Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Cambodia: The Killing Fields and S21

There is so much history in this world and it's important we know about it. Before I left on this trip, I knew I would learn things that would surprise, enrage, and enlighten me. This is one of those stories that enraged me. 

I have already written about our lovely time in Cambodia, exploring around the ancient ruins of Angkor Wat and witnessing the resourcefulness and optimism of the people in Phnom Penh. Sadly, there is another side to Cambodia's story which is not so bright. 

What shocked me most about this story was how recently it happened and how in other parts of the world, at the same exact time, people were living peaceful, prosperous lives with no real knowledge of the pain and suffering that was simultaneously being endured by their peers in Cambodia. 

During the early 1970s, people lived normal lives in Phnom Penh. Kids went to school, parents worked, and government systems functioned properly. On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge, under the power of Pol Pot's communist regime, conquered Phnom Penh and immediately evacuated it's entire population. Within 72 hours, the city was completely empty and all of its residents were on their way to various camps or fields so that they could fulfill Pol Pot's dream of an agricultural-led nation of Cambodia. 

Pol Pot believed in Communism and believed that everyone in the country should be farmers. He believed that if the country focused solely on rice production they could build up their economy and become very prosperous. This vision also led to the killing of anyone who was educated or influential as he feared they could lead a rebellion against his regime. He even took wearing glasses as a sign that someone was smart and ordered them killed. 

While in Phnom Penh, we visited one of hundreds of killing fields in Cambodia (most are still undiscovered) that was used to perform mass killings of members of Pol Pot's regime that rebelled against the cause. It was sobering, to say the least. What hit me the hardest was that if one adult was considered "a bad seed" they would often kill all members of his or her family, even babies, thinking that their posterity would grow up with the same ideology as their parents and thus hurt the regime. 

{Here you can see the depressed graves in the ground where people were executed. The really sad thing is that the regime was so poor that they had to ration bullets so most executions were carried out by hitting people on the heads with farming tools or cutting their throats with sickels until they were dead.}

{This tree breaks my heart more than anything else. The men who carried out the executions would use this tree to kill babies. Babies would be picked up by their feet and swung against this tree trunk, their heads being whacked until they were dead. This makes me want to scream!}

{Mementoes left by visitors as a sign of respect for those killed here.}

After paying our respects (and shedding tears) at the killing fields, we made our way back to Phnom Penh, where we visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (formerly Office S.21). This was the prison, where people were incarcerated, questioned, and tortured before eventually being killed at the killing fields. The most ironic part about this place was that it used to be a primary school and high school before Pol Pot evacuated all of Phnom Penh. 

{"There are no diplomas, only diplomas one can visualize. If you wish to get a Baccalaureate, you have to get it at dams or canals." -- How this thinking can be good for a country or society, I HAVE NO IDEA.}

{Rooms like this were used for torturing members of the regime that were suspected of rebellion or espionage.}

{One of the many walls of photos of people imprisoned at S21}

{This used to be a classroom. Then it was turned into a hall of prison cells.}

{Photos of some of the tortured and some of the children imprisoned at S21}


Tanya Parker Mills said...

Catherine, I saw "The Killing Fields" many years ago. Reading this reminds me that I should watch it again. A very powerful movie!

Whitney said...

Wow, what an incredibly humbling experience. It is so sad it think that things like this occurred and I have never even heard of it. Thank you for sharing.

Erica Crismon said...

My heart hurts so much reading these posts. Even though I am bawling, I am grateful that you've shared your feelings and the experience you had. So important to just know of these things so that we can recognize when they may happen again. Humanity can be so evil and brutal and it is really hard to come to grips with that reality lately. Love you. Thanks again for sharing!