Monday, March 31, 2008

“The Killing Fields” of Cambodia and Vietnam vs. American Freedom

The March 31st Wall Street Journal’s news roundup “U.S. Watch” carried this brief article from the Associated Press:

“Dith Pran, the Cambodian-born journalist whose tale of enslavement and eventual escape from that country's murderous Khmer Rouge revolutionaries in 1979 became the subject of the award-winning film "The Killing Fields," died Sunday. He was 65 years old.

“Mr. Dith died at a New Jersey hospital Sunday morning of pancreatic cancer, according to Sydney Schanberg, his former colleague at The New York Times. Mr. Dith had been diagnosed almost three months ago.

“Mr. Dith was working as an interpreter and assistant for Mr. Schanberg in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, when the Vietnam War reached its end in April 1975 and both countries were taken over by communist forces. Mr. Schanberg helped Mr. Dith's family get out but was forced to leave his friend behind after the capital fell; they weren't reunited until Mr. Dith escaped 4½ years later.

“Eventually, Mr. Dith resettled in the U.S. and went to work as a photographer for the Times. It was Mr. Dith who coined the term "killing fields" for the clusters of corpses and skeletal remains of victims he encountered on his journey to freedom.”

I added the boldface in the above Associated Press article because that moment in history when Saigon fell is a pivotal one in U.S. history -- we abandoned the friends we had promised to save.

I describe this moment in the epilogue of my forthcoming book MRS. LIEUTENANT: A SHARON GOLD NOVEL:

“She flashes on the chaotic images of the American embassy at the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975, captured on news footage: The last American helicopters lift off from the roof, desperate South Vietnamese civilians trying to cling to the helicopter skids. And in the embassy compound below, watching their last chance take off, are the masses of South Vietnamese who will become fodder for the brutality of the victorious Communists.”

Dith Pran was one of those left behind to face the brutality of the victorious Communists. But he was also one of the lucky ones – he eventually reached freedom in the United States.

And freedom in the United States is something we should never take for granted. It is a privilege for which all Americans should be grateful.

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