Films of Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing
Edited By John J. Michalczyk and SJ Raymond G. Helmick
Epic Genocide: Roland Joffé’s Killing Fields (1984): John J. Michalczyk
John J. Michalczyk
The Vietnam War bitterly divided America, as students demonstrated on campuses, Buddhist monks immolated themselves, and social conscious clergymen like Rev. William Sloane Coffin and Rev. Daniel Berrigan, SJ assisted conscientious objectors and engaged in nonviolent protest. Some considered the US responsible for a genocide of the Vietnamese people, and images from the anti-war documentary Hearts and Minds (1974) would certainly reinforce that sentiment.1 In this film the perpetrator is the US with its destructive military force laying waste to tiny hamlets and destroying innocent civilian lives.
In Roland Joffé’s Killing Fields the viewer senses the political chaos of the Vietnam War and the 1973 Watergate era as the background. The strategic bombing of Cambodia looms heavily in the foreground, as The New York Times journalist Sydney Shanberg (Sam Waterson) arrives in Phnom Penh to meet up with his aide and translator Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor). Sydney hopes to uncover the true story about the raging civil war in Cambodia to which the world remains blind. Photographer Alan “Al” Rockoff (John Malkovich) documents their findings. Taking immense risks, Sydney and Dith Pran first encounter the US bombing of a rural village, discovering the lethal effects on the civilian population. This, however, becomes overshadowed by the invasion of the capital by Khmer Rouge, as described in the preceding essay in the words of Samantha Power. The American Embassy, believing that the city is in danger, evacuates the American citizens. Journalists, first taking...
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