First They Killed My Father

First They Killed My Father Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Chou is demoted to a cook. After three months, Met Bong tells Loung that she is the hardest worker at the camp and the Angkar needs people like her. She is sent to a camp for stronger children, where she will train to become a soldier. The new camp is an hour away, and Loung is surprised when a young boy in a palm tree smiles and waves at her when she arrives.
In being separated from Chou, Loung is completely on her own for the first time in her young life. Her surprise at a simple friendly gesture from the palm tree boy—who will reappear in the Vietnamese displaced people’s camp—reveals how starved she is for kindness or companionship.
Themes
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Loung is the youngest of eighty girls there, some of whom have family in nearby villages and were selected based on their strength. There is also a boys’ camp, and the two groups meet for propaganda meetings around a bonfire where they must fervently praise the Angkar. The supervisors talk excitedly about how the Khmer soldiers are slaughtering the Youns, who are described as monsters who want to steal “children of the Angkar.” The new Met Bong encourages the children to report any traitors who speak against the Angkar. Suddenly Loung realizes that this must have been why Pa was killed; Ma, too, is against the Angkar, and no one can know. Loung raises her fist and screams “Angkar” with the others.
The Angkar attempts to brainwash children into supporting its genocidal ambitions by dehumanizing its enemies, exploiting fears of foreigners, and encouraging racial resentment. Loung finally gains a deeper understanding of the political reality around her; her raised fist could be interpreted as an attempt to avoid the fate of her father by acting the part of a loyal servant to the Angkar, as well as a manifestation of her rage in a form that the Khmer Rouge will not notice.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
After the speeches, four boys begin to play instruments, laughing and teasing one another. Loung, who has not heard laughter since the takeover, is shocked by their happiness. A group of girls wearing shiny black uniforms and red scarves with fake flowers then get up to sing songs of praise for Pol Pot and the Khmer soldiers. Despite the lyrics, Loung is happy to hear music once again, and reminisces about playing around in Keav’s stylish clothes with Chou in Phnom Penh. When the girls finish singing, they are all invited to dance. Met Bong says Loung is a good dancer, and that she will join the dance troop that performs for soldiers.
The children’s happiness and enthusiastic praise of Pol Pot contrasts disturbingly with the horror Loung has witnessed thus far. It suggests that the Khmer Rouge has been successful in its attempts to brainwash—or at least terrify—the group into submission. Nevertheless, Loung is able to enjoy the music because she has been denied pleasure for so long, and has learned to accept what little joy she can. Despite being on her own, Loung still feels deeply bonded to her sisters. 
Themes
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The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
Loung, who gives her name as Sarene to protect her identity, is at first excited to get new costumes and rehearsal time away from work. The rehearsals prove painful, however, as the girls have their hands bent backwards and wrapped in grass to eventually create a permanent curve. When not rehearsing, Loung works in the field. Leeches cover her feet; while another girl shows her how to swat them off, she also says she must get used to them. Picking rice is backbreaking, and Loung thinks about how Keav did this until she died.
Loung’s excitement over dance rehearsals highlights the fact that, despite everything she has been through, she is still very much a child. She is still subjected to horrific work conditions, but must once again quickly adapt to survive. Her painful thoughts of Keav add poignancy to the scene and reiterate her connection to her family.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
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Pol Pot is now recruiting all children from age eight to help fight against the Youns. Met Bong tells Loung that she is ahead of the other village children; she says that anyone can learn to use a weapon, but she has been training the children to follow orders without hesitation, even if it means killing “their traitor parents.”
The use of child soldiers shows both the Khmer Rouge’s barbarity and its desperate need for support in an increasingly difficult fight against the Vietnamese. Met Bong’s words reveal how the Khmer Rouge functions through strict, unquestioning loyalty. It seeks to destroy even the bond between children and parents.
Themes
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The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
Loung is lonely at the new camp without Chou, who was her closest companion in Phnom Penh. All of the new girls keep to themselves, knowing any secrets could be used against them. The closest thing Loung has to a friend is the palm tree boy, who she learns lives in a nearby village and collects sap with his father to bring to the chief. Though they have never spoken, he waves and tosses her fruit when he sees her.
The deep bond between Loung and Chou is again emphasized. This scene reveals that, even when it comes to children, one of the cruelest things the Khmer Rouge has done is to rob people of human connection. In the face of such horror, even simple gestures can mean a great deal. The palm tree boy’s father will later return as the Ung children’s first foster father.
Themes
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The Unbreakable Bonds of Family Theme Icon
Pol Pot has grown to be more important than the Angkar and is given credit for seemingly anything that happens. The children get gory details of the ways Khmer soldiers mutilate the Youns, which Loung reflects is an attempt to numb them to violence. People start being pulled from the camp, presumably to join the fighting, and eventually the boys’ side shuts down.
Despite preaching equality, Pol Pot becomes an even stronger dictatorial, corrupt figure than Lon Nol. The Khmer Rouge continues to dehumanize its enemies and inflame racial hatred. Loung’s experience reveals the horrific trauma inflicted on child soldiers in order to make them more able to kill.
Themes
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Loung spies Met Bong resting her head on the shoulder of the boys’ leader, and wonders why she is allowed companionship when the rest are not. Met Bong later gathers the remaining girls together and tells them that all the tools they have been using in the fields—hoes, sickles, rakes—can be used as weapons. She then makes Loung get up to demonstrate how to carry a rifle, which Met Bong says is easy to use.
Loung again recognizes the hypocrisy of the Khmer Rouge, which denies her the human companionship its leaders enjoy. Met Bong’s flippant assertion that rifles are easy to use reflects her lack of concern for human life.
Themes
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Loung has recurring vivid dreams of being attacked by a Khmer Rouge soldier or some sort of monster. They always end with her struggling to obtain control of the weapon and then turning into the killer of the monster herself. Met Bong continues to teach the girls that the Youns are savage monsters bent on destroying them.
Loung’s dreams are a manifestation of the deep trauma she has been subjected to, her constant fear of death from many different sides, and the intense rage that makes her want to kill.
Themes
The Price of Survival  Theme Icon
Genocide, Racism, and Propaganda Theme Icon
One night around the bonfire a girl screams and says she felt a cold hand attack her, and that it is a Youn coming to get them. Met Bong tells the girls to take loaded guns and shoot anything that moves. Though Pa once told Loung that the Youns were just like them, she now does not know what to believe. The girls find no evidence of an attack, but Met Bong insists the Youns are “raping girls and pillaging towns,” and makes the girls take turns guarding the camp. When it is Loung’s turn to guard, she reflects that Pol Pot does not love her like Met Bong says—he hates her, in fact, though she does not know why. That night she sleeps with her gun close to her chest.
So fervent is Met Bong in her dehumanization of the Vietnamese that Loung begins to get confused, revealing the power but also the irrationality of propaganda and paranoia. Even as Met Bong accuses the Vietnamese of raping and pillaging, it is clear from Loung’s experience that the Khmer Rouge does this as well—ultimately making her scary stories ring all the more hollow.
Themes
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