20 February 2013
Cambodian Mad Men: Cambodian Bad Men (1)
The Cambodian armed forces have not been blessed with great leaders. And their modern day generals and colonels are just as likely to be found firing their weapons and injuring their mates in Karaoke bars, as they are shooting their neighbours because of a 'bad look.' And you'll hear of them running drugs or pilfering Cambodia's ever-decreasing stocks of luxury wood, too.
That's no great surprise when promotions are attained by bribery and not on merit. This movement up the ranks of the incompetent, the mad, the bad and the just plain evil has been going on for decades.
Witness, for example, the case of Colonel Um Savuth, the commander of the 5th military region in the early 1970s.
'He was an astonishing personality, a thin, twisted man who walked with a long white cane, drove his jeep at terrifying speeds, and was nearly always drunk.
Early in his military career he had, in a moment of high spirits, ordered a subordinate to place a cat upon his head and then, from a considerable distance, shoot the animal off. The subordinate refused.
Um Savuth insisted that it was a direct order. The man pulled the trigger and a part of Um Savuth's head was blown away. Ever since, half is body had been paralyzed, and he had to drink quantities of beer and Scotch to kill his constant pain."
~Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and the Destruction of Cambodia, William Shawcross
Um Savuth continued to command and rose to the rank of Brigadier-general. Nevertheless, some in the US army claimed that he was "better drunk than most Cambodian officers sober."
Apparently the grog sometimes made him generous; in 1971 he wrote to President Nixon and offered Nixon his pet elephant "Khaat" as a gift.