|After 2 days on the Mekong, Mika's family and we went our separate ways. The tour took us across the border to Cambodia, while Mika's mom, aunt, and cousin returned to Saigon. We took some time on the bus to read up on the history of Cambodia, since we really knew very little about it. We were, of course, horrified to learn about its dark history, and even more surprised that it's hardly every mentioned at all in schools. In a period of 4 years, between 1975 - 1979, Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, murdered 2 million of the 7 million population of Cambodia. To us, he seemed like the antithesis of Hitler, yet so much the same. Both were madmen who exterminated millions of innocents. Hitler, because he wanted a superior race, murdered all those he thought were inferior. Pol Pot, on the other hand, wanted Cambodia to be a nation of farmers, thus killing any and all who had an education. During our time in Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capitol, we visited a school that was converted into a detention camp where the people were held 2 - 4 months and tortured. They were tortured so that they would admit some false allegiance to aiding the invading armies of Vietnam. Once Pol Pot had a confession, albeit coerced, he had just cause to have them exterminated as Enemies of the State. There was an eerie feeling as we walked around the grounds of the school. We are sure, for Pol Pot, choosing a school ground as the detention facility was symbolic. We kept trying to understand why he would want to exterminate all that had an education, when he himself was educated and was even once a teacher. No answers came to mind.
After 2 - 4 months of detention, the prisoners were moved to the killing fields. Sadly the deaths were slow and painful. Wanting to conserve ammunition, bullets usually was not used by the Khmer regime. Instead, the prisoners normally died of some form of trauma to the head. They were beaten by hoes, spikes, and hammers, and were often buried before they were dead. Some of the prisoners had their necks slowly sawed with the serrated edge of a palm leaf. Babies were thrown in the air and had spikes driven into them as they fell back towards the earth. It's really unimaginable the kind of cruelty that existed! So much suffering! Most had no understanding of why any of this was happening to them.
Surprisingly, it was the Vietnamese that inadvertently ended this horror when they invaded Cambodia, and Pol Pot was forced to go into hiding. But to this day, no one who was part of Pol Pot's regime has been punished for their crimes. They are out living normal lives because the people of Cambodia are very religious. Following their Buddhist ways of non violence, the people have decided that there has already been too much bloodshed, and it is better to forgive than to shed anymore. How strange it would be to live next door to someone who may have killed off most of one's family and friends.
Currently, over 50% of Cambodia's population is under the age of 15 since most of the older generation died during Pol Pot's time. We imagine, because of this, Cambodia is in a state of flux and will likely change quite rapidly in the next few years. It would be interesting to visit Cambodia again in the future to observe how much it has changed over the years.