Thinking of Cambodia

David Hayes
17 April 2011

(This article was first published on 17 April 2003)

I was thinking about Cambodia tonight.

I remembered the Ben Kiernan story about his first visit back after the genocide, and how he asked a Khmer Rouge cadre what had happened to an arrested man in a village. “We killed him for the time being”.

I remembered the story of how the peaceable Cham were hunted down and massacred because they were not pure Khmer.

I remembered reading Francois Ponchaud and Lek Hor Tan on the pathology of absolute power, and then finding a leftist magazine discussing the Kampuchean “workers’ state”.

I remembered the story of how the graduates, technicians and intellectuals answered the call to return from Paris after liberation in 1975, and were met at the airport to be taken away to be tortured and murdered.

I remembered Malcolm Caldwell, who never got the chance to report on his last interview with Pol Pot in December 1978, and whose farewell words on the night he was murdered compared Cambodia to Scotland.

I remembered the shopkeeper (and ex-ambassador) in Paris who had been to school with Saloth Sar, recalled him as "kind and gentle", and blamed the genocide on the fact that Ieng Sary was a Khmer Krom and thus half-Vietnamese.

I remembered the Michael Vickery story of the Young Pioneers at Saigon airport on their way to Moscow in the 1980s who asked him and David Chandler: “Does everyone in Australia speak Khmer?”

I remembered my friend Thavary telling me the story of how she had lost everything, and how the kitchen where we sat became colder and colder as the heating was turned up higher and higher.

I remembered the moment we were introduced, when Thavary offered to show me some photographs of her country. She returned with some postcards of Angkor. It was only then, years after reading all those books on what happened in Cambodia, that I started to understand.

**** **** **** 


One man shall smile one day and say goodbye.
Two shall be left, two shall be left to die.

One man shall give his best advice.
Three men shall pay the price.

One man shall live, live to regret.
Four men shall meet the debt.

One man shall wake from terror to his bed.
Five men shall be dead.

One man to five. A million men to one.

And still they die. And still the war goes on.

James Fenton (reproduced by kind permission of the author)


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