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The Killing Fields- Phnom Penh

One of the “must see’s” in Cambodia is the killing fields, which is a direct result from the mass murders of the Khmer Rouge performed in 1975-1979. I did not know much about the killing fields before going to Cambodia. I knew that it had to do with Pol Pot and mass murdering of the Cambodian people, and eventually they found mass graves of people. So before heading to the killing Fields and the genocide museum (S-21), I decided to check out a movie suggested by many simply titled The Killing Fields. I also read Wikipedia and viewed several videos on YouTube about Pol Pot and his claim to power.

 

First off in case you don’t know much about what happened to Cambodia only 35 years ago, a group known as Khmer Rouge, a communist party, took over Cambodia led by Pol Pot. He then began to execute anyone with an education or believed to be working with any foreign countries. If the Khmer Rouge killed a family member they then would kill the rest of the family as well to ensure the family would not want revenge on its killer. Pol Pot is quoted with “Better to kill an innocent by mistake than spare an enemy by mistake”. This would later lead to the death of almost 3,000,000 Cambodians; almost half of its population.

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My first stop would be the killing fields of Choeung Ek. When you arrive you receive an audio tour, which is very informative. It begins with how the Khmer Rouge gained their power and then how this place was used to kill thousands of people including women, children and even infants, along with first hand accounts from survivors. Bullets cost money so many deaths were not quick. The Khmer Rouge used many brutal and primitive ways to kill their victims.

Victims necks would be slit using the sharp bark of the tree
Victims necks would be slit using the sharp bark off of the tree
This tree is right next to a mass grave of woman and children. There is documented cases of the Khmer Rouge smacking babies against the tree and then throwing them into the grave.
This tree is right next to a mass grave of women and children. There are documented cases of the Khmer Rouge smacking babies against the tree and then throwing them into the grave.

This tree held a large speaker that played music all day and night so people could not hear the victims scream.

Everyone in this country has been affected by this terrible event. There are over 30,000 mass graves in Cambodia. At Choeung Ek, its no different. There are many graves there; some filled with women and children. The bones and clothing of the victims emerge from the earth still today and as you walk around you can see evidence of the evil that had happened here.

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At the end of the tour, you will see a commemorative stupa filled with the skulls of the victims of Choeung Ek. It almost doesn’t feel real when you’re in there; it almost seems impossible to believe that these were all people killed for no reason. But these are all victims of a murderer.

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Inside the stupa
Inside the stupa

After the Choeung Ek killing fields I went to S-21; a former Khmer Rouge prison. Here people were held in small cells, tortured and killed. They would interrogate people till they confessed things that weren’t true. At S-21 you can see that this was former school turned prison. Make shift cells still stand and you can see torture devices that were used.

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Rooms are filled with pictures of victims of s-21. The Khmer Rouge kept records on everyone.
Rooms are filled with pictures of victims of S-21. The Khmer Rouge kept records on everyone.

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This was not a happy day of travel. However I did learn a lot, but it then made me think. I wonder why this is not studied in school more? I don’t remember ever talking about Pol Pot at all in school. The only reason I may know about him is due to the Dead Kennedys song “Holiday in Cambodia”. This is a genocide that happened after WW2. We focus a lot on the holocaust, which we should, but we should also speak about how we let it happen again and again afterwards. There should be more education on such things.

 

Thank You for reading

 

-Jesse Boily

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