When Broken Glass Floats
I did this book report for one of my classes, enjoy.
The book, “When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge” by Chanrity Him describes her life, internal emotional turmoil and how she survived when so didn’t under the bloody rule of the Khmer Rouge. The genocidal campaign and the wholesale slaughter of over 1.3 million people in Cambodia and left a permanent scar in the country and people well into the 21st Century. His paper goes into the background of the Khmer Rouge, Chanrity Him’s life, and the emotional fallout due to what she and others were forced to witness. Her story brings voices to all through who died during one of the most brutal times in history.
In 1968 the Khmer Rouge, the communist party in Cambodia, was formed and soon launched a bloody civil war over the control of their native lands. This gave rise to one of the bloodiest genocidal campaigns in the 20th Century. By the time the communist Vietnamese invaded Cambodia to put a stop to Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge over 1.3 million were dead due to execution, 1.7–2.5 million were dead due to disease and starvation. Chanrity Him, a young girl growing up near Phnom Penh, was exposed to the horrors of the war and genocide that carved a bloody path through South East Asia. The Khmer Rouge pushed forth a doctrine of “kang prawattasas” or wheel of history control social ties and casual conversations as threats to social control.
“The wheel of time or change. The Khmer Rouge often used such terms to threaten us, to force us to follow their rules, their revolution. If we didn’t follow their rules, the wheel of history would run over us. This could mean punishment or death.” (Him, 2001, p.319)
BACKGROUND ON THE KHMER ROUGE
“The Khmer Rouge are a continent away, and yet they are not. Psychologically, they are parasites, like tapeworms that slumber within you, living passively until something stirs them to life. I was asking these subjects to wake those parasites.” (Him, 2001, p.19).
South East Asia in 1968 gave rise to one of the history’s most brutal genocidal campaigns in history. America was locked in a struggle with Vietnam and the war soon spilled over to Cambodia. During this time, a bloodless coup overthrew the leader Prince Norodom Sihanouk and was ousted by this cousin Prince Sisowath Serik Matak backed by the CIA. The Prince in exile was encouraged or forced, to form an alliance with his enemies, the Khmer Rouge (Him, 2001, p.33). In April 1975 the Khmer Rouge, backed by the Chinese and Vietnamese, take over the capital of Phnom Penh and forced the inhabitants into outlining cities to being their new life as slave labor. Before Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge in 1979 were stopped the organization managed to kill the educated, destroy historical landmarks and thereby nearly erasing the history of their people.
“To keep you is no benefit. To destroy you is no loss.” Khmer Rouge Motto (n.d.)
BACKGROUND ON HIM’S LIFE
Before the war, Chanrity Him was born into an affluent family. Her father was a doctor and worked for the government. Tradition, respect, and education rule the family household as well as a strong sense of honor. Throughout the book, Him describes her life and her dreams. She is proud of her education and hopes to one day go to private school to learn “American” and later become a doctor like her father. This is shattered when a comet, an omen of war, is spotted one night in 1969. Soon her older brother is the first to die, not due to being shot or wounded physically, but to witness the horrors of war. He completely shuts down, refuses to eat or even urinate. Like many people who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, he slowly withdraws and eventually dies.
“Most of our scars were well hidden, set aside in our battle for academic success. Out of forty students at Cleveland High School who had lived under Pol Pot, half were diagnosed with PTSD, and half suffered from some form of depression.” (Him, 2001, p.16).
EXODUS AND RESETTLEMENT
During the family’s subsequent exodus from their home young Him asks her sister about evil and why God hasn’t punished the evil.
“A Cambodian proverb about what happens when good and evil are thrown together into the river of life. Good is symbolized by klok, a type of squash, and evil by armbaeg, shards of broken glass. “The good will win over the evil. Now, klok sinks, and broken glass floats. But armbaeg will not float long. Soon klok will float instead, and then the good will prevail.” (Him, 2001, p. 23–24).
This means that when the world is upside down and life seems not to make sense eventually good will win and evil will soon disappear below the surface. Him is forced to watch her father get carried off, mother beaten and her sisters and brothers die in front of her eyes.
“The Khmer Rouge wish to rule not only our inner spiritual lives but our outward appearance as well. They require girls and women to wear their hair short. The rule is a deliberate slap in the face of our culture, which prizes the traditional beauty of long hair.” (Him, 2001, p. 99).
Him describes the how her life is turned upside down, forced to wear the black uniforms, which is a trigger even today, forced to work long hours in the fiends, give up music and any form of entertainment and give up all aspects of her life and culture. Any form of rebellion is met with pubic execution by children under the watchful eye of the communist party Angka.
During year zero, or the year the Khmer Rouge takeover, concepts such as family, love or grief, hospitals, schools, books, music or holidays were replaced by only work and death. Due to the mass murder and dwindling population the simple act of being an adult, age thirteen, and surviving is considered an act of defiance. In their desperation from the threat of invasion by the Communist Vietnamese, the Khmer Rouge introduces mass marriage.
One day while working in the rice paddies three people arrive. While the group commander demands everyone get back to work, the individual confirms the rumor that the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge has fled.
CAMP TO CAMP
Even though the Khmer Rouge has fallen, the fighting didn’t. Being tossed from camp to camp Chanrity Him describers her journey and her experiences. Eventually, she finds herself in processing center in the Philippines. There she applies to come to the United States to eventually be resettled in Portland, Oregon.
“America. I remember what I promised during Chea’s burial: Chea, if I survive, I will study medicine. I want to help people because I couldn’t help you. If I die in this lifetime, I will learn medicine in my next life.” ((Him, 2001, p. 315).
With only a few of her relatives that survived the killing fields of Cambodia she eventually made her way into to Thailand and later to the United States. Eventually, she passes the MCAT and practices medicine. Now she speaks on human rights helps Cambodian children and adults who survived the Khmer Rouge’s bloodbath.
Chanrity Him, through luck and love, managed to survive the “kang prawattasas” or wheel of history. The man who help orchestrate the genocide of millions of his fellow Cambodians, was never brought to justice and eventually died 15 April 1998, never to being put on trial for his war crimes.
I am privileged to be able to share this book with others in hopes this never happens again. People can say what they want, but this is the reality that is communism. — Dr. C. Cat