Hong Kong and Bangkok, Thailand: Saturday, November 6, 1999: My United flight 1247 left Denver Saturday morning. I needed to be at the airport at 7:15 a.m., and Anna Marie’s flight to Boston was scheduled to leave at 2:00 p.m. So she took me to the airport, drove back to Evergreen, and then returned to the airport, left her car there, and boarded her flight in time to make it to the conference.
My United flight left LA International Airport at about noon and touched down in Hong Kong at ten o’clock Sunday night. That was a long flight. Now granted, I crossed the international date line en route, and I completely lost a day. But still, the actual flight time, sitting in one seat in the airplane, was sixteen very long hours. I remember when planes once had to land and refuel somewhere along the route to get to Hong Kong.
From Hong Kong, I reboarded the plane and flew a couple more hours to Bangkok, Thailand. After clearing customs and passport control, I took a taxi to the Rama Gardens Hotel, where I’ve stayed several times on previous trips to Chiang Mai and Vietnam. It was well after midnight when I finally got to my room.
Monday, November 8
I’ve visited the countries surrounding Cambodia a number of times, but this trip will be my first time to spend more than a week in the kingdom of Cambodia. Cambodia has been subjected to some pretty harsh political and economic treatment, especially in the past fifty years.
In 1953, Cambodia was granted independence from France after about one hundred years of colonial rule. In 1970, Prince Norodom Sihanouk’s monarchy was overthrown, and in 1975, tragedy swept the country. An ultraradical group of Communists, known as the Khmer Rouge, gained control under the despotic leadership of Pol Pot. Pol Pot and his gang of thugs wanted to show China, Russia, North Korea, and other Communist-controlled countries of the world just how a pure Marxist-Leninist country ought to be run. He had watched the brutality of Stalin and learned from the bloody Cultural Revolution of China, where millions and millions of people were purged.
Pol Pot decided to outdo them all and go down in history as the sole Communist dictator who perfected Communism in the shortest amount of time. He decided to radically return Cambodia to an agrarian, communal society. Everyone would be a simplistic, obedient farmer living under his control, carrying out his every whim and expectation. He would show the world how to do it!
Within a period of four years, Pol Pot systematically murdered every person who was educated, right down to the children in grade school. All university professors and every teacher met a brutal death. Death didn’t come quietly or quickly to the victims; it was a spectacle of bizarre brutality. Pol Pot had something to prove to the world.
Every person educated or disciplined in the arts was slaughtered. All people of religion were murdered because they could read, think, and speak. Only farmers and those willing to live in a commune or serve as Pol Pot’s stupid soldiers were spared.
During that four-year period, Pol Pot murdered nearly two million people. Approximately one out of every four living human beings in Cambodia was eliminated. All the systems of education, health, transportation, government, and commerce were ruined. There was no formal economy or structure except for the Khmer Rouge’s arbitrary rule.
In 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and halted the carnage. The Vietnamese installed a government with Heng Samrin as president and Hun Sen as prime minister. Pol Pot’s genocide stopped, and he fled the country.
But at that time, Vietnam was considered an enemy of the US, so we condemned Vietnam’s actions. As Vietnamese troops fought the guerrillas who opposed Hun Sen, the US and the United Nations recognized the government in exile and supported Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge, along with Khmer People’s National Liberation Front and the remnant Prince Sihanouk’s supporters.
Finally in 1990 the United States withdrew its support of the government in exile, and all factions agreed to adopt a UN plan calling for the Supreme National Council to run the country until elections could be held. Prince Sihanouk, who was in power after Cambodia gained independence from France, returned to head up the council as interim leader. In 1993, more than four and a half million eligible voters turned out for a peaceful, free election.
Prince Sihanouk wasn’t a candidate, but the people elected him. Hun Sen, who was a candidate and had been the Vietnam-appointed prime minister, threatened to reject the results. So a compromise was worked out.
Prince Sihanouk became king of Cambodia with no executive authority. His son, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, was named first prime minister, and Hun Sen became second prime minister. During the first few years of the unusual coalition, the king was greatly honored and revered throughout the country. More and more, Hun Sen filled the role of the first prime minister. The ailing Pol Pot, who was hiding out with about two thousand guerrilla soldiers, ordered the execution of his top military leader, Son Sen, which caused even his most loyal followers to rebel against him.
Afterward, an occasional skirmish broke out between Prime Minister Ranariddh’s followers and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s followers, but no one expected any major unrest or civil war. The lasting sadness of Cambodia’s history is that a country could so quickly lose all its top leaders, all its educators, all its medical professionals, all its religious and moral leaders, all its performers, and anyone else who showed the least bit of ambition or potential.
Cambodia will continue to suffer the effects of Pol Pot’s devilish experiment for generations to come. It has been extremely interesting to live my life at a time when the social freaks of this world have had full sway to carry out their godless experiments of social reengineering. With unchecked freedom they’ve slaughtered hundreds of millions of innocent lives in an effort to raise men to the level of God and lower decency to the level of a poisonous snake. Hitler and Pol Pot killed their millions, Stalin and Mao killed their tens of millions, and Idi Amin, Kim Il-Sung, and other despots drained the blood and brains in their countries in the name of Communism and social reengineering. Yet I’ve also lived to see those experiments carried out to their fullest extents and utterly fail. Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and Engels were all flawed thinkers, and their premise was false. Once again Project C.U.R.E. is bringing help and relief to a country that continues to pay the fiddler long after the dance has ended.
My Thai Airways flight from Bangkok landed in Phnom Penh at about 5:00 p.m. As I entered the passport-control area, I spotted an older couple holding a sign with my name on it. That’s always a welcome sight. Pitou and Sally Anne Lao were at the airport to meet me and brought with them one of their friends, who is connected with the government in some way.
As we got acquainted, I told them I needed to apply for a visa for Cambodia, since I didn’t have enough time to apply for one through the Cambodian embassy in Washington, D.C.
Pitou said, “No problem” and told me to give my completed application and passport to his friend, along with twenty-two US dollars in cash. I did as requested, and within minutes I had my passport back in my hands with an approved, stamped visa. The other people who were standing in line waiting to receive their visas just looked at me and raised their eyebrows.
Pitou and Sally were both born in Cambodia. When Pol Pot began his killing spree in 1975, they happened to be in Thailand. So instead of returning to Cambodia, they emigrated to the US, and the US government placed them in California. Both would certainly have been killed in Cambodia, since they are highly educated and were community leaders.
Just recently Pitou and Sally quit their California jobs and returned to Cambodia to see if they can help their countrymen rebuild their lives. They are now spending all their time without pay helping the refugees and displaced citizens.
The Laos and I became friends at first sight. They already made reservations for me at a hotel in a busy part of Phnom Penh. They had just returned to Cambodia on Friday after a month’s trip back to the US, when Dennis Catron contacted them and informed them of my visit. They dropped everything they were doing to be my hosts while I’m in Phnom Penh.
As we drove across the city to my hotel, I had a good feeling about my trip to Cambodia and Pitou and Sally Lao. It will be exciting to see what adventures God has in store for me in Cambodia.
Next Week: It was disgusting. It made me sad. It made me angry. It made me cry.