Thursday, August 16, 2012

Histories: Doughboys and twisted pistols

World War I Monument, Phnom Penh, 1946-1962
Cambodia has changed dramatically over the years — days even. When I lived in Pursat for a year, I would return to Phnom Penh every few weeks and feel lost because so many many buildings had sprung up or a functional roundabout had been torn up and replaced with a treacherous intersection.

But while the skyscrapers rising over Phnom Penh are new, the constant rebuilding is not a new phenomenon. The Southeast Asia Digital Library exhibit "Then and Now: Historical Photographs of Cambodia" has thousands of photographs charting Cambodia's evolution over the past 70 years.

The above photo shows a monument built to honor those who died fighting to preserve Cambodia's imperial master, France. Standing in the middle of the Stad Jas traffic circle, it would be impossible to miss for people entering Phnom Penh from the north — a potent symbol of France's sway over Indochina.

But the doughboy is a symbol of a conflict many wars past:
This monument was built by the French to commemorate those who lost their lives in World War I. The statue was later destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. ... The site of the former monument is located close to the French Embassy, north of Monivong Boulevard.

anti-gun monument, phnom penh
A different monument, a pistol with a twisted barrel, now stands in the middle of the circle. It is intended to symbolize nonviolence, but it's easy to miss if you're roaring into Phnom Penh from Chroy Changvar or National Road 5.

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