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Why Journalism is Better than a Real Job: Excerpts from Sympathy for the Devil

10 Feb

Why Journalism is Better than a Real Job: Excerpts from Sympathy for the Devil

Sympathy for the Devil: A Journalist’s Memoir From Inside Pol Pot’s Cambodia

(Copyright Nate Thayer. No publication or distribution in whole or part without express prior written permission from the author)

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By Nate Thayer

By 1994, after more than a decade focused on Cambodia and its war, I only had one more objective: To interview Pol Pot. And then, I told myself, I would leave that wicked country forever.

And the opportunity was tantalizingly possible.

Brewing dissatisfaction within the Khmer Rouge ranks were creating cracks in their armor, opening up potential new means for me to access the core of their inner circle leadership holed up deep in the jungles. Where there was turmoil, there was an increased possibility that I could wangle my way into the heart of the Khmer Rouge central command.

I had found that the Khmer Rouge opened up to me when they had difficulties which often left them with issues they wanted to clarify or explain to outsiders. Turmoil and weakness increased the likelihood that they would want to play that card. And I was forever scheming to ensure that the vehicle they used to do so would be me.

I was always encouraging, maneuvering for, and poised to take advantage of increased and higher level contacts within their ranks. I approached it as an endless chess game, requiring long-term strategy and patience and an intimate knowledge of one’s opponent. By the mid 1990’s, obstacles were being removed and I was advancing. I knew from viewing their chessboard that I was closing in, however slowly, on their king—Pol Pot. Continue reading

My Sordid Love Affair with Journalism

7 Feb

My Sordid Love Affair with Journalism

Excerpts from Sympathy for the Devil: A Foreign Correspondent Inside Pol Pot’s Cambodia

Copyright Nate Thayer. No republication in whole or part without prior written permission of the author

By Nate Thayer

Journalism and I have a love affair that will never be extinguished.

From the beginning, I was the perfect specimen to be a journalist. It has consumed me, for every minute of every day.

I have always been eager to go anywhere where something of import or fascination is occurring and fraternize with the interesting people who were the protagonists, at any time.

At the beginning, I was willing to die. I had little concern for making money.

The absence of love of money and fear of death are often the crucial makings of a good foreign correspondent.

A dirty little secret is most successful foreign correspondents have either no or dysfunctional families, no other obligations, and few other talents outside of journalism. And few who rely on them, save for their editors. They travel constantly and without advance warning. Properly organized marriages and family are disproportionately rare.

We are not, as a control group, upstanding members of the healthier end of properly organized societies.

Like Communism and God, one has to make a choice between the two. Continue reading

Why You Want To Avoid Getting Blown Up By A Landmine: From ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ By Nate Thayer

28 Jan

What Happens When Your Ride Disintigrates After Being Blown Up by Anti-Tank Landmines

By Nate Thayer

These photos were taken of the truck I was riding in after it drove over two Chinese anti-tank mines, in northwest Cambodia, in October 1989.

I was sitting in the front seat of Russian Zil 2 1/2 ton military transport truck which the Cambodian guerrilla group I was traveling with had captured hours earlier after seizing a strategic government town. Most people in the truck were killed, including both of the soldiers sitting with me in the drivers compartment, one on either side of me.

The truck I was riding in after the left front tire, which was less than 5 feet from where I was sitting, detonated two anti-tank mines in the jungles near the Thai Cambodian border

The truck I was riding in after the left front tire, which was less than 5 feet from where I was sitting, detonated two anti-tank mines in the jungles near the Thai Cambodian border

I woke up in the remnants of the engine compartment with a severed leg across my face. It wasn’t mine. Continue reading

One Can Never be too Vigilant in the Defence of a Free Press

14 Jan

The Tools of the Trade–Journalism Cambodia Style–1990’s

The Free Press Preparing for another Day Keeping the People Well Informed Without Fear or Favour. Me and my closet of goodies Phnom Penh, Cambodias Photo-Ira Chaplain

The Free Press Preparing for another Day Keeping the People Well Informed Without Fear or Favour. Me and my closet of goodies Phnom Penh, Cambodia Photo-Ira Chaplain

Covering the Cambodia debacle in the 1980’s and 1990’s was an assignment fraught with danger and intrigue. The Khmer Rouge had executed more than 4 dozen foreigners–the vast majority journalists. Their primary opposition, the Vietnamese backed and installed government of Hun Sen, has summarily targeted and murdered dozens more, in addition to burning their offices after they were ransacked by government mobs, jailing dozens more, and scores received regular death threats. Scores more fled the country. This is in addition to the pervasive organized crime figures, who held powerful sway over the entire government leadership.

This photograph, by freelance shooter Ira Chaplain, shows me in front of my closet, which was equipped for pretty much any contingency, at my office and residence at the Phnom Penh Post, a fearless advocate, purveyor and defender of a free press which I remain proud to have been its senior correspondent. No better paper existed, in my mind, in the world in the 1990’s.

The assortment of Russian, Chinese, U.S., and other weapons, along with enough kit to equip a platoon at a moments notice if we were required by events to go to the bush, shows one can never be too careful or unprepared when defending the ability of a free press to carry out its duties. Plus it was fun……

One can never be too vigilant in defending the right of a free press to carry out their duties without fear or favour. Superior firepower often is a useful tool toward that end.

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