‘Killing Fields’ Pagoda, Wat Thmey

When I saw the film “The Killing Fields” I was in grade school. Growing up I’ve always wondered what really happened here in Cambodia. Even today It’s hard to wrap your mind around the millions of Cambodians that lost their lives. Disturbing is that this genocide happened in our lifetime! And if it were for Khmer Rouge’s insolence and idiocy, involving its army in costly border wars against battle hardened Vietnam, this people would’ve stayed in power longer–imagine how many more would’ve died! Dith Pran, the subject of the film, was born and raised here in Siem Reap province, where this  ‘killing field’ (Wat Thmey) pagoda now stands. According to him, he lost around 50 family members. This doctor turned journalist is attributed for coining the phrase ‘Killing Fields’. The actor that played him in the film, Haing S. Ngor, won Oscar for ‘best supporting actor’ in 1985. It was the first time he acted, the first ‘non-actor’ to ever win the coveted award. He was murdered in the US after allegedly refusing to give up a locket with a photo of his deceased wife to a group of thugs. A sad irony for a man who fled to the US as a refugee.

It’s a good idea to see this simple memorial (Wat Thmey is not far from Siem Reap town proper) for the Cambodian’s that died during the reign of the Khmer Rouge . It’s an eery reminder of what happens when power and control of government falls into the wrong hands. There are more of these memorials in the capital Phnom Penh. Dith Pran who campaigned against the violence and corruption in his native Cambodia said, “the killing fields is one too many,” sadly, genocide still happens in other parts of the world. It’s a vicious cycle that’s got to end somewhere.

Skulls and bones in Wat Thmey. I wonder why they have not properly buried these remains. They have more of these memorials in the capital.

According to historians, about 1 out of 4 Cambodians was killed during the Khmer Rouge regime that only lasted some four years. The people getting killed were not even openly opposing the regime, most are just average people forced into a utopian ideology of agrarian communism. Khmer Rouge and its atrocities also highlights China playing colonist missions. Historians believe China sent steady military subsidies to support Khmer Rouge wars.

I asked Heng, a Khmer friend, for his opinion why the Khmer Rouge did what they did to their own people. “They’re crazy people”, he said in a loud voice. Most Cambodians are still adjusting to life without conflict (actually there’s one with Thailand now). Heng told me some horror stories during the Khmer Rouge’s agricultural revolution–they’re the scariest things imaginable. He believes that the number of people that died from hunger and disease possibly surpassed the executions. If the Khmer Rouge suspects you of aversion or dishonesty, or even speaking French (their colonial tongue), you get your throat slit.

Buddhist icons where people (I saw 3-4 buses packed with Korean tourists) offer incense and prayers.

The head of this ‘murder inc.’, Pol Pot, was not some dim-witted man who came from nowhere. He went to France, studied there and became a member of that European country’s communist party. He must’ve been Hitler-like, charismatic, eloquent, firm, mad. He believes (and he successfully made his cadres believe) in Khmer’s superiority over her neighbors–hence the need to purge the Khmer society. The US secret bombing and later invasion of  Cambodia (because it was being used by the North Vietnamese to attack the south) provided the radical communist in Cambodia the platform it needed to expand their power and influence. The spilling over of violence in Cambodia was a direct result of the Vietnam war. Not only did the US had responsibility in what happened in Cambodia, the biggest tragedy was that they allowed the Khmer Rouge to take the country because Cambodia’s government then was neutral.

High profile Khmer Rouge leaders stood trial, some were imprisoned (house arrest for Pol Pot) but the long politicized process left a bitter taste among those who campaigned for these people to be prosecuted. Imagine what happened to those young Khmers that carried out the brutual policy of the Khmer Rouge as they were forced to reintegrated into society. One must wonder if that’s even possible.

If there’s no hell, these evil men got a free pass. I choose to believe there’s one and that the people who did the millions of innocent Cambodians wrong would answer before God.


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