Thursday, 8 May 2014

Of "Rabbit Pellets": or all after seeing Khmer Rouge medicine through pictures

Of "Rabbit Pellets": 
Or all after seeing Khmer Rouge medicine through pictures

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It was years ago when this writer had featured an earlier article about the Khmer Rouge and its attempt to create its own version of "Communism".

Mostly based from Khmer history and Cultural Revolution-era Maoism, the Khmer Rouge had failed in its own experiment (known to themselves as a "super great leap forward"), all regardless of its presentation such as irrigation complexes, rice paddies, anything brought by manpower and not quite disregarding modern machinery (except for trucks, few tractors, and some jeeps whose engines acting as motor pumps).

Much more that international mainstream media had depict those times as an era of genocide. Again, known for its killing fields, distrust of intellectuals and near-primitive conditions, the Khmer Rouge had dealt much with idealism with its overzealous adherents acting as overseers rather than in contact with reality as what early Maoist China and the Soviet Union did, making Cambodia an example of what Karl Marx had predicted: Barracks Communism.

However, on the other hand, seems that this writer had sought through its videos how the Khmer Rouge leaders, like Pol Pot and Ieng Sary afford to make a stage a la Fritz Lang in his Metropolis. All was but an order in seeing workers marching in lines towards their work, of women weaving cloth in long hours, or Children working as linesmen, a country that was turned into a work camp in pursuit of a utopia. 
That also obviously showed idealism without careful implementation or a just transition as what most Socialist countries did years before.

Personally, this writer had once thinked about writing about medicine in Cambodia during 1975 to 1979. Mainstream media had usually depict the Khmer Rouge as bloodthirsty murderers. Yes, murderers with a smattering of what they were fighting for. But, as this writer had sought pictures presented by the Khmer Rouge via its videos, seems that these people are trying to present a different picture and hence quite interesting to see how these people presenting an illusion through a stage, in a Potemkin country that was "Democratic Kampuchea".

Of bark, roots, leaves 
and paracetamol

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These pictures shown, mostly about how they manufacture medicine and how young practitioners trying to test their skill in the art of healing, comes with the fusion of old and new. Using barks, leaves, roots, of various herbs and medicinal plants the Khmer people had tried to imitate those of the Chinese in pursuit of self-reliance as if through crude tools and few ideas about healing they can surpass anything about medicine and development. How wonder do they have written treatises, pharmacopoeia to understand those plants and its healing power. But perhaps the important, according to theirs was just to create medicine more so as to substitute imported chemical ones like Paracetamol or Amoxicilin. As according to an article made by Laura Vilim:

"Pol Pot, the regime’s senior- most leader, mandated the use of home-made remedies rather than scientifically- tested medication at a meeting of top Khmer Rouge officials, saying: “We have to establish a research team to do research and conduct experiments on traditional drugs. Even though we do not have proper formulas, we can still produce them. We are practicing self-reliance in medicine.”"

So was Khieu Samphan, whom explicitly acknowledged the general experimental nature of medical treatment, even if he couched it in terms of progress rather than its actual failure:

"In the field of health and social affairs, many units have fulfilled or exceeded the plan of producing medicines for improving the people’s standard of living...Each cooperative has its medical center and its center of making medicines. By this way, we have given an impulse to all forces of the people’s mass to actively participate everywhere in making medicines. Although they are still at the handicraft stage, our medicines meet the needs of our people and their efficiency has unceasingly been improved. It is only by doing so that we can carry out our line of independence, sovereignty and self-reliance in the production of medicines as well as in all other fields."

However, despite emphasising traditional means, or as what Khieu Samphan stated as "handicrafts", the Khmer Rouge also has its share of modern ones, mostly coming from undestroyed apparatuses and hence reused by students whom least trying to learn the craft whom those really had practised "been purged" regardless of willingness to serve in the so-called "revolution."

Of Apothecary tools
and Laboratory apparatuses

It may be nice to hear about self-reliance as part of socio-economic policy, so as to see those kind of pictures featuring medicinal wonders and on how they turn barks, leaves, roots, flowers into pills through grinding into powder to molding by hand and be dubbed by most as "Rabbit Pellets" due to its appearance. But to use it to justify mere isolationism (and calling it as self reliance) seemed to be a mockery of their supposed thought such as cultivating internationalism as socialist and even patriotism itself as patriots. The production of medicines during those times, obviously seemed to be less emphasised on scientific resarch regardless of having those herbs, roots, barks as of medicinal value; or those whom mostly practising medicine were had less proper training and education like other socialist countries do. 
As a writer, socialist countries are meant to be progressive not just in economic, but also in scientific and cultural achievement. And countries like the former Soviet Union, then Maoist China, East Germany encouraged the former intelligentsia to continue research and education to support reconstruction efforts, but Cambodia did the opposite by using "political purity" as its basis, hence failing to create a united front (that had been realized during the Vietnamese "liberation" and the subsequent Heng Samrin regime). Old people, mainly consists of peasants were favored than those of the "New people", whom consists of city dwellers, hence the intelligentsia no matter some were willing to use their knowledge for the revolution just like other countries this writer had stated.

And that includes medical practitioners (surgeons, nurses, pharmacists, etc.).

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And through these screenshots, the so-called "medical achievements" of the Khmer Rouge tries to be at par with neighboring countries regardless of being in the "handicraft stage" (as what Khieu Samphan had stated). The use of old apothecary tools and traditional ideas were much being emphasised instead of modern methods regardless of some being existed and utilized as most were practically destroyed or left to rust. The black and white pictures above showed few of the laboratories left unscathed by war as most were into traditional, handicraft-like settings.

And presenting it as modern with people wearing lab garb.

An illusory success
And an actual failure

But regardless of their attempts for self reliance does not mean it guarantees the health and well being of Khmers as a nation. Disdain for the intelligentsia, no matter how some are willing to contribute in the revolutionary process and construction had failed Cambodia's experiment as a first "Communist state" (as in Communist, not really existing Socialist states like Soviet Union or China) trying to surpass even those of the socialist bloc. Enver Hoxha, a well known Stalinist had even criticized Pol Pot's policies as he said via “Zeri i Popoullit”:

"The Albanian diplomats have seen with their own eyes that the Cambodian people were treated inhumanly by the clique of Pol Pot and Yeng Sary. Pnom Penh was turned into a deserted city, empty of people, where food was difficult to secure even for the diplomats, where no doctors or even aspirins could be found."

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Or using this writer's view:

"Does these rabbit pills really can cure better than aspirin?"

Again, failure to retain, especially the progressive leaning professionals for construction and development, even those trying to bridge traditional and modern medicine comes with a failing result. The Khmer Rouge's disdain for city dwellers, that includes the proletarians did fail their "super great leap forward" regardless of how many bumper harvests they had for months. China's barefoot doctors were mostly medical practitioners whom having consistent study-practise routine and emphasis on sanitation. Cambodia, however tries to have a share of study-practise routine by using adolescents and even children using "ideological purity" as its emphasis to become professionals rather than years of education and training. How come disposable syringes had to be cleaned by just swiping as if it can prevent possible spread of viruses and bacteria? And why serums had to be stored in old soda bottles? The insufficient learning from so-called practitioners mocks those whom really bridge old ideas in healing and modern scientific methods. As according to Laura Vilim:

"Separate from the illnesses and deaths caused by the contents of the injections were those caused by the method with which injections were given. Without a steady supply of modern medical equipment, the injection serums were kept in old soda bottles that were not properly sterilized. Khmer Rouge medics used the same few syringes and blunt needles over and over again. Before an injection, nurses wiped the needle “clean” with their fingers; a needle was sometimes used for multiple injections before it was “disinfected” by the nurses’ fingers. As a result, the infection rate after injections reached 90% in some remote villages, and sick individuals became fearful of treatment by injection."

In other words, failure for further education and careful practise, particularly in a constructing socialist state brings out the contrary to their supposed goals like what Khieu Samphan or Pol Pot been stated. Worse, they were just copying without understanding, creating a distorted version of countries being used as examples of building Socialism from scratch. How wonder Cuba, Vietnam, China did excel in building socialism with well trained doctors offering good expertise in their profession by keeping the intellectuals willing to support the construction and development process as a socialist community. Doctors, Pharmacists had gave sufficient knowledge even those of herbal substances in order to be utilized. The Cambodian experience had at least tried but end far from what they had imitated upon.

And how wonder why some Cambodians chose to rally under the Vietnamese liberators and rebels like Heng Samrin for they really give aid after 1979. The "liberation" and the subsequent creation of the Peoples Republic of Kampuchea had little to start with, for there was no police, schools, books, post and telecommunications, no legal system and no commercial networks, whether state-owned or private. A few medical facilities would had been despite absence of hospitals and really few medical equipment and medicine. On the other hand, the Vietnamese "liberators" had brought enough "modern" medicine like Paracetamols and Aspirins, and even doctors coming from fraternal Socialist countries like Bulgaria, East Germany, and Cuba to train existing pratitioners thoroughly so as to directly administer cure to the suffering.

Personally, in seeing those kinds of pictures presented speaks of an illusion trying to put into practise. Again, inspired by the barefoot doctors, the Cambodians had tried to bridge the knowledge regarding the use of herbal medicine and modern methods in pursuit of self reliance. But citing the failures given lies the consequences. How wonder other once fraternal socialist states had afford to really practise scientific methods that also includes further research on traditional medicine, but with the pictures via somehow showed an example of a charade mimicking research and development involving the art of healing.

Nowadays, Cambodia tries to grow and thrive just like when the late Sihanouk been installed as its king, and It may take long years to grow and develop in all fields to be really in par with its neighbouring countries.

Source of pics: