Cambodia

The Well Of Shadows

Man’s inhumanity to Man.

I wrote, then deleted, then rewrote this post. It’s depressing. I’d give it a miss if you are feeling low.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Battambang Province, Cambodia

Battambang Province, Cambodia

Seeing one ‘Killing field’ and one place of imprisonment and torture is enough for me. More than enough. And I saw both more than 15 years ago.

The ‘Killing Field’ was atop a small mountain in Battambang. The victims, hands tied behind their backs by Khmer Rogue Cadre, were pushed down a narrow opening and bounced into a cavern far below. There they lay, as other bodies piled upon them.

And the prison was the infamous Toul Sleng, (S21) where more than 22,000 were killed and just 7 prisoners left alive. (Note: 488 Vietnamese, 31 Thai, 1 Laotian, 1 Arab, 1 British, 4 French, 2 Americans, 1 New Zealander, 2 Australians, 1 Indonesian, and  many Indians and Pakistanis were also imprisoned.)

Both were awful experiences.

So, I’ve never gone again.

Until last week, when I took a trip to Wat Samroung Knong. And very near to this grand old temple- and therefore unavoidable- was both a killing field and a prison where large numbers of Cambodians were tortured and killed.

10,008 people to be precise.

A memorial (below) explains well the horrors of the site.

 

20170128-dsc_1196

Many victims were killed because they were educated or wore glasses (a sure sign of an intellectual apparently) Others were murdered by Pol Pot’s paranoid army for supposedly being spies, or seen as opposed to the regime. Still others were killed for small infractions such as stealing the food needed to avoid starvation.

20170128-dsc_1197

The Khmer Rouge distrusted cities, city folk, education, personal property, money and religion.

So one of the first things they did after winning the civil war was to empty the cities.

Of everybody.

The above bas relief shows the enforced evacuation of the city of Battambang. Note the child in the foreground separated from his parents and the women ( with baby) in the centre of the relief begging for her husband’s life. Note too, the clock tower on the left, which is still a significant landmark today.

 

20170128-dsc_1198

The relief above shows the full scale of the evacuation and the march from home out into the countryside. A march enforced by the point of a gun.

Wat Samroung Knong, Battambang province

Wat Samroung Knong, Battambang province

This relief shows just how cruel the Khmer Rouge were: Battambang’s hospital was emptied of everyone, no matter how sick or incapacitated they were. Those who couldn’t keep up the march died or were killed.

Battambang Province, Cambodia

The “Well For Killing” is not much more than a large pond.

Here at the banks of the pond, the victims were blindfolded and had their hands tied behind their backs. A smack to the head was then delivered by a soldier and, unconscious, (if they were lucky) they were thrown into the water,

20170128-dsc_1195

It was often not enough to just kill the prisoner- a confession was sought first (see above)- and most always obtained under torture. I suppose this (the confession) went some way to soothing the consciences of the executioners.

Battambang province, Cambodia

Sadly, I sometimes wonder what lessons have been learnt.

I had a Khmer motorbike-taxi driver show me around. He was born in the first year (1975) of the regime, so remembers nothing.

But he told me, “We now know clearly that it was not Cambodian people killing Cambodians. No, it was the Vietnamese who did so, after infiltrating the Khmer Rogue army. This we know clearly,” he said again for emphasis.

Which is nonsense.

Certainly the Vietnamese were culpable (As was much of the West) for many things in Cambodia. But just as certainly, it was Khmer people who killed Khmer people- tens of thousands of their fellow citizens- during this time.

But my taxi-driver had convinced himself that this was not so, and the blame- all of it- belonged with the still much hated Vietnamese.

“Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”
― Edmund Burke

When will we ever learn?

Advertisements
Standard

8 thoughts on “The Well Of Shadows

  1. ugh. horrifying. i’ve been to Tuol Sleng as well and felt sick to my stomach when i was there. my mom was evacuated from phnom penh and the first time we went to Tuol Sleng she refused to go in. but several years later she gathered couraged and walked in looking for pictures of teachers or classmates she might have known. it was really heartbreaking.

    i’m saddened about the taxi driver you met, and how he doesn’t know the history. both my parents were already adults during the killing fields, so they know the truth. it’s really difficult for them to share it though. =(

  2. I could not read a lot of this, Philip. How sad about the taxi driver. The last quote sums things up quite well, but you would never be able to convince the taxi driver, I am sure. Sad and shameful.

  3. Surely a sad tale and a sad place. I was reminded of the horrors of Bosnia and Auschwitz when I read your post. It happens throuThe ability of some people to sink beyond the depthscof decency and depravity is beyond the pale. I guess this is a human being potential. Thankfully most of us are not so traumatized as to seek utter evil revenge and so our morals, values, decency and kind feelings for our fellow man control this animalistic brutal spirit.

  4. My apologies for a duplicate comment. The first one shot off in cyberspace before I had finished writing and I was unable to edit. So here is what I intended to say. Surely a sad tale and a sad place. I was reminded of the horrors of Bosnia and Auschwitz when I read your post. It happens throughout human history. The ability of some people to sink beyond the depths of decency and depravity to cruelty and cannibalism, is beyond the pale. I guess this is a human being’s potential. Thankfully most of us are not so traumatized as to seek such acts of utter evil revenge and so our morals, values, decency and kind feelings for our fellow man control this animalistic brutal spirit. It is important to share this and I am glad you did. I did not know the full extent of the killing fields and how the people still blame the Vietnamese.

    • Thanks for the comment.

      Not many (perhaps just a few) blame the Vietnamese for the regime. But what the driver told me did shock. Many Khmer people do still blame the Vietnamese for all sorts of other ills, though. And part of the reason that the opposition did so well in the last election was by fuelling this resentment and fear of a country that has dominated them in relatively recent history.

      • Oh I see. Politicians in lots of countries are using fear, or have used fear of other powers to favourably influence an election in their favour. It is a shame the public don’t always see that.

  5. Pingback: Proverbial Thursday – Global Words of Wisdom | Something to Ponder About

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s