The Killing Fields

In Phnom Penh we visited the Choeung Ek Killing Fields 15 km outside of the city.  These fields are so named because it is where the Khmer Rouge performed mass executions of Cambodians who were deemed to be a threat to the power of the “Angkar” or the extreme ideas of Pol Pot and his followers.  These people could be intellectuals, doctors, teachers, city dwellers, artists or, in short, anyone who had not lived the life of a simple country peasant.  At the most extreme, the Khmer Rouge were killing people who wore glasses simply because Pol Pot saw this as a sign of intelligence.  When they decided that a member of a family was a “traitor” to the state, every member in the family was killed, including babies, so that no one would be alive to take revenge for the death of a parent.  Some of the slogans of Pol Pot around this time were “Better to kill an innocent by mistake than spare an enemy by mistake” and “To destroy you is no loss, to preserve you is no gain.”  These slogans were directed at the capitalist class (included in this broad category was anyone who had ever even lived in a city) and used to stir up hatred among the peasants and the soldiers of the Khmer Rouge.  In the fields we visited an approximate 20 000 people were executed and buried in mass graves.  People were bludgeoned with axes, garden hoes, blunt objects, bamboo rods and other common place objects because the Khmer Rouge had abolished currency when they took control and bullets were too expensive to use on prisoners.  Those who didn’t die immediately were pushed into the pits alive and finished off with the chemical substance DDT, spread over the graves to cover the smell.  There are 129 mass graves that have been excavated in Choeung Ek with many more left undisturbed, some partially underwater.  To this day there are teeth, bone fragments and pieces of clothing that still surface ever rainy season in these fields.  As we walked along the path we saw numerous pieces of bone shards and cloth that had come to the surface.  Though the fields are now calm and surrounded by birds and trees, these pieces are a testament to the recent horrors witnessed at this site and all across Cambodia.

Shreds of clothes have come to the surface near a mass grave containing the remains of over 100 women and children.

Each depression represents a mass grave, the largest contained 450 bodies.