Poisonous Trees

One would think -or wish- that after realizing our human potential for cruelty, we should decide to evolve and stop being our own predators. History, as biased as it can be, doesn’t seem to teach us much, and it is with such disposition that I write this essay in dense, dark, and hopefully loud ink.

Chum Mey, now 85 years old, is one of twelve survivors of the Khmer Rouge detention camp known as S-21, a former high school that is now converted into a holocaust museum (Tuol Sleng, or “Poisonous Trees”), but back then, it was the final destination for more than twenty thousand people.

Khmer Rouge was the name of the Communist Party of Kampuchea. They ruled between 1975 and 1979, and I never heard of them until my own visit to Cambodia. Most of the world seem to adopt and fixate upon one holocaust (the word itself seems to have been born for Germany and the World War) and never realize that this ‘massive destruction of humans by other humans’ is unfortunately a very common occurrence. A quick investigation throws no less than thirty genocides recorded in history.

So far.

It is perhaps useless to wonder about the reasons why we would decide to kill another human being. History has given us plenty of answers: Religion, politics, power, resources,… Year after year we invest astronomical sums of money in weapons and soldiers, while our health and educational systems languish and whither. Humans are dangerous animals. In average we are not that intelligent, it would seem, but we are lethal to the world and to ourselves.

Armies are built upon the wealth of powerful nations, whilst arts and sciences must struggle to survive.

How did Chum Mey survive? His is a good example of Viktor Frankl’s idea that hope will keep you alive, even if you are confined to a cell that can barely host a standing human being.

Please do not think of this as a triumph of the human soul. It is not a victory when 99.94% of your fellow countrymen die.

These lines are, for once, grim and heavy with sorrow, but my message is ultimately uplifting: Let natural disasters be the only wolf of men, and in light of holocausts like this, and regrettable situations happening as your read these lines (Syria, for example) let your decisions be always for the good of your community.

Construct, rather than destroy; respect, rather than judge; Include, rather than separate; Give your best and expect the best of your people, rather than procuring your own advantage at the cost of other’s.

Be informed. Act. Create hope! It is always needed.

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