on 26 November 2006
I picked this book up in a local book shop a few weeks ago, admittably I was looking for something like this, having already read Francois Bizot's The Gate I wanted to learn more about Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975 - 1979.
Nic Dunlop portrays a truly traumatic episode in Cambodian history when the Khmer Rouge saw to the demise of upwards of 1.2 million people in the name of The Organisation (Angka). This book mainly focuses around one man, Comrade Duch, the senior camp commander of the secret Khmer Rouge prison in Phnom Penn code named S-12.
Throughout the book, Nic describes in detail the accounts of eye-witnessness at the time the actions of The Organisation and die hard believer's such as Comrade Duch in the near clinical and inhuman `liquidation' of political revisionists or anti-revolutionaries from within the the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), established 1966, and Cambodia's general population.
The book follows Comrade Duch from his early life, from his work as a school teacher to his dutiful collaboration in countless deaths which were recorded at S-21 prison. Nic finally discovers Comrade Duch for the first time working, after the invasion of the Vietnamese in 1979, in a refugee camp for a relief agency...
This book has more than can be described here but when you read it will not leave you. I found it vastly informative way and heart wrenching throughout. It is truly shocking in its depiction of a regime intent on mass genocide. I found Nic's writing both experienced in his subject matter, having been a long term reporter of Cambodian issues, and equally as passionate at getting to the truth behind what unfortunately to the international community has become old news.
Overall, what you can take from this book is a depressing indictment of how one country has repeatedly been torn apart through outside intervention of rival super powers; USA, China, and Russia.
on 22 September 2005
Dunlop's book is one of the most accessible and yet moving accounts of the tragedy of Cambodian history in recent years. His near obsessive commitment to understanding the truth about the Pol Pot years in Cambodia tells us much about him and also the country that he fell in love with as a teenager. His expose of the 'UN times' in Cambodia - from the bottom up, from the view of the poor in rural areas - is one of the most brilliant indictments of the UN and international system as it exists today. This aspect of the book in particular was extremely ambitious, but he pulls it off brilliantly. Its a must read!
on 11 August 2006
Nic Dunlop's book interwines his search for one of the Khymer Rouge's worst executioners with a superb wider history of the tragedy that tore Cambodia apart. Dunlop writes with a professional coolness, but one cannot miss his sympathy and love for the Cambodian people. This book does not glamourise or sensationalise the decades of war, genocide and suffering, while Dunlop is extremely modest about is own efforts in unmasking a mass murder. The author is better known as an excellent photographer, but on this occassion his lucid prose and personal empathy with his subject tell us as much as any stark black & white image.
Nic Dunlop poses the all important questions of how a vision of a better world can turn into bottomless evil, and how seemingly ordinary men can become mass murderers.
The ideological fundamentalists at the very top of the Red Khmer movement had a vision and a plan for the creation of heaven on earth (`the envy of the world'), but only for the 'good' soldiers. All the 'bad' ones, even (pregnant) women, children and babies, had to be simply murdered. Their utopia was a world of self-sacrifice, with no traces of individuality, no individual thought, no love (segregation of men and women), no foreign things, no towns, no money, no schools, no holidays.
The mass murdering was considered as an act of purification. It turned into a terrible real nightmare for the good and the bad. Everybody came to live in constant fear for their lives, acted in panic, told only what people wanted to hear and did what they were told to do. It was a system of paranoia, terror, constant surveillance and lies.
The Tuol Sleng prison became the heart of the movement, the centre of security, a symbol for a whole society as a slaughterhouse. Under torture people named names of innocent `spies', who in their turn named names, until ... `If the Organization arrests everybody, who will be left to make a revolution?'
After 4 years, the suspicions of conspiracies had killed more than three-quarters of the original Central Committee.
The answer to Nic Dunlop's question is Duch, the Commander of the S-21 prison, a fundamentalist, a cold executioner of the orders of his superiors, a good father for his children, but living in constant fear for his own life, obsessed by the 'enemies' within, behaving irrationally, but enjoying his role as `butcher' for the creation of utopia.
As D. Chandler quotes at the end of his moving book `Voices from S-21', `ordinary people can commit demonic acts'. This potential is in all of us.
We should not forget the sometimes disturbing factors behind the rise to power, the violence and the stability of the Red Khmer regime.
Its Kampuchean enemies of the Lon Nol dictatorship were themselves extremely violent: 'Villages were burned and thousands were killed. Heads were mounted on stakes.'
Red Khmer guerillas were trained by British secret services.
The US secretly bombed Kampuchea during the Vietnam War driving the peasants into the arms of the Red Khmers.
And ultimately, nearly all governments of the world, the US, China, the Soviet Union, Great-Britain, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, made of Kampuchea the front line of the Cold War.
Nic Dunlop wrote a frightening book, which shows what human beings are capable of doing with other members of their species.
I also highly recommend the works of D. Chandler and the documentary by Rithy Panh `S-21'.
on 18 April 2009
Imagine flying back into your own country...the airport is closed, the planes have been wrecked on the runway, there is no electricity, and all modern technology, apart from trucks and guns, has been banned.
It sounds like a poor sci-fi/horror film soon to be released on channel 5, but it actually happened in the 1970s.
Nic Dunlop writes in a highly readable, unvarnished style, and delves deep into the heart of this Cambodian heart of darkness, to unmask Comrade Duch, the monster who ran the notorious S-21 prison. It was a prison so deadly, so utterly dedicated to the extinction of human dignity and life, that less than 20 people out of 20,000 survived it. One of the best books I have read, fiction or non-fiction, in the last 10 years.
on 17 June 2010
This is a great book. Very interesting to read about this period of the Khmer Rouge by someone who was there. I brought this after returning home from Cambodia, and it certainly does give you history and perspective of Toul Sleng, and a wider understanding of how the Khmer Rouge gained power.