Monday, March 31, 2008

Dith Pran

Just one other quick note. Dith Pran, the photographer, reporter, and Cambodian genocide survivor whose story was told in the movie The Killing Fields, passed away yesterday as a result of pancreatic cancer. Admittedly, I don't know very much about Dith Pran, but I remember watching The Killing Fields sometime during high school and just being really fascinated by this story about this small man who had survived some pretty unimaginable horrors in Cambodian labor camps following the takeover of Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge. Pran not only survived the genocide, but subsequently maintained the strength and fortitude to take up a campaign to stop human rights violations and genocide and to memorialize the deaths of those who had perished in the Cambodian labor camps.
I heard about Pran's death on the radio as I was driving in to work this morning, and they had an interview with Sydney Schanberg, the American journalist who had worked with Pran prior to fleeing Cambodia in 1975. Schanberg described Pran's love and respect for the people of his native country, and said that it was because of his drive to tell the story of his people that Pran had stayed in Cambodia to cover the fall of Phnom Penh, a decision which kept him in Cambodia until it was too late for him to be evacuated. Even at the time of the final evacuation, as Schanberg and others struggled to come up with ways to get Pran out of the country, Schanberg said that Pran maintained a desire to stay in the country and continue to report on the plight of his people as they fell under the control of the new communist regime. Pran ended up being left behind, and under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, approximately 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians died from starvation, execution, forced labor, and torture in a country with a total population that had only been 7.5 million. Pran was forced to work in labor camps, enduring personal torture and starvation before finally escaping to Thailand in 1979.
Pran continued to speak out for the rights of the Cambodian people and in memory of the Cambodian genocide victims until his death.
Anyway, in losing Dith Pran it feels like we've lost a sort of hero, and those types of people aren't all that easy to come by, so I just wanted to send a shout out in his honor.

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