People who struggle with the concept of causation often (jokingly) like to note that Hitler was a vegetarian and therefore his protein deficit must have had something to do with his genocidal tendencies. If that is the case then Pol Pot must have been the most self-righteous of vegans who won’t eat anything with a shadow because what he did to this country is almost unfathomable. The official definition of decimation is to kill one in every ten people, under the Khmer Rouge 3 million people were killed from a population of 8 million.
Today I visited S-21 and the Killing Fields. S-21 was a prison housing thousands who were tortured and then sent for execution in the Killing Fields. The conditions and survivors stories were just heart breaking and truthfully I couldn’t spend a lot of time in there. I also spent two hours taking the audio guide tour around the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek one of hundreds of mass graves around Cambodia. Almost 9,000 bodies were found here and their remains are now housed in the monument built to commemorate the site. Every year on May 20th a ceremony is held here to honour their memory. Under the Khmer Rouge the 20th was the day that communal living was announced, essentially spelling the end of the family life in Cambodia, they have now reclaimed that day to celebrate their independence.
My day was a very sobering one and I was glad to have done some reading before I went to get a better understanding of how people were affected by what happened here. The two books I have read by Loung Ung are eye opening and I would recommend them to anyone. They are called ‘First they Killed my Father’ and ‘Lucky Child’. The story is heart breaking but as the author says “this is my story and if you were living in Cambodia this would be your story too”, a truly scary thought.
People here were separated from their families and starved to death, or killed in the most brutal fashion so as not to waste ammunition and then buried in mass graves. For me one of the great injustices is that on April 17th 1975 the Khmer Rouge took over and evacuated Phnom Penh starting one of the bloodiest periods in history, a country massacring its own people…and then many many years later, on April 17th, Pol Pot dies at home at the ripe old age of 82, something none of his victims ever had the luxury of experiencing. The fact that this man was still alive when I was 7 years old is boggling and that he was never brought to justice is saddening. I admire this country and its people for the way they have recovered and I would urge everyone to pay it a visit, just remember to bring the tissues.