The Killing Fields of Cambodia - Are they Worth Remembering?
“I know of no parallel to the conditions which have been experienced in Cambodia over the past decade to any other experience I have had. In the case of post-war Europe, there is the vast tragedy of the concentration camps . . . but thank God, the world had an immediate reaction and to this moment, there has been a sensitivity to events which happened forty years ago. But, in the case of Cambodia, for some
extraordinary reason, I am left with the strong impression that the world wants to forget the tragedy in Cambodia – they want to forget it!”
SIR ROBERT JACKSON, deputy Secretary-General, United Nations
January 1983 (qtd. in Schanberg 1984)
“The apparent ease with which children learn is their ruin.”
(Rousseau, qtd. in Hirsh xiii)
“Pran says he was always most afraid of those Khmer Rouge soldiers who were between 12 and 15 years old, they seemed the most completely and savagely indoctrinated. ‘They took them very young and taught them nothing but discipline. They do not believe any religion or tradition except Khmer Rouge orders. That’s why they killed their own people, even babies, like we might kill a mosquito. I believe they did not have any feelings about human life because they were taught only discipline.’”
(Schanberg 1980, 44)
“If collective memory (usually a code phrase for what is remembered by the dominant civic culture) popular memory (usually referring to ordinary folks) are both abstractions that have to be handled with care, what (if anything) can we assert with assurance? --That we have highly selective memories of what we have been taught about the past. --That history is an essential ingredient in defining national, group, and personal identity.” Kammen, Mystic 10)
The importance of a collective memory
 Collective, or group, memory an be a powerful tool. It can bind people, people who may have otherwise never connected, in firm and enduring ways. People who, for example, all attended the same rock concert, have a binding, collective memory of that concert. They all remember what the performer wore, which opening band played, and, of course, the songs played in the encore performance. Mothers, fathers, children, students, businessmen, guards, deadheads, drug dealers, escaped convicts, basically everyone who attended this concert, all share a memory. In other words, fundamentally different people can be joined and united under one collective memory. As I said, collective memory can be a powerful tool.
 History, and, in particular, American history, can function as a collective memory. Through history textbooks and similar teachings, Americans can share a “memory” of our nation’s history. This memory can serve one important purpose – it can instill pride and nationalism into the people of this country. Unfortunately, things may be “omitted” from the record of American history if they are considered to...