I once posted a photograph entitled "Original Sin" accompanying a post on the effect of women's sexuality on men. The photograph depicted a nude woman with an apple resting between her thighs. It was perfect, because it depicted St. Augustine's notion of original sin as concupiscence so well. One commenter was so put out by the sight of the unclothed female form that he wrote several comments on the questionable taste of placing the photo on the blog, going so far as to call it pornographic. Apparently unmanned by the vision of beauty unadorned, he just couldn't get past it.
In our normal parlance, foul language and depictions of nudity are often labeled "obscene", synonymous with "gratuitous", "filthy", "dirty", "offensive". I usually find these reactions to certain colorful turns of phrase and images to be far more revealing of the person so put off, rather than having anything to do with me. Comfortable with both my word choice and my sexuality, getting all huffy about a word or a picture usually point out something about you, rather than me.
True obscenity exists, though.
[A]t that time—during the nearly four-year reign of Angkar lasting from April 17, 1975, to January 7, 1979—the killing was so random and widespread across Cambodia that death became a near certainty, especially if you were sent to the prison camp known as S-21. While the odds were roughly one in four of dying—and worse depending on your demographic (for instance, adult men died in much higher percentages)—your chance of survival at S-21 was .04 percent.
Or put the opposite way, the odds of your death were 99.96 percent.
[T]he man was 44 years old when the body of his wife disappeared, the same age as I am right now. There is no equivalence; this is only a fact.
And one other: At this same age, though I have three children, he’d already lost four.
[F]rom the book of Atrocities, the evil fable begins like this: Once upon a time, a group of men educated in Paris and steeped in communist ideology had a dream for their homeland. To create a Cambodian society that surpassed the greatness of Angkor, the kingdom that reached its pinnacle under the god-king Suryavarman II in the twelfth century with the construction of Angkor Wat. From the jungles—where their leaders had fled to escape the repressive measures of Prince Sihanouk in 1963—they fought a guerrilla war, led by a soft-spoken, enigmatic schoolteacher named Saloth Sar. These communists, however, did not believe in gods, kings, or culture, as it turned out, but they were good at biding their time. In the vacuum of power left after the eight-year American bombing of Cambodia, they swept east across the lowlands to the capital, Phnom Penh, finally wresting control from the corrupt U.S.-supported regime in 1975. (The premier, Lon Nol, had already fled to Hawaii.) Their first act was to evacuate the city, hurrying the populace under the pretense that the Americans were coming to bomb again, emptying hospitals, setting millions of people—including the elderly, lame, and pregnant—walking on the roads that led to the countryside, a scene of hunger and corpses straight out of Brueghel.
[A]lmost immediately the Khmer Rouge’s revolutionary pretenses gave way to the sickening irrationality of brutes. In that first spasm of violence, everyone wearing glasses was killed. Everyone who spoke a foreign language was killed. Everyone with a university education was killed. Word was sent to expats living abroad to come home and join the new Cambodia; when a thousand or so arrived on special flights from Beijing, they were killed. Monks, so revered in Cambodian society and long the voice of conscience there, were killed. Lawyers, doctors, and diplomats were killed. Bureaucrats, soldiers, and policemen, even factory workers (who in the minds of the Khmer Rouge were equivalent to industrialization itself), were killed.
In that first moment, the lucky ones were directed to keep walking to their home villages—some traveled for months this way—where they were sorted, sent to collectives, and worked from sunup to twilight. A person’s worth was eventually measured by his ability to move cubic yards of earth. “To keep you is no profit,” said the executioners to the unworthy before killing them, “to destroy you is no loss.”
[T]he man who would survive S-21 but lose his wife—the man named Chum Mey—realized that the troops first entering Phnom Penh were mostly lost boys from the jungle, dirty and ragged with blank expressions, who, within hours of being greeted as liberators by cheering crowds, turned on the masses with their AK-47’s. In the south of the city, they fired warning shots; in the northwest sector, they fired on people. Never having seen toilets before, the soldiers drank from them as if they were cisterns, shat on the floor, wiped themselves with sticks that they left strewn about abandoned houses.
[T]he leaders of the revolution were designated as Brother Number One (Pol Pot), Brother Number Two (Nuon Chea), Brother Number Three (Ieng Sary), and so on. And they were nothing if not ambitious in trying to build a new society. The Brothers abolished courts and banks. They abolished money and holidays and love. They abolished time and history, setting everything back to Year Zero. And they abolished the four things Cambodians hold most dear: food, family, village, and Buddhism. Those who hailed from the city were branded with the designation “New People,” versus “Old People,” who were from the country. New People were those most often badly punished. The entire populace was forced to wear black pajamas, the women Maoist bobs. So secretive were the Brothers that for a year no one knew who was running the country. Until Saloth Sar emerged under his new revolutionary name of Pol Pot, it was as if the faceless godhead Angkar decided all.
When it came to song, workers were only occasionally allowed to sing from a menu of revolutionary anthems like “Struggling to Build Dam and Dig Canals” or “Bravery of Construction Revolutionary Soldiers” or “Best Wishes to People in Northwestern Zone.” But a jingle secretly murmured by workers at the time spoke the truth: “Angkar kills but does not explain.”
S-21 had been directed by a man named Kaing Guek Eav, whose revolutionary name was Comrade Duch (pronounced “doik”). Once a teacher of mathematics, he’d first been conscripted by the Khmer Rouge to run a jungle prison camp, where he’d studiously refined his ideas about torture, and was then put in charge of S-21. It was here that he condoned “living autopsies” (the slicing and flaying of victims); that he demanded the extended use of torture to obtain confessions (including near drownings, the removal of toe- and fingernails followed by a dousing of alcohol, electric shocks applied to genitals, suffocation with plastic bags, and forcing prisoners to eat human excrement); that he ordered the murder of at least 15,000 people, who were taken to the Killing Fields and shot or bludgeoned (with iron rods, shovels, and axes) and then dumped into mass graves.
[P]risoners were hooked up to a pump and IV line and had all of their blood drained for use in the hospitals. According to witnesses, the breathing turned to gasps, then wheezing, until the victim’s eyes rolled back in his head, leaving only the whites. Bloodless, the corpses were then thrown in pits.
In my case, the aftermath of a visit to S-21 left me with (a) a suffusion of paranoia and (b) a feeling of utter futility. It was the futility that stuck with me, though, the gut-wrenching realization that somehow the Khmer Rouge had gotten away with their experiment and that they had razed a country of its lawyers and leaders, intellectuals and activists (all those who might have had the expertise and wherewithal to hold them accountable for their crimes). By “smashing” (their word) the populace, by pathologically replacing the individual with the collective (and making sure that the collective knew how to do only one thing: grow rice), they’d instilled a paralysis and fear that had so far, thirty years later, saved them from retribution. They’d effectively lobotomized their own country.
It was astonishing, really. In the annals of the century’s great crimes against humanity, the Nazi leadership had been tried—and many of them executed—in fairly short order, as had the Japanese war criminals. Guilty parties convicted of genocide in Rwanda, Iraq, and the former Yugoslavia were imprisoned and in some cases executed. Those responsible for apartheid in South Africa were subjected to a truth commission, which at least demanded confession and supplication.
Meanwhile, after being forced from power, the Khmer Rouge leadership set up on the border of Thailand, in the jungle stronghold of Pailin. From there, Pol Pot and his minions carried on their killing (including taking the lives of Western backpackers visiting the Angkor Wat temple complex) and tried to muster a second revolution. (It was said that between ordering the murder of his top lieutenants, Pol Pot, who was never pursued as a criminal, enjoyed Cognac, Pringles, and reading Paris Match, a French celebrity rag.) During this time, the Khmer Rouge continued to occupy Cambodia’s seat at the U.N. and receive foreign delegations in the jungle. The regime was so deeply entrenched that even the United States couldn’t cut final ties until 1991, a decade after learning the worst about it. Meanwhile, a number of high-ranking Khmer Rouge leaders were invited back to Phnom Penh and given villas by the government.
The mystery to me, and many others, was also a pique: What was the exact purpose of all this accommodation? And more: When was someone going to pay?
[N]ot long after returning from Cambodia that first time, I had coffee with an editor in Manhattan. As happens at such meetings, an air of false importance hovered over the proceedings as we discussed “big stories” that seemed to have been overlooked by the media, even though we were the media. When I brought up the untried Khmer Rouge leaders, pointing out the 1.7 million dead from nearly thirty years ago, his eyes glazed. Yes—but no: More than that, he wanted to talk about Hollywood. “What people tend to miss,” he said, “is that George Clooney’s much more than an actor.”
[T]hey did not believe in gods, kings, or culture. In fact, it’s fair to say that in spite of their communist doctrine, they believed in very little at all except a very dark, dominating kind of nihilism. They abolished schools, sport, toys, free time. They banned words like beauty, colorful, and comfort from the radio. They forced all children 7 or older from their parents, placing them in packs called “mobile units” to help with the rice harvest. (It was a “vagrant life,” said one survivor, “like that of a plant floating in the ocean.”) They abolished happiness, as it was their supreme belief that in order to purge individuality, the people must be made to suffer, and having suffered, would be void of dreams and expectations. That is, without minds of their own, they’d be perfect revolutionaries.
I read this article in Gentleman's Quarterly yesterday while waiting to get my haircut. Finding this article in this particular publication is enough of an instance of cognitive dissonance, to say nothing of sitting in the peace of an American suburban mall while waiting for something as droll and mundane as a haircut.
But, as obscene as the horrors of this Kafkaesque nightmare are, there are other obscenities, too.
And after comparing Democratic health care reform efforts to the murderous regimes of Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot, the speaker advises his audience to "go to offices of members of Congress and put the fear of god in them."
Consider that for a moment. The Democrats want to make affordable health care available to as many Americans as possible. The opposition considers this on a par with murdering people because they are wearing eye glasses, making them eat human excrement, and outlawing singing, sex, and smiling.
UPDATE: This is just God-awful:
RedState's Erick Erickson has posted a new piece on the support that AARP has given the House health insurance reform bill, but instead of using factual information in his column he stoops to using scare tactics and fear mongering.
Erickson writes:Does the AARP's members know about the endorsement of a healthcare plan that requires seniors to get instruction every five years on assisted suicide - a fact the AARP calls a "myth"?
Any insinuation otherwise, any attempt to suggest that Democrats' plan to decrease cost is to kill people, is foul. The attempt to continue the spread of these lies is pathetic - and shows just how far the Republicans are willing to go when the facts aren't on their side.
The time is long past for a contemporary Joseph Welch to stand up to these people and say, "Have you no decency, sir, at long last?" Decency is a concept these folks just don't understand.
UPDATE: Gov. Palin has this on her Facebook page:
The Democrats promise that a government health care system will reduce the cost of health care, but as the economist Thomas Sowell has pointed out, government health care will not reduce the cost; it will simply refuse to pay the cost. And who will suffer the most when they ration care? The sick, the elderly, and the disabled, of course. The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s “death panel” so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their “level of productivity in society,” whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil.
No, Mrs. Palin. What is evil is spreading this bullshit as if it had any connection to reality. If you know this lie is what it is, and repeat it anyway, you are a truly horrible human being. If you do not know, but don't waste time trying to find out if it's true or not, you are horrible and lazy. If you don't care one way or another, but see this as a way of scoring political points against the President and Vice-President who so soundly beat you in last year's election, then you are horrible, lazy, and small-minded.
Your fifteen minutes ended months ago. Please take MacArthur's advice and fade away.