As one travels through Cambodia and receives such warm and genuine hospitality from Cambodians it is hard to imagine that this country has so recently had such a horrific past. Not that long ago, when folks my age were teenagers, millions of Cambodians were getting massacred by their own people. During the reign of the Khmer Rouge roughly one quarter of the Cambodian population were either killed or died of starvation at the hands of this radical group. No one in the country is untouched and visitors can not help but be affected as well. As much as tourists today enjoy the beauty of Cambodians one can not help but wonder about the incredible sadness that many of the smiles no doubt hide. As difficult as it was, our trip to the Killing Fields helped us to understand even more deeply what these people have gone through.
Our time at the Cheung Ek, the Killing Field just outside of Phnom Penh was not easy. We each were given sets of headphones to listen to an audio tour as we walked the grounds where thousands of Cambodians were massacred. The Khmer Rouge believed that the way to glory for Cambodia involved ridding the country of city life and any form of capitalism. Every city was evacuated. The desire was to take the country back to an agrarian society where everyone lived and worked communally, toiling in the fields, producing for the “Angkar”. Educated people and urbanites were not only feared but also killed. People were killed for simply wearing glasses, a sign of education. The Khmer Rouge spared few and not only men but also thousands of women and children met their deaths at “Killing Fields” like the one we visited. Cheung Ek, was the site of a mass grave where at least 17,000 people were killed, just one of such sites in Cambodia.
Listening to the voices of survivors telling us about the various things we were seeing was a haunting experience. An experience we will never forget. We had to wonder about some of the terrible things going on in the world today and contemplate what countries like ours and people like us could do to help. If more people saw things like we saw at the Killing Fields perhaps there would be more compassion, fewer atrocities and more willingness to help those in need. Did our country and many others do enough to help and are what are we ignoring today?
There were 8000 skulls exhumed from mass graves at this site. The tower below was built to hold them.