The Killing Fields.

So, turns out Cambodia is not a stranger to awful, horrible, civil violence. This was something I did not know until I began my research, months ago, for the lesser talked about country on the South East Asia tour…

To sum up, in the early 70s there was a terrible presence in Cambodia known as the Khmer Rouge. Khmer is the term used to describe the life in Cambodia, so the people are Khmer people, they speak Khmer, you eat traditional food – it is Khmer, etc. It was a movement for Khmer Communism, where some people believed that Cambodia didn’t need outside assistance and wanted to be fully independent.

This is all happening during the beginning of the war in Vietnam, and where America stepped in to mediate. Of course Vietnam had threatened Cambodia and America being the protective intruder felt the need to “help.” So then Cambodia crossed Vietnam off its list and Pol Pot came to be a powerful leader for SOME of the Khmer people. He essentially became Cambodia’s Hitler.

Several years passed and as the US was more invested in the war in Vietnam, we left Cambodia to sort itself out. That led to the mass murders of millions. Millions. They still don’t have an exact number, which I can explain more soon, but it’s something like up to 3 million people died under the ruling of the Khmer Rouge out of an 8 million person population.

Pol Pot and the KR basically ran people out of cities and into the country with the ideal that those who eat the food, should help grow it. However it wasn’t sustainable. It turned people into killing machines, killing any person who appeared weak or against the KR at any given time, with no notice.

It was horrifying for the Khmer people to watch their brethren murdered in the streets, or carted off somewhere to never be seen or heard from again. This was the case. This was called The Killing Fields.  There are several sites, but the most infamous is the killing field in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capitol city now.

After picking up a copy of the book titled THE KILLING FIELDS, in Bangkok, I soon was encased in the history which is still very much a part of the living memory for so many in Cambodia due to it’s relative nearness in terms of time. I read the book and visited the site.

Completely unsure of what the killing fields would actually be, I started my day at S-21, which is the concentration camp of the KR. It was an old high school turned into a detention center where the victims were chained to beds and beaten, starved and tortured until they died.

Part of the KR’s brutality came because ammunition was so expensive, they couldn’t afford to shoot everybody. This led to massive amounts of beatings and tortures. They used everything they could, some even being the branches on the palm trees which are lacerated like the end of a sting ray so that when you stab someone it hurts, but when you pull it out it’s deadly and extremely painful.

So S-21 has the beds still there, and pictures of victims. It is a sobering experience to say the least. I had tears in my eyes as soon as I walked in. Conditions were grim, it is obvious. You walk around more and see cell type rooms, ones that would barely fit a full sized human for any period of time.

Walking around, getting to see this first hand and its present attempt to turn it into a museum to spread awareness and it’s a mixed site. As now, the grounds are well kept and there’s a quad of greenery in the middle of these buildings as when you’re walking down the hallway it’s to another classroom, and when you enter it’s dreadful and you feel the hope that had evaded from the poor souls who once knew those walls all to well.


After that, Caro, the man who was tuk-tuk-ing me around for the day drove me out of the town to the killing fields themself.

Phnom Penh is not a nice city, it is dirty and smelly. And that’s in town, so on our way out Caro gave me a sanitary mask to wear so I didn’t breath in all the pollution that was around. Finally, almost 20 minutes later we arrived at our destination. Me being a bit morbid thought it would literally be a field with skulls sticking out and a makeshift cardboard sign that read “Killing Fields.”

Thankfully, that it was not. Instead we drove up to a quite pretty scenery of green grass and trees. Once again Caro dropped me off at the entrance and pulled into the shaded area with all the other tuk tuk  drivers who were making their day’s wages by delivering tourists to a grave site.

For $6 you get an audio tour, which is good, because you really don’t realize what you’re looking at quite yet. Once you begin the audio journey and go from site to site you realize the sick, sad murders that took place less than 40 years ago.

People were trucked here and kept in a wooden cage until they were murdered, then their bodies were strewn about in the ditches that were dug. You can see bone sticking through the ground and there’s signs saying “Don’t step on bone.” The grave sites are covered in dirt, as they did exhume some of the bodies, much later on when the killing fields were discovered.

It turned out that although the KR was ruthless not everyone knew exactly what was going on. Or at least, not to the extent of the darkness. It wasn’t until Vietnam, during their similar struggles with civil war, poured over into Cambodia and overtook the KR that it stopped. Some people were saved but so many were lost.

As a result of the destruction only 5 people were tried in relation to the acts of the KR. Of those 5 not 1 was Pol Pot, the mastermind behind it. Pol Pot in fact lived a full life into his 70s where he died of natural causes.

It’s really crazy to think, of a country this size divided by it’s own people and that some were the bad guys and some were the ones forced into slaved labour to save their own lives and then, all of a sudden the ranks changed and everyone was release from their position and went back to a normal society.

It is of deep thought to realize that there may be people walking the streets today who were officers or murderers on behalf of the Khmer Rouge who are a part of society today. It is also a horrible thought to realize something so horrid happened after the Nazi party did a similar genocidal act and the world was in uproar. It is also a horrifying realization to realize that I didn’t have one clue about this part of history until I was almost 30.

Yet, I can recall countless movies that take place during “The Vietnam War” and that show ‘our’ side to that, when I’m finding out, whilst here – turns out there’s another side to that story. Think. Think. Think.

We are a society of westerners who really are spared the first hand tragedies of some really shitty lives. Lives that don’t have the opportunity to change the channel or go to the local mall to call on retail therapy to aide their troubles. There’s a whole world out here where things are not beaches and cities and the life that I know.

There’s still loads of traveller’s I’ve met along the way here who don’t grasp that fact. They’re here for the $3 hostels, $1 beer and a cool facebook update. It should be our responsibility as a world to take care of one another and make sure that one person doesn’t get too much power and decide to kill millions of people, yet this is something that has happened time and time again.

There seems not to be a way to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. So right now, I’ll just use awareness as my greatest weapon of defence against unjust genocide, murders, power and totalitarianism. The more you know…

**I did take pictures of The Killing Fields, and I usually don’t in situations like that, however I feel the need to share this and help people to become more aware, so I will post them at another time as I don’t have them on my computer at this moment.**

5 thoughts on “The Killing Fields.

  1. This is where I am showing my age. I was a teenager during all of that and remember all those names very well as they were on the news almost every night. Look up the movie “The Killing Fields” and don’t be put off by the fact that Mel Gibson plays the real-life war correspondent. The man who played his Cambodian contact, who had never acted before, won an Oscar for his portrayal. Watch the movie if you get a chance as it is based on a true story of that country at that time. Glad you learned about this, Duffy. I’m amazed it is not part of high school history.
    There was also a huge genocide in Africa in the 1990’s. The world did not learn from Hitlers evil…or maybe it did. Just the wrong lesson.

  2. I thought for a moment I had gone nutso, not recognizing Mel Gibson in the movie THE KILLING FIELDS even tho I liked him back then. Actually, it was Directed by Roland Joffé. With SAM WATERSTON (the reporter from the NY Times, who still writes for them, Haing S. Ngor, John Malkovich (plays the photographer), Julian Sands. An absolutely AMAZING film which should be taught in history classes.

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