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An Open Letter to A Young Woke Revolutionary

AP Photo/Gillian Flaccus

Let me begin by saying that I know you better than you may think. I am the child of ’60s radicals. In high school, I marched in the streets chanting, “Women have died because of Hyde” and grew up to lecture people on the plight of the environment and challenged law enforcement on its treatment of indigenous people. I was even once hounded out of a bar for being a leftist. In short, I was progressive when progressive wasn’t cool.

Many years ago, before some of you were even born, I made a trip with a church group to Cambodia. It was what is known as an “awareness mission.” The purpose of it was to acquaint us with the horrors of human trafficking so that we might spread the message of the dangers this practice—and the nightmarish effects it has on its victims, both directly and indirectly. In no way should the impacts of such a vile and loathsome practice be diminished. But that is another column for another time.

One of the things we did while in Cambodia was tour the killing fields. Chances are good that, being a product of your times, you have no idea who Pol Pot was, or the results his brand of socialism had on that tiny country. And you have never heard about the millions of men, women, and babies who perished in some of the most abominable ways the mind can conceive. But perish they did, and I have seen the photographs of murdered innocents and their bones stacked upon one another in the memorials that dot the country. I encourage you to look beyond the history you have been taught and research the legacy of the Khmer Rouge for yourself. It may upend some preconceived notions you have about revolutions, but growth involves coping with ideas that may be at odds with the ones you find comforting.

One of the killing fields we visited was a prison known as S-21, or Tuol Sleng. It was a former boarding school converted into nothing less than a concentration camp for those who opposed the socialist policies of the Khmer Rouge. Or those who had been merely accused or suspected of doing so. I have seen the bloodstains from the tortures inflicted by the Khmer Rouge. I have seen the metal bed frames where people were electrocuted. I have seen the scaffolding from which the victims were hung and dunked headfirst into vats of human excrement. I have seen trees that were literally bent by the impact of Khmer Rouge soldiers repeatedly beating them with infants. And I have seen the skulls.

All of this was done in the name of Cambodia’s own “great reset.” All of this was done to “right wrongs.” All of this was done for the “greater good.” You see, no one commits an act of evil in the name of evil. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot all murdered millions in the name of high and lofty ideals. And many followed Pol Pot in the quest for a socialist utopia. People were arrested, imprisoned, and murdered not just for their political views, but for the crime of wearing glasses, since glasses could be an indicator that a person might be educated and therefore a threat. Owning a radio or even too much cloth or food could result in an arrest.

But an odd thing happened. At some point, like any regime such as Pol Pot’s, based on accusations, arrests, and incrimination, you eventually run out of villains. Or you run very low on them. But the problem is that by this point, there exists a society based on exposing enemies. That, of course, means you need a steady supply of violators to keep the machine properly oiled. In the case of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge guards who had so enjoyed caging and torturing their victims soon discovered that someone had turned them in. They found themselves occupying the same cells they had watched over, and suffering through the very tortures they had savored inflicting. No one is safe in a situation like that, no matter how loudly you may proclaim your loyalty. Eventually, the Khmer Rouge, the SS, KGB, or Stasi come for you.

Take J.K. Rowling. She is no right-winger, no matter how far you stretch the imagination. No matter that she announced that Dumbledore was gay, or that Lupin actually represented people who lived with AIDS. None of that mattered the moment she deviated from the party line about gender. You loved her stories up until someone told you not to. She was canceled or “made to disappear” and her books were burned.

Hitler made people disappear and burned books. Fascists make people disappear and fascists burn books. If you want to adopt the practices of the people you pretend to oppose, there is little anyone can do to stop you. But know this: If you follow this line of thinking to its logical conclusion you are damning yourself to a life of servitude. You must be ready to think and act exactly as the party tells you, and you must consistently guard yourself against independent thought. Wherever the party leads, you must be ready to follow.  Far from being free, you will actually find yourself at the whim of forces far beyond your control. And you can bet someone will be watching to see if you begin to think for yourself… and they will take full advantage of it.

And you will find yourself in the latest incarnation of S-21.

So, beware. Once you have eliminated us, once you have liquidated, imprisoned, or re-educated the last of the so-called patriarchy, your troubles will only be beginning. Look to your left and look to your right. One of those people may be the one who slits your throat.

When the Young Toppled the Old and Reset the Clock to Zero: ‘The Killing Fields’
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