Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields...

Before coming to Cambodia, I knew who the Khmer Rouge were and who "Brother No. 1" Pol Pot was.  I have not read the novel or seen the movie "The Killing Fields", but I think that I should.  I did know that I wanted to visit one of the killing fields sites if at all possible during my stay in Cambodia.  Thankfully (for me not the victims), there were numerous killing fields all around Cambodia including this one in Siem Reap.
I will refer you to better historical references than my limited knowledge about the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot.  But in brief, here is a little of what I know.  The Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975.  Pol Pot was the movement's leader and was educated in France.  The Khmer Rouge wanted to remake Cambodia (previously a kingdom) into a communist, agrarian utopia.  But with all authoritarian regimes, suppression then murder then paranoid genocide of the opposition and innocents soon followed.  Of course the USA had a hand in the rise of Pol Pot even though your history books will usually only tell you that we opposed the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot's regime which is largely true since he was allied with communist China and the Vietnamese.  But it can be logically argued that Pol Pot would never have been able to come to power except that the USA bombed the hell out of Cambodia during the Vietnam War in order to keep the north Vietnamese from using the Ho Chi Minh trail to reach southern Vietnam.  Obviously, many innocent Cambodians did not like losing their family members and way of life to the USA's carpet bombing.  The USA also did not like the king of Cambodia since he wasn't very interested or capable of stopping the Viet Kong from using the Ho Chi Minh trail.  As is typical with USA foreign policy, we worked to weaken and topple the Cambodian king, but as is also sometimes typical, the power vacuum was filled by someone who we liked far less... The Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot.
The Khmer Rouge only had full control of the government until 1979, but in that short time, they were able to execute nearly 3 million of their fellow Cambodians.  That was about 1/4 of the country's population.  The usually undertook the executions at "The Killing Fields" which were spread all over Cambodia and nearly too numerous to count.  The typical method of execution was to club the prisoners to death usually with blows to the back of the head as they were bound and kneeling on the ground.  Those who did not die right away were then shot.  The bodies were then disposed of in mass graves.  Of course, execution was only one way that Cambodians died.  Many also just died from starvation, infection, and good ole fashion torture while they were in the prisons.  Women and children were just as likely as anyone else to be imprisoned and killed.
Even today, some tourists still see recently unearthed human bones after a hard rain or have found human teeth stuck to the bottom of their shoes after visiting killing fields with shallow, mass graves.
The killing field that we visited in Siem Reap has been mainly paved over and includes this memorial.  The bones and skulls that you see inside are real and belong to a fellow human being 30 years ago.   
But our government never facilitates or commits such crimes....  Other people around the world just "hate us for our freedoms".


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