Cheat-Seeking Missles

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Very Unusual Mother's Day II

Mom liked my Mother's Day gift and wrote back last night with her own thoughts of that time in the mid-60s when she left my brother and me in Hong Kong for a couple days so should could visit the Angkor Wat temples in Cambodia. She wrote:
Thank you for the wonderful mothers' day present, a very touching retelling of an experience that demonstrated to you how well you could cope -- and also for me, even though I knew you could do it and that it would be as memorable an experience for you as Cambodia was for me. And yet, if it were someone else doing it, I would be critical of any woman who left her children alone in a strange and foreign country -- just think what might have happened! But it didn't, and what a learning experience it must have been for you and for Chris. ...

If you have any memories of that time in Hong Kong, I would like to know what they are. But I must tell you that you were not alone. There were 20 others on that trip and they were in the same hotel. They were all alerted to the fact that you would be alone and to check regularly to see that you were all right. Two women who were good friends and who cared about you were in charge. I never doubted that I would return on schedule though they were aware of what they should do if I didn't.

In retrospect, now, it was a foolish thing to do, but I WANTED to see Cambodia and those temples and Hong Kong was the only place anyone could get a visa. I remember, though, burning all my journalist ID's in my hotel room -- journalists were not allowed in at that time -- and flushing them down the toilet the first night I was there. It was an oppressive regime and everywhere there was a permeation of evil, of the horrors that were to come, the killing fields and the torture that was so inhuman that I don't ever want to repeat the details.

It was also a wonderful experience I will never forget. I saw the main temples and, because of a friend I made, a man I met at my hotel who was doing research for a London organization, I was able to see ruins that had never been rescued from the trees whose entwining roots held the stones together. We explored remote sites, riding in a side-car motorcycle that could travel cross country to remote sites on the rutty country roads. The hotel had a ragged, fly-specked notice on the elevator that it was out of order but repair parts were expected soon. (When Bill and I returned there years later, it was working, an open cage that served all three floors.) ...

Much later, after a terrible period, there was a new Cambodia and I went back. The horrors were still apparent. There were tours. In the killing fields where endless numbers were shot (or bludgeoned when bullets were in short supply) bits of clothing kept working their way to the surface. I saw this, along with the prisons where the prisoners were kept, each one photographed, the displayed pictures haunt me still -- their eyes, even then, still pleading for mercy. Their were two Brits on a river trip who got lost and were captured in Cambodian waters. They, too were brutally murdered.

Later I made another visit. Cambodia was recovering but the horrors were still to be seen, a grandmother pushing her grandson with an amputated leg on a cart is one. There was no work, then, for survivors, but old women were allowed to beg in temples. I passed one as I entered a temple my guide wanted me to see, and on the way out, I thought of the horrors she must have seen. I dropped a few coins in her cup and she extended her handless arms. My reaction beyond any planned response -- I reached out and took the stubs in my hands. Our eyes met for a few moments and then I went on. I will never forget that moment -- nor, I am quite sure, did she.
What an amazing mom I was blessed to have, eh?

We've never talked about who was to blame for the Hell Cambodia became. I blame us, for abandoning Vietnam, abandoning the region, and letting the evil of the Communist North and Pol Pot reach its nadir unimpeded by the forces of good.

I imagine she blames us, too, but for fighting the war in the first place, and drawing Cambodia into it (which was actually the work of the N. Vietnamese, not us).

But she's never been a big one for blame, at least on personal levels, so lets pull back and look without casting blame. What we learn is that if you leave an area decimated by war, no matter who is at fault for the situation, you will not have a second Marshall Plan; you will have chaos and death at a hugely greater scale than was occurring under the structure that war imposes. (Curious, isn't it, that war is really an ordering thing?)

Today, most of the Dems in the U.S. Senate will state their support for a rapid withdrawal from Iraq.

They know how to make the likes of Pol Pot smile.

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