Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: war
Wednesday, 28 December 2011 14:35

Micronesian Memories of War in the Pacific

Lin Poyer is a professor of anthropology at the University of Wyoming. Her recent work focuses on the Micronesian experience and history of the Pacific War, during the Japanese colonization and afterwards. In December 2011, she was invited to Taipei by the Taiwan Center for Pacific Studies to give a series of lectures presenting her research. We had the opportunity to meet her beforehand and learn about the impact of WWII in Micronesia and the specificities of its oral history in the region.


Monday, 01 November 2010 00:00

Journey to the end of craziness

A review of documentary ‘Crazy’ directed by Heddy Honigmann, Netherlands, 1999, Digi-Beta, color, 97’

Crazy is a documentary on memory and on the way one deals with the memory of traumatic experiences. In her movie, Heddy Honigmann interviews a series of Dutch soldiers who have all experience in a war context as members of the UN forces/army. The movie is remarkable for its use of documents such as photo scrapbooks, news footage and personal films, letters and postcards… The interviewees are most of the time comfortably sitting in their living room, or in a restaurant. Sometimes they are accompanied by their spouse or companion as they recount their experience of wars in various parts of the world such as Lebanon, Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

Thus the contrast is even stronger between the violence and horror of their stories and the environment and items that surround them now: a cozy and bright room, a park, an expensive bottle of wine… What Honigmann succeeds in capturing is precisely the moment of the recollection, this indescribable moment when a painful or traumatic memory mightily comes back, bringing to the present a past that one might have shut off.

crazy_3So there are two kinds of memory: a voluntary one and an uncontrolled one. The first one comes from the effort of remembering, it also rebuilds a story, gives an order and a signification to events. It is also the one that overcomes in a certain way the absurdities and the horrors of the war by choosing carefully what one wants or can remember. For instance, a soldier evokes the refugee camps in Rwanda: when asked if it was terrible to see, he just replies that one gets used to it; he’s then asked how quickly he got used to it, very fast, he says, as for the horror scenes he could have witnessed, he just brushed them aside, using what he calls the “blinders’ technique”. In his role as a strong and efficient soldier, he denies having showed any weak feeling during his mission, for him, it is a matter of survival.

crazy_4On the other hand, Honigmann also invokes another kind of memory aroused by music in her movie. Each soldier is asked to introduce a song linked to their experience of war time. From the Stabat Mater by Pergolesito Guns n' Roses' "Knocking on Heaven's Door", the soldiers all used a song of their own to find a bit of peace and comfort in a context of violence and dehumanization. So the camera just films them as they are sitting on their home sofa listening to these songs that carry such a heavy recollection. They stop talking but their silence is even more eloquent than all the stories they just told, eyes begin to float, sweat beads on their foreheads, hands are twisted together as if supplicating under the torture… And in fact, the special signification that these different songs carry for all the protagonists reveal precisely the banality of horror and the way craziness arises from the trivial.

This importance of music and its power of reminiscence have been evoked before in French novelist Celine’s “Journey to the End of Night” (Voyage au bout de la nuit). The novel also describes the absurdities of war and its impact on the mind as the story starts with the narrator enrolling for First World War after following the gay music played by a brass band! In fact Celine’s book is punctuated by music: the author himself named his writing “the little music”; describing the decay of age as the moment when “one has no more music inside to make life dance.” In another quote, the narrator says: “In fact, nobody resists to music. We have nothing to do with our heart, we give it gladly. Y’have to hear at the bottom of all music the tune without notes, made for us, the tune of Death.”


Friday, 22 May 2009 01:58

Account of the 17 April, 1975

 

 

My tuk-tuk driver and I were lucky to have spent an hour looking for the residence of Fr. Francois Ponchaud on a dry day- dense with dust and exhaust fumes- yet nevertheless, dry. There was nothing more ennerving than being stuck in traffic in a flooded street under pouring rain in Phnom Penh.
 

We arrived at Ponchaud’s workplace, where his staff greeted me warmly in Khmer, apparently the only working language in his office.The young man lead me to their bureau on the first floor where I was greeted by the legendary Francois Ponchaud himself, barefooted and smiling broadly.

 

Being ever so obliging, he agreed to re-tell the tale of the 17th April, 1975, the night when Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge and a tale he has had to repeat many times for the press and in his publication Cambodia: Year Zero.

 

 

Our hour-long interview was conducted entirely in French; each account was more enthralling than the other, in the course of thirty minutes I was given a literal brief history of Cambodia and its people.

"In the morning, thousands of militants, farmers flooded into Phnom Penh, because they knew the Khmer were going to arrive at any moment" begins Ponchaud. On that morning, the French priest of MEP hosted around 2000 people in the cathedral, including the militants who demanded entry at gunpoint. At 7am there was a complete calm in the city of Phnom Penh, as a series of white four-by-fours pulled up in front of the French embassy and 7 or 8 men in black stepped out of the vehicles. "We thought to ourselves, everything should be going quite well if the Khmer Rouge wishes to talk to the French, perhaps we might just keep our lives" recalls Ponchaud. When they finally left, they were shot at by the tanks by the cathedral on Boulevard Monivong; a lone man in black stepped out, walked slowly toward the tank in front of the cathedral and convinced the tank to lower its arms. From then onward, around 8-10am, it was sheer joy for the civilians for they had seen how these men in black had pacifically disarmed the militants. "The refugees believed the war to be over and were overjoyed, and despite what journalists say, the people applauded when Lon Nol’s army surrendered" Ponchaud remembers a discordance between the people’s jubilation that the war was over and the sullen attitude of the victorious soldiers in green, sporting hats of Mao Ze Dong. Shortly after that, these men in green started to manage the traffic, shifting weapons onto the middle of the roads, disposing their clothing along with with their weapons. "Later that day we heard on the radio several announcements, notably by the chief of the Army declaring that the war was lost and that everybody was to surrender. Another announcement was made by the Supreme Patriarch calling for reconciliation but at the end of the speech, the microphone was taken by someone declaring: "We are not here to negotiate. We won with our weapons."

Ponchaud felt that there was a new group in power- the Khmer Rouge.

 
From 11am onwards he witnessed an ’unbelievable spectacle’. Thousands of sick and wounded people were abandoning the city, some carried by friends, others lying on beds pushed by their families with intravenous drips still attached. At three in the afternoon many of his own friends came by to bid him farewell as they head towards the North, West, East and South. By night, the city was practically emptied of all residents. "I cannot say that I had ever seen any forms of physical violence. I have neither seen any dead bodies nor a Khmer rouge soldier firing into the crowds. It was a ’cold violence’...they made us scared simply by looking at us in the eye."Despite having down national service at the age of 20 for two years in Algeria, followed by living through the Cambodian Civil war between 1970-1975, the presence of the Khmer Rouge had Father Ponchaud turning cold.
 

When it came to the Westerners, the Khmer Rouge were not so adamant on making them leave like the rest of the population. Some asked Ponchaud for his Bic (pens), others for his motocycle; objects had lost their value at this point in time and Father Ponchaud was more than willing to give them away.

 

At 6pm the city had been emptied of its people and noise, some Khmer Rouge came to the diocese, and looked at the foreigners with much suspicion. Later when they heard Ponchaud and others speaking Khmer, they instantly warmed up to them and spent the night joking and chatting. They were people from the region of Angkor and were in fact, ’very nice people’. "One should not think that all the Khmer Rouge were vicious beings" continues Ponchaud. To his surprise, he saw many different groups of people amongst the Khmer Rouge: some were stern, others looked disoriented, some demanded the foreigners to leave, and others asked them to stay. It was completely disorganised, says Ponchaud. It was only later that they learned that Phnom Penh had been taken by six Khmer Rouge Armies.

The morning of the 18 April, the Khmer Rouge asked to be taken to the train station which was only 100metres from the diocese. Ponchaud and a friend took two cars but instead of driving them directly, they took them for a tour of the city, where they did some sightseeing and got fired at around the Independence Monument by soldiers of Lon Nol.

 

Finally they arrived very late at the station and the soldiers were scolded badly by their superiors. Ponchaud went to the French Embassy from where he was the last foreigner to leave Cambodian soil on 7 May, 1975.

 



Help us!

Help us keep the content of eRenlai free: take five minutes to make a donation

AMOUNT: 

Join our FB Group

Browse by Date

« June 2019 »
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

We have 3113 guests and no members online