The Killing Fields

Posted: January 13, 2013 in Change, Mindfulness, Photography, Travels

[music: The Partisan – Leonard Cohen]

Walking through The Killing Fields was a sombre and emotional experience.

I have been asking myself what responsibility the citizens of democracies have for the actions of their government? I have the feeling that citizens of most democracies have absolved themselves of their countries’ actions, “It’s the government that did it, I didn’t agree” or “Had I know, I wouldn’t have agreed.” Terzani provided me with my own answer to this question: a vote for war with Sparta means going to fight and possibly die… whether you voted for war or not. Citizens need to have ‘skin in the game’ for a democracy to function as one.

We act as we want the world to be. Inaction, indifference, ignorance must be more than tacit approval or disapproval, they are active participation. Despite the discomfort of considering oneself a collaborator in whatever crimes the nation has committed; what other incentive do we have for engagement?   Isn’t a democracy simply a collective responsibility? They certainly aren’t limited liability companies, no matter how much this idea is attractive to leaders and the herd. We elect representatives to represent us, we can not feel that we delegate responsibility of the decisions, we only delegate the action of taking them.

When citizens fail to act to hold their leaders, legislators, prosecutors, and judges to their own standards, then they are themselves complicit in their actions; the citizen is, after all, both the initial decider and final arbiter, no matter how much how lazy or how cowardly he may be. I think that freedom has been erroneously interpreted as “right to abstain from” responsibility, when in fact it must mean “obligation to” act, challenge, change.

Evidence would suggest that our leaders would prefer that we remain ignorant. I find it ironic when references to the ‘nanny state’ refer only to state social programs (like healthcare, unemployment insurance, welfare) and not other matters of state (see link for examples). So I ask myself, why? Now it’s Orwell that provides me with an answer (see below).

My conclusion is that private opinions don’t matter, only our acts are material. Feeling helpless is not an excuse, we all have the ability to set priorities, to take small simple step. And I am the first to opine instead of act. I would go further and ask myself whether the members of groups, churches, associations bear, at the very least, moral responsibility for the actions these organisations?

I ask myself these questions because wars, genocide, war crimes, do not spontaneously appear, they are often the direct or indirect result of the foreign or commercial policy of ‘third party’ nations… our nations. Here is a Hollywood illustration.

I’ll end this with two quotes from George Orwell:

“Freedom is the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
“War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength.” 1984

  1. Steve Culver says:

    I have to believe that my responsibility has some limit, but I’m not sure where to draw the line. I know for a fact that I cannot do anything to prevent the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, nor is anyone going to blame me for my inaction. I know that if I wind up my arm and plant a hay-maker in someone’s face, I’m going to be held responsible. Those are the extremes of my responsibility, but I see nothing between those extremes except imperceptibly shifting degrees of gray. I see no clear lines to guide me.

    Albert Einstein was a leading German citizen. Should he be held accountable for Hitler’s crimes?

    Jane Fonda was an out-spoken critic of the Viet Nam War, yet it continued for a decade. Is she a heroine? A failure?

    What about Joe Everyman? How much change might have he effected in George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq?

    What action would you say I am obliged to take in the face of the looming international economic crisis? What should I, as an American citizen do to fix the debt?

    I see average individual human beings as being so overwhelmed by political bickering, and work, and family, and, yes, pointless bullshit like football and beer, that we can effect almost nothing vis a vis our governments. Show me where I’m wrong. Tell me what the average Cambodian should have done to stop the Khmer Rouge. I’ll guarantee you that there were protesters. There were certainly men who threw down their AK-47’s and refused to be executioners. There must have been a few who were equally moral, but a bit more ruthless, who turned their rifles on the most egregious among them and at least took some of the bastards with them.

    It didn’t stop the killing, tho.

    Your impulse is right. No human worth the name would countenance another Sandy Hook School, or another slaughter like the Cambodian one, or another chain of camps like Dora and Maideneck, or another Andersonville prison, or another of the thousands upon thousands of times we have killed one another, sometimes in job lots.

    I’m not disputing any of that. What I’m pointing out is the difficulty in making a list of do’s and don’ts; a poster of bullet points that tells me what I’m supposed to do. The Quakers have an unambiguous prohibition against the taking of human life. No matter if the guy in your living room is strangling your daughter to death, you may not kill him. Is that one of our bullet points? No government should spend more than they take in. How do Mr. And Mrs. Everyman know when that shell game is being played?

    Yes, we are flawed. Yes, we let murderous fucks like Chengis Khan take control. What choice do we have? What would you have us do?


    Follow Howell Davidson’s Adventures at

    >________________________________ > From: The ‘Just George’ Blog >To: >Sent: Sunday, January 13, 2013 11:25 AM >Subject: [New post] The Killing Fields > > > >Just George posted: “[music: The Partisan – Leonard Cohen] Walking through The Killing Fields was a sombre and emotional experience. I have been asking myself what responsibility the citizens of democracies have for the actions of their government? I have the feeling th” >

  2. Just George says:

    To respond:
    1. I was referring to citizens of democratic nations (let’s not mix regimes)
    2. Action was the measure of responsibility
    – answers some of the questions (Einstein, Fonda, KR)
    What could Joe Everyman have done? He could have questioned the decision to go to war. But even after the false proof of WMD, the hundreds of thousands of dead, trillions spent, torture, indefinite detention, what did he do? He re-elected the perpetrator and now provides him with a pension instead of a prison cell.
    The post was not about defining a moral standard, this is good, this is bad… I was trying to answer the question: what responsibility the citizens of democracies have for the actions of their government?
    We can’t influence every decision ex-ante, but we do have ex-post power, use of this power will shape how the executive and legislative branches act in the future.
    If this were Your country, what would you do? Start getting it done!
    We’ll have to live with the consequences.

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