The Lost Executioner, by Nic Dunlop

February 8, 2011 at 14:47 (Asian History, Biography, Book Reviews, Highly Rated Books, Historical, Twentieth Century, War) (, , , , )


Dunlop does not add anything new to the body of history that details the vile Khmer Rouge regime, but his memoir-style account has the advantage of hindsight, and the benefit of being written decades after the end of Pol Pot. This only adds to the weight of his often-shocking revelations that even after the genocide, the rule of the Khmer Rouge continued in the refugee camps, finding their way back into the shattered nation with the aid of Cambodia’s sinister patriarch Prince Sihanouk, through the incompetence of the UN, the collusion of China and Thailand, and the arrogance of the USA.

Nic Dunlop goes to no effort to hide his open scorn and hatred towards both the principle agents of genocide (and their unwitting dupes), painting them as two-dimensional monsters, and occasionally appearing to blame and to an extent demonise the entire Khmer race. The author’s scorn for America is perhaps deserved, but provides for some rather subjective and vitriolic declarations on his part.

It is easy to wonder, after reading this book, if Dunlop’s intensely personal encounters with people and events in Cambodia have not unduly coloured his account. His searing and merciless indictments against some of the most ruthless men of history are puzzling when compared with the his warmth and unashamed friendship with cold-blooded murderers, and despite his background as a journalist, he is seldom objective, occasionally apologetic and frequently venemous. Yet these contradictions perhaps bring the whole tale into some sort of balance, painting a picture of a nation gone mad, summing up rather chillingly a nation in which murderers live side by side with the children of their victims. This is not ahistory of a political party, or a social event. It is a personal diary, and a man’s struggle to understand a people tearing itself apart in an inexplicable masochistic rage. It tells the story emotionally. How else could this story be told?



  1. Anonymous said,

    “Dunlop does not add anything new to the body of history that details the vile Khmer Rouge regime,”

    I dunno, but doesn’t the unveiling of Pol Pot’s chief executioner count, particularly when he was the first senior Khmer Rouge to tell the world that the regime had a policy of mass murder? As for painting the Khmer Rouge as “two dimensional characters” Dunlop in fact goes out of his way to show them as people – not monsters. Like the interrogator who felt compassion, or Sokheang who believed in the regime but felt betrayed by it. And where did he “demonise the entire Khmer race”?

    As for journalism being ‘objective’, you have a lot to learn about the craft…

  2. J. Holsworth Stevenson said,

    My anonymous friend; in suggesting that Dunlop does not add anything new to the body of history, I was admitting that he relies on established historical record in describing the key events of the Cambodian genocide, not that he has nothing to say. Comrade Deuch’s story is sensational, and fills in many details of the daily operations of the regime, but does not bring many startling new revelations.

    I also fear that you misread me: Dunlop leaves the “principle agents” of the genocide as cardboard figures of malice. I felt that he grew uncomfortably cosy with some of the lesser figures while reserving his ire (or so it felt) for the Khmer people as a whole. It seemed a little inconsistent.

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