The Killing Fields

It’s been a while since my last entry, but I’ve been trying in absolute vain to describe the experiences of the Killing Fields in Cambodia, as well as the ‘torture museum’. It’s difficult to describe not because I have forgotten or cannot recall what they were about, or that they were too shocking for my sensibilities, but rather that I feel I should try and describe precisely what it is I felt on that rather depressing day in Phnom Penh.

The Killing Fields are small. Much smaller than I’d expected. One would think killing about 100 people a day for five years would have required a lot more space and equipment, but the Khmer Rouge were surprisingly Spartan in their savage practices. About the size of two soccer fields, half of which is submerged in swampy water, the grassy meadow that remains is a bit deceptive. You’d almost be forgiven for thinking that the fields were simply a poorly-tilled farmland once upon a time. The genocide occurred several decades ago, so there is obviously a lot of growth and natural encroachment, resulting in depressions that are covered in grass and little flowers. It’s almost a pleasant picnic spot in the rather brown and harsh rural area that so characterizes Cambodia.

Except, of course, for the 20m high charnel filled with human skulls. That tower serves as the most obvious reminder of the sheer brutality of the maoist-inspired communist ‘reform’, resulting in anyone with even a smidgen of education or money being led to the field and smacked in the head with a pickaxe, bamboo, or anything at hand. The methods of the killing were simple but effective. Khmer cadres would ship bus loads of ‘bourgeois’ enemies of the state to this field and others, blindfolded and restrained, lead them up to a pit/grave, and then execute them. To make sure all were dead, a cadre would work amongst the dead and dying in the pit and slit their throats. Delightful stuff. This went on for years…

… But the Killing Fields doesn’t elicit a great amount of sorrow in me, or even sadness. I had expected these feelings above all else to surface when we set out that day, but they played a distinct second fiddle to the profound anger I felt. The bodies are either still buried in the marsh or neatly stacked in the charnel tower, and the shallow graves are all green with swarms of brightly-coloured butterflies fluttering about, so it’s a bit difficult to get ‘sad’ about it. Sure there are some traces, like clothes still stuck in the ground and some bones and teeth laying about, but it’s generally viewed with a detachment that disturbed even me, someone who has raised callousness to a new level! So I was angry instead. But angry at what, exactly? The human being in me felt a bit of hostility to the people who did this. Those folks with the pickaxes and clubs who had to build a detention camp because they couldn’t kill all the innocents in one day’s work. But mostly I was just angry at the absurdity of it all.

The Cambodian genocide was a tragedy, no doubt, but I think what really got me is that this happened again, and again, and again throughout the world, irrespective of race, culture and religion. Genocide truly is a major argument as to how people are the same all over the world. Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, Albania, Nazi Germany and Communist China, all have committed horrendous acts that overshadow the relatively paltry number killed in Cambodia’s purge. But you’d think people would learn? Not the animals who commit these atrocities, but the rest of the ‘civilised’ world who are supposed to stop these things. Each and every time genocide has broken out the modern world steps back and feigns ignorance until the killing is over, and then floods the world with apologies and rice bags for the survivors, resulting in a flood of new books on the shelves from UN generals and priests in rural Rwanda telling of how they were powerless to stop the bloodshed. This, quite simply, is bullshit.

Even now there is little doubt that genocide is occurring in Darfur, and what is happening? Paltry peacekeeping forces sponsored by the UN that are so toothless and constrained by the rules in which they must operate as to render them ineffectual, political leaders playing down the violence and Human Rights NGO’s that are so consumed by their own self-righteousness that they would prefer to sit on a panel and whine for two years instead of actually doing something about it. When the Human Rights Council in Geneva takes six months just to decide on a timetable and agenda for their next session, you know something is truly wrong at the top of the organizations who are designed to combat these kinds of acts.

Now I am a realist in political terms, so I can understand how states outside of these affected regions really don’t care unless there’s something in it for them. Likewise I doubt the frothy-mouthed civilians in America would dare let their military embark on another tough military operation, regardless of what the objective is, but that doesn’t make it right. Self-centered global politics doesn’t condone genocide, nor should it ever. And yet it does, time and time again.

Now it sounds like a political rant, but these are the exact kind of thoughts I experienced whilst at the Killing Fields and staring at the still-bloodstained floors of the torture halls in the city. I can only be so angry against the thousands of brainwashed Khmer Rouge communists who committed these acts, but I reserve my utmost hatred for all the things that allows genocide to happen, again and again and again. For the Khmer Rouge (now ‘reformed’ of course) who are still in government positions to the Chinese foreign policy that would actively sell AK47’s to the Sudanese in exchange for oil rights to the many IGO’s that sit for endless months and years in coference halls swilling expensive mineral water and wine while they feign some kind of half-hearted ‘concern’ about human rights abuses in these countries. It’s all bullshit, and it will all happen again, guaranteed. Nothing has changed in the past 40 years since the Cambodian genocide, and nothing will change in the next 40 which will somehow convince the world that preventing genocide is something to be encouraged.

And that is what I think I was really angry at when I was looking at the grassy undulations that were once the scene of daily atrocities; the absolute and sheer futility of it all. I was angry because I knew that for all our ‘development’ as a human race we still treat each other like animals, fit for nothing but labour and slaughter. This fundamental hasn’t changed so far in our history, and I doubt it will for the foreseeable future. I hate that genocide happens, but above all I hate that we’re not disturbed enough about it to the point where it doesn’t happen again.

A more cheerful entry soon! John has been learning to snowboard! More details soon!!! – John

Written by admin in: Things Japanese |

1 Comment

  • You also forget to mention the retarded American tourist who was trying on the manacles used to hold the people still during their beatings so that his friend could take a photo. Not only is the moral outrage missing, but the whole thing seems somewhere to have become a ‘fun’ tourist stop. Fuckers.

    Comment | January 21, 2008

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