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The Book of the Week is “A Refugee’s American Dream, From the Killing Fields of Cambodia to the U.S. Secret Service” by Leth Oun with Joe Samuel Starnes, published in 2023. The book appeared to be credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, or Bibliography and an index.
Leth was born in October 1966 in northwestern Cambodia. He lived in a Buddhist neighborhood of seven households; it was communal, and living conditions were primitive. But his parents believed in education. Leth’s school was a half-hour’s walking distance. He began attending at six years old. The most excitement the peasants had was provided by a neighbor in the wider community. That wealthy family had a home entertainment system consisting of a screen and projector that showed Charlie Chaplin films with French subtitles.
Up until spring 1975, when extreme political turmoil turned his life upside down, Leth was allowed to bring his pet dog with him to see Cambodian and Chinese movies in a theater in Battambang City, near his home village. When the war came to his area, he saw “helicopters shooting fireballs from the sky, trees burning and exploding, trying to kill the Khmer Rouge soldiers in hiding.”
The Khmer Rouge guerrillas committed unspeakable atrocities, dubbed the “Killing Fields” by Western historians, but there was much was more to it than simply torturing and killing people in fields. Westerners who call mass deaths in modern times the “Killing Fields” are just as ignorant about world history as those who call certain leaders “Hitler” when they have no clue what they’re talking about.
Most Khmer Rouge foot soldiers were teenage boys toting AK-47’s. They were bossy and sadistic, like Nazis. The difference was, though, that Cambodia’s new dictator, Pol Pot, took lessons from Stalin’s and Mao Tse Tung’s Communist playbooks through: redistributing property to the government; turning the entire common population into peasant-farmers; and punishing everyone who had previously engaged in capitalism-related activities. They imposed an anti-intellectual godless regime that demonized all things Western. Most of his life, the author’s father had been (not by choice) in the Cambodian military, so he was doomed to be taken away and killed by the Khmer Rouge.
Obviously, the author lived to tell his tale, but he barely survived. At one point, he lived in a refugee camp, which he described thusly: “More huts were built in the dirt of the sprawling community surrounded by barbed wire beneath the mountain. The lines for food and water grew longer and slower. The latrines grew more crowded and smelled terrible.”
Read the book to learn many more details of the fate of the author and his family.