Cambodia’s back in the news lately, as an analogy for the expansion of the Iraq war into Iran. It’s not completely accurate: Cambodia in 1969 was a country with a population far smaller than Vietnam’s; Iran is not only geographically larger than Iraq, it’s population is nearly three times Iraq’s.
In my mind this weekend, that theme’s colliding with the bizarre attack on Elie Wiesel, by someone who appears to have been planning to “deprogram” Wiesel into admitting the Holocaust never happened.
I’ve always wondered about the type of people who could believe that hugely destructive events were entirely fictious or had far less of an impact than they did. The people who deny the Holocaust, those who play down the impact of hundreds of years of slavery and racism, anyone who thinks it’s easy to lift your family out of poverty, the list goes on. And those are major, societal issues. What about the people who deny the democracy-corroding effect of the lawless governments we’ve had under the administrations of Nixon, Reagan, and both George Bushes?
That’s why I was stunned when I heard the final story on this week’s edition of On the Media from WNYC. Reporter Megan Williams’s “You Must Remember This” is a report on how — just 30 years after the killing fields of Pol Pot — many members of the generations born since the Khmer Rouge regime’s worst excesses don’t believe the stories their elders tell them. They don’t understand how it could have happened. More than a quarter of the population is estimated (conservatively) to have died in the last half of the 1970s. The countryside is still littered with landmines. According to the report, though, the history’s not taught in schools. And most of the leaders were allowed to live out their lives with no real accountability.
I can’t vouch for the veracity of the story, which is also reporting on a program in Cambodia to teach students about the killing fields era. It certainly ties in well with the ability of nations to forget the horrors they inflict on others but who would have thought it applied to a forgetting of the history of the damage inflicted on your own country, and your own family?
The main reason I started this blog was because I got sick of writing letters to the Oregonian (and elsewhere, but mostly the Oregonian) that never saw the light of day. Before most people had email, I think the volume of letters to the editor was smaller. On top of that, I think I might have had a little name recognition for a few years after my short-lived book review magazine. Most of the time, I don’t even bother, and just post here.
Sometimes a local story triggers a letter though, like last week’s article about teenage drug dealers in the Pearl District getting an immunity deal to testify against a guy who’d stolen a half-pound of marijuana from them. After a week, I’d actually given up on them running the letter, and missed it this morning until Barbara’s sister Marie pointed it out.
Technically, the movie — consisting largely of stock, news footage from McGovern’s life, and interviews with a number of people involved with the 1972 campaign as well as the Senator himself — is quite good. It seems aimed at people who aren’t that familiar with McGovern which — considering that most everyone under the age of 55 wasn’t old enough to vote for him — isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But it has a number of jarring elements used to “illustrate” points — like some gratuitous footage of Muhammad Ali first winning then getting knocked out in a ring — that are about as subtle as — well — a boxing glove hitting your nose.
Given the access filmmaker Stephen Vittoria had to people like Howard Zinn, Gary Hart, Warren Beatty, Gloria Steinem, and McGovern, it’s a shame that the connecting tissue of the film is so ham-handed.
Still, there are some excellent gems in the interviews, like this one at the end of the film from Frank Mankiewicz, McGovern’s ’72 political director and son of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane screenplay collaborator, which contrasts the people involved on each side:
We just lost an election. None of us went to jail. Most of the other guys went to jail. Did time. Hard time.
In any case, Republican senators up for reelection in 2008 might remember this: The American political system has primaries as well as general elections. In 1978 and 1980, as Reagan conservatives took over the party from détente-establishment types, Reaganite challengers ousted incumbent GOP senators in New Jersey and New York. Surely there are victory-oriented Republicans who might step forward today in Nebraska, Virginia, Oregon, and Maine–and, if necessary, in Tennessee, Minnesota, and New Hampshire–to seek to vindicate the honor, and brighten the future, of the party of Reagan.
HADLEY: The intelligence — because its not an adequate description of the situation we find ourselves, as the intelligence community says. The intelligence community judges the term civil war does not adequately capture the complexities of the conflict in Iraq. And what were doing is saying, if youre going to run policy and if youre going to explain it to the American people, we need to get across the complexities of the situation we face in Iraq and what is our strategy to deal with that. And simple labels dont do that. Were going to try and force everybody to get into the facts.
I’ve got a word that adequately captures the complexities of the conflict in Iraq, and I didn’t even need to look it up: CHAOS.