3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
A study in political paranoia,
This review is from: Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot's Secret Prison (Paperback)
I have recently finished David Chandler's excellent work on the infamous S21 prison in Cambodia, and found it absorbing, well written, well researched and asking probing questions that left me feeling quite uncomfortable, particularly about the capacity of someone to inflict such pain and misery on their fellow countrymen.
The book examines the role of S21 during the Khmer Rouge period as well as considering those that ran the prison, were employed there and those unfortunate souls that were imprisoned there. The book features interviews with guards/torturers/executioners that worked in the facility as well as some of the survivors (of which out of approximately 14,000 prisoners, there were just 7 known survivors). But for me, the most fascinating aspect of this book was the paranoia and the drive by the "Upper Brothers" to route out unseen enemies. The handbook the guards used and the dual interrogation approach of "doing politics" and "doing torture" were grotesquely fascinating. The idea that a prisoner who ended up in S21 was guilty by the fact that they were present in such an institution, is indicative of the paranoia that raged through every level of Khmer Rouge society. Chandler's final chapter then considers the capacity of mans inhumanity to man, and notes - in a very chilling fashion - that while we are happy to dismiss the actions of those who committed the crimes as evil, there is very little evidence that the perpertrators were evil, but merely following orders, or in the guards case doing what they were told to avoid ending up as an inmate in S21. Chandler then poses the question about what we would do as individuals in the same circumstances and the realisation of the possibilities is not at all palatable.
I found the book fascinating and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in the history of Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge reign. However, I would caution potential readers that the author writes in a style that assumes his reader has a reasonable knowledge of events in Khmer Rouge Cambodia. That said it is definitely worth a read.