The Idea that Created the Killing Fields


I will always put the needs of the nation before those of the individual.
-Nuon Chea

Nuon Chea (noon chee-ah) was the intellectual who provided the ideology for the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and was second in command to the infamous Pol Pot. Within the Khmer Rouge, Nuon Chea was known as “brother number two.” From 1975-1979 the Khmer Rouged engaged in a systematic genocide of Cambodian “enemies of the people” that resulted in the death of an estimated two million people…in a nation of only seven million!

So how does one justify the murder of two million people?

We don’t have to wonder. Nuon Chea will tell us himself.


Did you hear it? Did you hear what Nuon Chea said?

I have feelings for both the nation and the individual. But I will always put the needs of the nation before those of the individual. An individual’s needs can be met later. But if the individual becomes a problem, they must be solved.

And there is where Nuon Chea went wrong. There is where he gave himself over to the satanic.

You cannot put the needs of the nation before the those of the individual. The “nation” doesn’t exist except as an idea—what exists in reality are individuals. If I say, “show me the nation,” what will you point to? A flag? A map? A capital? Those are only symbols of an idea—an idea that exists only in the abstract. What exists in reality are individuals…real people. And if for the sake of an idea you are willing to harm an individual…well, you might just murder two million people.

Where ideology trumps the individual you have the seedbed for genocide. The person who says, “I will always put the needs of the nation before those of the individual,” is possessed by a demonic idea that can create killing fields.

People in positions of power think they are wise enough to choose what is good for the abstract idea of “the nation.” But they are drunk on wine from the forbidden fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. We are not that wise, we cannot know that much. What we can know is that we are to love God with all our heart and demonstrate that by loving our neighbor—the individual—as our self.

What we must say is something like this—

I don’t know about the good of the nation. The nation is an abstract idea and it is too much for me to know. What I know is my neighbor. And I will love him as myself and pledge to do him no harm.

But the moment we justify harming our individual neighbor in the name of doing good for the theoretical nation, we have conspired with an idea that has the capacity to create killing fields.

It is this very idea of Nuon Chea—the idea of doing good for the nation by doing violence to an individual—that is shamed by Christ in his cross.

Why did Pontius Pilate sentence Christ to state sponsored execution?
He did it for the good of the nation.
That is certainly what the Roman governor would have said.

Why did Caiaphas conspire to put Christ to death?
He did it for the good of the nation.
That is exactly what the Jewish High Priest said.

You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the the people than to have the whole nation destroyed. -Caiaphas (John 11:50)

Caiaphas’ justification for the murder of Christ is almost exactly what Nuon Chea said in his justification for the murder of two million people.

So whether it is Nuon Chea’s crime of genocide or Caiaphas’ crime of deicide, humanity’s greatest crimes are made possible by the idea that harming individuals can be justified if it is done for the right idea or for good of the nation. So as Nuon Chea said, if individuals become a problem, they must be “solved”—meaning murdered. And once murder becomes a good idea can hell be far behind?

To prioritize ideas over individuals is the satanic lie by which genocides are justified.

Putting the needs of the nation before those of the individual is the idea that created the killing fields.

Jesus shames this ideology in his cross and invites us to follow him by taking up our cross and pledging never to harm an individual for the sake of an idea.


(The artwork is The Killing Fields by Lucas Turner.)

I recommend the song A Thousand Men by Joe Pug; a brilliant song that has the hook line—
“Every good idea kills at least a thousand men.”

And I highly recommend the award winning documentary Enemies of the People.

Here’s the trailer.