A Real Bomb in America’s Secret War

by

03/28/2003

Prey Veng Province, Cambodia

Neighborhood: Letter From Abroad

A flaming sunset in western Cambodia, in the middle of 1972. I was coming back from my uncle’s house. I was about 500 meters from my house, when there were suddenly terrific sounds, like thunderclaps, “Boom! Boom! Boom!”

Immediately, I saw the spark and the firelight emerging into the flaming sky. I was very frightened and scared and ran very quickly straight to my house. As I was approaching my house my terrified father shouted: ” Hurry up! My dearest daughter and sons, the Amics [which is how he referred to the US airforces] are bombarding our village.”

Then he took my youngest brother by his hand and my sister in his arms and ran to the makeshift shelter nearby my house. At that time, my father was running a small business and 38 years old. Five years later he was murdered by the Khmer Rouge, together with my oldest brother.

After a few minutes, the village was quiet again. I could hear the sound of bombs being dropped far away. It was, perhaps, the airforce bombing the people in a nearby village, when they were returning home from their work in the field. The pilots may have confused them with enemy soldiers.

In the shelter, my farther did not allow my brothers, sister and me to put our heads out of the window to see what was happening. In spite of that, without letting him know, I tried to peek out through a small hole which was situated at the opposite side of the shelter from where my parents were following the aircraft. I saw the airforces flying around the village, perhaps they were looking for the Vietnamese military bases. While I was thinking about that, like a thunderbolt, a bomb crashed into the house next to mine, where my friend Samay lived together with her parents and her brother, and blew it to pieces. Samay was my classmate. We used to play together and I liked her and her family very much. They were gentle and frank people and we often shared food.

The blast and shrapnel blew over our shelter and hit my house Prav! Prav! Shaking in his shoes, amazed, my father shouted that, “the bomb was dropped on our house! Keep lying down! Do not move!”

My house had shrapnel holes everywhere and the bombed house burned with red flames and extremely dark smoke. With shaking hands, my parents embraced us and scrabbled our bodies to check if anyone had been injured. At the same time they prayed that the airforce would stop bombing very soon.

My family and I were amazed and extremely shocked with the smoke and also by the heat of the flames. Suddenly, I heard a grievous cry for help, coming out from the burning house. I could not recognize the voice, but it had to be someone of Samay’s family. Nevertheless, no one could go out from the shelter to help them as the planes kept coming back. Furthermore, a group of Vietnamese soldiers, who apparently were sneaking through the village towards a government military base, opened fire on them.

Turning back once again, the planes dropped their bombs on the middle of the village, where they presumed that there was a Vietnamese military base. However, the Vietnamese never based any soldiers in the villages. Like the Khmer Rouge guerilla, they were always on the move.

After striking my village on and off for more than one hour, the airforces went back to Phnom Penh. When the villagers were sure that they would not come back again, my parents and I went to Samay’s family’s house. Samay was laying on the ground beside the ruins of their house. She was covered with blood, some parts of her body and face torn away. Her family sobbed and cursed the US airforces. Her brother said that he would join the army to fight against the US and swore to take revenge on it. He was later killed while serving in the Khmer Rouge army.

While looking at my dead friend, I was told that there was another women killed by the bombs in the middle of the village. She was 23 years old and had two kids, a boy and a girl. Her husband firmly embraced his kids and cried. “Why do they kill innocent people? I swear to join the army to fight against the US”, he angrily and painfully said.

The school was permanently closed in the aftermath of the bombardment by the village chief, due to the insecurity. The war continued and he did not know when it would end. Those who could sent away their kids to continue their studies elsewhere. Some parents wanted to but had no choice other than let their kids stay with them. They are now dead as they were forced to join the Khmer Rouge. Meanwhile, my three brothers and I were sent to Phnom Penh to live with the monks. I was then 13 years old and I was quite young. I did not want to be separated from my parents, but I had no alternatives.

The bombardment had not only very negative effects on me, but also on the Cambodian people. I had a very miserable life in Phnom Penh. Even though I was quite young I had to work hard to earn enough money to support my studies, and myself. The communication between the city and my village was completely closed down, only two months after I left. My father could not send me money, even worse, his business went bankrupt as the roads were closed.

In the wake of the American attack on Iraq, I am still convinced that war never brings sustainable peace! An Israeli proverb says: “To defeat your enemies, you have to make them your friends”! One does not make friends with bombs and bullets.

**

My name is Nhek Sarin, a Cambodian citizen. I was born in 1958 in the rural village of Preak Antas, Peam Ror District, Prey Veng Province. It is located in the western parts of the country, about 80 kilometers from Phnom Penh.

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