Monday, July 24, 2006

Cambodia Holocaust: The Killing Fields revisited

Dear friends,

Even as Singapore mourns the passing of one of her founding fathers this past week (for the late Mr. Lim Kim San), there was another wake of sorts somewhere in our ASEAN neighbor of Cambodia.

Ta Mok, a former Khmer Rouge leader nicknamed "The Butcher" had just died. He was the regime's military commander and together with the Khmer Rouge leadership, were linked to many atrocities of the 1970s where about 1.7 million people died under the Khmer Rouge, through a combination of starvation, disease and execution. Unfortunately, many of these accused, including its leader Pol Pot has since died.

The Vietnam war and its aftermath is all too real for me as the 1970’s was a time when the concept of “Domino Theory” held sway in American foreign policy circles , and this led many of us to believe that after Vietnam and Cambodia had fallen to the Communists, Thailand ,Malaysia and Singapore would be the next dominoes fated to fall.

Words and names such as Pol Pot, the “Killing Fields” etc inexplicably trigger poignant memories of my days at medical school in the National University of Singapore. I remember vividly the day when the news came.

I was studying at the old medical library (now College of Medicine Building-the Ministry of Health), College Rd.

The news was that the British charity, Oxfam, has finally got into Cambodia for the first time in years. Dr. Fletcher, our physiology lecturer (from the UK) was helping to coordinate the collection of funds for the charity.

One must remember that up till then, there had been no news at all about Cambodia since the xenophobic Khmer Rouge seized power at about the same time the American-backed South Vietnam had fallen to the communist North Vietnamese (1975). Cambodia (now renamed Kampuchea) continued to remain incommunicado even after she was invaded by Vietnam in 1978.

At that time in 1981/82 (I cannot recall the exact month), we were third year medical students. Although not rich, my fellow classmates and I emptied our wallets and purses in response to this urgent call for aid. I remember helping to fill cylindrical glass jars (loaned from our labs) with notes of various denominations. We must have collected at least a few hundred Singapore dollars.

I am not sure if those measly dollars helped much, but that was our only way to share our humanity with those fellow human beings who had been through worse than Hell on earth.

It was only a few weeks later that the magnitude of the catastrophe was made known to the rest of the world via the world’s media.

And most of us only fully realised the extent of the Cambodian holocaust from the 1984 Academy award-winning movie “The Killing Fields “,which was based on the experience of the journalist Dith Pran, who survived the Khmer Rouge regime. Dr. Haing Ngor, himself a real-life survivor of this tragedy starred as Dith Pran.

In 1996,the Oscar-winning film star was himself tragically murdered senselessly in his adopted city of Los Angeles by an Asian street gang.

Another noteworthy mention about Cambodia was that even after the Khmer Rouge were evicted from power by the Vietnamese, ASEAN and its western friends, through a series of diplomatic manouevres, ensured that the murderous Khmer Rouge (rather than the Vietnam-backed communist government) held on to Cambodia's seat in the United Nations!

In foreign policy ,your enemy’s enemy is your friend. We would rather be in bed with the Khmer Rouge even if there were the world’s most barbaric regime.

I will never understand the senseless cruelty and inhumanity we show towards other fellow human beings in places like Cambodia, Auschwitz, Srebrenica ,Rwanda and the Sudan.

I will bet my last dollar that Cambodia and other tragedies like her would be repeated till the end of time. And all Khmer Rouge’s leaders (who are now awaiting trial for crimes against humanity) will inevitably die natural deaths and their victims remain buried in those Killing Fields, unavenged!

And somehow, at the passing of these human monsters, there will still be those who will mourn their deaths! Just as Ta Mok is mourned.

Life sucks.

Dr. Huang Shoou Chyuan

Links to Cambodian Genocide:


Anthony said...

Well said, doc, well said. Life sucks.

And you have mainly mentioned past atrocities. But look at what is happening right now.

The silent genocide that’s going on in Chechnya. And no one cares.

The ruthless, forgotten war in the Congo (Zaire) that has killed more than four million people in the last eight years. And no one cares.

And the wanton killings in Iraq and, now, Lebanon. And no one cares.

Why do we always regret and feel the pain only when it’s too late, when events become “history”, and yet close our eyes to so much inhumanity right now, all around us?


nofearSingapore said...

Hi tony,
Lebanon... to think that it was like paradise on earth in the 60's & 70's.
The Israeli's must be masochists.. won't they forced to withdraw after a similar adventure many years ago?
The now-comatose leader was implicated for "war crimes" when as a Defense Minister and with the Israel Def Force controlling some refugee camps, so-called "Christian" Phalangist fighters ( Israel's allies) were somehow allowed into these Palestinian camps where there was a bloodbath against unarmed civilians.( I will check on the name of the camps)
However, if you are in the numbers game, that massacre is nothing compared to the millions who perished in Cambodia.
Thanks for being human and having sympathy.( rare trait nowadays)
Dr. Huang

nofearSingapore said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
nofearSingapore said...

Hi tony,
It was 1982.
Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Lebanon.

Why am I always drawn towards human tragedies like these?

Dr. Huang

singaporepatriot said...

Hi Dr Huang,

Thanks for highlighting this. You're right. Millions of people can be dying in a conflict and no country will care unless it is in their "strategic interest". It's a manifestation of our inherent selfish human nature. The World said "never again" after the Rwandan genocide, and look what they've done when genocide took place (and is still taking place) in Sudan. In Congo thousands are still dying everyday. But who cares right? They're "just Africans". How much impact do they have on the global economy? Insignificant? Okay, then their lives can't be that significant either.

Anyway, just for the record, Singapore led the ASEAN charge at the UN to get the Vietnamese out of Cambodia not because we wanted to reinstate the murderous Khmer Rouge, but out of the principle that a large nation cannot just invade a small nation with impunity (i.e. that "might is right"). This would have had serious implications for small states like Singapore.

We played no small part in successfully scuttling China’s efforts to reinstate the Pol Pot regime. In fact then-Foreign Minister Dhanabalan revealed that even the US Assistant Secretary of State asked him to give the Chinese position "serious consideration and not do anything to upset" the Chinese.

Of course, our support for the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 has a completely different explanation! I won't elaborate, but it boils down again to "strategic interest"!

Anthony said...

Yes, I would assume that the State of Israel is masochistic, but which State isn’t? Is there such a thing as a benevolent State? I suppose that the great majority of Israelis are peace-loving folk like most of us and just want to get on with their lives, but can no more prevent their government from carrying out its sickening agenda than we can prevent our own.

If you take a look at this site, you’ll know what I mean by “sickening”: . Be forewarned though; the images that you will see are absolutely horrific. They are not meant for the faint-hearted, only for those who do not fear confronting the truth.

It is widely believed that the current Israeli aggression against Lebanon was due to the kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers. Can any reasonable person be this naïve? Israel unleashing its formidable arsenal against another nation because of two soldiers? That smacks of a publicity stunt, marketing a ridiculous accusation for public consumption.

The real reason for the Israeli aggression on Lebanon seems to be about … water. While there may be a wider agenda hidden from public view --- the desire to keep the Middle East in a perpetual state of war, with, eventually, Syria and Iran pushed into the conflict --- the current issue seems to be about water. Israel needs fresh water and needs access to the Litani River in Southern Lebanon. And the unfortunate Lebanese are blocking the way.

I may be wrong about this, though. Only time will tell.

nofearSingapore said...

Hi Sgpatrior
Thanks for the clarification.
I fully understand that on principle, the Khmer Rouge were the legitimate govt and based on national sovereignty and UN Charter blah blah blah,we have no right to interfere with them whilst they are burying half their population in the Killing Fields.
It seems (to me) that the Vietnamese did humanity a great favour by putting an end to Pol Pot's regime although technically they were invading a neighboring country.
I wonder if the countless victims would have protested about Vietnam's action which in effect prevented further genocide or if they preferred to be butchered by their own kind?
Just kidding. I felt strongly at that time, that our national actions did not coincide with my personal beliefs. But it is just me.
Dr. H

nofearSingapore said...

Hi Tony,
You have ruined my dinner!
Even a seasoned doctor as I will never get used to such photos of human suffering!
Yes the kidnapping of the Corp Gilead S ( Gaza) and the other two in Lebanon were convenient excuses for the IDF to go in to complete unfinished business on Hamas and Hezbollah respectively.
USA will sit back and twiddle its thumb and offer empty words only .
The problem will never be solved without political will and negotiations.

Anthony said...

Sorry to have ruined your dinner, Doc, but I think you are one of the fearless ones…