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Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot's Secret Prison Paperback – January 7, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0520222472 ISBN-10: 9747551152 Edition: 1ST

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 251 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1ST edition (January 7, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9747551152
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520222472
  • ASIN: 0520222474
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #580,664 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Chandler presents a grisly but lucid historical accounting of S-21, the secret prison where at least 14,000 people were interrogated, tortured, forced to confess to counterrevolutionary crimes and executed during the reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. This "anteroom to death," as Chandler labels it, was discovered by two Vietnamese photographers in the wake of the invasion that forced out the Khmer Rouge in January 1979. Drawn to the site by the smell of decomposing flesh, the men discovered the bodies of 50 recently murdered prisoners, an array of implements of torture and a vast abandoned archive of institutionally sanctioned torture and murder. (The area was immediately turned into a museum.) Chandler methodically reconstructs the history of S-21, working with both the archives discovered there and his own interviews with survivors of the camp; he offers some context for his evidence by drawing on his considerable knowledge of the region's past (the Australian scholar is the author of a history of Cambodia), for instance, identifying Chinese models for the camp. His assessment is of a government gone mad with paranoia, which must torture and murder its own citizens to protect itself against conspiracies that arise against it--"hidden enemies burrowing from within" who were viewed as more dangerous than outside threats. In attempting to understand how such evil arose, Chandler comes to the dismaying but arguable conclusion that places like S-21 and Nazi concentration camps originate in our own everyday capacities to order and obey, form bonds against outsiders, seek perfection and approval and vent anger and frustration upon the helpless. 13 b&w photos not seen by PW. (Jan.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"Grisly but lucid." --"Publishers Weekly

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By "nordenman" on May 21, 2000
Format: Paperback
Chandler has done a magnificient job bringing the Khmer Rouge prison "S-21" into clear view.
During the reign of the Khmer Rouge S-21 was used as the prison, interrogation center, and finally, the place of execution for several thousand Cambodians who were suspected of counter revolutionary activity.
Chandler shows that the mania of the Khmer Rouge leadership could not differentiate between the truth and made up stories under torture. One example of this gross misconception of reality within in the minds of the Khmer Rouge leadership is the fact that people were thrown into S-21 and executed on grounds of counter revolutionary activity simply because they had broken farming equipment, thereby tried to hinder the outcome of the 4 year plan for the agricultural sector!
Chandler also manages to draw interesting parallells between the Nazi KZs and Stalin's terror in the 1930's, and the Chinese cultural revolution in the 60's. He shows that some ingredients of terror are always there, no matter if it happens in Treblinka, Moscow, the country side of China, or in the killing fields of Cambodia.
Chandler's book is more than just a story of an awful prison in Cambodia. It is about the mechanisms that make some humans commit unspeakable acts(apparently by their own free will) against their fellow human beings, simply because of a belief in a political ideology!
A must read for people interested in the thoughts and methods behind the slaughter of millions of people in communist and faschist countries in the 20th century!
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT on December 24, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Prof. Chandler gives us a remarkably deep analysis of Pol Pot's secret prison S-21, which within the autogenocide of the Cambodian people stands out as a haunting symbol. It reflected the unlimited paranoia of Angkar and its schizophrenic regime that 'was at once terrified and terrifying, omnipotent and continually under threat'.
All family members (women, children and BABIES) of the condemned were slaughtered. Only 7 of the 14000 inmates survived.
As prof. Chandler remarks chillingly: 'a reign of terror and continuous revolution requires a continuous supply of enemies.'
There were no limits. As one of the interrogators rightly asked: 'If Angkar arrests everybody, who will be left to make a revolution?'
The same subject has been treated by Ben Kiernan in his book 'The Pol Pot regime'. But whereas Ben Kiernan sees racism as the main motive behind the murderous regime, prof. Chandler digs far deeper and concludes clinically that 'the real truth behind S-21 is to be found in ourselves'!
Indeed, the S-21 experience is not unique in the 20th century with its Nazi camps, communist show trials, Indonesian, Rwandan and Bosnian mass killings, Argentinean tortures ...
He remarks also that the Cambodian regime was an imported phenomenon. The Khmer leaders were all recruited and educated by the Stalinist French PC in the 1950s.
This nearly unbearable book should be read as a reminder that 'ordinary people can commit demonic acts' (R. F. Lifton).
David Chandler is not afraid to say 'how things really are' (L. Betzig).
A terrifying book about a terrifying experience.
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40 of 47 people found the following review helpful By David P Schick on January 26, 2001
Format: Paperback
The title "Voices from S-21" suggests that Chandler's book will contain interviews/narrative from the prisoners held at the infamous Cambodian santebal. There is very little in the book detailing any one individual's personal experience (understandably, since only a handful survived). The book is extremely well-researched (45 of the total pages are footnotes) and I found it a dry read. Gets into theory of the prison's existence and why the interrogators carried out their orders with such detachment. However there is very little by way of firsthand accounts of what went on, if that's what you're expecting from the book.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Enigma on January 13, 2000
Format: Paperback
David Chandler, a well-known historian of Cambodia, has penned a superb work. As an historian of Southeast Asia, I am acutely aware that most works on the region only appeal to a specialized audience. This work, limpidly written, is different. It is a powerful witness to one of the great disasters of the twentieth century: the deaths of approximately 1.7 million Cambodians under Khmer Rouge rule. The work draws on a wide range of scholarship, ranging from studies of the Holocaust to those on Stalin's terror. But what makes this work compelling is that Chandler zeroes in on one place -- S-21, or the infamous Tuol Sleng prison, where the Khmer Rouge interrogated, tortured, then killed suspected enemies of the state. Drawing on the mass of forced confessions recorded by the prison interrogators, this book takes us into the terror of Khmer Rouge rule. A powerful, disquieting book that will "appeal," if that is the word, not simply to specialists on Cambodia but to a wide range of persons troubled by humankinds propensity to engage in acts of terror and brutality.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Walt Sunderman on March 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
An extraordinary view into the secret prison of the Democratic Kampuchean (DK) government of Cambodia (1975-79). This well researched book by a renowned historian provides the reader with an in-context look at the horrors of Pol Pot's regime and the consequences of his paranoia of "hidden enemies". Dr. Chandler's poignant use of confessions forced from unfortunate and often innocent victims paints a grizzly portrait of power without constraints. It mattered not that neither interrogators nor prisoners knew what crimes had been committed, it was merely enough they had been arrested and sent to S-21, therefore they were guilty. With their de facto "guilt" established, it was the interrogators job to obtain a proper confession of these unknown, but treasonous, crimes. With or without a confession, there was only one verdict-death. Dr. Chandler has woven extracts from these confessions, interviews from the hand full of S-21 survivors, prison workers, and senior DK cadre, including Pol Pot, and a comparative analysis of other similar atrocities from the 20th Century into a balanced, historically valid picture of the horrid activities that took place at S-21. This work will be useful text for any person interested in Southeast Asian history or human rights issues.
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