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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid


For 10 years, journalist Nelson Rand has lived in SE Asia, but far from seeking the hedonistic pursuits usually associated with this part of the globe, author Rand has deliberately set out to experience the dangerous side.
This book, Conflict (ISBN 978-1-905379-54-5, Maverick House, 2009) covers conflicts in Cambodia, Burma, Laos, Vietnam and Thailand.
In the countries covered, there are good reconstructions of history to show the various take-over bids and regional instabilities and a detailed explanation of how and why this has happened. However, as you might expect from on-going conflicts, there are no real answers to the current situations.
It begins with the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and with Toul Sleng S-21 in the news with the trial of Duch, the commander of the torture camp, it is currently newsworthy.
It was interesting to read that the leaders in the Khmer Rouge were educated with tertiary degrees, and were probably the most highly educated leaders in SE Asia, but yet were capable of extreme tyranny.
In Burma he meets up with the Karen, still struggling against the repressive Burmese regime. He puts forward the very reasoned argument for landmines, from the Karen point of view, which is that they do not have the numbers to withstand the Burmese army, so landmines are the only way they can protect their villages. He finishes by writing, “To ban it (landmines) is to disregard the plight of peoples such as the Karen who, having limited resources, depend on it for their survival.”
In the chapter covering the south of Thailand, Rand writes that the area “resembles more of a war zone than a tropical paradise. I guess that’s why I’m drawn there.” (Me? I’ll stick to the tropical paradise, thank you!)
He mentions “decades-old insurgency,” and that insurgents don’t wear uniforms but mix in with the villagers making it very difficult to spot them.
He opines that the Ulamans, the local religious leaders, are more dangerous than the terrorists, because they teach people to hate. (This is the sad part, as small children do not hate others, this is something that has to be instilled in older children.)
And when historical aspects of the conflict are mentioned vis--vis Thailand and Malaya, he notes that Patani was actually a Buddhist state before it adopted Islam in 1547.
Unfortunately, the conflict in the south of Thailand is a mixed one, with author Rand claiming that currently there is 20 percent criminal activity, 70 percent insurgency and 10 percent security forces and extra-judicial killings.
In the opening of the chapter on Laos and Vietnam where he was entering Laos with equipment marking him as not being a simple tourist, Rand writes, “I was willing to take the risk, after all, you never regret the things you do in life, only the things you don’t do.” Perhaps this might be so for a young adventurer, but for the rest of us, it is easier to sit at home and read what the adventurers have found!
An interesting book, which came directly from the publishers Maverick House, it is available at B. 495 in Bookazine.