The Killing Fields

Memorial pagoda at the Killing Fields

I did a tour of the brutality of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge on March 17 - Choeung Ek in the morning, and Tuol Sleng in the afternoon. Choeung Ek is better known to westerners as "The Killing Fields," and Tuol Sleng ... Once upon a time, before 1975, it was a high school. But the Khmer Rouge took it over and converted it into a prison for political detainees and gave it the now notorious name of "S.21." Cambodia has kept both sites much as they were found after the defeat of the Khmer Rouge, with the addition of a memorial pagoda at the Killing Fields. Generally, people were tortured into making confessions at S.21, then shipped off to the Killing Fields where they were clubbed to death to save the cost of a bullet. 20,000 people passed through S.21. Seven survived.

These places became icons of a regime that killed indiscriminately across the entire country for the slightest disagreement, for having an education, for falling in love. Anything that didn't fit with the extreme Maoist agrarian co-operative of Pol Pot. Ironically, Pol Pot was himself very well educated before he went on a slaughter of intellectuals.

During their three year reign (which ended in 1978), the Khmer Rouge killed approximately two million people of a population of about ten million.

You would think that the most disturbing thing at the Killing Fields would be the bones, or maybe the holes in the skulls from the hammers and axes that killed them, or the pits of the mass graves that were later exhumed ... But to me the most disturbing thing was the clothing poking through the packed dirt we walked on around the graves. Everywhere, pieces of cloth small and large lying about, trapped in the soil. I guess I was prepared for the bones and skulls, but the clothes I hadn't thought about.

Close-up of the pagoda - filled with skulls

This is a closer shot of the pagoda. The entrance ticket calls it "The Memorial Charnel."

The killing tree with a sign that a young girl is hiding behind

The ponds in the background of this shot are mass graves that have been exhumed.

Headshots of people killed at S.21

At Tuol Sleng, you see the former high school with its crudely built cells where detainees were shackled. Various torture methods are described. There's a movie about a woman who ended up there. And there are headshots of those who passed through S.21. I don't know if it's all 20,000 of them.