I understand that Henry Kissinger has recently admitted that the 1970 American collusion to overthrow Head of State, Prince Norodom Sihanouk in Cambodia, opening the way for Pol Pot, was a mistake! But I doubt that America is going to take much responsibility.
The 2 million who fled to Phnom Penh following the coup probably account for the high incidence of tuberculosis today – about 60%.
Then the Americans dropped the equivalent of 120 Hiroshima atomic bombs, killing or maiming over a million people and two thirds of their animals. Pol Pot followed, another horrific estimated 3 million. Only about 50 of the 2,000 or so doctors in Cambodia escaped. In Cambodia today 1 in 250 have lost one or more limbs to land mines.
Considering that Pol Pot died in 1996 and the conflict in Cambodia only really petered out following his death, it is remarkable to visit the Cambodian people and see them getting on with their lives as best they can. How many were killed by that regime remains to be determined, but it is in the millions, a genocide beyond the Holocaust. So near and so recent.
(I am presently editing a short film in which I have tried to capture this resilience, shot in Phnom Penh)
While in Sydney for our annual Chaplains Conference I had the opportunity to meet Lance Collins and Warren Read, former intelligence officers with the military and ASIS. They have just published, “Plunging Point” (Harper Collins), which gives their account of the failure of policy makers with respect to our intelligence services. They also give us an insight into how intelligence services work, post September 11.
Theirs is a different kind of resilience – maintaining integrity in the face of a corrupted corporate hegemony. How ironic that the Howard government now wants to beef up our intelligence services, but again, how unlikely they are going to take any responsibility for its demise, and for the loss of such men as Lance and Warren. And with their cuts to universities, cultural/language and critical thinking studies in particular, no wonder it’s going to take at least 5 years to find appropriate candidates! But if Lance and Warren’s experiences are typical, who would want to sign up anyway?
(I have contacted the Hawke Centre and hope that Adelaide will soon have an opportunity to hear Lance and Warren tell their story.)
Spending a week in Jogjakarta with Catholic student leaders from across SE Asia underlined how tame and domesticated we are in the West. Asian students seem to have a historical mandate for activism for social justice, having been instrumental in toppling governments in the past. But there are signs that such student idealism is waning under the influence of western consumerism in places like Hong Kong, Thailand and Malaysia. And the cost is higher, as governments pass laws that make dissent even more difficult to express. We may be on our way in Australia too – play the game and be one of the “haves”, dissent and become one of the “have-nots”.
(A copy of the final statement from the student conference is attached. Asian Catholic Student Leaders – Conference Communique
I also have a photo-report of the conference which I presented to the tertiary chaplains conference in Sydney which I would be happy to share with you!)