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Lily Rosencrantz


Professor Warren

9 May 2017

Short Paper 2

Genocide continues to occur as marginalized peoples and scapegoated groups are

persecuted for being the other. The idea of reforming or eliminating that otherized part of

society often results from deep economic, moral, religious, or other divides, and the hope of the

oppressor that it will help them create a society more beneficial to them. Genocides have lasting

effects for not only those who live through them, but for their children and progeny for

generations to come. Expunging genocide from ones memory does little good; while it might be

the only effective coping method for some, it does not honor the lives lost, or do anything to

prevent future genocides. Telling the histories of genocides, and creating purposive narratives

after one occurs to prevent future genocides, is crucial to any society that has experienced a

tragedy so awful; it is through these narratives that societies can understand what leads to a

genocide, and how they might prevent one in the future.

The Cambodian genocide was marked by the stark contrast between communism and

Western capitalism that was more present in urban areas. In 1970, a coup dtat some believe

was backed by the United States of America unseated Prince Sihanouk, and pro-West Lon Nol

became the leader of Cambodia. A civil war between Lon Nols government and the Khmer

Rouge, a communist group within Cambodia, began in 1970 and culminated in 1975 when

Khmer Rouge forces won. They went on to force Cambodians out of urban areas to work in the

countryside with the communist hope that this action would equalize Cambodians, and would
strip urban civilians of their wealth and higher status. Although this was a communist regime,

there was still a hierarchy within Khmer Rouge society in the countryside: base people, those

who were from the countryside, were given more food, power, and respect than educated or

previously wealthy Cambodians. These base people became the killers in the genocide, acting on

the ideals of Pol Pot, Nuon Che, and other leaders who deemed anyone with capitalistic or

western beliefs an enemy of the state. This systemic otherizing of those Cambodians who had

been previously privileged was what made it so that they were killable, and resulted in the death

of a huge portion of the Cambodian population. After the genocide, some Cambodians whose

families had been killed formed purposive narratives of that time to make sense of the senseless

killings, and bring meaning to their lives.

The documentary Enemies of the People directed by Thet Sambath represents a

purposive telling of the Cambodian genocide. Thet Sambath worked to cope with the atrocity by

creating a documentary that explores who ordered and who implemented the genocide. The pain

he has felt because of the genocide is unmistakable, but his effort to reconcile with his familys

painful past is evident through his work. He formed relationships over many years with both

killers and Nuon Che, Pol Pots right hand man, to unearth the reasons for why the genocide

occurred. Through this, he created habitable memories by talking to the killers and understanding

that they did not inherently want to kill, how the system of command made it so killing was

required and normalized, and how the system reinforced hatred. Thet Sambath hoped that telling

the story of Cambodian genocide would help heal a Cambodia still scarred by the pox of

genocide, and would help him still traumatized to heal with the knowledge that he had done

something to aid in reconciliation. Rather than allowing his pain to hinder his life, Thet Sambath

became a prominent journalist, a husband, and a father; he participated in the societal norms of
having a family and job, and was a productive member of society rather than consumed by his

grief. He then spread his understanding of the genocide to Cambodia and the world through his

documentary to help himself and others remember the genocide. Similarly, the Jews have told of

the Holocaust to help reconcile with that painful period in history.

In the Jewish community, remembrance of the Holocaust is incredibly important, and

aims to educate people so they remember all the lives lost. Throughout my childhood, I learned

about the history of the Holocaust from my family and through my Jewish education, and was

told above all to never forget what was done to my ancestors so that another Holocaust will not

occur. The history of the Jews and other minorities being persecuted was taught to me through

going to Holocaust museums, and listening to my grandmothers and other survivors stories.

The great importance of educating myself on this period of Jewish history was conveyed to me

many times, so as I grew older I took it upon myself to learn through reading about the

Holocaust as well. Through these mediums, I learned of the Holocaust as both a show of the

power of the human spirit to do bad things, and to be resilient. I learned of those who did the

killing because they were captivated by the Nazi regime, and of many non-Jewish Germans

helping Jews. The main lesson that was conveyed to me from these sources was that many

terrible events may occur, but the Jews must always have hope, and remember so those who died

did not die in vain. Walking through a Holocaust museum with piles of shoes, hair, and so many

other representations of the humanity of those killed reminds the visitor that it was six million

distinct murders that occurred, valuing each life and grieving it at the same time. Meeting

Holocaust survivors makes remembrance personal, as survivors are reminders of the many

people just like them who did not survive. Telling the terror in these ways shows how horrifying

the Holocaust was, makes it unforgettable, and makes it personal through forming connections
with survivors that show who was affected. The consequence of such a telling of history is that it

reminds the Jewish people of its resilience and the fact that was not exterminated, and honors

those who died. It teaches Jews, and those who learn about the Holocaust from museums and

survivors as I have, to not accept discrimination in our lives, to be willing to stand against

injustice and prejudice. Beyond that, it works to prevent history from repeating itself by

understanding the makings of a genocide.

People are sometimes able to move past their trauma through the creation of purposive

narratives after the occurrence of genocides and similarly appalling events. These purposive

narratives not only help that individual, but also teach the world about how those events

unfolded, and educate people on how to be cognizant of discrimination. This was evidenced by

Thet Sambaths documentary and Holocaust museums, as both aim to teach about the genocides,

as well as help people to move past great sorrow. If more people create and share these purposive

narratives, future genocides might be prevented, and the world will be a better place.