Believe it or not, the whole of journalism’s history has yet to be put on the Web. And so we found ourselves at the New York Public Library last week, manning a microfilm reader in search of tidbits from the early 1970s. In the course of panning past endless panels from newspapers of yore, we stumbled upon a delectable surprise—a worthy entry for our ongoing Bulletproof Project, which seeks to catalogue all known instances of soldiers who were led to believe that magic could protect them from modern arms.
The clip we found features a most irresistible headline: “To Ward Off Bullets, Hold Buddha in Jaws, Says Magic Officer.” An edited version of the piece is available here, via Google’s newspaper archive. But if you’re in a hurry, let us just briefly quote the most vital morsels:
Capt. Mam Prom Mony is the officer in charge of magic for the Cambodian army’s 54th Infantry Brigade.
One of his jobs is to teach soldiers how to use charms and spells to ward off Communist bullets. The majority of [Cambodian] soldiers wear necklaces wear necklaces of amulets, often wrapped inside a magical scarf blessed by a Buddhist monk. Once the shooting starts, Cambodian soldiers like to grip an image of Buddha between clenched teeth…
Mam Prom Mony points out none of these magical shields is any good if the wearer fails to observe the five basic principles of Buddhism. To be protected, a [Cambodian] soldier must not kill any living creature with the exception of Communists, not steal, not lie, not commit adultery, or have adulterous thoughts or drink alcohol.
Failure to obey these precepts invalidates all magic. “When this happens,” Mam Prom Mony declared, “we say that a man has killed himself.”
We shudder at the brilliance of Capt. Mony’s plausible deniability. And we grieve for those gullible soldiers of his whose final thoughts on this Earth must surely have been, “If only I hadn’t let lust into my heart…”