Director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia
"After the UN occupation of Cambodia and before the creation of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC Cam), Peter Maguire was among the first to travel to the Kingdom and raise the question of Khmer Rouge war crimes accountability. Initially, Maguire’s goal was to preserve historical evidence in order to create an unassailable historical record of Khmer Rouge atrocities. Although he worked with limited resources, Peter made some remarkable discoveries. Not only was he among the first to find and interview important Khmer Rouge victims and perpetrators, Maguire also recovered highly incriminating documentary evidence thought to be lost forever. At a very chaotic time in Cambodian history, he returned photographs, documents, and films to our people by donating them to DC Cam.
Maguire’s scholarship on the Nuremberg trials and the laws of war gave him more perspective than many others in the field. For example, Peter was the first to point out the added complexity of applying the Nuremberg model to a Buddhist country like Cambodia. When Khmer Rouge leader Ieng Sary surrendered to the Cambodian government in 1996, Maguire called for either an amnesty in exchange for testimony or a war crimes trial. Although he has been extremely critical of the UN’s war crimes trials in Cambodia, Peter has been a steadfast supporter of DC Cam’s efforts throughout the trial process. When defense lawyer Michael Karnavas called into question the validity of evidence he gave to DC Cam, Maguire wrote: "I have never pretended to be an objective observer and have always wanted the Khmer Rouge leaders to be held accountable. I held these views long before DC Cam came into existence…. I do not attempt to try to be neutral. I’m not neutral between the camp guards and the prisoners, between the raped women and the rapists.’" When in Cambodia, Maguire always took time out of his schedule to mentor DC Cam’s first generation of Cambodian scholars. He encouraged DC Cam’s Farina So to apply to Columbia University’s prestigious oral history program. After she was admitted, Peter made sure that she paid no tuition and even bought her a plane ticket from Phnom Penh to New York City. In the winter of 2012, Peter traveled with a DC Cam team to a Cambodian military base in Kompong Speu to teach the laws of war to Cambodian officers. Most recently, in 2012, he positively identified a Western prisoner at Tuol Sleng Prison whom Cambodian, American, and UN investigators could not identify.
Nobody has ever been able to buy or intimidate Peter Maguire and as a result, he is able to take an honest look at Cambodian society. He has no agenda other than to make us examine ourselves. Maguire does not cry with us over our past; instead, what he shows us could help us move beyond being mere survivors and take a larger part in our own futures."
Former senior non-fiction editor at Random House, Columbia University Press, and author
"Professional book editors quickly learn to distinguish between scholars and writers or they do not keep their jobs for very long. It is really quite rare to encounter first-rate scholars and researchers who are also truly original and profound writers able to change the way readers’ experience themselves and their world by the way they shape language on the page. Peter Maguire is that rare scholar whose excellence of analytic thought and commitment to the research required by his historical materials are matched by an equally intense dedication to the mastery of the art of getting across the meaning and potential intellectual and moral uses of the knowledge he creates through his honed and finely crafted prose.
I have been involved in working with Peter Maguire as an editor on all three of his four published books to date. My heaviest intervention was in his Facing Death in Cambodia. Editing that project was as rewarding, and taught me as much about both history and its literary expression, as any engagement I have had with any other author during a long career. Other authors whose work I have edited include Toni Morrison, Amartya Sen, and Paul Kennedy. I respect Peter’s research abilities and his dedication to his subject matter immensely. I am even more impressed, however, with his ability to develop for each project an appropriate voice and register of moral engagement through which to bring his reader intellectually and emotionally into the historical worlds he describes and analyzes so memorably and originally.
While I have never attended one of his classes, I have been present at several lectures with question and answer periods afterwards and have watched him interact with undergraduates, graduate students, and fellow authors and colleagues many times. He is one of the most engaging, lively, unpretentious, and enjoyable speakers and storytellers I have ever known. He listens and considers and sifts the points of view of others well—and does not hesitate to give others acknowledged credit when their ideas influence or change his own thinking. At the same time, he holds on to the value of his own best thought tenaciously and does not back down from his own best arguments.
I believe Peter’s gifts as a writer come primarily from two sources: first, from his work ethic, and, second, from his knowledge of good writing’s affinities with uninhibited, unforced, authentic interchanges among living voices discussing issues about which the speakers care passionately."
author of Soldier Dead: How We Recover, Identify, Bury, and Honor Our Military Fallen
"While conducting research at the National Archives for Soldier Dead, it was my good fortune to meet Peter Maguire. At that time he had just published Law and War: An American Story. Maguire, an independent thinker who pushes aside all preconceived notions of academic pedigrees, became interested in my work, but not because I was an established professor with all the professional bona fides. In fact, I was quite the opposite, a full-time Certified Public Accountant moonlighting as a historian. He recognized me as a fellow autodidact, who was clearly committed to the work necessary to research, write, and publish a book that still stands as the seminal work that draws from disparate fields to examine what happens to our military members once they are dead. In short, Maguire recognized passion and devotion to a project that no clear benefit to me other than satisfying the need to put light on a subject formally hidden in shadows. And (what I write next will really illustrate his own passion regarding excellent academic work) Maguire, himself, had nothing to gain from helping me move from research to publication with Columbia University Press. He truly is a person who sees the big picture, not asking, "How does this help me?" It would do the world good for Maguire to be able to help those who are driven to pursue a higher cause other than their own career."
Prof. Sophal Ear
author of Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy and The Hungry Dragon: How China’s Resources Quest Is Reshaping the World
"Dr. Peter Maguire is a true, unadulterated champion of independent thought. His own scholarship and his impact on other scholars are unparalleled. I was a tenure-track assistant professor, fumbling around for a publisher, when I stumbled on Peter’s second Columbia University Press book, Facing Death in Cambodia (2005). It quoted extensive passages from my undergraduate political science honors thesis, calling attention to Western academic supporters of the Khmer Rouge. The thesis, which delved into the denialism of Noam Chomsky, among others, had already earned me the threat of a libel lawsuit from one of my subjects, based in the UK. Peter saw my work for what it was, the cri de coeur of a twenty-year-old survivor of the Khmer Rouge genocide who wanted accountability.
I wrote to Peter for advice about getting my first book published--and the rest is history. We met up in Moss Landing, CA, near where I worked at the time, and then at Bard College, where he invited me to take part in a War Crimes and Human Rights Law conference with incredibly distinguished speakers. More importantly, in the intervening years, he cleared the brush from my book manuscript. Without his help I wouldn’t have gotten a book contract and been able to publish my tenure book, Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy (Columbia University Press, 2013), in which I critically examine donors’ complicity with a corrupt government to take away democratic accountability from the people of Cambodia. This won me no friends in the neoliberal international financial institutions where I’d once worked, but the ideas from the book have entered congressional legislation. When my published criticism of corruption and political interference in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal earned me persona non grata status from the then US Ambassador to Cambodia, Peter doubled down in his support of me, while my then dean quipped that I should be flown to Cambodia to apologize to the ambassador! Simply put, without Peter’s help, I wouldn’t be tenured and able to exercise academic freedom today.
Almost every other day, I’m asked to comment on current events in Cambodia for one news outlet or another. Speaking truth to power for those who can’t speak inside Cambodia is my duty—the rent I pay for my room here on earth, to quote Muhammad Ali. Fainting Robin Foundation perpetuates Dr. Maguire’s already stellar legacy of shepherding countless scholars like myself, and those far less fortunate, whose ideas cannot and must not be extinguished by academic orthodoxy."
"After my sister Katherine Ann Grgich was murdered in Cambodia in 2013, the State
Department accepted the Cambodian government’s claim that her brutal and senseless killing was an "accident." Although there was overwhelming evidence to the contrary, our government did nothing to bring her killers to justice. A mutual friend said that he knew someone who might be able to help and introduced me to Peter Maguire. When we finally met in person, Peter was very compassionate about my family’s loss, but at the same time, frank with me about the reality of "justice" in Cambodia. Peter continues assisting me in my search for justice and has helped me navigate this living nightmare. His willingness and selfless determination have given me hope that Katherine’s murderer(s) will be captured and the truth surrounding the cover up of her death will one day be exposed."
Cambodia correspondent: Voice of America, Radio Australia, Deutsche Welle and author of Leaving: A Disappearance, A Daughter’s Search, and Cambodia’s First War Criminal
"I first met Peter in 2001, shortly after I came to live and work in Cambodia. In the intervening years, he has proven a supportive colleague whose insights into stories I have written about Cambodia, in particular those about the Khmer Rouge tribunal, were always helpful. More than a decade later, my book – Leaving: A Disappearance, A Daughter’s Quest, and Cambodia’s First War Criminal – was approved for publication by Columbia University Press. I can say without hesitation that Peter has proved central to that acceptance process: when the time came for me to find a publisher, he generously offered to help. Although a number of people had made similar offers, Peter was alone in delivering. In addition, his skills both as a published writer and as a recognized authority on Cambodia and war crimes tribunals have been invaluable in ensuring that my manuscript attained the highest standards. His constructive criticism and judicious edits have contributed to a more nuanced and balanced manuscript, for which I am most grateful."
"It is not easy to write about someone whose motives and actions are always complex and sometimes contradictory. Yet, in my numerous encounters with Peter Maguire, I have recognized four constant qualities: intellectual integrity, justice, honor, and social responsibility.
I first met Peter in Cambodia in 2003 when I served as founding director of the Center for Khmer Studies, a hybrid Cambodian-international academic institution that aimed to support the rise of a new generation of humanistic intellectuals in Cambodia. At that time, Peter was working on his second book, Facing Death in Cambodia. I remember his enthusiasm and determination in the way he conducted his research, despite the difficulties he was facing in unmasking former Khmer Rouge perpetrators. He never gave in to the often patronizing and hypocritical consensual discourse of condemnation of the Pol Pot regime by mainstream advocates of Cambodia’s post-war “development,” which too often forgets Western responsibilities in the rise and continuing existence of the Khmer Rouge. After Peter gave me his first book on the Nuremberg trials (Law and War), I realized how his involvement in Cambodia was informed by the same quest for justice and social responsibility, regardless of contexts, beyond the conventional moralistic discourses.
Peter and I shared an admiration for the work and life of the Alsatian ethno-linguist Sylvain Vogel. This appreciation for Sylvain as both a brilliant scholar and an engaged social actor, was balanced by a shared disbelief in the way a researcher of his level could be kept out of official institutional academic circles even when his work far surpassed in quality what was being produced in these circles. My position as director of CKS was a privileged one in that I could not only assess the intrinsic quality of the work of scholars working on and around Cambodia. I could also gauge their commitment vis-à-vis the Center’s original mission which was to serve as a real intellectual meeting ground and a program supporting Cambodian future scholars.
Here, I sometimes encountered scholars ready, willing and able to use their knowledge to help revive a vibrant intellectual life in the war-shattered country. Sylvain was one of them. Not only did he set up Cambodia’s first linguistics program in Cambodia at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, he also taught Sanskrit there. During his fifteen years in the country, he remained relegated to second-class citizenship by the French academic establishment. Vogel’s teaching at the university meanwhile, always in Khmer (the Cambodian national language), not only trained Cambodian linguists, but also helped the Cambodian academy address one of the crucial questions for the country’s “sustainable development”: that of language modernization. This groundbreaking work ceased to receive support from the French embassy and Sylvain was forced to leave Southeast Asia. Perhaps his work was not "visible" enough? Perhaps it did not match the media savvy French “effort” in Angkor. Peter’s support for Sylvain, beyond his admiration for the scholar, stems from a recognition of the need to protect the integrity of scholars who, like Sylvain can easily be marginalized by "peers" or crushed by the financiers, diplomats or technocrats who employ them.
Another aspect of Peter’s engagement for justice, also shared with Sylvain, was his commitment to support the often forgotten members of the "montagnard" communities who live between the logic of national control by three adjacent countries: Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. These groups, whose cultures and attachments to their ancestors’ land are being slowly eradicated, sided with the French and American militaries during the two Indochinese wars. Most of them were abandoned to their fate when these armies retreated from the region. One connection between Peter and Sylvain, beyond their scholarly commitments, is a shared sense of lost honor and betrayal vis-à-vis these communities. They, together with a few others, sought to help members of the Bunong community who were persecuted by the Vietnamese and Cambodian armies, bringing them to safety, often to seek asylum in the United States. This is a less known example where Peter’s sense of honor and respect conflicts with the cold logic of raison d’État, when one’s own country fails to face the consequences of its past acts. "Not in our Name" is a slogan that could characterize his quest for justice and honor.
Towards the end of my tenure at CKS, as I was busy revising the book manuscript put aside for years because of my busy work, Peter introduced me to Peter Dimock, editor at Columbia University Press. Dimock is another example of uncompromising dedication to academic scholarship, someone who believes in and supports authors’ capacity to get their message through, with an amazing ability to sense when their works are important and ought to be brought to the wider public debate. For his own exigencies, Peter Dimock also paid a price. His commitment to innovative and quality publication did not fit the fluctuating demands of an "audit academic and publishing culture" mainly interested in fame and numbers, a trend that too often characterizes today’s universities increasingly operating as corporates. Dimock’s intellectual and professional integrity was best attested by the fact that his former colleagues at CUP continued to hold him as their standard bearer, long after he left them.
I later encountered Peter Maguire under much more unpleasant circumstances when I was embroiled in a personally destructive fight against a capricious faction of my board that sought to fire me without substantiated reasons nor proper compensation after ten years in Cambodia building the Center. Peter helped me to get over the emotional and personal distress this action was causing while making sure that I would be fairly compensated. He understood the larger issues at stake: beyond a petty power play and attempt to tarnish my integrity. He was outraged by a flawed system that allowed socially irresponsible people to destroy careers and ruin lives on a whim. He helped extricate me without damaging my basic interests and career. Together with a few other courageous individuals, he forced the board to face the fact that a project like CKS, so important for a country like Cambodia, ought not be left at the mercy of faraway, unaccountable interests. Here too, Peter stood, not just talked, against what he regarded as a moral duty to defend my personal and intellectual integrity and refused to yield to irresponsible behavior no matter the consequences.
In this dark era of collective blindness, where neoliberal coercive rule governs people as commodities, institutions as corporates and communities as liabilities, where the mechanisms of a neutral, democratic state are rarely found to protect, the moral, social and intellectual. The commitment of Peter Maguire is a light that helps one believes in justice
Lt. Col. Conrad Crane
West Point and Army War College professor and author of FM3-24 Counterinsurgency (COIN) and Cassandra in Oz: Counterinsurgency and Future War
"Peter Maguire has always been the model for me of a true "Renaissance man." I first met him when he was teaching at Bard College and organized a conference on ethics and war. He remains the most astute observer I know about the intricacies and outcomes of the war crimes process, not just after World War II but also in modern venues. But his life experience goes far beyond such narrow academic interests. His surfing days are legendary. He has taught martial arts to foreign militaries. He has designed his own line of watercraft and run his own business. He has written about a wide variety of topics ranging from the Nuremburg trials to the marijuana drug trade to war crimes in Cambodia. He has traveled all over the world and made his mark wherever he decided to apply himself. He has never let a real "box" restrain him, and is now managing programs to encourage other scholars with similar enlightening interests and innovative inclinations. Peter Maguire has helped make the world a much more lively and interesting place, and deserves extensive support in his efforts to assist others to do the same."