Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Killing Fields

Warning: disturbing images!

Going to from the ancient splendor of Angkor Wat to the modern horrors of the Khmer Rouge in two days is a dizzying experience. I'm not sure I'd recommend doing it that fast. But I definitely recommend the Killing Fields memorial site, which does an admirably unflinching job of telling a terrible story.

The trail points out the areas where trucks stopped to unload frightened, blindfolded prisoners. It takes you to the mass graves where their bodies lie. It describes the awful ways in which people died.

The matter-of-fact tone encourages you to put yourself in the place of those terrified prisoners ... and also in the place of the murderous guards, who after all were human too. Some probably needed only the slightest encouragement to become executioners, while others were persuaded to kill after being threatened with death themselves. What would I do in their shoes?

The image you may already know from the Killing Fields is the skulls. They're housed in a clear-sided memorial stupa where visitors can see them up close. They're alike, of course, but each a little different, and they say more than a thousand pages in a thousand books.

From the Killing Fields we went to S21, the prison where people were held and tortured before being transferred for execution. Here it was the photographs of the victims that spoke loudest.

 Who were these people? Who would they have become?


mr_john said...

Just look up the Milgram experiment and the Stanford Prison experiment on wikipedia. Pretty much proves the banality of evil to me...

kopisusu2 said...

Ya, I wrote a longish rant about man's inhumanity to man, but I deleted it on the basis of self-righteousness and obviousness. If you don't see cruelty as an integral part of human nature, you're willfully ignoring the evidence. I'm fascinated by outbreaks of violence in which neighbors kill neighbors, though, as in Rwanda, the Balkans, and Indonesia 1965. It seems alarmingly easy to undo the layers of social and moral conditioning that prevent us from killing the people around us.