Of the many atrocities committed and the genocides performed throughout the 20th Century, few cases rival the stories that have come from of the Cambodian “killing fields”. Between 1970 and 1979, an estimated 1.2 – 2.2 million Cambodians were killed by the Khmer Rouge (Genocide). The barbaric nature of slaughter, the torture committed on innocent civilians, and the beliefs that fueled this genocide is a surprising combination of the accidents of history, ideological extremism, blundered US foreign policy, and clandestine US militarism. In reviewing the history of Cambodia, the horror of this mass-genocide appears to establish a universal and moral mandate on mankind to ensure that something like this will never take place again. An important question to ask is concerning how the United States may have failed to keep the killing fields from happening.
Since Thomas Aquinas, most arguments concerning natural right and natural law find their way back to Aristotle. Indeed, Aristotle pioneered a new concept of rights that were never discussed before his time. Whereas Plato bound the individual to his duty within the organ of the state, Aristotle argued that the individual deserved the right to enjoy an equality based society (Miller 87). Each individual had rights that existed within nature by definition (natural law). In addition to the discussion of natural law, Aristotle is credited for giving a detailed account of positive law as well.
Many common interpretations of Aristotle’s theory on natural right, natural law, and positive law are seen through the eyes of Aquinas; however, this approach has drawn much criticism. There is no question that Aquinas was heavily influenced by Aristotle, but there are several convincing arguments that question whether an accurate view of Aristotle is seen through the lens of Aquinas’ interpretation; in other words, “we must be wary of reading back into Aristotle Aquinean doctrines” (Shiner 188).