Dith Pran of the "The Killing Fields" Dies
I distinctly remember watching the movie of The Killing Fields many years ago and being horrified that it was actually the truth.
I remember it so well, because even though it was almost 30 years ago, the evening had been punctuated by my boyfriend constantly wanting to make out, while I was enthralled with the movie and definitely didn't feel romantic.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Dith Pran, the Cambodian-born journalist whose harrowing tale of enslavement and eventual escape from that country's murderous Khmer Rouge revolutionaries in 1979 became the subject of the award-winning film "The Killing Fields," died Sunday, his former colleague said.
The Cambodian born Pran died in New Jersey of pancreatic cancer at age 65, where up until his death he worked for The New York Times as a photographer.
He was repeatedly starved and tortured.
Born in 1942 in the town of Siem Reap, it was a time of the Cambodian occupation by the Japanese Army, which belonged to French Indochina (Cambodia; Laos; Vietnam.)
By 1960 Pran had taught himself English, which juxtapositioned itself nicely with his fluency in French. This made him an invaluable asset to the U.S. Military Assistance Command in Cambodia.
The man who never wanted us to forget the genocide of an estimated 2 million lives under the Khmer Rouge, lost 50 relatives under Pol Pot, including all of his immediate family.
During the fall of Phnom Penh, Pran risked his own life to save that of his American colleague, New York Times foreign correspondent Sydney Schanberg. Schanberg was expelled from the country; Pran was sent off to the killing fields. But he eventually escaped from Cambodia and moved to the United States, where he became a citizen in 1986
Schanberg had his life saved by Pran, where the Cambodian persuaded the Khmer Rouge that the 3 Westerners were neutral French journalists.
He eventually made his escape to Thailand and to freedom.
His second book "Children of Cambodia's Killing Fields" was written from research conducted with 29 of those children, who also wanted to let the world know what happened.
Pran called these people - "messengers" - "the real voices", because all agreed to travel and talk about the Cambodian genocide.
So they say, `Well, we get to do it,' because it's very important because the Cambodian killing field didn't have any--enough evidence to tell the world.
Pran has done much over the years, other than photographing for the New York Times:
* Photojournalist for The New York Times since 1980;
Appointed Goodwill Ambassador by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 1985;
Attended meeting of the International Red Cross in Geneva that promoted respect and international safe passage for war victims;
Testified several times before the Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs of the Senate and House of Representatives regarding the Cambodian situation;
Member of the Asian American Journalist Association;
Board member to many non-governmental organizations
Received four honorary doctorate degrees;
1998 Ellis Island Medal of Honor recipient;
Founder & President of The Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project, Inc;
Compiler of Children of Cambodia’s Killing Fields: Memoirs by Survivors (Published by Yale, 1997;)
An authority on Cambodia, holding countless interviews with newspapers, magazines, wire services, major television and radio stations in the US and around the world;
Gives lectures to colleges, high schools, world affairs councils, and other interest groups;[q]"I'm a one-person crusade. I must speak for those who did not survive and for those who still suffer.
Since coming to America, I have visited Cambodia three times to evaluate the ongoing Cambodian crisis.
The problems Cambodia faces are not only political but also economical and social. The Khmer Rouge have brought Cambodia back to year zero and that's why I'm trying to bring the Khmer Rouge leaders to the World Court.
Like one of my heroes, Elie Wiesel, who alerts the world to the horrors of the Jewish holocaust, I try to awaken the world to the holocaust of Cambodia, for all tragedies have universal implications."
"Part of my life is saving life. I don't consider myself a politician or a hero. I'm a messenger. If Cambodia is to survive, she needs many voices."
Pran was well liked and respected by his peers for many reasons. Not the least of which, is that he had the fortitude, courage and knowledge to last his imprisonment, through starvation and torture and still escape to tell his horrific story.
"Pran was a true reporter, a fighter for the truth and for his people," Schanberg said. "When cancer struck, he fought for his life again. And he did it with the same Buddhist calm and courage and positive spirit that made my brother so special."
MSNBC TV Dith Pran With Brian Williams (interview transcript)
The Cambodian Killing Fields