Friday, August 28, 2009

No remembrance = No memory = No life

Image of two child Khmer Rouge soldiers taken sometime between 1975 and 1979 in Cambodia.
Dear Gentle Reader,

Yesterday, I posed two questions based on Chairman Mao Zedong's (1893-1976) "paper tiger" bombast injected into the global cold war debate of the 1950s.

What would it look like if half a country went missing? And, who chooses which half?

Generally speaking, especially in the modern West, it is hard to imagine half a country missing.

Many parts of the developing world, unfortunately, do not have such difficulties.

They just look around them.

A case in point would be Cambodia.

One third of Cambodia's population was killed, from 1975 to 1979, by the Khmer Rouge under the leadership of Pol Pot.

Why would such a thing be done?

As one of the Khmer Rouge slogans went:

"To keep you is no benefit; to destroy you is no loss."

Who was killed?

Only the government workers.
And the religious people.
And the professionals.
And the tradespeople.
And the intellectuals--such as anyone who had had any schooling. Or wore glasses. Or lived in a city. Or used any post-industrial revolution tools.

Or anyone else who didn't toil in the fields and live in a village.


When you don't meet the people, it is hard to fathom their losses.

Especially as most people try to minimize it and forget about it. After all, with survivors, a difficult thing to bear in mind, sometimes, is "How did this person survive?"...

Nonetheless, there are many survivors who were victims.

Remember the boat people? Those refugees who flooded to our shores three decades ago, desperate for hope and sanctuary?

This is why they fled and what they fled...

The New Regime
by Sarith Pou from the book "Corpse Watching"

No religious rituals.
No religious symbols.
No fortune tellers.
No traditional healers.
No paying respect to elders.
No social status. No titles.

No education. No training.
No school. No learning.
No books. No library.
No science. No technology.
No pens. No paper.

No currency. No bartering.
No buying. No selling.
No begging. No giving.
No purses. No wallets.

No human rights. No liberty.
No courts. No judges.
No laws. No attorneys.

No communications.
No public transportation.
No private transportation.
No traveling. No mailing.
No inviting. No visiting.
No faxes. No telephones.

No social gatherings.
No chitchatting.
No jokes. No laughter.
No music. No dancing.

No romance. No flirting.
No fornication. No dating.
No wet dreaming.
No masturbating.
No naked sleepers.
No bathers.
No nakedness in showers.
No love songs. No love letters.
No affection.

No marrying. No divorcing.
No marital conflicts. No fighting.
No profanity. No cursing.

No shoes. No sandals.
No toothbrushes. No razors.
No combs. No mirrors.
No lotion. No make up.
No long hair. No braids.
No jewelry.
No soap. No detergent. No shampoo.
No knitting. No embroidering.
No colored clothes, except black.
No styles, except pajamas.
No wine. No palm sap hooch.
No lighters. No cigarettes.
No morning coffee. No afternoon tea.
No snacks. No desserts.
No breakfast [sometimes no dinner].

No mercy. No forgiveness.
No regret. No remorse.
No second chances. No excuses.
No complaints. No grievances.
No help. No favors.
No eyeglasses. No dental treatment.
No vaccines. No medicines.
No disabilities. No social diseases.
No tuberculosis. No leprosy.

No kites. No marbles. No rubber bands.
No cookies. No popsicle. No candy.
No playing. No toys.
No lullabies.
No rest. No vacations.
No holidays. No weekends.
No games. No sports.
No staying up late.
No newspapers.

No radio. No TV.
No drawing. No painting.
No pets. No pictures.
No electricity. No lamp oil.
No clocks. No watches.

No hope. No life.
A third of the people didn’t survive.
The regime died.


And, if they didn't flee, or were not fast enough, or lucky enough...

Image of bound bones and skulls with the blindfolds still fastened around them, from the genocide in Cambodia.



Teresa said...

Thank you for this horrific, yet touching post, Chris.


Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Teresa,

Horrific is apt.

I am gratified that you also consider this piece touching, too.

This poem touched me profoundly, more each time I read it.

The poem continues to do so, more, as distance and time allows the import of the words to settle into my anaesthetised brain.

The last two days of quotes lead up to this post, and this poem, and the awful images that accompany it.

(At first glance, the second image is the terrible one. The more I look at them, however (something I try not do too much), the more I find that the bones represent the end. Their prior holders are safe from further corporeal harm. The child soldiers, however, represent an ongoing threat. And the lack of malice in their young eyes gives me great fright.)

I have been struggling with fixing my thoughts to paper on the atrocities of Tuol Sleng prison, in Phnom Penh; struggling to write an essay on the banality and bureaucracy of institutionalized terror.

I suspect that that will come, still, and I have been in a darker place, recently, but, it will take time to pin the slippery words down into my unyielding tablet.

I am all for witty and fun, but I always hope for more than entertainment alone.

And witty and I might have parted company for a brief while.

Thanks, Teresa, for reading.


Cloudia said...

Steady, my Brother!
Look around you: there is beauty and there is peace; there is Pommes; here are Teresa and me.....loving you!

Be well, dear. Be well.


Comfort Spiral

Teresa said...

I agree with Cloudia. There are those who care and who want to follow you through the fun and the serious. Life serves up both, as humans we need to deal with both. I look forward to your essay on the dark depths that you beheld.

The pen is mightier than the sword. May your words ripple out touching many hearts to prevent future atrocities. We really cannot afford to forget, especially in troubled and troubling times.

murat11 said...

Brother/amigo: You are in our prayers and thoughts; we will all walk where you need to go (and need us to go with you). There is radiant darkness, but that is not the darkness of your witness right now.

I am very grateful for the card you sent. Something from the Heart of Texas must come back your way: I'll keep my eyes open.

vaya con dios...

The United Statesian said...

Dear scribe,

Cambodia is very close to my heart for many reasons. My time there was very powerful!

The film "The killing fields" is far from trivial, but it is not as touching as the biography of Hang S. Ngor (A Cambodian Odyssey. Macmillian Publishing Company, 1987).

Hang Ngor's won an Oscar for his role in the film, but his personal story is much more real, much more powerful.

The only person to survive three death camps, he was killed by gang members in LA in 1996.

Sepiru Chris said...

Dear Cloudia and Teresa,

Thank you, very much. I am touched and appreciate your words.

I am relatively steady, fortunately, I am just getting accustomed to some new bobs and turbulent eddies in my buoyant landscape.

Dear Teresa,

Thank you very much for your words.

It will be a while yet before that essay erupts out of me. My neural soothsayers still protest.

Dear Murat,

I appreciate it, and you have no idea how much I have been mulling over the idea of radiant darkness, and, also, my complete oversight of the Black Madonna in a prior post.

No need for any more returns from the heart of Texas, I receive nuggets of gold each time that I enter your wordsmith domain. Croesus is a pauper compared to the wealth which you, and Richard, pass on. Of course, as neither of you charge, I fear for the inflationary impact of your words on modern poetry...

Dear United Statesian,

Yes, I know that you have had quite a relationship with Cambodia in the past. I have often wondered how much of that past was shared with you and held by you as you have never spoken of it. Take care. I can imagine that a few memories might have been stirred up. All I can say is that memory, in my view, is good.

Tschuess, and thanks, all.

bindu said...

Some years ago, I watched a series of documentaries about this period in Cambodia's past, and also read some books to learn about this period - including the story of Dith Pran. It is utterly shocking to see how brutal and barbaric the human race is capable of being, and how the rest of the world just let it happen. These things happen over and over ... Rwanda, Tibet, Afghanistan even before this decade's events ... as long as there are no resources there to exploit, nobody cares.