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Enemies of the People

In spite of the 1982 Academy Award winning film The Killing Fields, there has never seemed to be any sort of understanding by anyone in the west of how the mass gravesites of the same name became filled with an estimate of up to 2 million souls by Cambodia’s Khumer Rouge regime between 1975-1979. In the first few minutes of this amazing documentary, I was surprised to hear the narrator explain how he was compelled to research the causes because nobody in the east really understood it either! Thet Sambath is a Cambodian journalist a couple years younger than me, orphaned by the regime, and has set forth in this film to interview Nuon Chea, former chief ideologist of the Khmer Rouge, now in his 80’s. Commonly known as “Brother Number Two” and second in command only to Pol Pot, these interviews took place in the few years before his imprisonment for crimes against humanity in 2007. Over a period of time, he patiently gains No. 2’s confidence until he finally confesses to being complicit with the killing, and the reasons why. What I gleaned from his confession and from Thet’s commentary, was that No. 2 and Pol Pot were simply nationalist zealots who were trying to make Cambodia ‘more communist than China’. And making no apologies for the arrogance of taking on an ‘experiment with society’, No. 2 clearly stated his philosophy! He said he loves the nation and the individual both, but if forced to choose, he would choose the nation. Nevermind that neither one of them had any experience in governing a nation, and literally had no idea what they were doing. And finally, I perceive pathological paranoia within the regime, caused in the beginning by secret Vietnamese loyalists and eventually extending to the 2 million innocents in those fields as the paranoia grew unchecked to monstrous proportions.

Thet also interviews two men, poor farmers themselves, who were forced to participate in the killing. As he states, those who took part in the Killing would barely speak of it at home, much less ever speak of it to foreign journalists, but for him it was no problem to bond with these haunted old men, since he was a country person too. I guess there was much healing accomplished with this film (for Cambodians) and it is an extraordinary document. Did the world ever see any Nazi tears for their crimes? Did they ever shed any?

Oblivious to the beauty of his family in the background, Brother Suon is haunted with guilt and tormented by post traumatic stress.”My life is nothing now” he says.

Brother Khoun seeks solace in Buddhism. gallery_stills_image24
Fascinatingly, neither of these men, nobody living in higher command, nor Brother No. 2 seem to honestly know who actually gave the kill orders.

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