I wish I could begin this letter by addressing you
with your name. I also wish I truly knew who you were and where you
came from. I don't know who your father and mother were. I don't know
if you had brothers sisters that you knew and played with.
hope you excuse my lack of knowledge. I know words are weak. Yet I
pray somehow, someway my words convey my heart's meaning.
were one hundreds of faces I saw in the solemn halls of Tuol Sleng
Prison. You were one out of thousands who passed through that
dreadful place on your terrifying journey to Choeung Ek. You were one
of three million who never returned from the killing fields.
is a single death. A drop in a vast bitter ocean that has drained
over the years into history books and documentaries.
too often, you and the people who shared your fate remain only
figures and statistics. I only knew you as such before I followed in
your footsteps in 2013. I saw the same buildings in downtown Pnom
Penh you saw. My soles touched the same floors yours did. I saw some
of the same trees you saw at Choeung Ek before you disappeared
beneath the ground I walked.
Books and educational TV specials, hardly prepared me for finding
you. In the quiet of Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek my mind was
overpowered. Silence is often a fertile grown for the imagination. In
soil so dark and bloodstained it grows rancid, pungent visions.
know I could never understand what you went through. My mind can't
capture the last thoughts that went through your head, the sounds
that filled your ears, the smells that clogged your nose. Those final
moments before you died are yours and yours alone.
the horror and sorrow of your face and your story, the story of
millions, moves me to write you and apologize.
am truly, deeply sorry. I never raised the fist that extinguished
you. I never held your spent body in my arms and tossed it callously
into a pit like rubbish. I never issued the orders to arrest you or
your family. I never labeled you 'enemy of the people' 'traitor' or
so, I must apologize. As a human being, I must lament and come
pleading before you.
sorry you died.
I'm sorry you suffered. I'm sorry that men who should
have laughed with you, sheltered you, and comforted you slit your
sorry their humanity couldn't prevail.
sorry the rest of the world looked on, with arms at their side,
tongues locked away behind their lips. It wasn't the first time. I
doubt it will be the last. We looked away from 10 million in Europe,
2 million in Armenia, 1 million in Rwanda. We look away from the pain
and degradation we see everyday in our cities and hometowns. We know
we shouldn't, we know we should be stronger. When Cambodia sealed its
borders and the Khmer Rouge reveled in their insanity, we should have
faced the horror. When they came for you we should have said 'No, not
her! Not today! Not ever!' But we were silent. We chose the easy
path. We chose blindness, deafness, dumbness. We could not
acknowledge the carnage. We did not have the courage to lift
ourselves up, out of our routines and petty concerns. We did not have
the will to reach out thousands of miles across the world and lend a
helping hand when it was needed most.
truth is, too much of the time, we humans are a sad and weak lot. We
love to praise high ideals yet seldom have the stomach to stand up
for them. We are more interested in our clothes, dead end jobs, petty
work-place troubles, and favorite TV shows. We spend so much of our
time making unimportant things vital to our existence.
so much easier to worry about our laundry and diet than confronting
the devil inside us, the demon passed from every man and woman to the
sorry this is the case and that more people don't ponder this bile
I'm sorry more don't look back at your tragedy and ask
'How can we make sure that little girls, like you, don't have their
heads bashed in by the hundreds?'
of all though, I think I'm sorry that you only knew so little of this
world and this life.
sorry you'll never grow tall and lovely. That you'll never have the
chance to drive a motorcycle or car. That you'll never know the
thrill of falling love or the wisdom that comes from a broken heart.
I'm sorry you'll never have the chance to go to school, work a job,
have little girls and boys of your own.
were cheated of the chance to know all this and for me, this is
perhaps the saddest thing of all.
I could, I would see you standing, running walking, breathing smiling
laughing. I cannot make this so.
I have are these words to offer you. All I have is apologies and one
have my sight. And you should know, I see you
little girl. I will not turn away. And now, thanks to this post a few
others will see you as well. Perhaps, one day when we see your face
in another suffering man, woman or child we shall finally have the
courage to say n-o. The chance to at long last earn and acknowledge
you rest quietly, little girl. Rest and dream of better times than
the ones you knew in our sad, angry world.
have my best wishes.
When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.
I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.