“History is written by the winners”. This phrase has been taught to us in every history class, but what does it truly mean? When you think about recent Cambodian history, there are things that universally come to mind. The Khmer Rouge, the atrocities committed by Pol Pot, and the Secret Bombings, to name a few. While these terrible events did happen, and every subsequent generation of Cambodians is affected by them, the widespread portrayal of Cambodian turmoil and violence is harmful and incomplete. The true facts of the Khmer Rouge differ from the facts that were broadcasted to the general public, but most people fail to educate themselves and dig deeper to find out more.
Cambodia, like so many other countries deemed “third world” or worse by the United States, has been continually used and abused by powerful countries with new-colonial and exploitative agendas. However, just like Iraq and the Philippines, the representation of these struggling countries leave the U.S. blameless and heroic, when reality and truth is always more complex. I want to emphasize the importance of self-education and motivation to learn more, because I feel as though so much of our learning is forced and preachy, when it should be experienced and lived first-hand. The questions we have about the world are usually not satisfied by simple answers, and we should not expect them to.
This touches upon a term coined in a Ted Talk, called “The Danger of a Single Story”. The single story that is painted of Cambodia, regardless of accuracy, is still never going to be a complete picture of the rich culture and its resilience. After the Holocaust, Germany was given the ability to paint a new picture of themselves, but Cambodia has not been given that chance. I encourage everyone to find out as much as they can, not just in this instance, but in every case, before coming to conclusions. By talking to people with first-hand experience or using as many “unbiased” primary sources as possible to create a fuller picture, the single story is no longer a danger.
Continuing to learn and educate ourselves, even throughout adulthood, prevents misconceptions from continuing to harbor in our minds.