The Killing Fields, Cambodia

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Martha and I visited the Killing Fields on July 2nd. It’s a tough thing to write about but it was such an emotional experience. I went to the Killing Fields with a decent amount of knowledge after reading online and reading the book “First They Killed My Father,” a reflection through the eyes of a five year old living during the Khmer Rouge. Her father, mother, and two sisters where all killed in the genocide. The genocide killed an estimated 3 million people in just 3.5 years. Pol Pot (leader of the Khmer Rouge) stormed into Phnom Pehn in April 1975 and forced the Lon Nol government out of power. The citizens fled the city, sometimes walking for days until reaching camps. In these camps, everyone was ordered to dress the same and work hard in the rice fields to supply rice for the country. The rice was used by the government to give to China in exchange for weapons, while the country was left starving. People who had never lived in cities were the lucky ones. They were seen as the rightful people of Cambodia, mainly because they were uneducated. All government employees, doctors, or educated people were killed. Having an education gave the people power, power that Pol Pot did not want them to have. He thought that education was unnecessary, only hard work was needed for the countries survival.

The Killing Fields in Phnom Pehn are a mass grave of over 20,000 victims covering 6 acres. There are over 300 Killing Fields in Cambodia, but this one is the largest known. People were brought there and executed via blows to the head or slits the throat with the leaves of a specific tree in the area, and in many other ways. There is a specific tree that babies were thrown at to be executed. I know this is hard to read. Around some of the graves there are poles where people leave bracelets to honor the victims of the genocide. I left the feather bracelet Abby gave me before I left because it’s meant to be your most traveled bracelet. It’s very moving to see the amount of bracelets left behind. This place has impacted many people including myself. I was really thankful audio was included when you arrived because it solidified my previous knowledge and taught me even more. It made the experience way more powerful than I could of asked for. It was hard not to cry and I teared up a few times. Each year flooding and erosion bring bone fragments to the surface “as if the spirits of those who died here will not lie still.” You can see fragments in the ground. It’s unnerving to think that something like this has happened so recently and that it still happens. Cambodia lost much of its’ culture during this short period. There is something so special about Cambodia that you can just feel. They’ve suffered so much, but smile so often. Anyone about 40 or over lived through the genocide and it has impacted their families. I remember walking around the lake, a mass grave covered with water, and feeling so sad yet thankful that I could be there to learn and be so emotionally struck by it. It’s a hard spot to visit but it’s so necessary to learn about the genocide so that we don’t repeat the past. Just like we should learn about the Holocaust or Rwanda. They all have parallels.

The genocide ended in 1979 after the Yuns (Vietnamese) invaded Cambodia and took control. The Khmer Rouge consisted of many young boys. It’s hard to point fingers and you can even say that members of the Khmer Rouge were victims themselves. It was kill or be killed. We also visited Toul Sleng Prison where people were tortured and killed. There were only seven survivors of this prison and it was equally as hard to visit. We left the day feeling somber, but educated. I highly recommend making the Killing Fields a must see in your life time. If you’ve ever visited the holocaust museum in the States, this will be a similarly moving experience.

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