Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality

Burying Hitler's Ghosts
Celebrating the Millennium without Pol Pot

By David G. Young

WASHINGTON, July 29, 1997 --

"May you live in interesting times."

That quote, commonly referenced as a curse, can also be a blessing. We may live in interesting times, but we also live in magnificent times.

The recent arrest and show trial of Pol Pot, one of the most brutal dictators of the 20th century, offers a dramatic conclusion to the bloodiest century in the history of the world. The event almost went unnoticed -- most Americans were distracted by tabloid reports about celebrity murderer Andrew Cunanan. Why should Americans care about murders that took place "in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing?" They should care because it closes a curtain on a period of unparalleled brutality. It also symbolizes the beginning of incredible opportunities for the human race.

When the industrial age reached maturity, history gave political leaders a unique opportunity to harness modern technology against fellow men. They seized this opportunity with zeal. Between 1880 and 1980, over 100 million people were killed by statist experimentation. An incredible wave of killing was led by a long series of horrific leaders. Four monsters stand out from the rest by the incredible scale of their slaughter. First came Stalin who killed 25 million in his push to collectivize agriculture. Hitler tried to exterminate an entire race, along with tens of millions of others in his quest for empire. Mao killed tens of millions more in war, summary executions, and politically imposed famine. While Pol Pot had the smallest country to work with, he still managed to kill millions. He thus succeeded in creating the greatest proportional carnage -- about a quarter of Cambodia's entire population.

While the actions of these four men stand out, their horrors were far from isolated catastrophes. These events were only extreme applications of a widely practiced experiment peculiar to the 20th century. This experiment combined the incredibly concentrated technological power and resources of the state with highly theoretical utopian dreams. The resulting disasters occurred almost everywhere on the globe -- in widely varying degrees. These tragedies are as identifying of the 20th century as the Reformation is of the 16th century and the Black Plague is of the 14th. History will remember the 20th century at the age of Statist Experimentation. Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot will not be remembered favorably.

Pol Pot is the only living member of this dubious group. Until two months ago he remained at large in the jungles of Cambodia, fighting to re-establish his murderous regime.

No longer. His forced removal from the leadership of the Khmer Rouge army is immensely satisfying to a world seeking closure to a century of slaughter. As Pol Pot sat at his "trial", looking distant and forlorn, the finality of his ouster was clear. While critics correctly question the motives of his successors, the cessation of the pursuit of such insane ideals is the real story. The last utopian monster is slain.

It couldn't have happened at a more appropriate time. The beginning of the 21st century offers incredible opportunities for the future of mankind: Around the world, governments are reducing their shackles on the minds of men. Command economies are withering in the shadow of dynamic market systems. The level of cooperative trade between countries is soaring to new heights. Modern culture and ideas are widely disseminated with increasingly efficient communications technology.

The age of harnessing technology against mankind finally has passed. It is now time for technology to serve.