(c) 2005-2007 Oliver Bonten
This book was on sale all over Cambodia when I travelled there in 2003, in souvenir stands, especially around the genocide monuments of Toul Sleng and Choung Ek. I finished reading it on April 17, 2005, and realisied the significance of this date only a few hours after I closed the book: on this very day, 30 years ago, Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge and the Khmer Rouge reign of terror began.
There are two facts that I find particularly disturbing about Cambodia. First, I can see a certain logic in genocide. It is part of human nature: our innate feelings of "us" and "them" and "right" and "wrong" are inappropriate to the scope to which we can technically apply them, but I can understand what goes on in a people who are exterminating their enemies, and I can understand which part of our nature causes this. But I cannot see a logic in genosuicide (or suigenocide?), and knowing there is something going on in the human soul that can make whole peoples eradicate themselves gives me the shivers.
And second, what disturbs me is the way the world reacted to the Vietnamese occupation. That most of the world, especially the Western countries and Thailand, continued to recognize the exiled Pol Pot as legitimate leader of Cambodia, that impoverished Cambodia as a "Vietnamese vassal country" did not get any significant amount of international aid, while support was provided to the exiled Khmer Rouge until the early 1990s, even though the full extent of the Khmer Rouge atrocities was known then. There were enough survivors then who could tell the tale. "The killing fields", the movie, was screened in 1984. But Pol Pot was supported by the Chinese, who were the "good" communists at that time, and Vietnam was backed by the USSR, the "bad" communists. I know of no other case in which the logic of the cold war has led to such an obvious and cynical disregard of human lives - that for the West, a dead Cambodia was preferrable to a red one.
One of the survivors is Loung Ung, who was 5 at the time the Khmer Rouge took power, and at the age of 10, came to the U.S. as a refugee. She tells the story of her family under the Khmer Rouge, until the day she departs for the U.S.. First, the story gives an impression of life in Phnom Penh during the Lon Nol government (a right-wing military dicatorship, by the way), the normality and level of prosperity in the city. It's one of the things that makes me sad everytime I read about descriptions of life in Cambodia until the early 1970s - I imagine Phnom Penh to be very similar to my favourite city, Kuala Lumpur, but now there are decades between them. And maybe a factor of 10 or more in per capita income. Loung Ung then tells the story of the eviction from Phnom Penh, the destruction of civilisation items (money, watches), being sent to settle in different parts of the country, the labour camp-like daily life, famine, the separation of her family, and finally, being trained as a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge. It's in part a sad story, especially considering that this happens to a 5-9 year old girl, who largely has to be able to fend for herself. But it is also a hopeful story because it shows that it is possible to survive this.
In the center of the book, some family photos are printed, some from the time before and others from the time after the Khmer Rouge. They are non-professional photos, a bit blurred or with typical family photo scenes. But they give an incredible authenticity to the story. They give faces to the people in the book. Loungs brother Meng Ung looks like a wise man, the kind of person you ask for advice. Her brother Kim looks like a former colleague of mine, also named Kim. The book would have been much less without the photos.
The book is part of the school curriculum in Cambodia now. But it should be read in other countries as well. I think it is important that the world remembers that this has happened, how it has happened, and probably why. Or else, it will happen again, some day, somewhere.
Loung has recently published a sequel, which describes her life in America and her sister's life in Cambodia after the events from "First I killed my father". I can't wait to get it into my hands.
Dieses Buch hat eine Fortsetzung: Lucky Child
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Film: The Killing Fields
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Buch: Lucky Child
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