Somber day at the Killing Fields

(written by Dave)

Today we visited the killing fields memorial, then the infamous prison S-21. In visiting these places, we witnessed just about the worst that mankind has to offer. I took many photos but at time had a slight tinge of guilt to be doing so. These places held so much suffering that it almost felt wrong to do anything more than stand and contemplate. As I sit here now typing this post, I realise that my photos and in fact the macabre-like memorials that are built serve a very important purpose. After the S-21 we had lunch and visited the Russian market. These later two stops took my mind far from the horrors that we’d seen in the morning. It is very easy to go back to normal life and quickly forget what happened here. Dwelling on the horrors is not going to bring the victims back but I figure the more folks that see or read about this sort of thing, the better chance we have of preventing it from happening again.

The statistics from the Cambodia genocide are startling by any measure, 2-3 million people were killed or died from starvation, out of a population of about 7 million. We will never know the real totals as the 25 years preceding the Khmer Rouge there was a brutal civil war and bombing from US to the border regions was significant. It is thought that 17,000 to 20,000 people passed through S21 on their way to the killing fields. We know that only 7 survived. S21 was a one way ticket for 17,000 to 20,000 people, we will never know the exact number. The Khmer Rouge kept careful records but towards the end, trucks of 200 to 300 people from the prison were arriving every night at the killing fields. Victims were mostly killed the same night and dropped into shallow mass graves. After the war, they excavated over half of the graves and have put the remains of close to 9,000 victims in a special built stupa, a memorial built in the traditional Khmer style.

While the statistics on the S21 prisoners and the wider genocide are startling, they are still just numbers. Standing in the killing fields stupa with the skulls of victims staring back at you brings more clarity than numbers ever will. Looking over the sunken mass graves or seeing the actual room and tools of torture really drives home that these were ordinary people just like the rest of us. In the early years, the Khmer Rouge started by killing former government officials, soldiers, as well as academics, doctors, teachers, students, monks and anyone thought to be educated – even people solely because they wore glasses. Later the madness turned on it’s own ranks and purged party activists and their families. Being in Cambodia at the time it must have seemed as though the world had gone mad.

While it is important to remember these terrible deeds, it is also important to be able to move on. There was a mother and three young children fishing at the large pond at the killing fields. I’m sure that they know what happened there but they also need to eat and pond provides them with fresh fish. As I mentioned at the start of the post, we moved on as well. Within hours, we were stuck into feverish negotiations over the price of souvenirs in the Russian Market. Still, I’m glad that I took so many photos to help us keep perspective on the day. The photos that follow may be hard to look at and I apologise if they offended anyone. While this is a public blog, today the photos and text are more about Nancy and I remembering what we saw and keeping everything in perspective.

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5 responses to “Somber day at the Killing Fields

  1. WOW…that is powerful! Surely makes you stop and think. Great to see the future and that human spirit does move on….may that never happen again…

  2. Thanks for sharing these photos. I agree with Becki… the hope in the girl’s face is promising. Are those cranes strung together so that there are thousands of them? Powerful.

  3. Thank you for sharing your day and pictures. It brought tears to my eyes reading your entry. So sad and hard to comprehend. The beautiful young girl in your photos does give hope of a more peaceful world. I wish you many wonderful and hopeful days ahead.

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