1975: After taking power the Khmer Rouge leadership renamed the country Democratic Kampuchea. The Khmer Rouge subjected Cambodia to a radical social reform process that was aimed at creating a purely agrarian-based Communist society. The city-dwellers were deported to the countryside, where they were combined with the local population and subjected to forced labor. About 1.5 million Cambodians died in waves of murder, torture, and starvation, aimed particularly at the educated and intellectual elite.
Losing power following a Vietnamese military intervention in December 1978, the Khmer Rouge maintained control in some regions and continued to fight on as guerrillas. In 1998 their final stronghold, in Anlong Veng District, fell to the government.
Following their leader Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge imposed an extreme form of social engineering on Cambodian society — a radical form of agrarian communism where the whole population had to work in collective farms or forced labor projects. In terms of the number of people killed as a proportion of the population (est. 1.75 million people, as of 1975), it was one of the most lethal regimes of the 20th century.
The Khmer Rouge wanted to eliminate anyone suspected of “involvement in free-market activities”. Suspected capitalists encompassed professionals and almost everyone with an education, many urban dwellers, and people with connections to foreign governments.
The Khmer Rouge believed parents were tainted with capitalism. Consequently, children were separated from parents and brainwashed to socialism as well as taught torture methods with animals. Children were a “dictatorial instrument of the party” and were given leadership in torture and executions.
We went to the Tuol Sleng Center Museum this morning in Phnom Penh. Yesterday we were at the killing fields of Choeung Ek, where prisoners were taken in trucks there to be killed. There is no exact count of how many people were murdered in the Genocide of Pol Pot’s Regime in the 1970s.. but figures have shown as high as 3 million victims. Tuol Sleng Center was known as “security center 21 (s21)”, a former high school, but then used as a “interrogation center” where they took random people who they accused as “threats” to society, a lot of intellectuals (who would threaten and “pollute” the mind of the public and challenge the government):
“In the early months of S-21’s existence, most of the victims were from the previous Lon Nol regime and included soldiers, government officials, as well as academics, doctors, teachers, students, factory workers, monks, engineers, etc. Later, the party leadership’s paranoia turned on its own ranks and purges throughout the country saw thousands of party activists and their families brought to Tuol Sleng and murdered.”
At this center, we watched a film which was told by a an old lady who’s daughter and lover were separated by this horrific genocide (and then murdered), and correspondent love letters she still had. Cambodia til this day, and forever will suffer from the brutality that existed just 30 years ago to it’s own people.
Each class room at this center has been preserved to show us what happened in those years. One classroom showed photos/stories of victims, one showed people that served in the military at the time (those that tortured innocent lives) but claimed to have been forced to do it (Whos to blame?). In another building, there were individual mug shots of every man, woman, child that was killed. More classrooms with the actual small prison cells victims were detained, bed’s where they were chained down to. Barbed wires outlining the school so victims could not commit suicide. The photographs were shocking, because they were real. It wasnt just some story we read about in a text book. The stories had faces attached to it. Millions of innocent children, heads cut off of women, all there.
There were even photos of them being tortured, chained to bars, head drowned in tubs, beheaded, tons of bodies lined next to each other tortured. There were reported 12 people that survived this genocide. There was a museum filled with skulls and clothing found. (Same at the killing fields we were at, tons of skulls). Families who found the center later on couldn’t even identify their own family because the bodies had been so horrifically disseminated.
This is Pol Pot:
As light breezes came in at my time at the school, I couldn’t help but imagine the ghosts of these victims, not giving up hope in screaming, which they have been for the past 30 years since they been killed. In hopes someone will hear them, and that someone could take them to see their family, just. One. Last. Time.