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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Think of the children

Think of the children

The Editor,

Many years ago I read an account of a young German university student who,

while exploring his grandmother's attic came across a crate of his father's war memoribilia.

He found many old bits and pieces of military souvenirs and a large collection of

photographs. One photograph showed a deep pit almost full of dead bodies. On the

edge of the pit, blindfolded with hands bound knelt the next victim. The executioner

holding the pistol to the back of the man's head was smiling into the camera. The

executioner was the young student's father.

The young man lived with this terrible secret, telling no one and continually tortured

with the knowledge. To tell anyone would be to betray his father, and to continue

the secret would be to continue the lie. He chose to continue the lie, and the photograph

was found in his pocket when he hung himself a month later.

A young man, loving his father, and refusing to believe the evil of the past. It

has been over 25 years since I read the story, but lately it comes to mind again

and again. In the past several years I have met many young Cambodians - university

students and graduates of many Western universities. Many have returned here to Cambodia

to help rebuild their motherland. I have had the pleasure of knowing some of them

well. I have spent many hours listening to their stories. Some have shared secrets.

Some refuse to discuss what their fathers had done in the past-some refuse to accept

what their fathers had done. Still others refuse to know.

A recent news article quoted a Cambodian leader as saying to his son, a student at

a prestigious American university, " will continue when I am gone, my

son". This maybe is to be expected, that a child will follow in the footsteps

of his father. And perhaps it is as it should be. But education can be a dangerous

thing, and a student educated in the West will often begin to question the values

and even the history that has been given to him by his parents. A Western education

gives access to information that would be impossible to find in their homeland where

freedoms of press, speech, and expression do not exist.

I cannot pretend to know the burden imposed by the awesome responsibility of national

leadership. However, I do know history. History is dynamic and alive. The history

of Cambodia is being written every day by the leaders of the country as well as by

the common people. The history that we are making today is the legacy that is going

to be handed down to our children and our grandchildren. National leaders should

be concerned about what their children may learn in a foreign university, or what

their children might find in their grandmother's attic.
- Name withheld on request, Phnom Penh



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