|Between 1975-1979 the leaders of the Khmer Rouge unleashed a genocide against the Cambodian people. Figures vary but somewhere between 1.7 and 3 million people---almost a quarter of the population--suffered horrible deaths during that time. I have not met a person over the age of 40 who did not lose a family member and almost everybody that age is able to remember it.
Led by Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge espoused a radical brand of Marxism which deemed all educated people enemies of the state. The Party sought to create a true peasant society. Within days of seizing power in 1975 the Khmer Rouge closed schools and hospitals, abolished the monetary system and forced the evacuation of all city dwellers (including the 3 million people living in Phnom Penh at that time) to the countryside where they were forced to begin life anew on collective farms. Doctors, teachers, artists and university graduates were imprisoned, tortured and executed.
Tuol-Sleng Prison located in Central Phnom Penh has proven to be the most notorious prison of the regime although it was supposedly top-secret at that time. The prison is now a museum documenting the terror and left mostly as found after the Vietnamese ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979.
Choeung Ek--known as the "Killing Fields"--is located about 14 km (9 miles) outside of Phnom Penh and is one of 300 sites throughout the country where mass executions took place. Today it is dedicated as a memorial to all those who suffered and died.
A self-guided tour leads one through the somber grounds. It is particularly horrifying to learn that, in order to save ammunition, most people were bludgeoned to death with ordinary garden tools. Even worse is the "killing tree" which still stands. It was here that at least 100 small children were held by their ankles and swung against the tree before being tossed into the mass grave next to it.
Nothing more needs to be said.