Monday, March 10, 2008

The memory of the silent

Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, once a Khmer Rouge official in charge of a Cambodian torture center, was moved to tears when he was taken by the genocide tribunal to see a killing field.
"We noticed that he was feeling pity, tears were rolling down his face two or three times," Reach Sambath said.

Duch was especially moved when he stood before a tree with a sign describing how executioners disposed of their child victims by bashing their heads against its trunk, the spokesman said.

There are several similar displays among the shallow graves that contain skeletal remains and ragged clothes.

Some 16,000 men, women and children who had been held at S-21 were killed and buried at Choeung Ek...

("Head of notorious Khmer Rouge torture weeps at mass grave site," 26 February 2008, Canadian Press)

Last week, another killing field was found, from another hemisphere and another century:

Mystery and dread shrouded a freshly discovered mass grave site filled with the remains of at least 50 and perhaps as many as 100 people, some of them children, in a river valley northeast of Baghdad.

Iraqi police announced the discovery yesterday after conducting a raid in the area and stumbling upon the badly decomposed bodies a day earlier. The dead were buried in one of the many fruit, date and palm orchards that line the Diyala River near the town of Khalis, just north of the provincial capital of Baqouba.

...Iraqi police and residents say they believe they were killed and buried in the past five years. An Iraqi security official who saw the grave site said the bodies appeared to have been dumped over a period of time, rather than all at once, and that only 13 had been excavated so far.

Some residents suspect the site was a dumping ground used by Shiite Muslim militias disposing of remains of Sunni victims....

("Iraqi police find mass grave during raid," Borzou Daragahi and Saif Rasheed, Baltimore Sun, 9 March 2008)

Czeslaw Milosz, in his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, offered this perspective on the memory of horrific human cruelty:
It is possible that there is no other memory than the memory of wounds....

A distance achieved, thanks to the mystery of time, must not change events, landscapes, human figures into a tangle of shadows growing paler and paler. On the contrary, it can show them in full light, so that every event, every date becomes expressive and persists as an eternal reminder of human depravity and human greatness. Those who are alive receive a mandate from those who are silent forever. They can fulfill their duties only by trying to reconstruct precisely things as they were, and by wresting the past from fictions and legends.

(Czeslaw Milosz, Nobel Lecture, 8 December 1980.)

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|| headland, 12:15 AM


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