THE KILLING FIELDS (CAMBODIA) â€“ Sometime in the 1980s during one of the scheduled video presentations in school, I got to watch a disturbing movie that really left a mark in my heart. Iâ€™m referring to The Killing Fields, a 1984 British film, which was produced to share the drama about the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. The movie was about the lives of three journalists namely Dith Pran (Cambodian), Sydney Schanberg (American), and John Swain (British). This film tells the story of Dith Pran and his dramatic journey to escape the death camps which he referred to as the killing fields. The film received a lot of recognition and even won a total of three Academy Awards.
I had no idea that someday I will find myself at the Killing Fields.
It was our first day in Phnom Penh. We just arrived after traveling for five straight hours onboard our Paramount Angkor Express bus from Siem Reap. We met Giva at the bus station and hired him as our tuk tuk driver and guide for the day. After we checked in our hotel in Phnom Penh, we left immediately to start our city tour. Following Givaâ€™s recommendations, we headed first to the Killing Fields.
Currently, the most popular monument of the Killing Fields is Choeung Ek. It is the location where a Buddhist memorial can be found. The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek is located about 14.5 kilometers from the capital city of Phnom Penh and has become an eerie and fascinating tourist attraction. It is quite easy to rent a tuk tuk from any hotels in Phnom Penh like the Cambodiana Hotel Phnom Penh.
From the moment we arrived and entered the doors to the Killing Fields, we immediately felt the tension. It was quite obvious that the place was a witness to so many horrifying events that transpired in the 1970s.
After paying for our entrance fees, we walked along the concrete pathway and immediately saw the commemorative stupa that serves as the landmark for The Killing Fields. When we reached the stupa, we were greeted by one of the caretakers who offered us some flowers and incense sticks so that we can pay our respects to those who perished. I left few dollars on the donations tray and got myself some flowers. I inserted the flowers together with the other flowers in a vase right outside of the entrance of the stupa. When we got nearer, we saw that there were skulls of the victims that were safeguarded by glass shelves. Seeing all those eight thousand human skulls through the glass was enough to stun us into silence.
Large numbers of people were murdered by the regime of the Khmer Rouge during the rule of Pol Pot in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Thousands of people were executed by the communist Khmer Rouge as part of a judicial process for both minor and major political crimes. People who are suspected to be guilty of free market activity, having contact with foreign parties like US missionaries, agencies or any contact with anyone outside of Cambodia. Ill-fated people received warnings from the government of Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge Regime, Angkar. Those who did not listen to the warnings and had to be told more than once were immediately sent to the detention centers and faced certain death. Detained victims were forced to confess to crimes that they did not even commit because of the high level of torture that they experienced. They were even made to believe that if they confessed, their sins will be forgiven. But this actually meant being taken to places like Choeung Ek for more torture and immediate execution.
According to some guides, bullets were much too precious and expensive to be used during execution. To carry out the executions, Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge soldiers used hammers, knives, axe handles, and sharpened bamboo sticks. Executioners of children did not use any other weapons as they only battered them against trees until their very last breath. We got to talk to some guides who shared some of their harrowing experiences and said that they survived Cambodiaâ€™s dark past. They said that some people were even forced to dig their own graves.
These horrifying events continued for a few more years until 1979 when Vietnam invaded Cambodia and brought down the Khmer Rouge regime.
By the end of the Pol Potâ€™s regime, nearly two million Cambodians were killed and this represented about 21% of the population. What were left are the killing fields that contain the slightly sunken mass graves for those Cambodians who were tortured before they were executed.
All visitors of Cambodia would usually head to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat and only about 30% will continue their journey to Phnom Penh to see the mass graves. My partner and I are very thankful that we decided to head to Phnom Penh to visit the Killing Fields and learn as much as we can about Cambodiaâ€™s dark past. It is our way of paying our respects to all those helpless victims who perished. We would like to be their voice and share their stories so that the entire world will remember them and their deaths will not be meaningless.