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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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?