two larger narratives but then turns to look at the peculiarities of each case. As this is part of a world history course, we must keep the big picture in mind, and the use of social science theories offer value for understanding similarities in events around the world, but I hold that by exploring the specifics of history we can see the interaction of the local and the global. In this regard, my course starts with noting the importance of ideology and of the unintended consequences of a blundering superpower that might use a sledgehammer for a scalpel’s job or would be willing to look the other way when an inconvenient crime is being committed. Then, I guide the students through the specific political, social, and economic developments that led to the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the desire of the Indonesian officer corps to annex East Timor.

As stated above, the specifics of the Cambodian and East Timorese cases can challenge master narratives of ideology. Kiernan has persuasively shown that the racial and ethnic thinking was as important as Marxism in Pol Pot’s murderous attempt to create his vision of a pure Khmer utopia. Yet, even with this more complex and nuanced view of the regime, we still need to note the importance of the revolutionary effort to transform Cambodia. Mass murder was part of the effort to cleanse the society of what the party deemed “social ills.”18 In their promotion of the rural and uneducated Cambodians as the true and pure Khmer, “base people,” the Khmer Rouge designated anyone associated with the capitalist West, decadent urban life, or modernity in general as corrupted “new people.” In order to cleanse Cambodia, these people had to be removed. The most famous stories concern the summary execution of anyone wearing eyeglasses, as they must have been educated under the old regime.

In contrast, the killing in East Timor was not part of a revolutionary project. Rather, the killing came from the strategy of what was essentially a colonial occupation and a counterinsurgency campaign but justified domestically and internationally as a fight against Communist expansion. Historian Bradley Simpson’s title of a chapter on the East Timor incursion he authored for an edited volume might be the most appropriate descriptor of the event: “A Colonial Hot War in Cold War Disguise.”19 If the Indonesian state wanted to transform East Timor, it was along the lines of forced integration into the postcolonial state, which combined learning the national language, adopting methods of wet rice agriculture, and increased economic connections to Jakarta. These policies were accompanied by the destruction of local traditions, the promotion of Islam over animism or Catholicism, and the importation of Indonesian settlers who enjoyed various comparative advantages relative to the East Timorese. From a strategic standpoint, the implementation of the Indonesian project in East Timor required breaking the will of the indigenous population. Thus, the army came in with heavy force and used indiscriminate violence against the civilian population in Dili, as well as the “districts” (the term for the mountainous territory outside the capital). As in so many similar situations of foreign invasion and settler colonialism, the intrusion produced widespread resentment and support for resistance. Taking many forms, from the formation of armed guerilla units to a popular embrace of Catholicism as a national identity, the nation was plunged into an escalating spiral of violence and resistance. While the Indonesian army was not trying to exterminate the indigenous population, its reckless use of force, including napalm strikes, the destruction of entire villages, systematic torture and sexual violence, and punitive massacres, combined with economic chaos, famine, and the spread of disease, resulted in the deaths of over a quarter of the population and an equal number of internal refugees. In addition to these horrors, the Indonesian state’s transmigrasi program of sending impoverished Javanese and Balinese settlers, the official use of Bahasa Indonesia over Tetum or Portuguese, repression of the Catholic Church, and instances of Javanese officers “adopting” children threatened an ethnocide and met certain criteria of the United Nations’s 1948 resolution on genocide.20 Sadly, these crimes continued all the way to the Indonesian military’s burning and looting as they departed East Timor following the 1999 independence referendum that eventually made East Timor a sovereign nation.

East Timor Genocide

Map of Timor-Leste East Timor is now a sovereign state on the eastern half of Timor island in the Indonesian archipelago, about 400 miles north of Australia. Since the 1520s, there was a Portuguese colonial presence in East Timor except for a brief period of Japanese occupation in World War II. Following the end of the Portuguese dictatorship in 1974, an independence movement emerged in East Timor, backed by the leftist Fretilin political party led by Jose “Xanana” Gusmao. President Mohammad Suharto of neighboring Indonesia, concerned about East Timor becoming a Communist state, pushed for the country’s integration into Indonesia. Pro-Indonesian political parties in East Timor signed the Balibo Declaration in 1975, which called for integration into Indonesia. The Indonesian military invaded East Timor after the signing of the declaration and killed a half-dozen Australian journalists during this action. Indonesian forces fought the Fretilin, eventually taking control and designating East Timor the twenty-seventh province of Indonesia in 1976.

The Indonesian occupation of East Timor would last twenty-four years, and in that time, the Yale University Genocide Studies Program estimates that up to 20 percent of the East Timorese population (approximately 183,000 people) perished from murder, starvation, or illness.

In 1991, during protests over police killing a student, Indonesian troops fired on pro-independence demonstrators at Santa Cruz cemetery in Dili, East Timor’s capital, killing at least 250 people. Indonesian soldiers also severely beat two American journalists, which brought the event to international attention. In 1992, Jose Gusmao, was captured along with 1,000 other Fretilin members. Gusmao was sentenced to life imprisonment, which was later reduced to twenty years.

These events in the early 1990s caused deeper inquiry in the West regarding Indonesia’s human rights record and the suspension of financial aid and shipments of military arms to Indonesia. In 1998, President Suharto resigned and was replaced by BJ Habibie, who allowed a referendum on independence in East Timor. After a 78.5 percent vote in favor of independence, pro-Indonesian forces in East Timor carried out a campaign of violence and terrorism, killing over 1,000 people, destroying 80 percent of the country’s buildings, and forcing approximately 250,000 people to flee into West Timor. In response, a UN multinational military force ended the violence. The United Nations Transitional Administration in East Timor (UNTAET) assumed control and assisted in the drafting of a constitution for an independent East Timor, a process completed in 2002 with the election of Gusmao as president.


Yale University Genocide Studies Program. “East Timor.” Accessed March 10, 2015. ”
SarDesai, D.R. Southeast Asia: Past and Present. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 2010.

Thus, to conclude this brief discussion, Cambodia and East Timor offer imperfect but extremely useful comparative material. They allow world history and Asian civilizations classes to consider the ways in which the Cold War could trickle down to the local level in Southeast Asia through Marxist revolutionary violence, anti-Communist superpower policies, local right-wing reactionary regimes, and ethnic conflict, but also to question older Cold War narratives that see history exclusively as a struggle between ideologies and political blocs. Pairing these cases gives students an opportunity to discuss the relative merits of the macro and micro approaches to world history, and also to explore methodological distinctions between disciplines in the humanities and the social sciences. Also, we must note the moral obligation to teach the varieties of genocide, paying attention to specific ways in which social, political, economic, ideological, military, and racial/ethnic forces can lead to mass murder. Even more importantly, we need to teach the forgotten killing fields of the world alongside the more well-known.21


1. “Companion to East Timor,” University of New South Wales Canberra School of Humanities and Social Sciences, accessed January 2, 2015, pjpuz8p.

2. William A. Schabas, “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,” United Nations Audiovisual Library of International Law, accessed February, 17, 2015,

3. Ben Kiernan, Genocide and Resistance in Southeast Asia: Documentation, Denial, and Justice in Cambodia and East Timor (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2009).

4. While there are many memoirs of the Khmer Rouge era, such as Loung Ung, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers (New York: Harper Collins, 2000), and academic studies that use interviews with Khmer survivors, such as Michael Vickery, Cambodia, 1975–1982 (Boston: South End Press, 1984), there are far fewer from East Timor. Contâncio Pinto and Matthew Jardine, East Timor’s Unfinished Struggle: Inside the Timorese Resistance Movement (Boston: South End Press, 1997) is one of the most accessible primary sources, and Elaine Brière, East Timor: Testimony (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2004) contains useful firsthand accounts.

5. I pull selected essays from the following volumes: Paul R. Bartrop and Steven Leonard Jacobs, eds., Fifty Key Thinkers on the Holocaust and Genocide (New York: Routledge, 2011); Martin Shaw, What Is Genocide? (Cambridge: Polity, 2007); Dan Stone, ed., The Historiography of Genocide (Palgrave: London, 2010); and Samuel Totten and William S. Parsons, eds., Century of Genocide: Critical Essays and Eyewitness Accounts, 3rd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2009).

6. The following ethnographies offer outstanding and very accessible anthropological inquiries into violence in Indonesia under Suharto: John Pemberton, On the Subject of “Java” (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994); James T. Siegel, A New Criminal Type in Jakarta: Counter-Revolution Today (Durham: Duke University Press, 1998) and Naming the Witch (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2005); and Robbie Peters, Surabaya, 1945–2010: Neighborhood, State and Economy in Indonesia’s City of Struggle (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2013).

7. Michael Vickery, “Democratic Kampuchea—CIA to the Rescue,” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 14, no. 4 (1982): 45–54 and “Comments on Cham Population Figures,” Critical Asian Studies 22, no. 1 (1990): 31–33 demonstrate both the unreliable nature of population statistics in Southeast Asia and the politicized use of certain death figures.

8. Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick’s 1992 film is based on Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988), but there is also a companion book by Mark Achbar, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (Montreal: Black Rose, 1994).

9. This is an argument he has been making since the start of the Cambodian humanitarian disaster; see Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman, “Distortions at Fourth Hand,” The Nation (June 6, 1977).

10. John Roosa, Pretext for Mass Murder: The September 30th Movement and Suharto’s Coup d’État in Indonesia (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2006) and Douglas Kammen and Katharine McGregor, eds., The Destruction of the Indonesian Communist Party (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2012).

11. David P. Chandler, Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot rev. ed. (Boulder: Westview Press, 1999); and Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975–79 (New Haven: Yale, 1996) and How Pol Pot Came to Power: Colonialism, Nationalism, and Communism in Cambodia, 1930–1975 (New Haven: Yale, 2002).

12. Christopher Hitchens, The Trial of Henry Kissinger (New York: Verso, 2001) and Eugene Jarecki, The Trials of Henry Kissinger (New York: First Run Features, 2002).

13. William Shawcross, Sideshow: Nixon, Kissinger, and the Destruction of Cambodia (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978) and Elizabeth Becker, When the War Was Over: Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge (New York: Public Affairs, 1986).

14. Bradley R. Simpson, Economists with Guns: Authoritarian Development and US-Indonesian Relations, 1960–1968 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008).

15. Penny Edwards, Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation, 1860–1945 (Honolulu: University of Hawai`i Press, 2007).

16. John G. Taylor, Indonesia’s Forgotten War: The Hidden History of East Timor (London: Zed Books, 1991), 79–
131 and James Dunn, East Timor: A Rough Passage to Independence (Double Bay: Longueville Books, 2003): 175–364.

17. Carmel Budiardjo and Liem Soei Liong, The War Against East Timor (London: Zed Books, 1984), and Richard Tanter, Desmond Ball, and Gerry van Klinken, Masters of Terror: Indonesia’s Military and Violence in East Timor (Oxford: Rowman and Littlefield, 2006).

18. U. Sam Oeur’s memoir Crossing Three Wildernesses (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2005) shows how a perceptive victim of the Khmer Rouge could understand the revolutionary logic of the regime’s horrifying violence.

19. Bradley R. Simpson, “A Colonial Hot War in Cold War Disguise: The Indonesian Invasion and Occupation of East Timor, 1975–1999,” in Bernd Greiner, ed., Hot Wars in the Cold War (Hamburg: Hamburg Institute for Social Research, 2006) and “‘Illegally and Beautifully’: The United States, the Indonesian Invasion of East Timor and the International Community,” Cold War History 5. no. 3 (2005): 281–315.

20. United Nations, “Convention on the Prevention of Genocide-A/RES/260(III) of 9 December 1948,” accessed November 20, 2014,

21. Michelle Casewell, Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014) offers an excellent discussion of the history of the famous, if not iconic, mug shots from the Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh. She notes the way in which these images have been reinvented and reinscribed with meaning over the course of several decades.