Remembering the Cambodian Tragedy

by Sody Lay
Lecturer Cambodian American Experience

You're a star-belly sneech | You suck like a leech | You want everyone to act like you
Kiss ass while you bitch | So you can get rich | But your boss gets richer off you
Well you'll work harder | With a gun in your back | For a bowl of rice a day
Slave for soldiers | Till you starve | Then your head is skewered on a stake
Now you can go where people are one | Now you can go where they get things done

What you need, my son…
Is a holiday in Cambodia | Where people dress in black
A holiday in Cambodia | Where you'll kiss ass or crack
Pol Pot, Pol Pot, Pol Pot, Pol Pot, etc…
And it's a holiday in Cambodia | Where you'll do what you're told
A holiday in Cambodia | Where the slums got so much soul

-"Holiday in Cambodia" by the Dead Kennedys

 I recall sitting in the gym locker room in junior high listening to a boy next to me singing the chorus to that song.  I turned to him and said matter-of-factly "No it's not."  He looked at me a little stunned until another kid said to him "Sody's from Cambodia."  He responded by upturning his head and nonchalantly saying "Oh."  I don't know why I bothered saying anything.  I doubt he understood the references to Cambodia.  Even for myself, only years later did I learn to appreciate the song's social commentary concerning the hypocrisy of upper-class liberals and its simple but truthful representation of the Khmer Rouge period.

In the mid-1980s, the award-winning movie "The Killing Fields" launched the Cambodian tragedy into the public consciousness.  The movie was well-received by Cambodians and non-Cambodians alike.  Within the Cambodian community, most survivors felt the movie accurately represented their experience and its presentation of the horrors of the Khmer Rouge period made the public more understanding and sympathetic to our plight.  As a college student in the early 1990s, I read a book narrated and co-authored by the movie's Oscar-winning actor, Dr. Haing Ngor.  The graphic details of his own tale overshadowed even the horrors depicted in the movie.  Both the movie and book spoke to me because they were not merely the story of particular individuals but took on the greater role of representing the plight of the Khmer people.  In Haing Ngor's movie and book, I saw the experiences of my aunts, uncles, and cousins who did not survive the earthly hell.

Now a lecturer who teaches college students about the Cambodian experience, my desire for the Khmer people's struggles to be accurately represented has taken on an importance beyond the personal.  "The Killing Fields" movie is no longer in the public consciousness and younger people, including many Cambodian American youth, have very little knowledge about why and how the Khmer Rouge came to power and why and how they destroyed Cambodia.  The publication of several books about the Killing Fields experience in 2000 – the year marking the 25th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge's takeover – has had the affect of somewhat revitalizing interest in the Cambodian tragedy.  The public and the younger generation of Cambodian Americans have used these books as resources from which to learn about the horrific experience of the Khmer people.  Like Haing Ngor's movie and book, these stories represent not only the narrators' own tragedies but that of an entire nation.  The personal stories are mediums through which readers may gain greater insight into the horrors of the Killing Fields.

Of the three narratives that were published in 2000 – Music through the Dark, written by Bree Lefreniere and narrated by Daran Kravanh, When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him, and First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung – the last of these books has received the most publicity, despite being (or perhaps because it is) a blatant sensationalization and over-dramatization of the Killing Fields experience.  Its narrator is the youngest among the three survivors – Daran Kravanh is already a young man when the Khmer Rouge take over in 1975, Chanrithy Him nine years of age, Loung Ung only five.  Being so young, Ung's "memory" is suspect at best and her book seems to be based more on imagination than any kind of real memory; worse, Ung often does not even go to the trouble of placing her fiction within an historically or culturally accurate context.  Thankfully, the stories narrated by Him and Kravanh seem to be more clearly based on true recollection, and memory gaps, if any, are at least filled with culturally and historically accurate facts.  The stories of these latter two narrators contain subtleties that characterize real life experiences and give color to the darkness of the Killing Fields.

 Why and How they came to Power

You're a star-belly sneech | You suck like a leech | You want everyone to act like you
Kiss ass while you bitch | So you can get rich | But your boss gets richer off you

Personal narratives about the Killing Fields often begin in the late 1960s or early 1970s, a time of great turmoil and instability in mainland Southeast Asia.  Cambodia was being drawn into the international political maelstrom that manifested itself as war in neighboring South Vietnam.  The Russian and Chinese-backed Vietnamese Communists forced thousands of villagers to carry their war materials and join their army while using Cambodia's eastern borders as bases from which to launch attacks against South Vietnam.  South Vietnamese and American forces retaliated by bombing Cambodia's eastern provinces and indiscriminately killing innocent Cambodians as well as Vietnamese Communist troops.

Within Cambodia herself, the strained efforts of Prince Sihanouk to maintain his country's neutrality was causing disenchantment among his people.  Many wanted to fight against Vietnamese incursion on Cambodian soil and felt the Prince was shirking his obligation to protect Cambodia's territorial integrity and people.  Others had more base motives for being discontent and wanting to oust Sihanouk – greed.  Corrupt officials wanted to line their pockets with U.S. largesse and Sihanouk, with his policy of neutrality, hindered their access to such funds.

While Prince Sihanouk was traveling abroad in spring of 1970, several right-wing leaders within his government took the opportunity to overthrow him.  It was a bloodless coup that set off over thirty years of bloodshed.  Sihanouk was convinced by the Chinese to throw his support behind the Cambodian Communists popularly known as the Khmer Rouge.  Full-scale civil war erupted in Cambodia with the Chinese supporting the Khmer Rouge and the Americans supporting an inept and corrupt Khmer Republic regime that quite literally ended up selling the country.

All the narratives more-or-less begin at this juncture.  Both Him and Kravanh give readers a real sense of the fear, chaos and destruction that characterized mid-1970s Cambodia.  Him intermingles observation with objective facts to provide the following description of the time: "Fighting around the country is escalating.  As the Khmer Rouge begin to seize outlying provinces, thousands upon thousands of families flee their homes, seeking refuge in Phnom Penh.  In a matter of months, the population has more than tripled from about 600,000 to almost 2 million" (51).  "Inch by inch, they close in on Phnom Penh.  They shell the city.  ...  We must stay close to home, no bike-riding to market" (52-53).  In passing reference to the social instability that arose, she notes: "There are more beggars in the city and, now, homeless families.  Children sneak into restaurants and ask customers for leftovers.  Proprietors tell them to leave.  They vanish for a moment, but appear again" (52).

In contrast to a city at siege and hungry children begging for food, Ung depicts April of 1975 as a time of happiness and normalcy.  Only in one brief passage does she make the reader aware of the war, and this is in order for her to pander to the American audience by reciting her father's alleged explanation to her of the greatness of America's bipartisan political structure.  It is remarkable that she can remember such a detailed conversation from when she was a five-year-old child (one of many detailed conversations she "remembers"), yet remain oblivious to the upheaval all around her.  Ung gives the reader absolutely no sense of the turmoil of 1975 Cambodia.  In describing the streets of Phnom Penh for instance, she states: "The wide boulevards sing with the buzz of motorcycle engines, squeaky bicycles, and, for those wealthy enough to afford them, small cars" (1).  But where are the military vehicles that were ubiquitous at the time or the over one million refugees from the countryside who fled into the city?  Are they so insignificant to her as to not be worth mentioning?  Or could it be that this author is simply setting her fiction within the Phnom Penh of today that she observed on a recent visit?

Rather than acknowledging the poverty, discontentment and instability of the time, Ung prefers to reminisce about her family's opulence like a Nazi remembering the good old days of the Third Reich.  The fact that economic disparity and corruption helped give rise to the Khmer Rouge is never mentioned.  And in yet another attempt to pander to her audience, Ung repeatedly misrepresents her family's status by continually asserting they were "middle class."  A person familiar with 1970s Cambodia is able to see otherwise, however.  My own parents were both high school teachers in Phnom Penh and could barely afford a poorly-built French Peugeot automobile.  In contrast, Ung's family owned three cars, including one given to her teenage brother as a gift.  Such decadence was enjoyed only by either the old elite or the nouveau rich, many of the latter having gained their new-found wealth through corruption.  Corrupt military officers often stole the paychecks of their men or inflated the number of men allegedly under their control and pocketed the excess.  They would then send these men to fight against enemies who they outnumbered on paper, but against whom they may have actually been outnumbered.  Other officers would steal the property of refugees from the countryside who fled into Phnom Penh to escape the fighting.  Some even sold weapons to the very people they were fighting against, the Khmer Rouge, just to make a quick buck.  Him, the other narrator, admits to one incident of such corruption in her own family: "With so many people now living [in Phnom Penh], prices are sky-high.  And so is the corruption among government officials.  When my aunt's husband, an officer in the Cambodian army, is arrested for secretly selling weapons to the Khmer Rouge, my father is devastated.  'How stupid, greedy.  He has sold the country,' Pa murmurs, unable to comprehend the pressure to betray" (51).  Her father's sentiment represents the indignation felt by many Cambodians concerning the conditions that led to our country's destruction.

In addition to attempting to make her luxurious lifestyle seem commonplace, Ung also strains to pre-emptively exculpate her father, the military police and former secret service agent, from any kind of wrongdoing.  Although she repeatedly professes his almost divine goodness, the fact remains that his family possessed wealth well beyond the means a military police could have legitimately accumulated.  And despite her assurance that he would never harm anyone, his employment as a member of Sihanouk's secret police belies this assertion.  According to Kravanh, the narrator of Music through the Dark, "in the 1960s...Prince Sihanouk regularly had his men kidnap and kill outspoken intellectuals" (Lafreniere 95).  Ung even has the audacity to claim that her father was so gentle that "during his life as a monk, wherever he walked he had to carry a broom and dustpan to sweep the path in front of him so as not to kill any living things by stepping on them" (Ung 12).  As a former monk myself, I know this to be misrepresentative of Cambodian religious practice and most likely untrue.  To describe a person who worked as one of Sihanouk's secret police in such a manner is comparable to describing a Gestapo as a saint.

I would not expect Ung to go into detail about the inherent brutality of her father's line of work, but her cover up is offensive to notions of truth and decency.  I cannot help but to reflect upon my own family's history of victimization by these secret police.  My father has told me of how he had feared these men, having been followed around by them for weeks upon returning from studying in America in the 1960s.  My uncle Eng Ly, an outspoken journalist who heavily criticized government corruption, was the target of several assassination attempts by government agents.  At one point, the threats and attempts of violence against him by these ruthless thugs forced him to flee the country and live in exile for over a year.  Were my uncle alive today I wonder how he would feel about the characterization of a secret police agent as a person who "never did any harm to anyone" when committing violence and intimidation was an inherent part of the job.  In addition to corruption, it was this very brutality that caused many people to join the Khmer Rouge.  Part of the nucleus of the Khmer Rouge leadership, in fact, were originally Members of Parliament who criticized government incompetence.  For this they were harassed and brutalized by men in Ung's father's line of employment and eventually driven into the forests where they joined the Communists.

So why and how did the Khmer Rouge come to power?  People joined for various reasons, one being that they were disenchanted with the injustice of social inequality and corruption of government and military officials.  The Khmer Rouge were able to exploit this disenchantment to recruit people to join them.  Him hints at these social problems and Kravanh acknowledges: "most of the people who joined [the Khmer Rouge] were poor peasants – mostly young, uneducated, even illiterate people, unhappy with their poverty and jealous of the upper-class elite of Phnom Penh" (Lefreniere 33).  If owning multiple cars, employing personal servants, and spending weekends at a private club were actually "middle class" and the norm as Ung insinuates, then the Khmer Rouge would have had a difficult time recruiting members indeed.

 Why and How they destroyed Cambodia

Well you'll work harder | With a gun in your back | For a bowl of rice a day
Slave for soldiers | Till you starve | Then your head is skewered on a stake

April 17, 1975.  The Khmer Rouge finally overcome Khmer Republic forces and enter Cambodia's capital city of Phnom Penh victorious.  American bombing during the late 1960s and early 1970s had already caused the estimated death of over a half million people.  Over the next few years ancient prophecies of Cambodia's destruction would further come to fruition.  Under Khmer Rouge rule, people lived in complete misery and despair...if they lived at all.  Almost two million people, an estimated 25 percent of the country's total population, died from starvation, disease and execution between 1975 and 1979.

Before the victorious Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh, fear and apprehension was so pervasive among the city's residents as to be almost palpable.  Him's description of Phnom Penh in April of 1975 is consistent with those of other witnesses: "In the stark moment after bombs have fallen elsewhere in the city, children, men, and women run outside their homes, craning their necks to watch the danger.  We do the same, including my siblings, my parents, and Uncle Surg...  Where is the danger?  Our eyes survey the surroundings.  Little is said.  Glancing at our neighbors, we wonder where the bombs will hit.  Will there be more?  Which part of the city will the Khmer Rouge bomb?  No one knows." (55).  On the day the Khmer Rouge enter Phnom Penh, Him observes: "The morning is overcast as I make my way up the road.  ...I notice some women running to other neighbors.  They seem as frantic as my mother.  With shrill voices, they alert people to put up white flags, warn each other to listen to the news on the radio" (57).  In contrast, Ung professes complete ignorance of the Khmer Rouge until they actually march into the city and disturb her fun: "It is afternoon and I am playing hopscotch with my friends on the street in front of our apartment.  ...  I stop playing when I hear the thunder of engines in the distance" (17).  The image is vivid, but amidst this pandemonium, would Ung's parents really have permitted their five-year-old daughter to casually play hopscotch on the streets of Phnom Penh?  How could a girl so precocious as to understand her father's explanation of a foreign country's political system be so ignorant of the Khmer Rouge threat?  How is it that the thunder of engines surprises her when the thunder of mortar shells has enveloped the city for months?  Given the fact that she was only five years old at the time, her "memory" would understandably be fuzzy.  Nevertheless, she should fill in these memory gaps with descriptions at least somewhat reflective of reality rather than opting for the dramatic and outlandish.

Since Ung has neglected to inform the reader of the social injustices that gave rise to the Khmer Rouge, she must devise some other reason for why they fight to overthrow the government and are later so cruel.  Her answer is that they are simply inherently evil.  When the Khmer Rouge enter the city victorious, Ung quotes her father saying to her: "They're not nice people. Look at their shoes – they wear sandals made from car tires.  ...  It shows that these people are destroyers of things" (25).  She even goes so far as to claim that "when you look into their eyes, you can see the devil himself" (32).  Him's description, in contrast, allows the reader to understand that these shoes did not evince some kind of inherent evil nature, but rather poverty: "Their sandals are odd, with soles fashioned of car tires and pieces of inner tube strapping them into place.  It fits with their bare-fisted philosophy of combat.  That doesn't really concern my father.  What catches his eye is their physical condition, their malnourished bodies.  They act tough with guns and rifles strapped onto their shoulders, but their sallow complexions betray their suffering" (63).  Even Kravanh, who lost almost his entire family to the Khmer Rouge, acknowledges: "I cannot say I disagreed with everything the Khmer Rouge were saying.  I know now, as I knew then, that they were correct in criticizing inequality and corruption in Cambodia" (35).  Of course, neither Him nor Kravanh nor any other victim of the Khmer Rouge would claim that this exonerates the Khmer Rouge for their cruelty and destruction, but it gives the reader some sense of the rationale behind the Khmer Rouge's action.  It gives color and complexity to the Khmer Rouge ordeal rather than simplifying it to a black-and-white, good-versus-evil picture that grossly distorts reality.

Although the Khmer Rouge regime was evil and destructive, not all Khmer Rouge cadre were simply sadistic monsters bent on destroying the country and fellow Cambodians.  "The Killing Fields" movie acknowledges this in the form of the Khmer Rouge leader who helped the movie's protagonist escape the horror.  Before his death, the leader discusses how he and his wife had sacrificed their lives for the revolution because they believed they could help create a better society for Cambodians.  Him also notes glimpses of humanity among the ranks of the Khmer Rouge.  One cadre risked his life on several occasions to secretly give her food, and in reference to the treatment given to her by a Khmer Rouge "doctor" she remarks:  "She's gentle.  A lady, a doctor, disguised in the Khmer Rouge uniform.  ...  She asks, 'P'yoon srey [Young sister], how long have you had this wound?'  I'm touched by the tender way she addresses me.  It's a term I have never heard from a Khmer Rouge.  For the first time, I wonder if some Khmer Rouge are actually nice, quietly hiding among the ranks of the cruel" (166-167).  She aptly concludes: "The world is no longer as black as their uniforms, as white as rice" (169).  Kravanh too shows us the humanity of the Khmer Rouge.  His final anecdote tells of a legless Khmer Rouge soldier who with his last breath of life laments his senseless sacrifices for the Khmer Rouge and the senselessness of war.  The soldier is no longer someone to be feared and hated, but in this case someone who is himself a victim of the darkness that enveloped his country.  Although Him and Kravanh often express anger and indignation against their oppressors, they resist the temptation to demonize the Khmer Rouge or the Khmer people.  To them, good and evil is not black and white, just as in reality it is not.

The third narrator, Ung, unfortunately chooses to ignore reality in preference for telling a more easily digestible story - easily digestible, that is, if the reader has no real knowledge of Cambodian history.  Her caricaturization and demonization of the Khmer Rouge does injustice to the real dynamics of our tragedy.  Were the distortions to end here, her book would simply be poor fiction that misinforms.  The offensiveness of Ung's book goes beyond the mere simplification of such complex concepts, however, by incorporating the author's racism against the Khmer people into her narrative.  Just as her story is so lacking in authentic detail as to appear black-and-white compared to that of the other narrators, so too are her heroes and villains, quite literally: Throughout her book, Ung portrays herself as the light-skinned, Chinese heroine standing in opposition to the dark-skinned, Khmer villains.  She distances herself from the indigenous Khmer population by extolling her family's superior Chinese physical characteristics and customs and debasing or misrepresenting many aspects of Khmer life and culture.  She equates the dark complexion of ethnic Khmers to a dark heart and demonizes not just the Khmer Rouge in her story but the entire Khmer people.  Her misrepresentations of the Killing Fields is sadly reminiscent of racist cowboy-and-Indian movies of the past, with herself playing the role of the heroic cowboy and the Khmer people the savage Indians.

Him and Kravanh both clearly feel a greater comfort and affinity with their Cambodian background, embracing their Khmer heritage and culture rather than distancing themselves from it.  Hence, they are better able to differentiate between Khmer Rouge and Khmer victim and readily acknowledge that the entire population of Cambodia suffered in the Killing Fields.  Ung instead claims that the Khmer Rouge are engaged in a policy of ethnic cleansing, implicitly implying that only ethnic Chinese were harmed and that ethnic Khmers were somehow the cause of all the suffering (92).  She fails to explain, however, how she could then observe her pure Chinese uncles being touted as "model citizens."  Him makes a remarkably similar observation about a person of Chinese descent being honored at a Khmer Rouge assembly: "Among the clusters of people, I see a 'new person,' a man in his late fifties, squatting on the ground beside the Khmer Rouge.  His face, eyes, and complexion suggest he is of Chinese descent.  ...  He looks relaxed, as if he's somehow connected with these Khmer Rouge leaders.  The Khmer Rouge point to him as a model worker" (199).  How could Ung suggest that the Khmer Rouge were engaged in a policy of ethnic cleansing when both she and Him observed them praising ethnic Chinese men as "model citizens"?  In describing one of her brigade leaders, Him notes: "Her complexion is white, in striking contrast to her new black uniform" (219).  In fact, Chinese-Cambodians held even higher positions within the Khmer Rouge, including some of the very top levels.

To allege the Killing Fields was simply about ethnic cleansing is dangerous and offensive for two primary reasons: first, it implicitly denies the suffering of ethnic Khmers who in fact constituted a vast majority of those who suffered under the Khmer Rouge; worse, it implicitly assumes their guilt in a tragedy of which they themselves were victims.  Throughout her book Ung makes claims of special victimization because of her light skin.  To depict oneself as targeted for special discrimination and persecution obviously makes ones story appear more heroic, but at the expense of minimizing and misrepresenting the Cambodian people's tragedy.  Him, who is also of Chinese descent and appears to be even lighter-skinned than Ung based on pictures in their book, makes no such allegations in her story.  Rather, she acknowledges that in the Killing Fields it did not matter whether you were light-skinned or dark-skinned, ethnic Chinese or not, if you displeased the Khmer Rouge or posed a threat to them your life was imperiled.  Many members of my own extended family are Chinese-Cambodian and light-skinned, yet thankfully many of them were able to survive the Killing Fields, something that would have been impossible had the Khmer Rouge really been engaged in a policy of ethnic cleansing.

The Khmer Rouge executed anyone discovered to be in positions of power and wealth during the Khmer Republic era, such as government officials, military officers, businessmen, and the like.  While it may have been easier for darker-skinned Cambodians to hide their urban background and blend in with the rural Cambodian population, discovery of any such elevated position within the old society meant death for them as well, regardless of skin color.  The entire population of Cambodia, not any particular segment, was forced to toil in the fields and suffer abuse, hunger and starvation.  Any simplification of the Killing Fields period that exclusively depicts light-skinned individuals as victims and dark-skinned Cambodians as tormentors is utterly irresponsible.  That most Khmer Rouge cadres were dark-skinned does not mean that all dark-skinned Cambodians were supporters of the Khmer Rouge.  And although the Khmer Rouge created an evil regime, no one should use this fact to portray the Khmer as an evil people.  To blur the line of distinction between Khmer victim and Khmer Rouge oppressor is to blame the victim along with the criminal.

 What you need, my son…

Is a holiday in Cambodia | Where people dress in black
A holiday in Cambodia | Where you'll kiss ass or crack
Pol Pot, Pol Pot, Pol Pot, Pol Pot, etc…

I guess the song "Holiday in Cambodia" is particularly compelling to me because I am one of only a few Cambodians my age who was fortunate enough to miss out on what a close friend and survivor sarcastically calls "the big party."  When the Khmer Rouge overtook Phnom Penh, my parents were pursuing their studies at Cal State Long Beach.  I was a month shy of four.  One of my very few childhood memories is the image of my parents both beating their fists against our tattered sofa and weeping uncontrollably for reasons inexplicable to me.  I do not recall how old I was at the time or whether it was in 1975, 76, or 77, but in retrospect I am certain their distress had something to do with either fear for the safety of relatives and friends trapped in Pol Pot's Cambodia or news of their death.  Victimization comes in many forms, and although the Khmer Rouge were thousands of miles away, they had made victims of my parents.  The Khmer Rouge left their mark on me as well: For many years when my cousins and friends spoke of their experiences in the Killing Fields, I felt the sting of guilt and embarrassment for my fortune of being in America through the whole ordeal, a feeling that I had received a blessing I did not deserve.  These feelings have led me to learn all I can about my people and the tragedy that befell them.  My indignation against misrepresentations of the Khmer Rouge period is therefore admittedly personal as well as professional.  A "memoir" based on fabrications lacks pedagogical value and reflects a lack of personal moral value.  It demeans the experiences of survivors, offends the memory of lost loved ones, and misleads those who wish to really learn about "the big party."

The difference between Kravanh and Him on the one hand and Ung on the other is that the former two narrators demonstrate an attention to detail and love of the Khmer people that evince their effort is not merely for personal profit but to inform the world about what truly happened to our people.  The content of Ung's book, in contrast, evinces not a person of conscience trying to teach the younger generation about their past – as the author has repeatedly asserted to the media – but an entrepreneur willing to sacrifice honestly and integrity to sell tragedy.  Her book is an elixir of lies that she goes from media outlet to media outlet, university to university, hawking to the credulous public.  That some people have been touched by the story does not make the author a successful artist, but merely a successful con-artist.  Whether an elixir is sold in the form of a potion or a story, those pre-disposed to believing its powers will feel its effect.  The author knows her audience's emotional predilection and her book is specifically tailored to elicit their pathos.  The unfortunate victims of this scam are not only her misinformed readers, but the Khmer people – a people who have suffered enough that they should not now have their ordeal grotesquely distorted for the sake of making a buck.  Profiting off tragedy is horrible enough, profiting off distortions of tragedy even more so.

Members of my family and countless other Cambodians were contemptuously dumped into mass graves by the Khmer Rouge.  Their tragedy should not be unearthed, butchered, and put back together like some kind of literary Frankenstein.  A person familiar with Cambodian history and culture can discern the differing qualities of these three books because we can discern between fact and fiction just as a doctor is able to discern authentic medicine from impotent elixirs.  For many people, however, the Cambodian tragedy remains something of a mystery and these books may represent the totality of their knowledge.  The authors of books on the Cambodian genocide therefore need to recognize the importance of their representations and take care to preserve the history of our tragedy as accurately as possible.  They should not be like the boy in my junior high locker room, simply mouthing words without understanding their significance.

In an attempt to discredit her critics, Ung told the Boston Globe in April 2000 that she had received death threats by some Cambodian Americans who "continue to deny the genocide's existence" and others "for being half-Chinese while writing on behalf of Cambodians."

We responded with a letter to the editor which stated in part: "The notion that we would deny our own tragedy is not only absurd but perverse" and " Members of the Cambodian community are not outraged with Ung and her book because it has been written by a Chinese-Cambodian, but because it is such a gross distortion of the real Cambodian experience."

See complete response letter and more on this topic at Ung Book Reviews

© 2001 Khmer Institute. All rights reserved.