The Ghosts We Live With

22 01 2010

Voices from S21

Dear World,I have just finished reading ‘Voices from S21’,David Chandler’s noir account of the Cambodian secret prison S21 and the killing fields at Chouen Et. By 1979 when the Vietnamese troops captured the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh 11/2 million Cambodians had died from starvation, maltreatment, disease, overwork and other causes. In the secret execution prison S21 two hundred thousand, and perhaps thousands more ‘class enemies’ had been murdered without trial or mercy at the hands of Pol Pot’s executioners and interrogators after protracted torture of the most merciless and brutal methods imaginable. How had ex-school teacher Pol Pot’s cadres of Democratic Campuchea Party leaders morphed into murderers on this scale and why? What allowed them to bridge the gap between instructing children for their pupil’s benefits to ordering children to be murdered as Duch did to the children of a political suspect. And how come most of them- Duch, SonSen, Pon, Chan, were also teachers?Reading through this scholarly work left me with a sense of horror that I find difficult to believe or understand. Pol Pot was clearly paranoid as finally was the whole of Cambodia. Is paranoia communicable societally?

“Writing about the Holocaust and modernity in the context of Milgram’s work, Zygmunt Bauman made a humane but devastating statement “ The most frightening news brought about by the Holocaust and what we learned about its perpetrators, “ Bauman reminded us, “ was not the likelihood that ‘this’ could be done to us, but the idea that we could do it.”

“Explanations for S21 that place the blame entirely on ‘evil people,’ which is to say on others, fail to consider that what all of us share with perpetrators of evil is not a culture , a doctrine, or an innate tendency to kill but our similarity as human beings and , in particular, our tendencies towards acculturation and obedience. Most of us, I suspect, could become accustomed to doing something (such as torturing or killing people) when people we respected told us to do it, and when there were no constitutional constraints on doing what we were told. For many of us the task would be easier if the victims were branded as ‘outsiders.’…..”..Milgram remarked “ A person is in a state of agency when he defines himself in a social situation in a manner that renders him open to regulation by persons of a higher status…………Acts of defiance or uncalled for mercy, on the other hand, stem from individual choices that run against the grain and are therefore rare………..The courage that is required to limit violence is frequently not physical courage , the willingness to put one’s life on the line, but the courage to oppose one’s group and to endanger one’s status in the group or one’s career. ……………… To find the source of the evil that was enacted at S21 on a daily basis , we need look no further than ourselves.”David Chandler S21.

This understanding should be printed on our money and on every government document and tattooed on our social soul. Always question all authorities!

Well dear world, after reading about Chouen Ek and S21 the murderous torture prison of the Khmer Rouge it was obvious that the Socialist regime of Pol Pot was generated by intellectuals responding to the injustices and cruelties of French Colonialism and the madness of American carpet bombing and inspired by the fantasies of a world safe from colonialism and capitalism. In the process they all became classically paranoid and corrupted utterly by total power, losing their humanity in the process; obvious too that societally it was contagious and spread until the entire country was complicit. The first victim was common sense and the second individual power.The price for conformity was one fifth of the population dead, the economy destroyed utterly, and pure evil generated on a scale that will take several generations to heal.

In our times we watch the smartest, most idealistic, most humanitarian man ever to occupy the American white house tugging at the clusters of strings attached by puppet masters to his limbs, heart and mind. The image that springs to my mind as I watch America and Obama is Johnathon Swift’s Gulliver subdued by the thousand strings of the minature Lilliputians as day by day we watch the limitations imposed on him by the spiritual pygmies of the  hoards of  Capitalism with whom we are all complicit whether we like the idea or not. For it seems tha we cannot individually or colletively gain understanding of how money works to fill the world with war or what role our invested pension funds play in the munitions industries.. We live daily with the sadness of realizing that our hopes in him must be compromised and compromised again. None of us knows what could be done because not one person in the world fully understands the economic system. If there had been even one person who understood, the economic crash would not have occurred. There are many who know parts of the system and how effectively to milk it for their individual benefits. We know that to be effective money must move and we know too that Capitalism is amoral; utterly and completely amoral.Which does not mean bad.  Beyond that little is understood. But in our hearts we know that we are all spiritually equal , even though our occupations span the bridge that is beggary at one end and plutocracy at the other. So it seems to me, dear world, as we blunder around in the darkness inhabited by saints and brutes, by munitions makers , military, mendicants and madmen, that in the terrible void of effective and communal moral-will perhaps the best that we can do in this period of human evolution is raise generations that are more compassionate , more informed, more sensitive, more educated and more loving than their parent’s generations. For now we have plainly before us, sailing across the dark seas of history, the fleet of disastrous past human endeavours flying, as always, the colours of idealism, power, rectitude and war. It is heading for our shore and we now know that to fight it is validate it and give it our own power. What can we do? Which way can we turn?

Aah my beloved,

Could thou and I with fate conspire

To grasp this sorry state of things entire,

Would we not shatter it to bits and then

Remold it nearer to the heart’s desire?( Omar Khaayaam)

On a less weighty matter check out

CIMG1629 Pussy by the pound. 

this lovely shot from a  market in Bangkok.Sitting in the weigh pan at a produce stall this cat raised no demur when the stall keepers unceremoniously dumped plastic bags of vegetables on her and deducted her weight from the total. For men at least perhaps the idea of pussy by the pound goes a long way towards countering the dystopian world view that was conjured up  by the western gender war of the 80’s and 90’s even if it leaves us living daily with the ghosts of Chouen Ek and  S21.Until next post, Dear World, blessings, and please dont eat sockeye salmon for two years, they are endangered and government is powerless to help.




One response

25 01 2010


Never an easy one to grasp, hold, or even digest. I like these two quotes on the subject.

“Genocide begins, however improbably, in the conviction that classes of biological distinction indisputably sanction social and political discrimination.”
-Andrea Dworkin

“Until the philosophy which hold one race superior
And another
Is finally
And permanently
And abandoned –
Everywhere is war –
Me say war.”
-Bob Marley

I do believe strongly that technology holds an answer to breaking down the barriers of prejudice and persecution. Discussing these events in greater detail can help us diagnose the illness further, dynamically, and more speedily in the future, I can only pray.

And thanks for the cat pic ; )

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