Grave Robbers of Indochina
May 20, 2007 10:44 AM   Subscribe

Jesus Christ.

posted by brundlefly at 10:49 AM on May 20, 2007

That's pretty wild. I can't hep thinking that the voices the villagers hear are some expression of their memories, perhaps buried or walled off, from the days of the killing fields. Guilt over the grave-robbing may have been a catalyst to release the memories, which they experience as the crying out of ghosts.

Like much of Cambodia's recent history, this saddens me.
posted by mmahaffie at 10:59 AM on May 20, 2007

What are the determinants of whether a culture remembers or gets over the past? The Khmer Rouge sounds like a hell of a thing to just forget. Probably economic lifestyle factors?
posted by Firas at 11:15 AM on May 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

aww, Sad to rake over a mass grave of tortured people for meagre findings. And it seems those who found a pair of earrings or a gold chain are suffering disturbing pangs of remorse and guilt.

I don't think of those poor villagers as grave robbers so much as deserate scavengers. They are political descendents of those horrific killings and deserve the gold they found to buy a pound of pork, some rice or a cow to help nourish their impoverished families.

How horrific those killings were. In the days before the internet, in the last few decades of the last millennium it was so much harder to learn the political truths of what was happening in the world unless one spent one's life poring over newspapers for snippets of the truth, when a journalist dared to tell the truth in light of the intimidating Cold War secret keeping.

Just today I learned from a quick scan of the web: "Bush To Be Dictator In A Catastrophic Emergency" and with a single click could verify that at the White House site: National Security Presidential Directive.

Less bs and government deceits are secret any more and I can't help thinking that the killing fields in Cambodia may not have been so vast if the news had been able to get out to the world sooner. Or I would hope so...

May the bones of those who died in the killing fields serve as a reminder now to try and prevent, as best each of us can, not to let our -or any- government or militia get away with mass murder again.
posted by nickyskye at 11:21 AM on May 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

This goose has no owner...
posted by taosbat at 11:25 AM on May 20, 2007

nickysyke, it's strange, you have such a distinct prose style that one can tell from the first few words who the author is :)
posted by Firas at 11:28 AM on May 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

dear Firas, it must be the typos. :)
posted by nickyskye at 11:54 AM on May 20, 2007

For those who don't know about the "killing fields". there is an excellent, very watchable and poignant movie by the same name, The Killing Fields.

/derail. on second thought, dear Firas, uh oh, not only the typos, repeated use of the same word in one comment, verbosity, over-linking, sentences that begin with "And", mixing British spellings with American ones or the mushy non-MeFite use of aww and happy faces? :)
posted by nickyskye at 12:18 PM on May 20, 2007

Yes, nicky; the aww followed by erudite musing, disconnected from the rest of the thread's petty wranglings. A charming tender worldliness. Though given the squirmishly public nature of this tête-à-tête, we had best drop the inquiry.
posted by Firas at 12:38 PM on May 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I commend the writer for not being very judgmental.
These people usually aren't able to buy meat and get insufficient rice.
We are not in a position to judge their behaviour; when necessary life and the now should prevail over the past and the memory of death.
posted by jouke at 12:44 PM on May 20, 2007

Recently, CBC Radio's Dispatches aired a very interesting story about the Cambodian war trials and attitudes towards the atrocities.
Direct link to .mp3
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 1:36 PM on May 20, 2007

there is an excellent, very watchable and poignant movie by the same name, The Killing Fields.

Watchable? That movie was awful. Excellent but fucking awful. Scarred me bad. I avoided seeing any movies even close to that or similar topics for years afterward. It took me forever to watch Hotel Rwanda because I was afraid it would be like The Killing Fields (not even close).

If you do watch it do it with the foreknowledge that it is about as pleasant as fingernails on a blackboard. Just thinking about it makes my hair stand on end and I barely remember the details.
posted by srboisvert at 1:38 PM on May 20, 2007

srboisvert, There are watchable movies about war, telling it like it is, the real horror of it. This is compared to the trite and to me, unwatchable, whitewashing of war in countless other Hollywood confections. Being brutally truthful and well written doesn't make the topic sweeter and nicer to digest.

In my opinion a watchable movie makes an attempt to depict war as ugly and gruesome as it is, while telling a decent story. The Killing Fields had excellent acting and I felt it was hopeful that the journalist, Dith Pran, survived/escaped being a prisoner of war and came West to tell the story. Perhaps it was by him telling the story that many people came to know about the killing fields. Those ugly secrets were made known to the world by that movie.

By watchable, I don't mean to say it isn't horrific. I mean it is well portrayed. Like Saving Private Ryan is a watchable film about the atrocity and horror of war. There is another, similarly and brilliantly made film about the strife near there, in Indonesia, The Year of Living Dangerously.
posted by nickyskye at 2:15 PM on May 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I remember reading an article where they were talking about the fact that you couldn't find folks over 30 (at the time). So many people had died that it was like a generation was missing. And on a culture-wide level people were still walking around in shock. Because so many priests had been killed, no one remembered the rites or religion- they had to travel outside of the country to re-import practices for funerals and marriages.

I don't think there is any way to comprehend it on an emotional level.

posted by yeloson at 2:22 PM on May 20, 2007

The Year of Living Dangerously is an all time fave nickyskye. I even read the book. I remember watching it with my college roomate on vhs, and we stopped halfway through the film, ran out and bought some unfiltered Lucky Strikes. Because Mel Gibson, who somehow manages to be even more beautiful in the film than the heavenly Sigourney Weaver, looked so damn cool smoking them.

And I lived on that side of the world when I was a boy, and Peter Weir just nails the entire atmosphere of southeast asia. As Pauline Kael said in her review, the movie is "alive" on the screen in an almost magical way.

I'm looking at a pair of shadow puppets on the wall right now;)
posted by vronsky at 3:00 PM on May 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

damn wrong thread, sorry - yo cortex, delete please:)
posted by vronsky at 3:01 PM on May 20, 2007

woops, that was the wrong thread - srry.
posted by vronsky at 3:02 PM on May 20, 2007

"The title The Year of Living Dangerously is a quote which refers to a famous Italian phrase used by Sukarno; vivere pericoloso, which was supposed to mean "living dangerously". Sukarno borrowed the line for the title of his National Day speech of August 17, 1964."
posted by vronsky at 3:05 PM on May 20, 2007

yeloson, During the Iran/Iraq war in the mid-80's, an Iranian refugee told me that there were relatively few males in Iran at that time, who were not children or old men. They'd all been killed in the war.

Since then I've wondered -and worried- what an entire generation of Iranian boys, the present generation who are now men in their late 20's, must have grown up feeling...and what will be the political result of those feelings.

vronsky, uh oh, a bit of chatfilter...loved your richly atmospheric and informative comments. I have shadow puppets too! YAYY wayang kulit.

Didn't know that about vivere periculoso. Isn't The Year of Living Dangerously a great film. Yes, Mel Gibson was pretty then. Glad they didn't pick too-pretty woman for that film. Linda Hunt was frikkin brilliant. Ah the Indonesian countryside. That's my favorite kind of place to live, those mountainous tropics by the sea. Hope you liked living in that neck of the woods. Was it dangerous when you were there?

When I was in my teens I fell in love with Somerset Maugham's tales of life in southeast Asia and determined to live in that part of the world if I could. Never got beyond India really. Since it was the time of all the lies and betrayals connected with the Vietnam War, I was, to a small and fairly ignorant degree, familiar with the idea that governments could be secretively treacherous.

But there was so much horror going on in Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Indonesia, so many layers to the mass slaughter and genocide. I didn't have access to real knowledge about the details at that time the way there is info now at a click.

the cydonian wrote a powerful comment in an excellent, if deeply disturbing Christmas Eve post fandago_matt wrote on the torture committed under that monster Pol Pot.
posted by nickyskye at 4:09 PM on May 20, 2007

Is that monk playing Nintendo?
posted by stavrogin at 4:15 PM on May 20, 2007

I saw this article in the Times today and it just hit me, as everything having to do with the Khmer Rouge does. What sticks out to me: That a generation is growing up without a memory of this horror, that the gold earrings that were so many people's find are so damn tiny, or that the one guy who grave-robbed a necklace was able to buy a whole cow for it.
posted by GaelFC at 4:30 PM on May 20, 2007

From the NYT article:

For younger Cambodians, who know remarkably little about the Khmer Rouge period, he said, “It’s just a dead person.”

So the US isn't the only country around with a too-short collective memory...

And nickyskye, thanks for reminding me of The Killing Fields, it's been years since I saw that, and I too thought it was a very good movie, very powerful. Think I'll see it again soon.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:33 PM on May 20, 2007

Tangentially related and excellent short story:

Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter (PDF)
posted by Mr Bunnsy at 4:56 PM on May 20, 2007

I heard part of that CBC Dispatches Alvy Ampersand linked to--I immediately thought of it when reading the NYT article. It's well worth listening to.

I didn't know much about the atrocities in Cambodia until I read Margaret Drabble's The Gates of Ivory. Excellent book--I highly recommend it as a fictional recollection of the events in that area of the world at that time. The one detail I remember being amazed at was that the Khmer Rouge singled people out and killed them for wearing eyeglasses. I guess it was supposed to be a way of telling the educated and intellectual apart from everyone else. The book also provides an interesting look at Pol Pot and Lon Nol's lives pre-all the Year Zero madness--they were educated in Paris, were literate and...well, seemingly fun-loving guys. As well as totally nuts, obviously.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:31 PM on May 20, 2007

...Since it was the time of all the lies and betrayals connected with the Vietnam War, I was, to a small and fairly ignorant degree, familiar with the idea that governments could be secretively treacherous.

But there was so much horror going on in Cambodia, Laos, Burma and Indonesia, so many layers to the mass slaughter and genocide. I didn't have access to real knowledge about the details at that time the way there is info now at a click.
posted by nickyskye

Hi, nickyskye,

I remember how Viet Nam challenged the folks I knew via TV, the newspapers and magazines.

My family was stationed at West Point when My Lai cascaded through our culture.

I remember the sickening news from the killing fields.

When TV, et al, showed me Tiananmen Square and cited a network of Chinese students abroad using the intertubes as their sources, I began to realize the power of the web.

I hope we all really can get folks to act more decently across the board.
posted by taosbat at 10:34 PM on May 20, 2007

hurdy gurdy girl , Thanks for the recommendation of Gates of Ivory.

Pol Pot was a malignant narcissist. His mask of sanity makes sense in light of that. Pol Pot's Wikipedia entry says "Pol Pot was born in Prek Sbauv in Kampong Thum Province to a moderately wealthy family. In 1935, he left Prek Sbauv to attend the Ecole Miche, a Catholic school in Phnom Penh. As his sister Roeung was a concubine of the king, he often visited the royal palace. In 1947 he gained admission to the exclusive Lycee Sisowath but was unsuccessful in his studies."

Pol Pot's slaughtering people with eyeglasses thing was surprising to me too. He was a primitivist-agrarian. As if farmers, dumbkopfs or uneducated people couldn't be myopic? Such a cartoon version of reality. Wears glasses=intellectual and therefore politically dangerous. Say wha?

That reminded me of Hitler, who went to school with brainiac Jewish Wittgenstein. It's assumed, somewhat controversially, that Hitler may have gotten some of his pathological hatred of Jews from his envy of Wittgenstein.

Malignant fools are afraid of those who might even appear, if not be, more intelligent than they are. Incredible these fools come into power and do so much damage.

Mr Bunnsy, Just finished Geoff Ryman's wonderfully written Pol Pot's Beautiful Daughter. *Really* enjoyed that. Thanks so much.
posted by nickyskye at 11:06 PM on May 20, 2007

taosbat, I hope we all really can get folks to act more decently across the board.

Discussing the truth of anything, including of war, its horrors and even how quickly the dead are forgotten, as this post suggests, is a step in the right direction. Information is power and getting the information out there in the world about what is going on and the many facets of why, makes a big political small increments over time.

May those who died under the brutal regime of Pol Pot rest in peace and be remembered as part of finding a way towards a more peaceful coexistence.
posted by nickyskye at 10:12 AM on May 21, 2007

posted by taosbat at 12:59 PM on May 21, 2007

I'm saddened, but not surprised, on reading that graves of Khmer victims have been robbed dry. The majority of the population in Cambodia, like most other Asian nations, wasn't born until 20-30 years ago, and hasn't seen the Khmer Rouge at all.

More to the point, this is a generation that is not really taught about the Khmer Rouge at all, and save for all those Khmer-Rouge spots popular with the tourists, hasn't really seen the horrors of that era sink into public consciousness the way, say, the Nazis' atrocities have. That the Khmer-Rouge leaders haven't been tried for the crimes against humanity is part of the problem.

That said, the 'grave robbers' in the article actually seem rather apologetic about it all; you get the sense that they seem to be saying they wouldn't have done it hadn't they been so improverished. In a way, it is perhaps understandable; at least they're having conscience pangs in the form of ghosts and ghostly hallucinations.

(A slight tangent, but something about the name of the place, Sre Leav, seems familiar. Srei, if I'm not wrong, is the Khmer equivalent of the Sanskrit 'stree' (lady); 'leav' is... I forget, Laotian? Unless I'm horribly mistaken, 'Srei Liev', then, would mean 'Laotian woman'.)
posted by the cydonian at 8:15 PM on May 21, 2007

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