The dark side of history.
16.06.2011 30 °C
Like I said previously, we were in Phnom Penh. This account is quite graphic, I apologize if it's too much but it's exactly as it is... which is the reality of what the Cambodian people struggle through to heal from this tragedy.
It's difficult to believe that 3-4 million people were murdered in this country just 36 years ago. The first million were murdered during President Nixon's bombings of Cambodian sanctuaries in 1965 until 1970 (areas for rest, training and supplies during the Vietnamese war) but it's documented that a significant percentage of bombings didn't have targets and ended in the killing of many Cambodians.
We took a 6 hour bus from Saigon and spent 3 nights here. The first day we were here, we hired a tuk-tuk driver to take us to the Killing Fields and the S-21 Prison... it was a very sad day for us. The Killing Fields were horrifying yet upon first glance appeared to be a peaceful area of lush gardens and walking trails. This was an obvious elusion as we started walking through the fields... seeing the cases with fragments of bones from the murdered Cambodian people, the cases with the clothes found in the mass graves... we saw a toddler's shorts in one of the cases which was incredibly hard to take. We walked around to see these pits, about 130 of them, all mass graves with corpses ranging from 100-450 people who were brutally murdered between 1975 and 1978 by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge movement. The history is unbelievable... literally... unbelievable. The Killing Tree - another aspect of this that just seems unimaginable. This was the spot where babies were smashed against trees and thrown in the mass graves... The tree that housed a horn to drown out the sounds of the moans and screams from the victims as they were murdered or buried alive. Then we come to the massive monument that was erected to honor those murdered. There were 17 tiers of bones, skulls, clothing that just seemed to go on forever. The history of this genocide is difficult to read about but we felt so important to see as it's part of human reality, just as is every other ethnic/cultural cleansing in history like The Holocaust .
After the Killing Fields, we went to the S-21 prison (a former high school prior to the Khmer Rouge leadership). This was even more graphic and terrifying than we expected... room after room of torture chambers... wire beds with ankle locks and pictures on the walls of how victims were found when the Khmer Rouge surrendered... brutalized, starving and killed by a man's ideal of agrarian socialism in order to 'restart civilization'. We went to another building where there was room after room of pictures of all the victims (the Khmer Rouge documented everything carefully and photographed every person who entered the prison). Old and young adults, children, babies, teenagers - in summary, all ages - had been ''arrested'' and ultimately tortured and murdered within the 3.5 years. The human experimentation chambers aka torture chambers were dark, gloomy, with chains still on the floors where victims were held captive. Outside of the building was covered with barb wire so victims could not escape to commit suicide...
The rules for the prison were still standing in the courtyard and they stated (they are in French, Khmer and English so the translations aren't perfect):
1. You must answer accordingly to my questions - don't turn them away.
2. Don't try to hide the facts by making pretexts this and that. You are strictly prohibited to contest me.
3. Don't be a fool for you are a chap who dared to thwart the revolution.
4. You must immediately answer my questions without wasting time to reflect.
5. Don't tell me either about your immoralities or the essence of the revolution.
6. While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.
7. Do nothing, sit still and wait for my orders. If there is no order, keep quiet. When I ask you to do something, you must do it right away without protesting.
8. Don't make pretext about Kampuchea Krom in order to hide your secret or traitor.
9. If you don't follow all of the above rules, you shall get many lashes of electric wire.
10. If you disobey any point of my regulations you shall get either ten lashes or five shocks of electric charge.
At the time, about 1/4 of the entire population were killed by Pol Pot's regime. The photos around the prison of torture and brutality make any person question their own life. It's these moments in history that force us to question our own path and what it means. In summary, our visit to this city has creating a lot of discussion between Derek and myself. I will take this with me forever and it will influence the way we both live our lives, as has this whole experience of world-wide travel.
I hope this will be my only morbid entry... we're in Siem Reap for a week (and loving it here!) to experience the temples including Angkor Wat so I'm sure will find some peace here - I can see why everyone wants to stay as long as possible!
Love and miss you all!