Sunday, March 30, 2008

Profiles in Courage

by expatbrian

When I first saw the movie "The Killing Fields" in the mid 80's I, like most Americans, was completely ignorant of the events taking place in Cambodia. Like many vets, I saw all the movies that were related to Vietnam in an effort I suppose to find some meaning that I had missed. Most were disappointments but this movie, based on the genocide of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, was so much better than the rest that I ended up watching it 3 times over the years.

It depicts the real life close relationship between western journalist Sydney Schanberg and his Cambodian counterpart, Dith Pran who worked as an interpreter for western newsmen trying to report on the war. The movie won three Oscars.

Dith Pran was captured by the Khmer Rouge but managed to survive by hiding his intellectual background and pretending to be a peasant. The horrors he witnessed are for most, unimaginable and the courage and fortitude he displayed is the stuff of legends.

After Dith finally escaped and moved to the U.S., he became a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and founded the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project, dedicated to educating people on the history of the Khmer Rouge regime.

He was "the most patriotic American photographer I've ever met, always talking about how he loves America," said Associated Press photographer Paul Sakuma, who knew Dith through their work with the Asian American Journalists Association.
It was Dith Pran himself who coined the phrase "killing fields" when describing the horrifying stacks of corpses and skeletal remains of victims he encountered on his desperate journey to freedom.

Dith Pran died yesterday at his home in New Jersey from pancreatic cancer. He was 65.


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Blogger rockync said...

I'm so glad to see you giving a nod to the life of this courageous man. I too had not known about the horrors of Cambodia until the release of the Killing Fields. And that he could survive on his wits and find his way here to live a fulfilling life is a testment to his tenacity and humanity. I think this quote speaks volumes about this extraordinary human being:
Dith spoke of his illness (pancreatic cancer) in a March interview with The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J., saying he was determined to fight against the odds and urging others to get tested for cancer.
"I want to save lives, including my own, but Cambodians believe we just rent this body," he said. "It is just a house for the spirit, and if the house is full of termites, it is time to leave."

6:40:00 PM  
Blogger Libby Spencer said...

Thank you for picking this one up Brian. I wanted to mark the occassion but I didn't know enough about him to blog about it.

I didn't see the movie. I kind of missed of the 80s. I was doing the self sustenance thing on the farm for that decade and we couldn't even get much TV there. It was a 45 minute drive just to get milk after six o'clock. I lost touch with pop culture in those years.

I read a lot of newspapers though and I remember Cambodia. What a travesty.

8:38:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is certainly a movie worth seeing. You can watch it and many others streamed online at Or you can download it into your torrent or emule from

9:30:00 PM  

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