The photographs of the victims from the Cambodian genocide are what really haunt you.
There's a huge discussion of this topic on my blog, http://www.vagabonding.com/travelogue...
Here's an entry I wrote about this:
Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge, and Genocide in Cambodia
During their three-year, eight-month, and 21-day rule of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge committed some of the most heinous crimes in modern history:
- The entire population of Cambodia's urban areas was evacuated from their homes and forced to march into rural areas to work the fields.
- Every man, woman, and child was forced into slave labor for 12-15 hours each day.
- An estimated two million people (21% of Cambodia's population) lost their lives. Many of these victims were brutally executed; many more died of starvation, exhaustion, and disease.
That these crimes were committed so recently (1975-1978) makes them all the more sickening. The country's scars are still plainly visible:
- The population is suspiciously youthful (50% is under the age of 15).
- The economy is in shambles. This is partially thanks to the Khmer Rouge's execution of the upper and educated classes. The fact that they destroyed most of the vehicles and machines in the cities can't have helped.
- New human remains turn up around the exhumed mass graves of the Killing Fields of Cheoung Ek on a daily basis. Silent reminders of the tragedy, these bones and teeth are ceremoniously placed into makeshift shrines in tree hollows and cement planters.
It's hard to comprehend the motivations behind an atrocity like the Cambodian genocide. What could have been going through the minds of the Khmer Rouge officers and their leader Pol Pot?
"Hey Pol, I've got an idea, man. Let's turn the country upside down and get real primitive. Evacuate all the cities, march everyone out to the country. And then start farming, man! Big time. And if anyone resists, let's execute them. In fact, let's kill a whole lot of people. I'm talking hundreds of thousands. Maybe millions. And do it real cruel-like. Bash their heads against trees, electrocute 'em, drown 'em in vats of cold water..."
Fear must have been the prevailing motivator in the regime. How could an officer commit such monstrous crimes against his own countrymen? For fear that something even worse would happen to him.
The Khmer Rouge atrocity seems to follow a time-honored recipe for genocide: the obsessive desire to reach a religious or political ideal coupled with a healthy dose of madness.
Why don't we learn? It seems as if past atrocities of genocide haven't served as a warning, but instead as a blueprint for how to repeat them.
But if history has proven human beings to be intrinsically fallible, it has also proven us to be extraordinarily resilient. Pol Pot cast a heavy shadow over Cambodia, but the people have managed to persevere, begin anew, and find joy in life again.
If you'd like to learn more about the genocide in Cambodia, visit the Yale Cambodian Genocide Project at http://www.yale.edu/cgp/.