Siem Reap Tales: War, what is it good for?

Fourth post from Siem Reap and hardly any Temples, what’s going on P1140685man? Get some Temples in there.(Ed) No, shalln’t.

Half way on the way to the airport from the city, turn off under the arch saying you are entering the military control of the region and pass the military barracks and you come to the War Museum Cambodia.

War Museum, that sounds a barrel of laughs, see what I did there? No, but conflict has been a central part of this country’s history for a large part of the last half of last century so maybe there is something to be learnt?

After paying my entry fee of $5 I was met by Tom:

“Mean Sokhom (also known as Tom) is a landmine survivor; he had P1140658lost his left arm when he was 14 years old.

Mean Sokhom is an eyewitness of the Cambodian civil war. He witnessed people being shot by the Khmer Rouge and saw soldiers fishing with hand grenades.

He learned a lot about the history of the civil war from history books before he became a tour guide at the War Museum. He has heard also a lot about the history of this war from people who experienced it: he has not only interviewed Cambodians who had lived through those times, but he has also met soldiers from all sides of this war and he has met many Cambodians who were P1140656injured by land-mines. In addition, he has met many U.S. soldiers who came to visit the war museum and they told him a lot about the history of the war, their experiences during the U.S. bombing attacks on Cambodia and their lives since then.”

He then proceeded to talk about the weapon above which is an anti-aircraft gun, also of use against helicopters but there were no flying things really so the Khmer Rouge (KR) used it against people, imagine a bullet or


shell meant to bring down a plane being fired at a person.

Tom talked about seeing members of his family shot and not knowing what happened to the others, still hoping they might meet up some day. Also, he talked about having his arm amputated with two pieces of wire, with no anaesthetic or pain killer, after an explosion, and having to have a further operation because of the rudimentary nature of the first as the bone grew to stick out of the skin.  And, Tom talked about seeing people P1140663he was friends with killed or maimed even worse, some so they had to be put out of their pain as there were no medical resources nearby, you got a first-hand graphic account of what war and conflict means that to a lucky, a word he used to me to describe my situation, a person who has not had to be in the armed forces and fight especially for someone like me as someone not conscripted, as happened between 1975 and 1989 in Cambodia.

People ask, what is the point of a museum such as this as surely it just glorifies war. People can just get their rocks off looking at Russian T-54 tanks, artillery pieces, armoured cars or a helicopter or Mig jet. If you just go and walk around then that is all it is. But go and listen to the testimony of Tom and the other guides who were there, to what they saw and experienced. My history teacher told me that we need to be aware of the importance of sources of information. How connected were they to what
happened? Did they experience it? Or are they some playwright writing 50 years after events making generalised points to appease the new boss?  Be critical. Coming here you can talk to, and, more importantly, listen to, people who were there and experienced it

Well go there. See also the history of what happened under the KR, but also the deaths in the war after they were driven out into the periphery following the Vietnamese invasion in 1979, the widespread use of land-mines (Pictured above and Tom took us through the different ones and their affects upon people) and the injuries they are still causing today to people in the places they live and work which have still not been de-mined. The praise he had for Princess Diana and the work she did against

land-mines and work continued by Princes William and Harry. (Parenthetically. As someone who is  not a royalist it still gave me a bit of national pride  that someone connected with my country was thought of as someone playing a positive role in the country as opposed to the role of the Americans, French, Chinese and Russians who fought their wars in the country or dropped tonnes of bombs on the country and run away when things got difficult, or just ran away.)

Finally, in answer to the question, war what is it good for? Go here and hear how an intervention by a foreign power, without the support of the United Nations, saved a people from Genocide. Intervention does work and there is a duty for it to be done when Genocide is happening. Big up Vietnam for doing so in 1979. In the face of opposition from China, the US and the UN – who allowed the Genocidal KR, let us not forget, to remain the representatives of Cambodia at the UN until 1989, shame upon you UN. But also shame upon us for standing by in Cambodia then and Rwanda and Bosnia in the 1990’s and for standing by in Syria now.


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