Resting at the top of a tower after the arduous climb up the mountain/hill left time for reflection and two predominant thoughts.

First, we simply hiked the 800m up to get to the top. Imagining the quantity of human labor needed to move rocks/bricks to the top and build the walls seemed very “pyramid-like” in effort.

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My second thought was what would it be like living up here as a soldier? Kilometers of empty wall to patrol as you watched for the hordes from the north. Looking out across the mountain from our tower you can see the wall snake it’s way along a ridge. In this area, a strategic pass between the mountains, the Chinese had built walls along different ridges.

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A 300mm shot. You can see the wall making it’s way up some very steep terrain. According to our guide, that area of the wall is like mountain climbing and quite treacherous, for some deadly.

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Imagine sitting on that tower 700 years ago, watching for an invasion in January.


(Updated as I accidentally merged two posts)

I am so glad we visited this site. It would have been a huge miss had we not.

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I am a big fan of TripAdvisor as it helps you understand what is really available in a city or country – especially if you want to get a little bit off the beaten path. Reading the reviews there were more than a few people who said this is a must see, filled with old Russian and a few American remnants from a terrible period in Cambodia’s history.

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Everything is open to explore. Feel free to climb on, in and around them to see these decades old remnants.

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Our guide was a war veteran and his tale is heartbreaking – and worth telling here for others to read.

If you have read about Pol Pot and the Khmer reign of terror you will know that millions died. Pol Pot killed anyone with an education and engaged in a mad scheme to return Cambodia to an agrarian lifestyle with the goal of eliminating Cambodia’s dependence on foreign powers who had occupied, pillaged and generally mistreated the country. Entire cities like Siem Reap were emptied and the men were rounded up to serve in the army.

He was such a target. At 14 he was supposed to be taken away to join. His family hid him to keep him from the Khmer army. At a check point he was asked if he was a boy or a girl and he accidentally answered boy. His father, knowing he was caught, began yelling at him for blurting out the wrong thing as the Khmer commander was notified.

His father begged to let his son stay as he was too young which infuriated the ruthless commander. In moments, they shot his father and then shot his mother and two sisters as they tried to collect the fathers body. A few others from their village were also killed when they engaged in the dispute.

At 14 he was taken by the Khmer, just not fathomable. He spent years on the front, escaped into Vietnam and then returned to Cambodia only to step on a land mine and lose his leg.

Abandoned to fend for himself, he was an outcast until an Australian came along and rescued him. They flew him out of the country, got him prosthetics and helped him mentally recover. But as he said, how do you ever recover? Listening to his story, it was just so unfathomable and during the Pol Pot, Khmer reign of terror a sadly common story. No one was left unaffected.

Hearing it first hand is shocking.

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Just hearing that story made the trip to this museum a must see.

Along the wall there are several buildings that house hundreds of weapons, that you can handle. Fascinating to pick up an RPG.

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I cannot recommend it enough – a must see.


This memorial is located at the cave where Colonel Kunio Nakagawa, leader of the Japanese troops on Peleliu Island, committed suicide during World War II. He led his men to certain death. 12,000 Japanese troops fought a battle with no hope of winning, dying instead of surrendering honorably.

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To me it was a memorial to the differences in cultures, because I do not understand his leadership or see suicide as honorable. Under his leadership they mutilated Americans that they captured in direct contradiction to the Geneva Convention and justified all actions, regardless of how inhumane they were, as acceptable due to divine right.

The memorial seemed an affront to peace, sensibility, and to the terrible fate of those poor, common Japanese soldiers who were given no options but death.



I have never been to war but have always been fascinated by history, specifically our world’s long track record of epic conflict. While on holiday over the Christmas break I had the opportunity to read What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes.

It is VERY different than anything I have ever read before with the author opening up in a way that few do, uncovering every deep and ugly thought and emotion of the impact that war had on him as a young man (specifically – Vietnam). He also make far reaching observations on the state of society that I found captivating, and disturbing. This one in particular, on evil:

Evil is very ordinary. We don’t have to look far to see its causes. It’s the little things, such as being as tired and not inspecting the mortar tripod closely enough, or not recycling the plastic or letting kids eat junk food that abuses their health because parents’ working or social life is more important that preparing a decent meal at home…. Cruelty is as mundane and common as cruelty in child rearing.

Many will find this a very uncomfortable read (I did). There is nothing glorious about war or the savagery of humanity and Marlantes does not shirk from the dark, even his own dark side. In the end, I would agree with this recommendation that all young people who sign up for a warrior’s job should read this book (or one’s like it). It makes one think broadly, well beyond the bravado and glory stories of a hill taken.

A book that makes me think, well past the day that the last page was read.



I have been on a bit of a reading push over the last 6 weeks, catching up on magazines and reading 7 books. I am half way through Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes, a fictional book on the Vietnam war. The highly rated book reminds me of the movie Platoon, it is certainly full of despair and young men dying. There are a host of interesting leadership situations to contemplate through the book and on Sunday night I was struck by this passage:

“It used to be if you were out in the bush operating independently like we are, no one would second-guess the skipper. They didn’t have the radio power back then. Now they do, and the —- brass think they’re out on patrol. And now the smallest units are run by the colonels and generals, hell, right up to the president. Colonel and above used to be the level where people dealt with all the political shit like congressmen on junkets, television, reporters, you name it. But now those guys are running the show right down to this ——- river canyon and we’re in the politics too. And the better the radios, the worse it’s going to get. The politics is going to come right down to the company level, and people like Fitch and Scar are going to be culled out and people like you will take over.”

An interesting point. So far from the line, calling the shots and reducing autonomy of the front line leaders. One has to wonder what is lost in this new chain of command. I woke up the next morning (yesterday) to this headline, ‘Obama, aides watched and waited during bin Laden swoop’:

Brennan would not say exactly how Obama and his top advisors were able to follow Sunday’s 40-minute Navy SEAL operation unfolding in real time — but the suspicion was that some kind of sophisticated communications technology was available to them.

"We were able to monitor the situation in real time," was all he would say.

A decision like this had to be made at the highest levels due to the significant political risks. But, beyond a extraordinary situation, one has to wonder whether the technology improves leadership effectiveness or erodes it through micro-management? I lean toward erosion.


Over the past weeks I have watched the HBO show ‘Generation Kill’ and read the book Sniper One. They are a depressing depiction of the state of Iraq.

Generation Kill has a fascinating history and I was surprised to find that much of the story is fact based (surprised because of several of the events, certain characters and the way in which the initial invasion was carried out). It is based on the book Generation Kill, which is based on a 3 part article written by a Rolling Stone reporter during the invasion:

Generation Kill (2004) is a book written by Rolling Stone journalist Evan Wright chronicling his experience as an embedded reporter with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion‎ during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. His account of life with the Marines was originally published as a three-part series in Rolling Stone in the fall of 2003. “The Killer Elite”, the first of these articles, went on to win a National Magazine Award for Excellence in Reporting in 2004.[1]

If you read the write up, it is interesting to note that there were ramifications for many in the article as Evan Wright spared no one, making many of the officers looks like asses:

The book also details rising tensions between the men and a couple of their commanders, including Capt. David McGraw, whom the men referred to as Captain America. Mr. Wright describes the captain as firing randomly on several occasions, endangering his men and generally spreading panic.

Mr. Wright writes: ”One of the enlisted men in his vehicle challenges him. ‘What are you shooting at?’ he asks him.” The marine then says, ” ‘The guy is not right in the head.’ ” Both comments are breaches of authority.

Later Mr. Wright writes of Captain McGraw poking a prisoner in the neck with a bayonet.

Of course, not everyone agrees with the depiction, a full rebuttal can be read here. There appears to be a few inconsistencies. You can also see footage from one of the Marines here. Interesting.

The problem is that Sniper One and movies like Stop Loss pass on the same overall message as Generation Kill, the place is a mess, that the soldiers are frustrated and the people who are paying for it are the civilians. In both accounts, there are mindless killings. There is the F-18 strike on a village with no one but women and children in it, there is the Sniper One story of the guy riding his bike down a street and getting his leg blown off.

I was left with a real feeling that it is all very sad.