Tuesday, August 30, 2011

On intentions and evil

The cheerful, gentle-looking man above, according to many who knew him, loved to laugh and joke. Loved his family. Loved his country. Was kind to those around him. His countrymen still go to his grave to pray that he bless them and send them winning lottery tickets.

And he authorized the killing of more than a fourth of the population of Cambodia during the seventies. A fourth. About 2.5 million.

He is Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge (pronounced something like (Ka-mai Rouge)

Sorry to drag you down here with me, but I just watched the documentary "Pol Pot's Shadow" last night, about the Khmer Rouge genocide in the 1970s. So we're going there.

I don't even think I ought to try to use words to describe what happened. I feel like it would take a lot of gall for me to think I could even begin to put adjectives on something so far beyond my own experience. I, who have suffered so little. I, who have never had the least fear that my friends, parents, professors, classmates...myself...would be dragged off to be maimed and killed. I, who fancy myself compassionate and good.

But I can tell you, the most shocking, jarring, thing about this particular documentary was the interviews of those involved in the Khmer Rouge army. One of these was a man name Nuon Chea. He was "Brother Number 2," and apparently even more morally responsible for authorizing the killings than the smiling face at the top of the screen.

Yes, somehow, they could interview him. Living free in a home in the jungle, being taken care of by his wife. And I tell you, he seemed... nice. Mild-mannered. Grandfatherly. Proud. He admires George Washington. He quotes "E pluribus unum." He smiles.

The interviewers of course, in their commentary, pass him off as a two-faced liar. Putting on a show. Pretending in front of cameras.

And that's the most convenient explanation, really, isn't it? I really want that to be the whole story. I really want to believe that Noun Chea changed character completely after the cameras left the house. That he sat chuckling over how he fooled us all.

Because after all, who wants to face the moral dilemma of a sociable tyrant? A murderer who loved to make others laugh. A torturer who can hold his children tenderly. The leader of a genocide who really wants an agrarian utopia.

Better, much better, to pass Pol Pot and Nuon Chea off as diabolic, crazy men, wolves disguising themselves in lambs clothing, than to try to explain how someone who actually believed they were doing good could do such horrific wrong.

God help me the day that I try to explain that. I imagine then I'd have to start looking at the evil within my well-meaning self.


  1. Wouldn't it be convienant if telling good from evil was more like Star Wars? Luke vs. Vader, or blue light saber vs. red light saber. Who's wearing the white hat and who's wearing the black hat?

    Unfortunately(?), we aren't that two dimensional. Everyone is the hero of their own story.

  2. You, Holly, are brilliant. I've always thought so. I may even make you a co-hero of my story. ;) Along with Luke.

  3. Yikes! Makes ya think!

  4. Megan and Christine: Thanks! The light sides of evil dictators is for me at the same time one of the most fascinating and one of the most disturbing things...

  5. Okay, sorry for being a nerd here, but I have to add... I'm reading one of the newer Star Wars books, and the son of Han Solo and Leia is--was--a Jedi and has basically become another Palpatine. It was entirely based on good intentions, and when it's from his perspective he only thought until this book that he was doing what was best for the galaxy. Best of intentions, but evil result.

    And Luke Skywalker has a moment of nostalgia wishing that the situation was as black and white as Rebels vs Palpatine.

    How it coincides with what you guys are saying is uncanny.

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  8. I think I'm sorta in luuurve with tatooinedweller now.