Vital Signs

Screen – Inventing the News

The Killing Fields; Directed by Roland Joffe; Engima Productions.

Any resemblance between The Killing Fields and events in Cambodia during the 1975 holocaust is purely coinci­dental. What we see on the screen is more often than not a figment of Sydney Schanberg's well-developed imagination. This film adaptation of Schanberg's New York Times Maga­zine story (January20, 1980) about the war in Cambodia and his relationship with his Cambodian assistant, Dith Pran, is supposed to recount the bloody victory of the Communist Khmer Rouge forces and the systemat­ic destruction of the national soul.

Mr. Schanberg believes that it is the United States and its misguided South­east Asia policy that is responsible for the holocaust in Cambodia. Some­ how, the American intrusion into Cambodian territory gets identified with the barbarity of Pol Pot's army of thugs. Repeatedly, "Schanberg" puts the blame on Nixon because he violat­ed Cambodian neutrality in 1970. What he ignores is the North Viet­namese role: the words "communist invasion" and "North Vietnam" are not used in the script at all. Moreover, our first introduction to an American soldier is a major engaged in covering up an inadvertent bombing in a popu­lated Cambodian region. Schanberg never mentions the fact that, from the outset of the war, the Vietcong and North Vietnamese used...

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