First They Killed My Father

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One of seven children of a high-ranking government official, Loung Ung lived a privileged life in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh until the age of five. Then, in April 1975, Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge army stormed into the city, forcing Ung's family to flee and, eventually, to disperse. Loung was trained as a child soldier in a work camp for orphans, her siblings were sent to labor camps, and those who survived the horrors would not be reunited until the Khmer Rouge was destroyed.

Harrowing yet hopeful, Loung's powerful story is an unforgettable account of a family shaken and shattered, yet miraculously sustained by courage and love in the face of unspeakable brutality.

Curriculet Details
60 Questions
57 Annotations
3 Quizzes

Designed for students in ninth and tenth grades, this free digital curriculum contains annotations explaining the history of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, primary source images of life under the regime, and connections to other texts about children soldiers and oppressed people. It also contains interactive videos that support comprehension, such as videos about Toulmin Model of Argument and motif. Over the course of the book, students will answer Common Core questions and quizzes related to the subjects of structure of argument, use of symbolism, theme, and imagery to illustrate a central claim, and the use of first person present point of view to capture authenticity. This free online unit will increase student engagement while building reading comprehension.

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Phnom Penh: April 1975

The initial chapters in the text establish the exposition prior to the Khmer Rouge takeover. Though the time period is short compared to the majority of the novel, it is important because it will help the author establish her central argument or claim.  
What perspective is the story told from? 
Why do you think the author chooses to tell the story from the first-person point of view and in the present tense? Do you think her argument and account would be as compelling if she told the story from the omniscient perspective or as a reflective piece in the past tense? 
Loung's mother tells her that her father, "never forgot what it was like to be poor, and as a result, he takes his time to help others in need. People truly respect and like him." What does this imply about the family's current economic status? 

The Ung Family: April 1975

Consider life in the United States in 1975. Are the amenities that Loung describes in her family apartment a rarity or considered the "norm" (especially in urban areas)? The author includes this to purposely find very little difference in her life and the life of the contemporary reader. This will help to develop her central claim about the Khmer Rouge and their occupation of Cambodia. 
What do the conversations Loung and her father have on the balcony at night imply? 
To understand more about the conflict, please click on the link below and scroll down to the section titled "The Khmer Rouge Seizes Control." Cambodian history in the 1970's is complex because of the United States and Vietnamese influence due to the Vietnam War. The civil war in Cambodia began before the fall of Phnom Penh; Phnom Penh was the final city to fall to the Khmer Rouge and marks the beginning of a genocide within Cambodia. (This annotation contains a link)
Though the author's description of her family seems trite and characteristic of a five year old's capacities, which of the following excerpts indicates there is danger that is occurring beyond the scope of the author's perspective? 
Prior to its liberation in 1953, Cambodia was a French territory. Though Khmer is the primary language of Cambodia, french is still spoken frequently.  

Takeover: April 17, 1975

It is evident that Loung does not understand the Khmer Rouge takeover of the city or the civil war that has been fought for the past five years. However, her life will change forever once she and her family leave the city. It is important to understand her central claim of the text: the Khmer Rouge was an oppressive and destructive force. Under the Khmer Rouge regime, genocide and devastating cultural losses were suffered. As you read the text, use the Toulmin Model of Argument to help you identify other claims the author makes, evidence that support the claims, and warrants you may infer based on the evidence she presents. View the link below for a definition of the elements of the Toulmin Model of Argument.  (This annotation contains a video)
The author clearly did not understand what was happening in her city or with her family as an effect of the Khmer Rouge takeover. She does however note the differences in the men's appearance and the reactions they draw from the crowds in the city. Based on the author's account, what can you infer about the Khmer Rouge regime and who its supporters are? 
The family leaves the chaos of the city in an old truck to disguise their status. Loung's father knows the Khmer Rouge are a communist organization that are seeking to seize all private property and create a communal agrarian society in the newly titled Democratic State of Kampuchea. This is not congruent with the society that has developed thus far in cities like Phnom Penh which have thrived under Western influences such as technology, music, and dress. As a result, the Khmer Rouge will evacuate the 2.5 million residents of the city and begin to eradicate all elements of Western influence and modern culture in the process.  

Evacuation: April 1975

When Loung uses the toilet, her mother gives her money as a form of toilet paper. This is evidence of which developing claim? 
Though the author's father tries to reassure his family that "soon we will be where it is safe," the majority of Cambodia is undergoing a redevelopment by the Khmer Rouge. Under the direction of the Khmer Rouge, urban families were redistributed throughout the country and forced to farm and cultivate the land as part of the four year plan to create a solely agrarian society in Cambodia. The photo below is the mass exodus of families leaving the city of Phnom Penh in 1975.  (This annotation contains an image)
Read the highlighted statement. Which of the following claims is developed by this statement? 

Seven-Day Walk: April 1975

The author's insistence that her family can go home because "our three days will soon be over" indicates how innocent she was prior to the Khmer Rouge's takeover. The author establishes her innocence through the exposition in order to help develop her claim that war affects everyone regardless of age.  
Though they are instructed to register with the soldiers if they have worked for the deposed government, the author's father insists that they are a family of peasants. Why does he do this? What do you think the Khmer Rouge soldiers will do to those who do register? 
Throughout the text, the author contrasts the culturally accepted actions and practices versus the improper actions and unaccepted practices. She does this to support her claim that the Khmer Rouge regime is the cultural anthesis of what existed in Cambodia prior to its ruling.  
The author and her family have been outside the city for only six days. What does the image she uses convey how much their life has changed in six short days? 

Krang Truop: April 1975

The author contrasts she and her sister Chou often. Why do you think she presents her sister as her foil? Does this help the author to enhance her character development as a result the conflict within her country? 
Based on the author's father's description of Cambodian history, which primary conflict erupted into war? 
In addition to contrasting her life with her sister Chou's, the author often notes the differences between the peasants in Cambodia and the urban dwellers. This is important because it is the crux of the Khmer Rouge's mission: to eradicate urban influence from Cambodia because they believe it represents the Western influence in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge communist government attributes the economic divide to the Western influence. This situation is similar to the factors that contributed to the Russian Revolution in the early twentieth century. For more information about the Russian Revolution, click on the brief video below.  (This annotation contains a video)

Waiting Station: July 1975

How has the author's relationship with her father changed as a result of the Khmer Rouge regime and their forced relocations? 
Life in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge is similar to the Nazi and Fascist regimes and their oppression of people during World War II. Consider the stratification that occurs within the society as a result of social status. Who are the scapegoats in the society? And lastly, what has happened to loyalty and friendship in the community?  
What is an important physical indicator that someone is affiliated with the Khmer Rouge regime? 

Anlungthmor: July 1975

Throughout the text, the motifs of mistrust and appearance emerge. Though the author is writing her memoir to convey an explicit message to the audience about the impacts of war and the brutality of war, she utilizes literary devices to help her develop her argument and present her claim. To review motif, please view the video below.  (This annotation contains a video)
As the family works alongside the other members of the rural village, food becomes scarce and conditions worsen. This is an example of ___________ to support the claim that the Khmer Rouge regime was consistently a destructive and not constructive force. 
The Angkar was the broad term used to represent the officials with the communist regime. Historically, communist revolutions expel or eradicate scholars, religious figures, and artists because they are perceived as a threat the communist ideals. Why do you think religion, education, and art are threats to the communist regime? 

Ro Leap: November 1975

The chapters in the text are not numbered, but they are titled by dates. Elements of time are examples of  ___________ in the text.  
The author includes the indoctrination into the village life and the way of life under the Khmer Rouge regime in order to support her claim that the Khmer Rouge's belief system and goals are not in line with their actions or behavior. They state that there will be no differences among them, but there is a social stratification that emerges between the officials in the regime, the base people, and the relocated urban dwellers. The warrant you can infer from this evidence is that hierarchies in society cannot be avoided. They naturally develop as a result of cultural, political, or economic differences.  
Under the Angkar, children do not attend school because it will "clutter" their brains with "useless information." What threat does education pose to the newly established government? Use textual and historical references to support your answer. 
One of the author's claims is that war impacted the children of Cambodia more than people understood. As you read, consider the psychological effects of war on the children and the physical effects of the systematic starvation the children endured on their physical and mental development.  
The forced labor and the nightly indoctrination meetings dramatically change the family dynamic within the Ung family. They no longer spend quality or leisure time together, and during the time they do have they are unable to speak freely. What does this imply about the Khmer Rouge's feelings about the family structure? 
Which literary device does the author employ in order to convey the Khmer Rouge's disregard for religious symbols and artifacts? 

Labor Camps: January 1976

The author includes anecdotes such as the story of Davi in order to support her claim that the Khmer Rouge regime was an oppressive and destructive force.  
Which of the following warrants can be inferred from Davi's anecdote?  
From this point forward in the text, the Vietnamese forces will be referred to as the "Youns." This is a derogatory term for the soldiers. The author relays information that she is told about the Vietnamese forces frankly. After reflecting, it is evident that some of this information is propaganda and blatant lies to instill fear in the Cambodian people and insure their allegiance to the Khmer Rouge forces. 
In order to stay alive, the Ung family must endure forced separation, toiling endless hours in the fields, and physical and mental abuse at the hands of their oppressors. All of these acts are slowly killing them, but they must do endure in order to survive. This is an example of which literary device? 
Click on the link below to view a mini-biography of Pol Pot and his rise to power.  (This annotation contains a video)
Quiz #1 
Read the highlighted statement. How does the author use her first-person limited perspective in order to convey the societal frustrations? Use textual evidence to support your answer  

New Year’s: April 1976

The author uses the passage of New Year's to symbolize the change and the growing hatred inside her character. The passage of time is also a symbol of her former life and the idealism that the communist regime is devoid of. 
The author explains how she feels sympathy for the man who killed and ate the stray dog without sharing with the community because she "would have done the very same thing to my dog." Which theme is illustrated through this anecdote? 
The author uses the themes of loss of identity, sacrifice, and perseverance and survival as evidence and backing in her argument. The examples that illustrate these themes also illustrate the breadth and depth of the destruction at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. 
The highlighted excerpt is an example of which literary device? 
Based on your answer to the previous question, what does the author convey to the audience when she states, "I guess the Angkar doesn't understand that we need to eat"? Use textual evidence to support your answer. 
The guilt the author feels about the stolen rice is evidence of how her character is changing as a result of the impact of the war. This supports her claim that children are as impacted as the adults in the country. They suffer a loss of innocence and they become more hardened as a result of their experiences.  
Based on the highlighted passage, which literary device does the author use to convey the effects of war on her family? 

Keav: August 1976

In the labor camp for teenagers, the author notes that "girls are given less food than the boys but are expected to work just as hard." This is an example of backing for which warrant? 
The passages that are italicized are not based on the author's knowledge of events but on what she imagines happens. Though these images seem surreal, they are probably not unrealistic. Under the Khmer Rouge regime, diseases that could easily be cured by medicine such as dysentery or cholera, were deadly because of the execution of doctors and the eradication of Western influence. 
The story of Keav's death and the conditions the hospital staff allows her to wallow in are __________ for the warrant that the Khmer Rouge does not value human life.  
The ideas of karma and reincarnation are elements of the Buddhist faith. For more information about Buddhism and the core beliefs, click on the link below.  (This annotation contains a link)

Pa: December 1976

The author's father believes that the Khmer Rouge are eliminating anyone they believe to have ties to the former government because they fear they will be the source of a revolt. Which term best characters the Khmer Rouge's actions? 
Based on the previous events and the author's father's actions, what can you predict will happen to her father when he leaves with the soldiers? Use textual parallels from the plot to support your response.  
The stories the author relays to the audience are speculation, but many are based in fact. The image below is of a child looking at the remains of the dead under Pol Pot's regime.  (This annotation contains an image)
The author conveys her hatred and desire to kill Pol Pot and the regime for what they are doing to her family. This is backing for which warrant? 
Through her vision of her father, the author conveys how important it is to hold onto the images of her family as they once were an not how they became after one year of life under the Khmer Rouge. This also supports the claim that life under the oppressive regime was destructive. 
The author conveys that the fellow villagers judge her mother and degrade her after the death of the author's father. She states, "it is too dangerous to have friends." This illustrates which goal of the Khmer Rouge regime? 

Ma’s Little Monkey: April 1977

After the author's father's death, her mother ceases to call her brother by his nickname, "he is Kim now."  Which theme does this illustrate? 
The author's belief that Pol Pot's soldiers are omnipotent implies they are all powerful. This illustrates her limited point of view because the Khmer Rouge are battling Vietnamese troops for control of Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge troops are omnipresent. They are everywhere.  
The author includes the anecdote about Kim's suppression of his longing for their father and his refusal to express his grief as grounds for which claim? 
It is easy to forget that Kim is a young boy of 12. He is a seventh grader. Can you imagine if two grown men with guns beat a child in our society? What punishment and wrath would that incur? 
The author notes how her brother endures another painful beating because he feels the responsibility to provide for his family. Which theme does this illustrate?  

Leaving Home: May 1977

These famines were the result of the Khmer Rouge's attempt to reform farming methods, and the organization's unrealistic expectations for individual production of crops.  
The ubiquitous paranoia of the Khmer Rouge results in the genocide of entire families. What does this foreshadow for the remaining Ung family members?  
Have you ever been separated from your parents while out in a public place? Do you remember the panic that sets in when you realized you were all alone? Imagine how the author felt when she must enter a war zone alone at the age of eight. It is that feeling of panic on a much grander scale.  
The camp that the author and sister arrive at is one of many "orphan camps" where children were indoctrinated into the Khmer Rouge regime. Here they were taught to report and even kill their own parents if the opposed Pol Pot and communism. They were also taught to be child soldiers. This same process is reportedly occurring in Syria by ISIS soldiers. Click on the link below to read the news story.  (This annotation contains a link)
What is ironic about the indoctrination rituals and their impact on the author? 
The author and her sister are two sides of the same coin. By using her sister as a foil, the author presents a different viewpoint of the Khmer Rouge than her own, which allows her to address the possible limitations in her claim or rebuttals to her claim.  

Child Soldiers: August 1977

Compare and contrast the author from the time she and her family left Phnom Penh in 1975 to August in 1977. How has the author's tone and perspective changed due to the influence of violence? Use textual evidence to support your answer.  
The idea of using children as soldiers is not new and the Khmer Rouge were not the first force to use indoctrination in order to evangelize the youngest generations to support their cause. Click on the link below to listen and read an interview with a former child soldier from Sierra Leone. Ishmael Beah is the author of A Long Way Gone; another memoir about a contemporary child soldier's experiences.  (This annotation has embedded rich content)
Which of the following excerpts is backing for the warrant that life under the Khmer Rouge was devoid of felicity?  
In order to retain order, the Khmer Rouge must create a society that is built on mistrust and extreme nationalism. This prevents bonds to develop that threaten to usurp the authority and power of the regime.  
As the author is taught how to use weapons, she does not react and sits apathetic to the brutality demonstrated before her. Secretly, she is feeding her hatred with the thoughts about her family. This example is grounds for which claim? 
Though the author has changed dramatically since the beginning of her journey, she is exemplifies naiveté when she says, "The only world I know beyond this camp is the one Met Bong describes to me." 
What does the highlighted passage illustrate about the author's character? 

Gold for Chicken: November 1977

Throughout the text, the author marks the changes in her life by the passage of New Year's, their birthdays, and her younger sister's development. Though Geak may not comprehend the world around her, it is deeply impacting her physiological and psychological growth. The author states, "Though she is five, I always think of her as a baby." Think back to the beginning of the text, was the author as infantile as Geak? Or was she more resilient? 
The story of the author's mother's attempt to get a chicken for Geak is evidence of which motif? 
The highlighted passage is another example of grounds for the claim that children are deeply impacted by conflict even though they may not be able to convey their emotions clearly. 

The Last Gathering: May 1978

How does the author use dates and marking the passage of time as symbols of the era of oppression and brutality? Use textual evidence to support your answer.  
The title of the chapter is "The Last Gathering: May 1978." This indicates that the author will not see some of her family again. Can you predict who the author may lose in the next year of her life? 
The author is repeatedly forced to abandon her former life in pieces. First her home, then her brothers, her sister, her father, her nuclear family, and now her mother once again. Which claim does this support? 

The Walls Crumble: November 1978

Based on previous events, it is evident that the Khmer Rouge have taken and killed Geak and Ma. At this point in history, the Khmer Rouge are killing anyone they believe will be detrimental to their maintenance of power. By the end of their reign, over two million people are executed or die of disease and starvation.  
Though the italics convey the details of her mother's death are unknown and created by the author, it is evident that the author believed her mother was ___________ about her fear until her death.  
Often times people will not remember a traumatic event as a form of coping mechanism. This is one of the traits of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Click on the link below for a brief definition and symptoms of PTSD.  (This annotation contains a link)
Quiz #2 

The Youn Invasion: January 1979

The scene of confusion and death the author describes is similar to events in which of the following texts? 
The Vietnamese were able to force the Khmer Rouge to retreat due to defecting members of the Khmer Rouge's army's assistance. The Khmer Rouge is not defeated by the Vietnamese; they will continue to remain along the border of Thailand for the next ten years, but they lose control of the majority Cambodia.  
Kim's explanation of a tank versus the farmer's description of a "monster" exemplifies  
The camps in Cambodia in 1979 present their own problems for the freed Cambodians. There is disease, starvation, and the threat of violence in the form of rape or beatings from within the camp. The image below is of a baby in one of the camps.  (This annotation contains an image)

The First Foster Family: January 1979

The title of this chapter is "The First Foster Family." This indicates that the author will endure other foster families before her journey is complete. Remember, the camps are better than life under the Khmer Rouge, but they are not a return to the former life the author was forced to abandon. 
The author's interactions with her foster family and her foster brother illustrate which motif? 
The author uses repetition of anecdotes that illustrate the motif of mistrust to convey the unstable environment she must endure while trying to reunite with her family. There is no one to protect she and her siblings and no one she can trust.  
The author's statement, "I'm never going to be that stupid again. I want to report him to the authorities" is an example of an oxymoron. Why? Use textual evidence to support your answer.  
When the author hears her father's voice reassuring her that she is valuable and that she will be more than a foster child or a prostitute because she has "everything my Pa gave me" illustrates all of the following characteristics except 

Flying Bullets: February 1979

The author reiterates that her safety is not guaranteed while in a Vietnamese controlled camp. This helps to illustrate the instability of the environment as well as the author's ability to adapt to the cultural and environmental changes over the past four years.  
The author includes the anecdote about the grandmother's wound and her treatment at the local hospital to convey 
Throughout the latter part of the text there is a clear sense of apathy about the fate of the author and her family. Do you think this apathy existed four years prior? Or do you think this is a result of the systematic breakdown of community under the Khmer Rouge regime? 
The author states that, "Holding on to my hate for the Khmer Rouge also allows me to go on living the mundane details of life." Her hatred is her  
The author and her siblings are suffering from some sort of eye infection that is most likely a result of the poor sanitary conditions they are living in. Their foster mother blames their condition on sin. This illustrates the disparities in education between the rural people and the urban people in Cambodia.  

Khmer Rouge Attack: February 1979

When the shelter is bombed, the author notes that her friend is killed and after touching Pithy's head, the author must "wipe her blood and brains on [her] pant legs." What does the author's tone indicate about the evolution of her character? Use textual evidence to support your answer.  
Decapitating victims and leaving the heads was a tactic used by Khmer Rouge to send a message to any infidels. Explicit and visual violence is often used as a deterrent in oppressive regimes.  
Why does the author feel that the tents and soiled hammocks are "more like a home to [her] than the biggest hut here"? 

The Execution: March 1979

The people who were victims of the Khmer Rouge wanted justice to be served in any form. This was especially challenging because the leadership of the Khmer Rouge were not formally punished for many years after the genocide, even though Khmer Rouge continued to exist until Pol Pot's death in 1998. Pol Pot was not even formally convicted of war crimes prior to his death. So the only solace some of the victims find is in torturing individual men who become symbols for the heinous deeds inflicted on the innocent victims.  
The author states, "Pol Pot has turned me into someone who wants to kill." This is grounds to support which claim?  
Do you think you would ever want to witness an execution? Imagine how desperate for vengeance the author and other children must be that they feel they must not only witness the execution but check to be sure the soldier is indeed dead. 

Back to Bat Deng: April 1979

The author describes her deceased family members as "trapped and unable to go home." What does this convey about the psychological impact of their deaths on the author? What feelings do you believe she harbors because she was able to survive? Lastly, how does this serve as grounds for the claim that children are victims of this conflict too? 
Consider the differences between the author's culture and your own. If you endured a terrible tragedy, would you be encouraged to discuss your emotions or be expected to not remember the details or not discuss the impact it had on you? 
In the beginning of the text, the red ruby earrings symbolized a social and economic distinction. What do the earrings symbolize now? 
The foil of the author and her sister is utilized once again to demonstrate the author's change in demeanor and personality. Prior to the conflict in Cambodia, the author was childish, emotional, and expected to be reactive. Now, the author contends that she is "strong" so she cannot react or cry the way her sister is expected to. It is evidence that her struggle is ongoing.  

From Cambodia to Vietnam: October 1979

Do you believe that Meng forgot to show the author her former home? What other reasons could he have for not bringing her there? Use textual and historical evidence to support your response.  
Click on the link below to read a brief summary about life in America in 1980. Contrast that life to the life of the author.  (This annotation contains a link)
Though the author has escaped persecution at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, what must she contend with and be wary of as she tries to flee to America? 
The stories of piracy of refugee boats was notorious. Click on the link below to read more information and primary accounts of the refugees treatment at the hands of the pirates.  (This annotation contains a link)

Lam Sing Refugee Camp: February 1980

The Lam Sing Refugee Camp existed from 1976-1981. Below is a map that indicates where the camp was located. Here families were given bamboo huts to live in while they awaited sponsorship from family or friends in the United States and Canada. In order to immigrate into those countries, you needed a sponsor. The camp also had pastors that converted many of the refugees to Christianity. Overall, the people who survived, to live in the camps, were grateful to have escaped oppression and the journey as "boat people." (This annotation contains an image)
What can you infer from the highlighted passage about the author's beliefs about abuse and crimes against women? 
Once again, a symbol from her childhood has been distorted and has a new connotation. What does the red dress symbolize to the author after her journey? 


The author mentions the crisis in Ethiopia in order to convey  
Though the author is impacted by the horrific atrocities she and her family suffered under the Khmer Rouge regime, she does find solace in her culture, her homeland, and her family. 
Quiz #3