Dith Pran RIP
Dith Pran, the translator who survived the killing fields of Cambodia, died earlier today of pancreatic cancer; he was 65. He worked as a photojournalist for The New York Times. He was made internationally famous when the actor who portrayed him (Dr. Haing S. Ngor) in the 1984 film The Killing Fields won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Born in the shadow of Angkor Wat at Siem Reap in 1942, Dith Pran learned French in school and taught himself English. He worked as a translator for the US Military Assistance Command and then took other multi-lingual jobs before signing on to work with New York Times Vietnam correspondent Sydney Schanberg. It was his colleague and friend Mr. Schanberg who taught him how to take photographs.
In 1975, the U.S. Congress in a mindless mixture of misplaced ideology and partisan pique, cut off funding for the South Vietnamese government. Before long Indochina was in complete turmoil, with Vietnam forcibly united under Ho Chi Minh and Cambodia taken over by the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot. Mr. Dith managed to survive for over four years by feigning ignorance of any western knowledge much less contacts.
Three years later the Vietnamese invaded, and Mr. Dith was able to flee to Thailand. He was finally reunited with his family (which had been able to reach the United States before the fall of Phnom Penh in 1975) and became an American citizen in 1984.
Mr. Dith himself participated in a dignified and moving video eulogy —“The Last Word”— which can be accessed (“Video Feature”) on his paper’s obituary page.