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Text of a 1997 Letter From Pol Pot to His Daughter

[If I have taken liberties with the translation from the Khmer, they are only minor ones. —ed.]

“Dear one: You know how I love billiards? Well, will you forgive an old man a metaphor about a game he loves? I hope so, for this is what I want to say to you: Remember that each one of us is as a billiard ball hurtling across a vast table with no bumpers at its perimeter. We have, each of us, our own speed, spin, and direction—each and all contributing to a trajectory that is finally the product of genetics, upbringing, voluntary and involuntary associations, and experience. As we age, our trajectory, which had been unpredictable in youth, becomes markedly less so, though some of us remain ever unstable in this respect due to some physical, emotional, or intellectual infirmity. But strike others we do, as all people do, for howsoever an individual trajectory may manifest, it is certain to sometimes cause jarring collisions with the lives of others. So we must hit others, and others must hit us, and all of this is due to our own (and others’ own) particular inertia. 

Many times, these collisions are painful; usually, we take them as a personal slight. We are certain that we have been specifically targeted for abuse—that we have been seen in our whole selves by another and found wanting. In fact, all is merely a matter of physics. Two humans, differently oriented, who arrive in the same space at the same moment will collide, and the force and angle of that collision is determined by [the word here is smudged —ed.] that began their operation many years ago, and then, too, the influences that nudge one’s trajectory slightly one way or another each day. If you, Sitha, had not been present to collide with Botum today at school, it would have been another who would have experienced that collision—perhaps in a slightly different manner—and smarted from it. So it is not personal, though it does feel that way. But you must understand, with so many balls hurtling over such a relatively small space, painful collisions are inevitable. They do not choose you, as you might think; they are simply in the nature of the game. And because there are no bumpers at the terminus of the table, we are all certain, anyway, to fly off the table and out of the game entirely in the end.

Sometimes, two balls are set upon such a similar trajectory that for a time—sometimes a very long time—they travel together toward the end of the table and the game. They touch lightly, just enough for each to know the other is present. They are companions, not adversaries, and move at such a velocity and in such tight formation that one or another or both of them knock out of the way any balls that attempt to intercede in their progression. This, Sitha, is love. Love in friendship, or love between husband and wife.

I urge you to avoid love, Sitha. The only way to know you are playing the game at all, and to appreciate fully its wildness, is to be pushed off your present track with force, and to now and again push others off their own tracks by force. And who knows? Sometimes your change in trajectory will be what is best for you, what puts you on an unusual line few others have traveled, and sometimes the changes in trajectory you enforce in others will be what is best for them. Do not fear the collisions; fear only an end to collision. And most of all, fear those who fear collision, for to make common cause with them is to doom yourself to slow and stop in the midst of all things. And should you stop anywhere upon the table, it is at that moment that the man with the stick, who hovers over the game at all times, plucks you off the table altogether—for now you have no place in his scheme and therefore no utility to his whole. Botum’s life has collided with yours today because she is herself and because you, as yourself, were certain to be in her path. I will hope that you go to school tomorrow and thank Botum for what she has done for you
—though by the time you read this letter, perhaps many years hence, it is possible this collision will long have been forgotten among all the others.


May all your collisions be jarring, my dear.”

Posted 05/23/14
Note: The letter above was recovered by Cambodian authorities in 2006. Pol Pot died of a heart attack--though some still suspect it was suicide--while under house arrest in 1998. His body was cremated before an official investigation could be conducted. His daughter Sitha, born in 1986, is said to have first read the letter above in Koh Santepheap Daily, a leading Cambodian newspaper.
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