Michelle Obama Should Pay Her Respects to Victims of War

As an American with a Cambodian son and two Cambodian grandsons, I was deeply saddened when neither our president during his recent visit, nor our secretary of state during two visits, made even a gesture of remembrance of the nearly two million Cambodians who died in a genocide sparked by the Southeast Asian war of the 1960s and 70s. 

I voted twice for Barack Obama, and was surprised that he did not choose to visit any memorial site of the genocide. As first lady Michelle Obama visits Cambodia (U.S. First Lady Visits Cambodia, March 4), I urge her to visit a pagoda in Siem Reap and listen to a young woman chant smot, which is chanted to aid the passage of the soul to the afterlife.

The person who is offering to chant smot for Ms. Obama is Srey Pov.

Cambodian Living Arts, an organization founded by Cambodian-American Arn Chorn-Pond that I have worked with for 15 years, toward a renaissance of arts in the country, is very proud of Srey Pov. At 24, she is one of the country’s leading smot chanters.

She is also a model of how education can lift girls out of rural poverty and empower them. She is proud to be leading a movement to preserve traditional Cambodian arts, including smot.

Srey Pov is free to go with Ms. Obama this weekend to Wat Bo, in Siem Reap, where together they could pray for the souls of Cambodians who died without smot, and for the future of young women in a country where there is now hope for a far better quality of life than that of their grandmothers.

It would only take 20 minutes, Ms. Obama. You will be inspired by Srey Pov, and by smot. And your gesture would mean so much to Cambodians as a sign of American grief for Cambodia’s suffering, an unintended byproduct of our war in Southeast Asia. Cam­bodia has waited for 40 years to witness such a gesture.

Charley Todd, Cambodian Living Arts, President, Board of Directors

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