Home > Local News > This year I learnt … by Rob Hamill

This year I learnt … by Rob Hamill



ROB HAMILL, 46, Olympic and trans-Atlantic rower, Te Pahu.

Thirty-two years ago Hamill’s eldest brother, Kerry, was abducted, tortured and killed by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
Rob Hamill (Photo: Reuters)
THIS YEAR I learnt……more about the thin and
fragile line separating good and evil. And that we are all capable of
both. Coming to understand that better has been quite…what is the
word? Scary?
This year I went to Cambodia
for the sentencing of Duch, the man who ran the prison my brother was
incarcerated in. I also spent time travelling the country interviewing
victims and perpetrators for a documentary we’re making called Brother
Number One. I’m trying to come to terms with the scary realisation
that, depending on circumstances, everyone, or almost everyone, is
capable of performing the atrocities these people committed. I was kind
of put in the difficult position of interviewing one of the people who
was responsible for torturing my brother. You might think it odd but I
didn’t wish to inflict a similar fate on him. Oh, don’t worry, I’ve had
thoughts of revenge, but I reckon violence met with violence achieves
nothing, other than perhaps creating more violence.

Fact is, I would have lowered
myself to the level of the perpetrator himself if I’d been aggressive.
Anyway, avoiding the emotional part gave me the opportunity to
recognise each individual Cambodian really was a victim in his or her
own way. The learnings from that little experience continues like the
grieving process.
That was my second time to
Cambodia. The first was last year with the trial, where I took the
stand to testify. I had been trying to get some reconciliation in my
own mind about what occurred, to allow me some freedom, you know, to
move on. And I was working towards that until I saw S-21, the prison
itself, then I just completely, I went really dark on it. Any chance of
forgiveness for that man Duch, who ran the prison, just evaporated. But
interviewing those individuals, victims and perpetrators, I’ve become
more open to the possibility of letting go again. It seems the more you
explore these things, the more you try to understand, the more you pull
away the veil of ignorance, then the more opportunity there is to allow
yourself to move on.
Kerry was missing for 16 months
before we heard the terrible news. About nine months after we
discovered Kerry’s fate, my second-oldest brother, John, killed
himself. And, you know, my parents were distraught but had no one to
talk to really. Of course, close relations did what they could to help
but my parents were pretty much isolated, there were no social support
professionals available. I guess if there’s a message there, I’d say to
people, reach out and try and talk about it. Cambodia is now finally
finding its own voice to talk about their past and be heard.
But the biggest learning has
come from Kerry himself. He was forced to write a confession, under
duress, stating that he was a CIA agent. He used that confession, I
believe, to remove himself from the horror by writing about life in New
Zealand and its geography: Great Barrier Island, National Park, the
list went on. And to emphasise the absurdity of the confession he named
his own friends and family as fellow CIA trainees and trainers. And,
sense of humour intact, he named Colonel Sanders as one of his
trainers. The most poignant part in the confession was where he named
the public speaking instructor as S.Tarr. Our mother’s name is Esther.
In this most dire of situations he was sending a coded message of love
and hope to Mum.
We all have choices how we
react to different situations. My brother chose, I think, a very brave,
courageous course that transported him home and by doing so he gave
himself something to live for, if only for that moment in time. 
 
Sunday Star Times (New Zealand)

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