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rechtman%20survivor - Anthropology Medicine Vol 13 No 1...

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Anthropology & Medicine Vol. 13 , No. 1 , April 2006 , pp. 1–11 The Survivor’s Paradox: Psychological Consequences of the Khmer Rouge Rhetoric of Extermination Richard Rechtman From 1975 to 1979 in Cambodia, during the four years of the Pol Pot regime, the rhetoric of extermination that perpetrators used to legitimize mass murder was a powerful instrument to deprive individuals of their humankind before killing them. Because every human community is founded on a metaphor claiming the inalterability of the social bond beyond the dead, the genocide project aims for its obliteration. By breaking the possible representation of a continuity and a social permanence between the dead and the living, the rhetoric of extermination claims, in a terrifying reality, that the only possible connection between the dead and the living concerns an identical physical condition: the living have already died or will pass away. This is the point where the rhetoric of extermination radically subverts one of the major symbolic aspects of the human condition. In the aftermath of extermination, the social existence of the deceased depends on the survivors’ capacity to always carry them with them in a shared destiny. For those who survived, the consequences of this rhetoric may generate a distressful feeling of living in a world of death that conforms to the perpetrator’s will. The survivor’s paradox is undoubtedly one of the principal consequences of this will to deprive prisoners of their human condition. It is a kind of interiorization of the perpetrator’s rhetoric. For the survivor to leave this world of death could mean abandoning the dead without a symbolic place where they could exist. But if he/she keeps them only in his/her own memory, that could signify that the survivor remains captive in the perpetrator’s world of death. In both cases, the survivor’s attempt to escape this paradox fails with the risk of confirming the abominable claim of the torturers. In this paper, the author emphasizes from an anthropological and psychotherapeutic point of view the dramatic logic of this rhetoric and its consequences long after the fact. Correspondence to: Richard Rechtman, Me ´decin Chef d’Etablissement de l’Institut Marcel Rivie `re, CHS La Verrie `re, 78 321 Le Mesnil Saint Denis Cedex, France. Email: [email protected] ISSN 1364–8470 (print)/ISSN 1469–2910 (online) ß 2006 Taylor & Francis DOI: 10.1080/136484705005162287
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Beyond Post-traumatic Stress Disorder The major traumatic consequences of the Cambodian genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge have been very well documented with large clinical and epidemio- logical surveys in the US (Kinzie et al . 1984, 1990; Boehnlein et al . 1985; Boehnlein 1987a; Mollica et al . 1987; Carlson & Rosser-Hogan 1993), in Australia (Eisenbruch & Handelman 1989; Silove 1992; Morris et al . 1993) and in France (Rechtman 1993, 1997, 2000b). Based on the American Psychiatric Association classification (APA 1980, 1994), these data confirm the high prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) among Cambodian refugees and show that, apart from some cultural
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