Crossing The Cambodian Killing Fields
A Memoir of Escape from Communist Vietnam

Book synopsis:


The book ”Crossing the Cambodian Killing Fields, an Escape from Communist Vietnam” is the account of a long trek by land from Saigon to the Thai-Cambodian border via Chaudoc, Phnom Penh, Battambang and Sisophon. On a dangerous and painful voyage of more than one thousand kilometers the author and his 12 year-old son had to suffer continuously the pressure of being arrested. On the Cambodian territory, beside the threat of arrest by both Khmer and Vietnamese troop, other dangers hovered over the head of those who were escaping Communism by going to Thailand: muggers, mine fields, dense tropical forest where the traveler could get lost easily, thirst and famine, and cruel soldiers. That was the reason why the author had written that “he had to go through death to find life”

No body knew how many had died on horrifying trails through these “killing fields”. Many families of ten had only one or two who arrived; many people in groups never saw their fellows again. The author had miraculously survived to recount the horrifying escape. His son had been arrested near the Thai border. Of three people who went along, one was shot dead with a Cambodian guide; the two others had disappeared without leaving traces.

Before the author left Saigon, like any other escapee, he knew that he had nine chances to die and only one to survive, but he was still ready to confront death to find life. Nothing is more pathetic than the advice a father gave to his 12 year-old son before fleeing the country: “ I told him that in the event he is arrested and I am not I would continue to go ahead. Conversely, if I am arrested and he is not, he should continue his trek. We cannot wait for each other. If both of us are arrested, we should not declare that we are father and son. One of us can step on a mine and die, the other still has to proceed.”

The author had escaped arrest and went with his guide to the border a second time by walking the killing fields. He got lost in the jungle and for several days had struggled to get out of the inextricable jungle trails to escape death due to fatigue and thirst.

What had pushed people like him to risk their life to go look for freedom? The book describes their state of mind and their living experiences with the Communist System that had been established in South Vietnam after the Americans withdrew and Saigon fell.

The implementation of both the Marxist Leninist ideology and the Stalinist measures with all their aspects of savagery and cruelty has reduced the population in South Vietnam to the rank of animals. The adoption of policies aimed to impoverish the people in order to realize social equity has paralyzed everybody. The policy of controlling people by stripping them of all their rights has rendered life unbearable. This document contains vivid descriptions of how the life of each individual has been affected, especially the life of the intellectuals, such as the author. Young women became prostitutes in order to survive; teenagers had to live under social disintegration and moral decline. The book also portrays some human specimens, creation of the socialist regime: cunning individuals who swindled people to make money, a former student who defrauds his teacher; high ranking Communists cadres who stole people’s properties and extorted money to become rich.

Life under Communism was miserable at its climax forcing people to decide to risk their lives in dangerous escapes by land, encountering on their way horrible dangers, such as arrest, thirst-and-hunger-stricken death, or land mine explosions. The Communist regime has mistreated its citizens at an excessive level forcing them to accept that kind of choice. In the two attempts to escape Communism, the author encountered scores of difficulties and perils. Several times, he was so close to death, just to be rescued, such as in his first escape by boat on Tiengiang River.  That time, the Viet Cong coastguard patrol arrested him and his family. They shot at the boat people and robbed them of everything they had. Alternatively, during his trip from Chau Doc to Phnom Penh he had to stay under the cover of pineapples and coconut in the hull of a boat and during the treacherous trip from to the Thai border he was arrested but ran away with his assailants in pursuit shooting AK rifles. He survived to carry on his border-crossing operation for the second time, got lost in the Cambodian jungle, and tried to find his way out by circling the hilly area near the border.

The reader can easily imagine the feelings of an individual who fled the Communist regime leaving his wife and children behind, having with him only the older son who was 12 at the time and losing track of the boy when he reached the border region of Sisophon.

The author describes the many inner conflicts he experienced when he had to cope with daily happenings. Before his first escape, he was afraid of going to jail; when he was incarcerated in Mytho, he prayed and wished to be released to avoid having to suffer in Viet Cong prison. However, after he got out, a feeling of hopelessness and despair filled his heart as he witnessed the facts of life and he wanted to go back to jail. After he overcame so many dangers and almost found death in the escape from the hands of the Communist Khmers near the Thai border, he got lost before being able to arrive at the refugee camp in Thailand. Once safe in the camp, he suddenly felt remorseful and wanted to be back in Saigon with his family. The book recounts many occasions when the author stumbled upon such contradictory feelings. This is the state of mind that he labels “abnormally conflicting”.

This is a living document of high value. The author provides a detailed account of what he saw, what he heard, what he has experienced, and what he had in his mind while living in a Communist system and while attempting to leave the country in search of Freedom. This book is of real value as it expresses the sorrowful reality that a nation had to suffer under a regime set up by Ho Chi Minh and his comrades.

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