Yesterday’s New York Times and this morning’s Washington Post (and I’m sure countless other newspapers) reported the death of Dith Pran, the Cambodian photojournalist who was the subject of the 1984 movie “The Killing Fields”.
Just in case you might not be familiar with this movie it is the true story of one man who served as an interpreter for NYTimes journalist Sydney Schanberg while he covered the war in Cambodia.Dith Pran stayed with the American journalists while his family escaped Cambodia and then the Americans were ordered to leave and Dith Pran was not allowed to go with them.Instead he was sent to a re-education camp and suffered four years of hard labor and starvation until he finally escaped over the mountains and into Thailand.
Yesterday I watched a video tribute to Dith Pran on the NYT website and Sydney Schanberg said that the final scene of the movie was totally accurate. After learning that he was alive, Sydney came to Thailand to the refugee camp where Dith Pran was staying and as the two men saw each other, they embraced with a huge bear hug and Dith Pran wrapped his skinny legs around Sydney’s waist. Sydney said something like, “I hope you can forgive me for leaving you here” to which Dith Pran answered, “Nothing to forgive. Nothing to forgive.” In the movie, John Lennon’s song “Imagine” is playing and it seems like it was written just for that scene. Although it is an R-rated movie and has some disturbing scenes, not to mention harsh language, I would recommend it to anyone. It is a sad depiction of the age old story of man’s inhumanity to man and we seem to have not learned any lesson from that tragedy.
In February of 2005 I had the chance to visit Cambodia for a brief visit. Our young guide was too young to have lived through the nightmare of that time but he knew the stories told by his parents. He took us to a small memorial to the killing fields which was a public park with a glass enclosed gazebo type structure. Inside the structure there were skulls stacked high to the ceiling. Outside was a sign that said essentially, “Over a million people were murdered while the world stood by and did nothing…” Since that tragedy there have been other such events in Rwanda and now in Darfur and most of the world doesn’t seem to care, and I wonder why. And of course history has recorded atrocities elsewhere in the world throughout the history of man.
Dith Pran came to America in 1979 and worked most of his life as a journalist for the NYTimes until the last few years as he turned his full time efforts to educating the world about the genocide in Cambodia. It seems there are so few voices as strong as that voice of this man who was small in stature but enormous in his dedication to truth. We should honor and celebrate such courage whenever and wherever we can. Dith Pran died on Sunday from pancreatic cancer. Hopefully the spirit of his dedication did not die with him.