To My Mother With Love
The regime of the Khmer Rouge subjected Cambodians to a tragedy that troubles our minds and hurts our hearts. Its tragic legacy reminds us that we must not repeat the errors of our past.
Forgiveness is a journey; the journey that took me away against my will. Time helps me heal and forgive those who have done harm, but I can feel the pain all over again. My three brothers and two sisters had gone through so much in their life and died terribly in vain for something that was not their fault alone.
When the Khmer Rouge Revolution arrived, I was five-year old in kindergarten. By the time I came to realize that they had killed my brothers and sisters, and millions of innocence lives, I was thousands of kilometers away, in the US.
My mother has learned to live with her grief and the loss of her children. She passed away last month in France, far away from the children who died during the brutal regime. I am sure that her death has reconciled with her past, and her human nature and Buddhism helps her heal.
My mother is my driving force. She has such a respect for every single soul - even for the Khmer Rouge who had raided her hut and put her on a show trail for not destroying her souvenirs that she hold dear to her heart and clothes of her husband. Her conviction was that one can't contemplate hope unless one address despair. To heal the wounds of suffering she believed that one had to see humanity in the face of the enemy.
I'm not really a religious person, but for me forgiveness is about grace. To be able to forgive someone who has hurt me is a moment of grace. But forgiveness is a journey. Today you can forgive, and tomorrow you can feel pain all over again.
My journey to renouncing violence took place during my 27 years in the US. It was a slow and painful process. There was huge cost in terms of loss and isolation. But I came to realize that Cambodia has been a land of politics, not for the good of a nation but for personal revenge.
The Khmer Rouge never implemented the social equality they claimed to uphold. During its fragile existence, the Khmer Rouge sought out hatred and destroyed one another in a name of colorless society. What gave birth to Khmer Rouge must be confronted willingly by everyone involved.
Politic is a dirty word, and there are hands in Cambodian's blood. China had been lobbying hard to suppress the trial because of the Beijing's support for Pol Pot and its efforts to export revolution to the region, while most believed that the Chinese-supported atrocities during Khmer Rouge regime could far exceed the Rape of Nanjing. The blame is passing down from highest to lowest cadres, first denying, then acknowledging the killings. Those who are still alive blame the dead.
Five surviving suspects of the Khmer Rouge are now in custody, but none has been charged with genocide. The term genocide falls within a legal context, and no other term conveys the moral horror of the victims' suffering. But it helps reconcile their loss.
Those perpetrators awaiting trial for the crimes committed under their rule are far more honored than most victims they denied justice under their tenure. Others, meanwhile -- like Pol Pot and Ta Mok, Yugoslavia's Slobodan Milosevic, and Chile's Augusto Pinochet -- died before they can be brought to justice.
Forgiveness is more about the needs of the perpetrator than the needs of the victim, or of the family who have lost a loved one. Unfortunately, reconciliation and forgiveness have been politicized, so for me they've lost their value.
People were murdered and disappeared, and these were crimes of animosity and hatred.
Imagine if Pol Pot were still alive today and faced International Criminal Tribunal for crimes against humanity like some of his peers.
Age and a combination ill-health caught up with him before justice. He left behind a legacy of graves; his resting place bore little resemblance to the larger-than-life dictator alleged to have engineered some of the worst atrocities committed in the 20th century.
In comparison among his peers in history of madman, Pol Pot died by his own hand, in his ruined country, his corpse was burned with old rubber tires. The phenomenon of his agenda has not yet been fully explained, and most of what I've read on the subject is somewhat unclear. Yet it was his victims who prevailed and outlasted his evil acts.
My mother's death recalled a time of dying. Under the rule of Khmer Rouge, she was defiant and resisted to both nature and the executioners. She had offered to share her food ration with me, but I had refused. Everything she did has made her human, and her resilience that kept her alive.
She died at l'Archet Hospital in Ariane, a local hospital not far form her adopted home where she had spent her life for twenty five years with her adopted children. I'm not sure that it was a place where she wanted to live and die. Her mind was elsewhere, dreaming of what it would it be like to see and live with her only two children together.
In memory of my mother: Forgiveness isn't something that's talked about with reconciliation, but it's needed to bring closure to the pain and suffering experienced under the Khmer Rouge regime.
Nice, France, 2008