A trip to Cambodia is not complete without a stop to the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. I had heard a lot about the Khmer Rogue Regime prior to my travels to Cambodia, so I was familiar with the story, but nothing really prepares you for seeing something like this.
After the American War in Vietnam a new government had yet again taken control in Cambodia. Pol Pot and his Khmer Rogue followers in 1975 took control with a communist style of government, a government where there would be no social class, currency, or education. All positions of intellect were abolished and everyone was moved to the country side in an attempt to take Cambodian people back to being "Old People". If people we're caught with extra food, found reading, or talking to families members that was not approved, basically doing anything not sanctioned they were executed.
For the next 3 years, 8 months, and 28 days almost 1/3 of the population was annihilated by extermination, starvation, disease, or exhaustion. One of the most famous prisons is S-21, in Phnom Penh, which now is the Genocide Museum. Of the 17,000 prisoners sent there only 7 walked out. 7 people out of 17,000. In a 4 year period almost 2 million people died. Had the Khmer Roger continued their extermination Cambodian's today would certainly be extinct.
In early 1979 Vietnam managed to take control, but unfortunately the damage was already done.
Walking through S-21, a school prior to the Khmer rogue, which became a school of torture, where people only learned pain and suffering was chilling. When people were brought to the prison their measurements and pictures were taken for records. Currently they have the pictures of the prisoners posted, their happy and haunted faces looking down upon us. I can't even begin to describe what it was like walking through there, looking at the photographs. The grounds were mostly silent, with a presence hanging in the air of pain. After touring there we moved to the Killing Fields, just outside of Phnom Penh. So many people were being executed that they were running out of space for the bodies, so a location was chosen just outside of the city to perform most of the executions, much like the concentration camps of the holocaust. There, now, you can walk around a path and witness the mass grave sites. One is for women buried with their children. Another is an entire grave of people buried without their heads. There is a tree where solider's beat babies and young children to death, yes, I'm not kidding.
Today several upper members of the Khmer rogue have been placed on trail for crimes against humanity and were sentenced recently. Pol Pot, the leader died in 1998 and never faced trail. The kicker? Nobody really knows by Pol Pot wanted so many of his countrymen executed. Even the upper Khmer members were not told the reasoning behind his actions or orders. They simply obeyed them, mostly out of fear.
Now Cambodia is country filled with people who have little to no education and continue to have an extremely corrupt system. They are still swirling at the bottom of the tornado, unable to pull themselves out and yet everyone smiles and appears happy. You can't help but want to help in any and every way possible.