Irrelevant Joke

"Hey, what do you think of our nation's future?" A certain student asked, "Since, as we know it, our nation is at war."

The student in question was Huy Vien, a 16-year-old teenager studying in the Tuol Svay Pray High School, located around the central area of Phnom Penh. He and several of his friends were meeting as usual in his classroom, their favourite place for discussion.

"Well, I'd say that Lon Nol would be gone as soon as Americans escaped Vietnam. He could only do so much without American support," Noriem Phra, another classmate who was sitting on the desk, was the first to speak up.

"I believe he'll stay, whatever happens. I doubt the current military regime would give up that easily." Rua Kratha interjected. He was from a different classroom, but he'd sometimes involve himself in conversations here.

"But we must not forget, the Red Khmer. I suppose they might – can be an important factor here," Huy Vien spoke up again.

The Red Khmer was gaining popularity around the north and the western borders. Their power was growing on a daily basis as the Republican regime was slowly losing their popularity.

After a short-lived struggle, the Red Khmer was forced to wage a guerilla war from the jungle and underground, as they were forced to retreat in 1963 after the monarchy attempted to eliminate any possible opposition to power. But, during this time of crisis, the king – Norodom Sihanouk – was forced to ally the Red Khmer fighters, following the 1970 coup d'etat that toppled the recently-independent Kingdom of Cambodia.

"Speaking of which, Vietnam is currently winning, right?" Noriem Phra inquired. All he got was a mere shrug.

"Who knows? Access to information was quite scarce around here," Rua Kratha chimed in.

"Well, I don't know anything about it, though I heard rumours about American evacuation from Vietnam. So I'd say the Americans were losing," Huy Vien continued as he wiped his glasses with his shirt.

The discussion went silent for a while, everyone fell into deep thought. Having enough with the uncomfortable silence, Rua Kratha broke it first, "Speaking of which, anybody actually knows what Red Khmer is all about?"

Nuon Troang, who has just entered the room, decided to join the conversation, "I didn't exactly know, but my father joined them recently. The king is on their side, after all."

"The king is on their side?" Rua Kratha scratched his head, "I mean, them being allies is just like oil and water blending together."

"Well, as far as I know, they are probably amongst the left," Nuon Troang air quoted with both hands.

"And whatever left is that supposed to mean, I probably don't know," Huy Vien remarked.

"If they are leftist, that would mean they are..." Noriem Phra put his hand in chin, "What was it again? Communal or something?"


Noriem Phra snapped his fingers. "Ah yes, that," He continued, "So that means their beliefs are based on Communism."

"Hold a second," Huy Vien responded with a frown, "What is this leftist Communism, supposed to be?"

"Wait, you didn't know?" Noriem Phra replied in slight disbelief.

"How am I supposed to know?" Huy Vien retorted.

"Calm down, calm down, no need to overheat," Nuon Troang waved his hand around, trying to relieve the small tension.

"Easy for you to say," Huy Vien remarked. Others ignored him.

"Well," Rua Kratha finally stepped in, "For starters, communism is basically a belief that the lowest class – either workers or peasants – should be the driving force of the nation."

"Politically, that is," Noriem Phra interjected, "But yeah, basically it's about equality between citizens. I don't know much about it, so take it with a grain of salt."

The others simply nodded.

"Hey, now that I think about it," Noriem Phra spoke up, "That would mean communism is quite interconnected with peasants, right?"

"Probably," Rua Kratha nodded.

"Nuon Troang, your family is working on the rice field, right?"

"Well, same as yours," Nuon Troang replied nonchalantly.

Noriem Phra suddenly snap his finger, "Now that I remember it, Huy Vien," He turned his head towards him, his lips tugged into a small grin, "You never really liked getting your hands dirty, do you?"

"Wh-what?" Huy Vien suddenly averted his eyes, "N-no, I don't really care about it."

Noriem Phra laughed, "At least if it really was about equality, you are probably going to work with me on the rice field," He patted his shoulder as the other students laughed.

"Well, I wouldn't know," Huy Vien shrugged in spite of his slight embarrasment, "If everyone was working on the field, then I'd probably prefer to die in this school."

"Might as well with glasses on," Noriem Phra chuckled. The laugh finally subsided as the bell rang, signaling the end of the recess. They went back to their respective classes, continuing the rest of the day as usual.

But they hadn't yet known what was about to come.

The date was April 17th, 1974.

Never did they know, that in exactly one year, through that small and seemingly irrelevant joke, the two of them had ominously predicted the exact beginning of a dark era for Kampuchea.