Killing Fields, Day Eight (Aug. 5, 2007)

Jenn was out of commission with her "sinus infection" (a.k.a "Cambodian Death Flu" or possibly "Hemorrhagic Dengue Fever"*) when the rest of us bused about 45 minutes down the little two-lane highway to Choeung Ek, probably the most famous of the killing fields.

The killing fields were basically places with lots of pits for the poorly buried bodies of the victims of the Khmer Rouge genocide. To oversimplify, they killed everyone in the upper class, everyone in the middle class, and anyone with any education. Those were the threats. And just like that, poof! went the bright stars of an entire culture.

If Tuol Sleng, the day before, was the kidney punch then Choeung Ek was the knockout blow. A tall stuppa held stories and stories of skulls of reclaimed victims. But nearby was a lake, under which there were many more bodies that they're just going to leave in their water graves. Underfoot, on dirt paths, you'll find bits of tooth and bone slowly weathering to powder.

We hired a tour guide, mostly to throw some money at a kid. Writing this two years later, the only thing I can remember that he told us was that when money started tightening up for the Khmer Rouge, they started saving bullets by executing victims with the serrated edges of a sort of palm tree that grew on site.

Despite all this, it somehow feels like a peaceful place now. There's a sort of sorrowful, emotional blanket covering the place, thicker than air. I debated not taking photos at all. But I took boatloads of them. I threw a couple up on Wikimedia Commons and on the Wikipedia page on the fields, free for folks to use. I don't know why. I think I just want people to acknowledge the horror. If we don't learn from the past, we're doomed to repeat it, and all that.

Anyway, here's the saddest video slide show I've ever made. (That's The Decemberists singing "Shankill Butchers" in the background. The song is about some maniacs in Ireland, but it's shocking to me how fitting the lyrics are to the Rouge's actions.)

Jenn's footnote:
* There were actually signs all over Siem Reap warning of an outbreak of this delightful sounding disease.

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