This Tuesday, Blair Academy welcomes Loung Ung, author of First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, survivor of the Cambodian Genocide, and lifelong activist for human rights.
The Cambodian Genocide of 1975-1979 was the persecution of intellectual and property-owning Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge, the Communist Party of Kampuchea, in an attempt to reconstruct Cambodia’s society as a self-sufficient agrarian society. The Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot (ironically an intellectual himself), was responsible for the deaths of nearly one-fourth of the Cambodian population at the time, most of which were students, teachers, ethnic minorities, and the bourgeois. Cambodia acquired independence from French colonial rule in 1953 and formed an elective monarchy. However, out of sight was a group of radical communists planning to take control of the country and to transform it to an agrarian utopia through forced relocation into rural areas, reemployment as farmers, and eradication of all Western and Capitalist influences.
Born in 1970, Ung was only five years old when the genocide struck her family, which changed her life. Throughout the span of three years, eight months, and 20 days, Ung lost two brothers, one sister, and finally, her parents. Not only did the genocide tear her family apart, Ung was also forcefully trained as a soldier, handling grenades and amunition half her body’s size. Ung admits her fortune that she was young enough to have avoided the battlefield; Cambodian children six or seven years older than Ung, however, were sent to the frontline, leaving lingering trauma.
First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers is a memoir written by Loung Ung that recounts her experience under the Pol Pot regime as a child soldier. In 2017, Angelina Jolie made the book into a film, raising more awareness of the Cambodian Genocide worldwide. Ung’s first time traveling back to Cambodia was not only a joyous reunion with her sister, but also allowed her to realize that though the war ended, landmines were still a threat to public safety and did not discriminate between friend or foe. In her Skeptics talk, Ung discussed her activism in global elimination of land mines and other human rights violations, such as the use of child soldiers and violence against women. Ung saw activism as both a means to empower herself and others who share her personal experiences and a means to create a safer world for everyone because “this is our one world and this is all we have.”