Monday, November 17, 2008

SE Asia Day 8 (part 1): The Road to the Choeng Ek Killing Fields

On day 7 I went early to the Choeng Ek Killing Fields, just outside of Phnom Penh.  Sunday Guest House made the arrangements and I rode with a couple Brits in a tuk-tuk for a few dollars.  The road there was interesting.  We went from the city out into the “suburbs” with more homes and textile factories, and then further out where the only sign of development were the “People’s Party of Cambodia” signs that were posted on the side of the road.  (Picture from In Search of Siem Reap).melissa
Because I’m a history teacher by training, and since many don’t know much about the Khmer Rouge and their auto-genocidal actions, a brief history lesson.
Its been argued the the bombing of Cambodia by the US during the Vietnam War destabilized the Cambodian government, paving the way for the Khmer Rouge to come to power.  The Khmer Rouge were a Marxist guerilla group under the leadership of former high school teacher Pol Pot to take control of the country.
Pol Pots goal was to, get this, put his country back in the stone age!  Yes.  In Cambodia there are constant reminders in the stone wats (Buddhist monastic temples) and statues of the Khmer people’s might under the ancient Khmer Empire.  So, since the Khmer Empire was a stone-age empire, Pol Pot thought it would be the best way to recapture Cambodia’s glory days.
His communist ideology also fed this idea.  “Khmer” is the name for ethnic Cambodians and “Rouge” is French for red (aka communist.)  Instead of following an industrial model of communism that that the Soviets had followed, or even China was beginning to adopt at this time, Pol Pot believed that true workers paradise was not an industrial society, but an agrarian society (imagine the sickle and hammer symbol, minus the hammer).
And since educated people knew differently, he had them killed.  Here’s a list adapted from the Wikipedia article on the subject of those targeted for killing:
  • professionals and intellectuals - in practice this included almost everyone with an education, or even people wearing glasses (which, according to the regime, meant that they were literate)
  • ethnic Vietnamese, ethnic Chinese, Cambodian Christians, Muslims and the Buddhist monks
  • Homosexuals
  • "economic sabotage" for which many of the former urban dwellers (who had not starved to death in the first place) were deemed to be guilty of by virtue of their lack of agricultural ability.
Their policy of genocide--both via execution and starvation--left up to 2.2 million people dead, or about 20% of the population!
We we neared the memorial, the cloudy skies and quiet off the country helped prepare me for the sobering site.

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