Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Foxy Lady Unforgettable 

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Monday,  September 19 / 11

Zack Gross

The tenth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks, just past, is a reminder of the violence that takes place in our world. 

Of course, this violence is, at different levels, a daily occurrence.  Poverty, disease, abrogation of human rights, unfair trade systems, corruption, civil conflict – all of these are parts of the puzzle that is our broken world.  We may notice these individual puzzle pieces, or we may see the whole puzzle at once, or we may just notice the biggest pieces, the “big events
,” such as 9-11.

The Kamphuchean (Cambodian) Genocide or Holocaust, which occurred in the years 1975 to 1979, is one such big bad event, during which, under the regime of Pol Pot and his cronies and their Khmer Rouge (Communist Party), two million of their citizens died through starvation, forced labour and outright murder. 

Pol Pot wanted to create a new country from the bottom up by wiping out the old – the educated, the urban, the diverse points of view – and leaving only a basic, peasant state.  They filled the “killing fields” with the corpses of their countrymen, women and children and, as the holocaust continued, they even began – at the top – to kill one another to maintain purity or control, or just to survive.  In the end, Viet Nam invaded and put a stop to the insanity.

Given their recent experience in Viet Nam, the United States and other western countries continued to support Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge even after they were overthrown and the genocide was revealed.  For example, the “genocidaires” continued to hold onto Cambodia’s seat at the United Nations.  Extreme dogmatism in its politics, paranoia about its neighbours, and reaction to its colonial history drove the Cambodian genocide.  Today, over 30 years later, Cambodian torturers and killers have still not all been brought to justice and many are living out their years, being cagey about what role they played in that tragic era.

It is into that murderous environment that about a dozen Westerners blundered in the mid to late Seventies, including Canadian Stuart Glass, a British Columbian.  These people, also from the US, New Zealand, England and elsewhere, were mostly yachtsmen, traveling for pleasure or running “soft” drugs across South East Asia.  What are today the built-up tourist mega-markets of Thailand, were backwater “hippie trail” hangouts then, and people like Stu Glass lived a laid back life of sea, sand, hash and mild adventure.  One of these adventures led to his death, his family’s anguished attempts to find him, and the uncovering of Western victims in the mass murder and torture of countless innocents.

This haunting tale is told by ex-Brandon journalist and activist Dave Kattenburg, now living in Winnipeg, in his new book Foxy Lady: Truth, Memory and the Death of Western Yachtsmen in Democratic Kampuchea.  Foxy Lady was the name of Stu Glass’ small yacht.

Kattenburg, aside from working with the Marquis Project back in the 1990s, has also been a successful producer of radio documentaries on environment, development and social justice issues.  He is frequently heard on the CBC Radio program Dispatches
, and has traveled the world in search of compelling stories that focus on the challenges facing our planet.  He also has run for Mayor of Brandon, as well as for the Green Party.  Foxy Lady is his first book and for me, the reader, it is an unforgettable tale.  Kattenburg made me think:  Where was I when this was happening?  Why didn’t I know what was going on?

Foxy Lady is carefully researched and detailed, yet tells a story not unlike a mystery.  Kattenburg describes his visits to Cambodian backwater villages to interview perpetrators of the genocidal crimes 30 years previous, and his frustration as they dodge his questions or ask for money in return for “straight” answers.  He also pieces together fragmentary information about the fate of the various Western captives – how they were caught, where they were taken, what they were accused of, how they were treated, and what ultimate fate they met.  Chapters alternate between the laid back activities of these Western travelers in Asia, and the murderous activities of the Pol Pot regime, until the two worlds collide.

Just a year ago, a generation after the genocide, the Khmer Rouge’s chief executioner was finally sentenced to 35 years imprisonment for his crimes against humanity.  The truth and memory part of the book’s title is reflective of how the criminals in this massive case see themselves, or describe themselves, all these years later, as “guilty but with an explanation

Dave Kattenburg brings this frightening and sad part of human history alive in a unique way and he is to be congratulated for that.

Zack Gross works for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of more than 40 international development organizations.

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