Friday, May 27, 2016

The Sad Sights in Cambodia

Unbelievable! Unless you see it.
We have found the Cambodian people to be as friendly and open as any we have met in the world. Our guides freely discussed the political and cultural ways of their world and shared much history with us.

I found it very sad to realize how many decades of war have torn this country apart, killing millions of people. In fact, something like fifty percent of the population is under age 25 because there has been so much killing over the years.

One of the many dig sites.
In preparation for one of our onshore tours, we watched the movie, "The Killing Fields" on the Mekong Princess and had a discussion with our guide. The actual visit to the Killing Fields was every bit as moving as the War Museum in Vietnam. Maybe more so.

I found this information about the political motivation at the time:

Fabric and bones are still surfacing from the earth.
"In 1975, the Khmer Rouge, a communist group led by a man named Pol Pot, took over the capital city of Phnom Penh. The Cambodians rejoiced as the civil war had come to an end. However, three hours after the Khmer Rouge victory, all civilians living in the cities were forcibly evacuated to the countryside, signaling the reign of terror. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge planned to bring the country back to “Year Zero” creating an equal society comprised of one agricultural class. Every intellectual Cambodian became an enemy. If a Cambodian had on glasses, knew another language, had foreign friends, or held a job other than farming, he or she would be tortured in prison. Those that refused to cooperate were executed. Those that did cooperate were sent to the fields to work 12 to 15 hours a day with only watery porridge to eat. Many workers in the field died of starvation, exhaustion or were murdered."

A tower of skulls!
The Khmer Rouge ruled under the motto, “To have you is no benefit, to lose you is no loss.” An estimated one to three million people died in what became known as the “Killing Fields.” We only visited one of the 343 Killing Fields in Cambodia. You can see why the population is so young; everyone older was killed by their own government!

Graves of victims at S-21
The genocide under the Pol Pot regime ended in 1979 when the Vietnamese invaded the country, liberating the Cambodian people. Every Cambodian knows exactly how long they endured the horror: 3 years, 8 months, and 20 days. Many families were separate and have not been reunited. It is commonly accepted that the missing members are probably in one of the "killing fields."

One of the S-21 buildings
As we walked through the field, we saw the areas of excavation from which they have removed hundreds of bodies that filled these mass graves. There were displays of shreds of fabric that were from the victims clothing. We saw bones in the ground as in display cases.

Interrogation and torture room.
There were signs indicating how many children were discovered in some of the graves. It was quite unnerving. However, children weren’t just victims, many of them were the executioners. The Khmer Rouge brainwashed children into becoming Khmer Rouge soldiers. They taught them to hate their parents and many of the child soldiers’ first victims were their own parents.

The most disturbing of all for me was the monument structure that housed hundreds of skulls, all looking out on four sides of the glass structure. It was unbearable to think of the torture they had endured before their deaths. Even though it sounds gruesome - and it was, it is important to have these reminders of the atrocities of war to remember the victims and avoid a repeat of such dreadful history.

Two of the cells.
We were all quite sullen when we left the Killing Fields. Everyone had been moved emotionally. Our next stop wasn't much more uplifting either. We went to S-21 Prison, the place where prisoners were held prior to being sent to the Killing Fields. Such torture! Death may have been a welcome escape. And this was just one of many of these prisons.

The building complex was originally the Tuol Svay Pray High School, but was renamed S-21 in 1976 when the Khmer Rouge turned it into a torture, interrogation and execution center. There were only seven survivors from the known 14,000 prisoners who entered there!

There were hundreds of portrats on display.

The torture chambers were gruesome! The prison cells were about 4'x5'. And the nearly 6,000 photographic portraits of the prisoners illustrate the horror of their situation. They actually pinned the identification numbers to the prisoners muscles! This place is very disturbing. It serves as another reminder of what should never be allowed to happen again.
Cells on both sides.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We would love to hear from you here. You can see earlier posts at