First They Killed My Father

First They Killed My Father

Loung Ung

On my way from Siem Reap to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, I read a short novel about a tragic period in the country’s history. Before visiting Phnom Penh’s “killing fields” and genocide museum, I wanted to put the visit into a broader historial context. I knew little about the Khmer Rouge’s murderous rule over Cambodia in the 1970s, outside news reports of a Khmer Rouge leader’s trial last year.

Loung Ung, the author and protagonist, tells her story of growing up under the Khmer Rouge regime. Coming from a wealthy family, the five-year-old’s life is turned upside down when all of Phnom Penh is driven out of the city into the countryside by the new government. Loung plays witness to murder, suffering, starvation, and cruelty at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Her journey from a child in Phnom Penh to an adult living in the U.S. is truly inspiring.

The novel, besides being well-written, teaches an important lesson. The Holocaust, the Cultural Revolution, Cambodia under Pol Pot, and innumerable other tragedies of history are not isolated events. If we do not have a clear understanding of how easily tyrants and their supporters can transform societies into havens of genocide and suffering, we will not learn the important lessons history tries to teach us.

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  1. Daniel
    July 19, 2010 at 11:01 am

    I agree that the “tragedies of history” are not isolated events, of course, but how can you learn anything without hearing the whole tale? There has not been a modern tyranny developed out of the reaches of the Anglo-American Empire – they are not natural disasters. All were at least encouraged at some point. The Khmer Rouge are a perfect example of this. The West backed them for ages and sold them bombs and fags and other essentials while they butchered a million people. It was all about drugs, and reminding people in wealthy countries like Cambodia to stay poor, or else.

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