Category Archives: Media

Her choice was make impact or be hurt. Why are you angry?

Somaly Mam said she was trafficked into a brothel as a young girl in Cambodia. Then she escaped, and helping others came to run a couple of organizations in Cambodia that battled forced prostitution. She wrote an autobiography, was feted at the State Department and Kennedy Center, and celebrated by journalists, including the New York Times

But then Newsweek, after previously celebrating Somaly Mam, suggested recently that her back story might have been faked. And a parallel accusation suggests Long Pross, a young woman who had worked with Somaly Mam, concocted her story about losing an eye to a violent brothel manager. Newsweek says she lost the eye naturally. Both Somaly Mam and Long Pross stick by their stories.

The sex trafficking situation improved in Cambodia over the years, and New York Times writer, Nicholas Kristof believes Somaly deserves some credit for that (along with State Department pressure and many other factors). But he notes that simply doing good work doesn’t give anyone the right to embellish their backstory.

And while Kristoff highlights that truth is paramount, it’s significant that 21 million people worldwide are subjected to forced labor, including forced prostitution, according to the International Labor Organization.

So while sorting out the facts will take time, he now has some regrets about writing about her and wonders if the same is true of The Washington Post, CNN, Time and other news organizations. Yet he aspires that people will be as diligent in covering the scandal that is human trafficking as they may be in following the scandal of false or embellished backstories.


Photo licensed under Creative Commons from Gideon Wright on flickr

His friends call him “gook”. And you should be ok with this?

Civil War re-enactors diligently remain true to character, some would say maniacally so. But what about Vietnam War re-enactors? What happens when “true to character” means re-creating abuses that led to atrocities like My Lai? What if the people wearing rice paddy hats and playing the Viet Cong aren’t Vietnamese? What if they’re not even Asian?

In a recent documentary, a white, college-age male gets asked why he’s playing a Viet Cong and he says, “to put it blunt, you can’t play cowboys and Indians, without Indians. You know what I mean?”

A few minutes later, US troop re-enactors liberally hurl racial slurs when they capture and abuse Vietnamese re-enactors. When challenged about the summary execution of Vietnamese, without a trial, a clear violation of the Geneva convention, a US Army re-enactor says , “I think we’re doing a good job here. Did you see how the f**king gooks got up and ran!?”

Shocking? Consider this, about half of the re-enactors were on active duty in Vietnam. And there’s a concerted effort to ensure nothing recreated tarnishes the reputation of those who served. Yet despite the patriotism, surprisingly, there’s no attempt to cover up the fact that this was not the US Army’s proudest moment.

Why does it matter? At first, I thought this was a bunch of southern red necks running around in tobacco fields, in a delusional re-telling of events from a different continent, mocking Asian accents and yelling pain inducing slurs, in what they thought was a “fun” weekend playing war. In fact, it was a harsh and realistic portrayal of the impacts of imperialism and racism. Most importantly, it reminded me how easy it is to be closed-minded. And how people like me, who consider themselves very open-minded, can fall into that trap as well.