Facing Death in Cambodia

Peter Maguire

Columbia University Press

Facing Death in Cambodia

Google Preview

Pub Date: March 2005

ISBN: 9780231120524

280 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $45.00£33.00

Pub Date: March 2005

ISBN: 9780231509398

280 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $44.99£33.00

Facing Death in Cambodia

Peter Maguire

Columbia University Press

The Khmer Rouge regime took control of Cambodia by force of arms, then committed the most brazen crimes since the Third Reich: at least 1.5 million people murdered between 1975 and 1979. Yet no individuals were ever tried or punished. This book is the story of Peter Maguire's effort to learn how Cambodia's "culture of impunity" developed, why it persists, and the failures of the "international community" to confront the Cambodian genocide. Written from a personal and historical perspective, Facing Death in Cambodia recounts Maguire's growing anguish over the gap between theories of universal justice and political realities.

Maguire documents the atrocities and the aftermath through personal interviews with victims and perpetrators, discussions with international and NGO officials, journalistic accounts, and government sources gathered during a ten-year odyssey in search of answers. The book includes a selection of haunting pictures from among the thousands taken at the now infamous Tuol Sleng prison (also referred to as S-21), through which at least 14,000 men, women, and children passed—and from which fewer than a dozen emerged alive.

What he discovered raises troubling questions: Was the Cambodian genocide a preview of the genocidal civil wars that would follow in the wake of the Cold War? Is international justice an attainable idea or a fiction superimposed over an unbearably dark reality? Did issues of political expediency allow Cambodian leaders to escape prosecution?The Khmer Rouge violated the Nuremberg Principles, the United Nations Charter, the laws of war, and the UN Genocide Convention. Yet in the decade after the regime's collapse, the perpetrators were rescued and rehabilitated-even rewarded-by China, Thailand, the United States, and the UN. According to Peter Maguire, Cambodia holds the key to understanding why recent UN interventions throughout the world have failed to prevent atrocities and to enforce treaties.

Peter Maguire has taken an honest look at Cambodian society. He has no agenda other than to make us examine ourselves. Maguire does not cry with us over our past; instead, what he shows us could help us move beyond being mere survivors and take a larger part in our own futures.

Youk Chhang, Director, Documentation Center of Cambodia

Shattering. You think you know what happened in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge—the broad facts, at least. But genocide has, always, an all-important context, which includes a fateful run-up and a massively complex aftermath, and in Peter Maguire's scrupulous account it is the cynicism of nearly every main player in Cambodia's national nightmare that most stunned me. The pathological cruelty of Pol Pot's regime is also fully captured, to be sure, through survivor interviews and the famous, utterly eerie photographs from Tuol Sleng prison. This is not history as culled from libraries. It is history as personal quest, with Maguire chasing his story wherever it takes him--to Vietnam, to East Germany—and making no bones about his desire to undo the final insult of impunity with unblinking accountability.

William Finnegan, author of Cold New World: Growing Up in a Harder Country

Peter Maguire takes us into a dark period of world history, when a blinkered Utopian regime presided over the deaths of nearly two million of its own people. In this adventurous, thoughtful study, he draws us inexorably into the heat, squalor and magnetism of Cambodia as he confronts such troubling issues as trauma, genocide and the remote possibility of justice.

David Chandler, author of Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot's Secret Prison

Intrepid and unfettered, Peter Maguire goes where most fear to tread, into the innards of Cambodia's killing machine, to report the true—and largely overlooked—story of what happened to a country ripped asunder between US and international interests and one of the worst genocides of the 20th century. The result, quite apart from the highly readable adventure of Maguire's own journey, is righteous rage: a stinging indictment of not only the murderous Khmer Rouge, but the machinations of the United Nations and so-called 'international community'. This is a book of its time, about the zeitgeist, with resonance everywhere in a troubled world, far beyond the Cambodia Maguire knows better than any other.

Ed Vulliamy, Facing Death in Cambodia

Maguire's interviews...are fascinating in their treatment of death and accountability...This is a gripping and well-written account.

Library Journal

Maguire is able to put a bit of a human face on all these events.

the complete review

Places in context the UN's efforts this year to establish an international tribunal on the Cambodian tragedy.


Concise, impassioned and at all times aware of the 'hallowness' of his words when compared to the survirors' own experiences, Maguire leaves readers mute.

Ian Neubauer, The Cambodia Daily

Maguire's book is deftly written...The book is a sober, clear-eyed look at the questions surrounding the probable tribunal.

Steve Hirsch, Phnom Penh Post

Facing Death in Cambodia is a scholarly, yet personal narrative of his own research.

John Ryle, Financial Times

Maguire succeeds in illuminating the mindset of victims and perpetrators alike.

D. Gordon Longmuir, Pacific Affairs
1. "So you've been to school for a year or two..."
2. "Do not kill any living creature, with the exception of the enemy."
3. "The Angkar is more important to me than my father and mother."
4. "The weapon of the mouth"
5. "Only the third person knows."
6. "I am excellent survivor."
7. "Am I a savage person?"
8. "She is nice girl, but she is sick."
9. "I am no longer HIV positive."
10. "I am not dead. I am alive."
Conclusion: War Crimes Trials as a Welcome Distraction
Web Features:

About the Author

Peter Maguire is the author of Law and War and Facing Death in Cambodia. He is a historian and former war-crimes investigator whose writings have been published in the International Herald Tribune, New York Times, The Independent, Newsday, and Boston Globe. He has taught law and war theory at Columbia University and Bard College.

Mike Ritter dropped out of the University of California, Santa Cruz, in 1967 and set off on the Hippie Trail to Afghanistan and India, where he began smuggling hash and marijuana in 1968 and continued for eighteen years. He recently graduated from the University of Hawaii with an undergraduate degree in astronomy and physics.

David Farber is as a professor in the Department of History at Temple University. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago and is the author or coeditor of several books, including The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism and Taken Hostage: The Iran Hostage Crisis and America's First Encounter with Radical Islam.