Last night I was awake til 3am.
In part due to jet lag and a mountain of email from neglected clients. Also because I felt compelled to order some personally customized versions of the classic Adidas Stan Smith and Nike Cortez. But that’s another post.
But the main reason I was up was because of this book, by Chum Mey, who survived unspeakable torture at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. And was only spared from the Killing Fields due to his ability to fix a typewriter; an asset for the regime’s propaganda machine.
Chum Mey would type his fellow prisoners’ “confessions,” which were extracted after repeated torture. Mey himself admitted to working as a CIA operative — after his toenails were ripped off. He didn’t even know what the CIA was.
The passage below, however, was what really set the hook in me.
It’s easy to look at murderous regimes and what ordinary people did to one another and say, “What monsters! That would never be me.”
How are you so sure?
Because there have been several regimes like the Khmer Rouge in the past century alone. Governments that start on a platform of fear of those who were different; then allow the “us versus them” ideology to fester and become “policy” through delegitimizing and vilifying the media.
The circle closes when the regime finally morphs into a nightmarish tyranny of paranoia and genocide. Where anyone who represents any sort of potential resistance — teachers, artists, intellectuals, homosexuals, even people with eyeglasses — are rounded up and brutally, systematically murdered.
Fast forward to today. Where we’re “better.” And every election cycle, some stuffed shirt muses how far we’ve come, typically quoting Lincoln’s inaugural address and his famous line about “the better angels of our nature.”
But history — especially forgotten, whitewashed, or sanitized history — has a nasty habit of repeating itself. And if inside every human heart there are indeed better angels, then there must also be other angels. The ones we’re so afraid of we don’t even acknowledge their existence.
But they’re real, these rough beasts. And they’re waiting for their hour to come round at last, to be re-born.
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