Remembering the Cambodian Tragedy
You're a star-belly
sneech | You suck like a leech | You want everyone to act like you
Kiss ass while you bitch | So you can get rich | But your boss gets richer
Well you'll work harder | With a gun in your back | For a bowl of rice
Slave for soldiers | Till you starve | Then your head is skewered on a
Now you can go where people are one | Now you can go where they get things
you need, my son…
Is a holiday in Cambodia | Where people dress in black
A holiday in Cambodia | Where you'll kiss ass or crack
Pol Pot, Pol Pot, Pol Pot, Pol Pot, etc…
And it's a holiday in Cambodia | Where you'll do what you're told
A holiday in Cambodia | Where the slums got so much soul
in Cambodia" by the Dead Kennedys
recall sitting in the gym locker room in junior high listening to a boy
next to me singing the chorus to that song.
I turned to him and said matter-of-factly "No it's not."
He looked at me a little stunned until another kid said to him
"Sody's from Cambodia."
He responded by upturning his head and nonchalantly saying "Oh."
I don't know why I bothered saying anything.
I doubt he understood the references to Cambodia.
Even for myself, only years later did I learn to appreciate the
song's social commentary concerning the hypocrisy of upper-class liberals
and its simple but truthful representation of the Khmer Rouge period.
In the mid-1980s, the award-winning movie "The
Killing Fields" launched the Cambodian tragedy into the public consciousness.
The movie was well-received by Cambodians and non-Cambodians alike.
Within the Cambodian community, most survivors felt the movie accurately
represented their experience and its presentation of the horrors of the
Khmer Rouge period made the public more understanding and sympathetic
to our plight. As a college
student in the early 1990s, I read a book narrated and co-authored by
the movie's Oscar-winning actor, Dr. Haing Ngor.
The graphic details of his own tale overshadowed even the horrors
depicted in the movie. Both
the movie and book spoke to me because they were not merely the story
of particular individuals but took on the greater role of representing
the plight of the Khmer people.
In Haing Ngor's movie and book, I saw the experiences of my aunts,
uncles, and cousins who did not survive the earthly hell.
Now a lecturer who teaches college students about the
Cambodian experience, my desire for the Khmer people's struggles to be
accurately represented has taken on an importance beyond the personal.
"The Killing Fields" movie is no longer in the public
consciousness and younger people, including many Cambodian American youth,
have very little knowledge about why and how the Khmer Rouge came to power
and why and how they destroyed Cambodia.
The publication of several books about the Killing Fields experience
in 2000 – the year marking the 25th anniversary of the Khmer
Rouge's takeover – has had the affect of somewhat revitalizing interest
in the Cambodian tragedy. The
public and the younger generation of Cambodian Americans have used these
books as resources from which to learn about the horrific experience of
the Khmer people. Like Haing
Ngor's movie and book, these stories represent not only the narrators'
own tragedies but that of an entire nation.
The personal stories are mediums through which readers may gain
greater insight into the horrors of the Killing Fields.
Of the three narratives that were published in 2000
– Music through the Dark, written by Bree Lefreniere and narrated
by Daran Kravanh, When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him, and
First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung – the last of these books
has received the most publicity, despite being (or perhaps because it
is) a blatant sensationalization and over-dramatization of the Killing
Fields experience. Its narrator
is the youngest among the three survivors – Daran Kravanh is already a
young man when the Khmer Rouge take over in 1975, Chanrithy Him nine years
of age, Loung Ung only five. Being
so young, Ung's "memory" is suspect at best and her book seems
to be based more on imagination than any kind of real memory; worse, Ung
often does not even go to the trouble of placing her fiction within an
historically or culturally accurate context.
Thankfully, the stories narrated by Him and Kravanh seem to be
more clearly based on true recollection, and memory gaps, if any, are
at least filled with culturally and historically accurate facts.
The stories of these latter two narrators contain subtleties that
characterize real life experiences and give color to the darkness of the
How they came to Power
a star-belly sneech | You suck like a leech | You want everyone to act
Kiss ass while you bitch | So you can get rich | But your boss gets richer
Personal narratives about the Killing Fields often
begin in the late 1960s or early 1970s, a time of great turmoil and instability
in mainland Southeast Asia. Cambodia
was being drawn into the international political maelstrom that manifested
itself as war in neighboring South Vietnam.
The Russian and Chinese-backed Vietnamese Communists forced thousands
of villagers to carry their war materials and join their army while using
Cambodia's eastern borders as bases from which to launch attacks against
South Vietnam. South Vietnamese
and American forces retaliated by bombing Cambodia's eastern provinces
and indiscriminately killing innocent Cambodians as well as Vietnamese
Within Cambodia herself, the strained efforts of Prince
Sihanouk to maintain his country's neutrality was causing disenchantment
among his people. Many wanted
to fight against Vietnamese incursion on Cambodian soil and felt the Prince
was shirking his obligation to protect Cambodia's territorial integrity
and people. Others had more
base motives for being discontent and wanting to oust Sihanouk – greed.
Corrupt officials wanted to line their pockets with U.S. largesse
and Sihanouk, with his policy of neutrality, hindered their access to
While Prince Sihanouk was traveling abroad in spring
of 1970, several right-wing leaders within his government took the opportunity
to overthrow him. It was
a bloodless coup that set off over thirty years of bloodshed.
Sihanouk was convinced by the Chinese to throw his support behind
the Cambodian Communists popularly known as the Khmer Rouge.
Full-scale civil war erupted in Cambodia with the Chinese supporting
the Khmer Rouge and the Americans supporting an inept and corrupt Khmer
Republic regime that quite literally ended up selling the country.
All the narratives more-or-less begin at this juncture.
Both Him and Kravanh give readers a real sense of the fear, chaos
and destruction that characterized mid-1970s Cambodia.
Him intermingles observation with objective facts to provide the
following description of the time: "Fighting around the country is
escalating. As the Khmer
Rouge begin to seize outlying provinces, thousands upon thousands of families
flee their homes, seeking refuge in Phnom Penh.
In a matter of months, the population has more than tripled from
about 600,000 to almost 2 million" (51).
"Inch by inch, they close in on Phnom Penh.
They shell the city. ...
We must stay close to home, no bike-riding to market" (52-53).
In passing reference to the social instability that arose, she
notes: "There are more beggars in the city and, now, homeless families.
Children sneak into restaurants and ask customers for leftovers.
Proprietors tell them to leave.
They vanish for a moment, but appear again" (52).
In contrast to a city at siege and hungry children
begging for food, Ung depicts April of 1975 as a time of happiness and
normalcy. Only in one brief
passage does she make the reader aware of the war, and this is in order
for her to pander to the American audience by reciting her father's alleged
explanation to her of the greatness of America's bipartisan political
structure. It is remarkable
that she can remember such a detailed conversation from when she was a
five-year-old child (one of many detailed conversations she "remembers"),
yet remain oblivious to the upheaval all around her.
Ung gives the reader absolutely no sense of the turmoil of 1975
Cambodia. In describing the
streets of Phnom Penh for instance, she states: "The wide boulevards
sing with the buzz of motorcycle engines, squeaky bicycles, and, for those
wealthy enough to afford them, small cars" (1).
But where are the military vehicles that were ubiquitous at the
time or the over one million refugees from the countryside who fled into
the city? Are they so insignificant
to her as to not be worth mentioning?
Or could it be that this author is simply setting her fiction within
the Phnom Penh of today that she observed on a recent visit?
Rather than acknowledging the poverty, discontentment
and instability of the time, Ung prefers to reminisce about her family's
opulence like a Nazi remembering the good old days of the Third Reich.
The fact that economic disparity and corruption helped give rise
to the Khmer Rouge is never mentioned.
And in yet another attempt to pander to her audience, Ung repeatedly
misrepresents her family's status by continually asserting they were "middle
class." A person familiar
with 1970s Cambodia is able to see otherwise, however.
My own parents were both high school teachers in Phnom Penh and
could barely afford a poorly-built French Peugeot automobile.
In contrast, Ung's family owned three cars, including one given
to her teenage brother as a gift.
Such decadence was enjoyed only by either the old elite or the
nouveau rich, many of the latter having gained their new-found wealth
through corruption. Corrupt
military officers often stole the paychecks of their men or inflated the
number of men allegedly under their control and pocketed the excess.
They would then send these men to fight against enemies who they
outnumbered on paper, but against whom they may have actually been outnumbered.
Other officers would steal the property of refugees from the countryside
who fled into Phnom Penh to escape the fighting.
Some even sold weapons to the very people they were fighting against,
the Khmer Rouge, just to make a quick buck.
Him, the other narrator, admits to one incident of such corruption
in her own family: "With so many people now living [in Phnom Penh],
prices are sky-high. And
so is the corruption among government officials.
When my aunt's husband, an officer in the Cambodian army, is arrested
for secretly selling weapons to the Khmer Rouge, my father is devastated.
'How stupid, greedy. He
has sold the country,' Pa murmurs, unable to comprehend the pressure to
betray" (51). Her father's
sentiment represents the indignation felt by many Cambodians concerning
the conditions that led to our country's destruction.
In addition to attempting to make her luxurious lifestyle
seem commonplace, Ung also strains to pre-emptively exculpate her father,
the military police and former secret service agent, from any kind of
wrongdoing. Although she
repeatedly professes his almost divine goodness, the fact remains that
his family possessed wealth well beyond the means a military police could
have legitimately accumulated. And
despite her assurance that he would never harm anyone, his employment
as a member of Sihanouk's secret police belies this assertion.
According to Kravanh, the narrator of Music through the Dark,
"in the 1960s...Prince Sihanouk regularly had his men kidnap and
kill outspoken intellectuals" (Lafreniere 95).
Ung even has the audacity to claim that her father was so gentle
that "during his life as a monk, wherever he walked he had to carry
a broom and dustpan to sweep the path in front of him so as not to kill
any living things by stepping on them" (Ung 12).
As a former monk myself, I know this to be misrepresentative of
Cambodian religious practice and most likely untrue.
To describe a person who worked as one of Sihanouk's secret police
in such a manner is comparable to describing a Gestapo as a saint.
I would not expect Ung to go into detail about the
inherent brutality of her father's line of work, but her cover up is offensive
to notions of truth and decency.
I cannot help but to reflect upon my own family's history of victimization
by these secret police. My
father has told me of how he had feared these men, having been followed
around by them for weeks upon returning from studying in America in the
1960s. My uncle Eng Ly, an
outspoken journalist who heavily criticized government corruption, was
the target of several assassination attempts by government agents.
At one point, the threats and attempts of violence against him
by these ruthless thugs forced him to flee the country and live in exile
for over a year. Were my
uncle alive today I wonder how he would feel about the characterization
of a secret police agent as a person who "never did any harm to anyone"
when committing violence and intimidation was an inherent part of the
job. In addition to corruption,
it was this very brutality that caused many people to join the Khmer Rouge.
Part of the nucleus of the Khmer Rouge leadership, in fact, were
originally Members of Parliament who criticized government incompetence.
For this they were harassed and brutalized by men in Ung's father's
line of employment and eventually driven into the forests where they joined
So why and how did the Khmer Rouge come to power?
People joined for various reasons, one being that they were disenchanted
with the injustice of social inequality and corruption of government and
military officials. The Khmer
Rouge were able to exploit this disenchantment to recruit people to join
them. Him hints at these
social problems and Kravanh acknowledges: "most of the people who
joined [the Khmer Rouge] were poor peasants – mostly young, uneducated,
even illiterate people, unhappy with their poverty and jealous of the
upper-class elite of Phnom Penh" (Lefreniere 33).
If owning multiple cars, employing personal servants, and spending
weekends at a private club were actually "middle class" and
the norm as Ung insinuates, then the Khmer Rouge would have had a difficult
time recruiting members indeed.
and How they destroyed Cambodia
you'll work harder | With a gun in your back | For a bowl of rice a day
Slave for soldiers | Till you starve | Then your head is skewered on a
April 17, 1975.
The Khmer Rouge finally overcome Khmer Republic forces and enter
Cambodia's capital city of Phnom Penh victorious.
American bombing during the late 1960s and early 1970s had already
caused the estimated death of over a half million people.
Over the next few years ancient prophecies of Cambodia's destruction
would further come to fruition.
Under Khmer Rouge rule, people lived in complete misery and despair...if
they lived at all. Almost
two million people, an estimated 25 percent of the country's total population,
died from starvation, disease and execution between 1975 and 1979.
Before the victorious Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh,
fear and apprehension was so pervasive among the city's residents as to
be almost palpable. Him's
description of Phnom Penh in April of 1975 is consistent with those of
other witnesses: "In the stark moment after bombs have fallen elsewhere
in the city, children, men, and women run outside their homes, craning
their necks to watch the danger.
We do the same, including my siblings, my parents, and Uncle Surg...
Where is the danger? Our
eyes survey the surroundings. Little
is said. Glancing at our
neighbors, we wonder where the bombs will hit.
Will there be more? Which
part of the city will the Khmer Rouge bomb?
No one knows." (55).
On the day the Khmer Rouge enter Phnom Penh, Him observes: "The
morning is overcast as I make my way up the road.
...I notice some women running to other neighbors.
They seem as frantic as my mother.
With shrill voices, they alert people to put up white flags, warn
each other to listen to the news on the radio" (57).
In contrast, Ung professes complete ignorance of the Khmer Rouge
until they actually march into the city and disturb her fun: "It
is afternoon and I am playing hopscotch with my friends on the street
in front of our apartment. ...
I stop playing when I hear the thunder of engines in the distance"
(17). The image is vivid,
but amidst this pandemonium, would Ung's parents really have permitted
their five-year-old daughter to casually play hopscotch on the streets
of Phnom Penh? How could
a girl so precocious as to understand her father's explanation of a foreign
country's political system be so ignorant of the Khmer Rouge threat?
How is it that the thunder of engines surprises her when the thunder
of mortar shells has enveloped the city for months?
Given the fact that she was only five years old at the time, her
"memory" would understandably be fuzzy. Nevertheless,
she should fill in these memory gaps with descriptions at least somewhat
reflective of reality rather than opting for the dramatic and outlandish.
Since Ung has neglected to inform the reader of the
social injustices that gave rise to the Khmer Rouge, she must devise some
other reason for why they fight to overthrow the government and are later
so cruel. Her answer is that
they are simply inherently evil.
When the Khmer Rouge enter the city victorious, Ung quotes her
father saying to her: "They're not nice people. Look at their shoes
– they wear sandals made from car tires.
... It shows that
these people are destroyers of things" (25).
She even goes so far as to claim that "when you look into
their eyes, you can see the devil himself" (32).
Him's description, in contrast, allows the reader to understand
that these shoes did not evince some kind of inherent evil nature, but
rather poverty: "Their sandals are odd, with soles fashioned of car
tires and pieces of inner tube strapping them into place.
It fits with their bare-fisted philosophy of combat.
That doesn't really concern my father.
What catches his eye is their physical condition, their malnourished
bodies. They act tough with
guns and rifles strapped onto their shoulders, but their sallow complexions
betray their suffering" (63).
Even Kravanh, who lost almost his entire family to the Khmer Rouge,
acknowledges: "I cannot say I disagreed with everything the Khmer
Rouge were saying. I know
now, as I knew then, that they were correct in criticizing inequality
and corruption in Cambodia" (35).
Of course, neither Him nor Kravanh nor any other victim of the
Khmer Rouge would claim that this exonerates the Khmer Rouge for their
cruelty and destruction, but it gives the reader some sense of the rationale
behind the Khmer Rouge's action.
It gives color and complexity to the Khmer Rouge ordeal rather
than simplifying it to a black-and-white, good-versus-evil picture that
grossly distorts reality.
Although the Khmer Rouge regime was evil and destructive,
not all Khmer Rouge cadre were simply sadistic monsters bent on destroying
the country and fellow Cambodians.
"The Killing Fields" movie acknowledges this in the form
of the Khmer Rouge leader who helped the movie's protagonist escape the
horror. Before his death,
the leader discusses how he and his wife had sacrificed their lives for
the revolution because they believed they could help create a better society
for Cambodians. Him also
notes glimpses of humanity among the ranks of the Khmer Rouge. One cadre
risked his life on several occasions to secretly give her food, and in
reference to the treatment given to her by a Khmer Rouge "doctor"
she remarks: "She's
gentle. A lady, a doctor,
disguised in the Khmer Rouge uniform.
... She asks, 'P'yoon
srey [Young sister], how long have you had this wound?'
I'm touched by the tender way she addresses me.
It's a term I have never heard from a Khmer Rouge.
For the first time, I wonder if some Khmer Rouge are actually nice,
quietly hiding among the ranks of the cruel" (166-167).
She aptly concludes: "The world is no longer as black as their
uniforms, as white as rice" (169).
Kravanh too shows us the humanity of the Khmer Rouge.
His final anecdote tells of a legless Khmer Rouge soldier who with
his last breath of life laments his senseless sacrifices for the Khmer
Rouge and the senselessness of war.
The soldier is no longer someone to be feared and hated, but in
this case someone who is himself a victim of the darkness that enveloped
his country. Although Him
and Kravanh often express anger and indignation against their oppressors,
they resist the temptation to demonize the Khmer Rouge or the Khmer people.
To them, good and evil is not black and white, just as in reality
it is not.
The third narrator, Ung, unfortunately chooses to ignore
reality in preference for telling a more easily digestible story - easily
digestible, that is, if the reader has no real knowledge
of Cambodian history.
Her caricaturization and demonization of the Khmer Rouge does injustice
to the real dynamics of our tragedy.
Were the distortions to end here, her book would simply be poor
fiction that misinforms.
The offensiveness of Ung's book goes beyond the mere simplification
of such complex concepts, however, by incorporating the author's racism against the Khmer people into
her narrative. Just
as her story is so lacking in authentic detail as to appear black-and-white
compared to that of the other narrators, so too are her heroes
and villains, quite literally: Throughout her book, Ung portrays herself as the light-skinned, Chinese
heroine standing in opposition to the dark-skinned, Khmer villains.
She distances herself from the indigenous Khmer population
by extolling her family's superior Chinese physical characteristics and customs
and debasing or misrepresenting many aspects of Khmer life and culture.
She equates the dark complexion of ethnic Khmers to a dark heart and
demonizes not just the Khmer Rouge in her story but the entire
Khmer people. Her
misrepresentations of the Killing Fields is sadly reminiscent of racist cowboy-and-Indian
movies of the past, with herself playing the role of the heroic cowboy
and the Khmer people the savage Indians.
Him and Kravanh both clearly feel a greater comfort
and affinity with their Cambodian background, embracing their Khmer heritage
and culture rather than distancing themselves from it.
Hence, they are better able to differentiate between Khmer Rouge
and Khmer victim and readily acknowledge that the entire population of
Cambodia suffered in the Killing Fields.
Ung instead claims that the Khmer Rouge are engaged in a policy
of ethnic cleansing, implicitly implying that only ethnic Chinese were
harmed and that ethnic Khmers were somehow the cause of all the suffering
(92). She fails to explain,
however, how she could then observe her pure Chinese uncles being touted
as "model citizens." Him
makes a remarkably similar observation about a person of Chinese descent
being honored at a Khmer Rouge assembly: "Among the clusters of people,
I see a 'new person,' a man in his late fifties, squatting on the ground
beside the Khmer Rouge. His
face, eyes, and complexion suggest he is of Chinese descent.
... He looks relaxed,
as if he's somehow connected with these Khmer Rouge leaders.
The Khmer Rouge point to him as a model worker" (199).
How could Ung suggest that the Khmer Rouge were engaged in a policy
of ethnic cleansing when both she and Him observed them praising ethnic
Chinese men as "model citizens"?
In describing one of her brigade leaders, Him notes: "Her
complexion is white, in striking contrast to her new black uniform"
(219). In fact, Chinese-Cambodians
held even higher positions within the Khmer Rouge, including some of the
very top levels.
To allege the Killing Fields was simply about ethnic
cleansing is dangerous and offensive for two primary reasons: first,
it implicitly denies the suffering of ethnic Khmers who in fact constituted
a vast majority of those who suffered under the Khmer Rouge; worse,
it implicitly assumes their guilt in a tragedy of which they themselves
were victims. Throughout
her book Ung makes claims of special victimization because of her light
skin. To depict oneself
as targeted for special discrimination and persecution obviously makes
ones story appear more heroic, but at the expense of minimizing and
misrepresenting the Cambodian people's tragedy.
Him, who is also of Chinese descent and appears to be even lighter-skinned
than Ung based on pictures in their book, makes no such allegations
in her story. Rather, she
acknowledges that in the Killing Fields it did not matter whether you
were light-skinned or dark-skinned, ethnic Chinese or not, if you displeased
the Khmer Rouge or posed a threat to them your life was imperiled.
Many members of my own extended family are Chinese-Cambodian
and light-skinned, yet thankfully many of them were able to survive
the Killing Fields, something that would have been impossible had the
Khmer Rouge really been engaged in a policy of ethnic cleansing.
The Khmer Rouge executed anyone discovered to be
in positions of power and wealth during the Khmer Republic era, such
as government officials, military officers, businessmen, and the like.
While it may have been easier for darker-skinned Cambodians to
hide their urban background and blend in with the rural Cambodian population,
discovery of any such elevated position within the old society meant
death for them as well, regardless of skin color.
The entire population of Cambodia, not any particular segment,
was forced to toil in the fields and suffer abuse, hunger and starvation.
Any simplification of the Killing Fields period that
exclusively depicts light-skinned individuals as victims and dark-skinned
Cambodians as tormentors is utterly irresponsible.
That most Khmer Rouge cadres were dark-skinned does not mean that
all dark-skinned Cambodians were supporters of the Khmer Rouge.
And although the Khmer Rouge created an evil regime, no one should
use this fact to portray the Khmer as an evil people.
To blur the line of distinction between Khmer victim and Khmer
Rouge oppressor is to blame the victim along with the criminal.
you need, my son…
a holiday in Cambodia | Where people dress in black
A holiday in Cambodia | Where you'll kiss ass or crack
Pol Pot, Pol Pot, Pol Pot, Pol Pot, etc…
I guess the song "Holiday in Cambodia" is
particularly compelling to me because I am one of only a few Cambodians
my age who was fortunate enough to miss out on what a close friend and
survivor sarcastically calls "the big party."
When the Khmer Rouge overtook Phnom Penh, my parents were pursuing their
studies at Cal State Long Beach. I was a month shy of four.
One of my very few childhood memories is the image of my parents both
beating their fists against our tattered sofa and weeping uncontrollably
for reasons inexplicable to me. I do not recall how old I was at
the time or whether it was in 1975, 76, or 77, but in retrospect I am
certain their distress had something to do with either fear for the safety
of relatives and friends trapped in Pol Pot's Cambodia or news of their
death. Victimization comes in many forms, and although the Khmer
Rouge were thousands of miles away, they had made victims of my parents.
The Khmer Rouge left their mark on me as well: For many years when my
cousins and friends spoke of their experiences in the Killing Fields,
I felt the sting of guilt and embarrassment for my fortune of being in
America through the whole ordeal, a feeling that I had received a blessing
I did not deserve. These feelings have led me to learn all
I can about my people and the tragedy that befell them.
My indignation against misrepresentations of the Khmer Rouge period
is therefore admittedly personal as well as professional.
A "memoir" based on fabrications lacks pedagogical value
and reflects a lack of personal moral value.
It demeans the experiences of survivors, offends the memory of
lost loved ones, and misleads those who wish to really learn about "the
The difference between Kravanh and Him on the one hand
and Ung on the other is that the former two narrators demonstrate an attention
to detail and love of the Khmer people that evince their effort is not
merely for personal profit but to inform the world about what truly happened
to our people. The content
of Ung's book, in contrast, evinces not a person of conscience trying
to teach the younger generation about their past – as the author has repeatedly
asserted to the media – but an entrepreneur willing to sacrifice honestly
and integrity to sell tragedy. Her
book is an elixir of lies that she goes from media outlet to media outlet,
university to university, hawking to the credulous public.
That some people have been touched by the story does not make the
author a successful artist, but merely a successful con-artist.
Whether an elixir is sold in the form of a potion or a story, those
pre-disposed to believing its powers will feel its effect.
The author knows her audience's emotional predilection and her
book is specifically tailored to elicit their pathos.
The unfortunate victims of this scam are not only her misinformed
readers, but the Khmer people – a people who have suffered enough that
they should not now have their ordeal grotesquely distorted for the sake
of making a buck. Profiting
off tragedy is horrible enough, profiting off distortions of tragedy even
Members of my family and countless other Cambodians
were contemptuously dumped into mass graves by the Khmer Rouge.
Their tragedy should not be unearthed, butchered, and put back
together like some kind of literary Frankenstein.
A person familiar with Cambodian history and culture can discern
the differing qualities of these three books because we can discern between
fact and fiction just as a doctor is able to discern authentic medicine
from impotent elixirs. For many
people, however, the Cambodian tragedy remains something of a mystery
and these books may represent the totality of their knowledge.
The authors of books on the Cambodian genocide therefore need to
recognize the importance of their representations and take care to preserve
the history of our tragedy as accurately as possible.
They should not be like the boy in my junior high locker room,
simply mouthing words without understanding their significance.