Perhaps one of the most under-the-radar genocides in history, Pol Pot’s Killing Fields in Cambodia saw the death of millions of men, women and children. And each one of these deaths, almost without exception, was gruesome, tortuous, and agonizing. And it doesn’t help that, at least at the start, the Cambodian government was supported by the Allies, thanks to the Vietnam War.
But given the waste of that war, effort could certainly have been better spent, overthrowing the incredibly insane dictatorship of Pol Pot, and his vision of a better world. Anyone who seemed to use any form of modern technology was immediately brought under suspicion. And they were basically never given a chance for defense. Suspicion essentially meant guilt.
And the methods of death were absolutely appalling. From bayoneting babies, and smashing their skulls in, to burning people alive, and beating them to death with farm tools…the mass murdering that led to the mass graves, dotting Cambodia were all dug by the very people who occupied them. And these places were to be known as the Killing Fields of Cambodia.
15. Pol Pot’s “Year Zero”
So Pol Pot’s plan, with regards to the elimination of modern learning, and comforts, brought him to accept the idea of “year zero”. Essentially this served two different functions. Not only did it signify a new era for Cambodia, but also it signified a reverting back to a time where there was no modern technology, or learning. He forced people to leave the cities, and citizens were marched to farming communities. Those who resisted were murdered, and many also simply died of exhaustion along the way. Given that most of the people who were marched from the cities to the country had no knowledge of how to cultivate a farm, many people starved. And those who didn’t starve to death were more than likely to contract some sort of disease or infection due to poor sanitary conditions.
14. The S-21 “School” (For Re-Education And Torture)
S-21, or what was once known as Tuol Sleng, was a school turned into a prison for those slated to be slaughtered. Only a handful of people who were held captive here ever made it through the torture, and escaped death. People were tortured here until they would pen and sign confessions to state that they opposed the regime so that their deaths could be seen as execution for crimes. Of course many died during torture, and certain executions were simply conducted in the building itself. But they were mostly shipped off to nearby killing fields and done away with next to the mass graves in which they’d be buried. Symbolically, this was the best, and most perverted place for Pol Pot to have such a prison of torture and “re-education”. He essentially sought to rid his country of learning. And effectively did so in more ways than one.
13. Spraying DDT…But Not For The Same Reasons
The above photo is of a man spraying DDT for its initial insecticide purpose. Of course it was fairly quickly discovered to be toxic to humans as well, and that made for another weapon for Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge to use against their own people. When the forces were done filling up a mass grave, they would cover the top of the site in DDT before filling it in. The purpose of this was to further ensure that any survivors who might try to claw their way out through the corpses, would be poisoned, if they didn’t just suffocate. It also helped to cover the smell of the corpses so that passersby didn’t take notice. So it wasn’t bad enough that a survivor would be gravely wounded, but they would also be surrounded by their dead friends and family, slowly suffocating from the bodies and dirt…and then they are further suffocated by the poison seeping down towards them from the top of the grave.
12. The Child-Killing Tree
This is probably the worst of all of the entries in this article. The Cambodian administration, in their complete annihilation of anyone who seemed even the slightest bit contrary to the ideas of the state…somehow felt the need to kill even their children. This was often a part of the torture for the parents of these kids, as they were forced to watch. And once their children were flung into the mass grave, they too were killed, and kicked in after them. But this specific way of murdering children (including tiny little infants) was to take them by the legs, and whip their heads against the tree in the above photo. Further up the tree, there is in fact a spot that is still discoloured from the number of children that had been murdered in this way. There even a worse way in which the Cambodians killed children. They would take babies, toss them into the air, and then catch them on their bayonets! Again, this was done in front of the parents of these children.
11. Pol Pot Lived On
This horribly disgusting little grotesque man managed to avoid ever being brought to justice for the his leadership in the murder of over two million people. And it should be pointed out that he did not only murder his own people. He also ordered the slaughter of every Vietnamese person within Cambodian borders. This spurred Vietnam on to invade Cambodia shortly thereafter, driving Pol Pot from power. He escaped to Thailand, and continued on as the leader of the Khmer Rouge until 1985. In 1997, he was placed under house arrest for murdering a so-called friend of his. It wasn’t until 1998 (twenty years after the mass murder of over two million people) that he was slated to appear at an international tribunal. He died before he was brought to justice. Many speculate that he committed suicide to avoid facing punishment for his crimes.
10. Over 200 Killing Fields
Cambodia is just over 100,000 kilometres squared. To put that into perspective, Canada is just shy of 10,000,000 kilometres squared. Considering how small Cambodia is, there were about 200 sites that were labelled as killing fields. And within those 200 hundred killing fields, there were over 20,000 mass graves. And not a single one of those graves were dug by the administration that was slaughtering their own people left, right, and centre. Well over one million Cambodians were set to the edges of these mass graves so that they could be easily murdered, and subsequently kicked into the graves. Infants, and children were just simply tossed in afterward. As you can see above, there were those who were at least spared the sight of the carnage around them. But that was not a majority.
9. Methods Of Torture
There were so many methods of torture with regards to Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge that it is simply unbelievable. Iron beds were loaded into prisons like S-21, with restraints attached to make torture easier (though some people were simply burned alive on these very beds). Vivisections were common, where a victim would be cut open, and have their organs pulled from their body, whilst both conscious, and without anesthetic. Some people were slowly drowned. Others were slowly drained of their blood to see how long they could survive. Electric shock was also used…and for those prisoners who caused the administration the most grief…they were skinned alive. And of course there was the added psychological torture of watching children being beat against trees and posts. That alone must have made people beg for death.
8. Hardly Any Justice
As it stands right now, of the many, many people who instigated and perpetrated the heinous crimes on the Cambodian people…only five have come to any sort of justice. And that sort of justice is not always what people would truly wish to happen. Kaing Guek Eav for example, might have been granted life in prison, but surely there are other sentences which could seem to bring him closer to the right amount of justice he deserves. And even given his life sentence, until the 2012 verdict, he was only going to end up serving a 19-year term. Nuon Chea, Pol Pot’s second in command, as well as Kiehu Samphan were also sentenced to life in prison. Which will never seem long enough since they were mostly not tried until about the year 2000. And given that it took that long for anyone to bother persecuting against the horrifying regime, most of the villains, including Pol Pot, lived their lives fully, and died before justice could be had.
7. Bone And Clothing Still Rise To The Surface
“The staff collects them every couple of weeks or so. After heavy rains, they keep coming to the surface,” A Cambodian guide named Sakona says, pointing to pieces of clothing, human bone and teeth protruding from the earth. “I pick them up too.” Imagine how painful that must be for so many of the people there. Especially those on staff at the killing field site. There is a museum of sorts with several charnel houses (where they display the remains of many victims). And every time it rains in this area, as staff members walk the areas, they still come across fragments of clothing and bone. This is 38 years after the fact, and people are still uncovering remains after every rainfall. Being a tourist in a place like that must be overwhelmingly uncomfortable. Knowing that, at any time, you might come across the remains of someone who was brutally murdered.
6. The Children Know Nothing Of The Atrocity
The above photo is of a child who likely didn’t get to see beyond the gruesome time of genocide that saw the sewing of the killing fields. The children of Cambodia today would hardly know anything of this child. There is no lesson in Cambodian schools of this horrible atrocity. There are no adults who are willing to speak of it to their young families. Essentially this dark period of time has been left to remain perfectly dark to future generations. Unless they end up working at the museum, or are educated abroad, they are not likely to learn of what happened to their forbears. Surely most youthful Cambodians today have someone in their family who lost their life in the genocide…but they are not told that. They are simply told that they passed away.
5. Bullets Were Expensive
Now, this photo is from a film based on these tragedies, but it perfectly captures this point… As it happened, the Cambodian administration under Pol Pot recognized that ammunition was fairly costly, and they might need ammo for emergency, and when warring against other countries. So bullets were not frequently used in the mass slaughter of those who perished in the killing fields. Instead farming hoes, axes, and clubs were typically the weapon of choice for murder. It was cheaper to crack many people over the head, as they sat on their knees at the side of a mass grave. Another method was to slit the throat of a prisoner, and then kick them into the grave as they bled out. Now of course crushing the skull or slitting the throat of someone does not actually mean they die. Or at least not right away. So here again is where the DDT comes into play.
4. Perpetrators Walking Free
Kaing Guek Eav, also known as “Duch” is one of the scuzziest perpetrators of the Cambodian genocide. He was directly responsible for the death of at least 16,000 people. Considering that there were 17,000 who died at the S-21 facility, you can imagine where exactly this little imp of a man worked. As a matter of fact, he was the director of S-21. And it might infuriate you to know that he used to very excuse that so many SS officers used during the Nuremberg Trials. He was just following orders. This man was not tried for his crimes against humanity until 2009 (when the above photo was taken). And even then he was only given a thirty-year prison sentence. To be fair that would likely mean he wouldn’t ever leave prison…but in 2012, his sentence was extended to life. Now 74, I’m sure everyone in Cambodia can’t wait for this horrible human to kick the bucket.
3. Reasons For Killing So Many
Pol Pot had an absolute, yet ridiculous vision regarding how his people should live. He figured it would be best for everyone if his people went back to the time of prehistoric man. Basically, every person should never rely on technology and should go back to foraging, and hunting like the days of old. Even with regards to building, everything should be done by hand, or with crude tools. Pol Pot’s Communist vision was one out of a darkened past. People were gathered up and executed for nothing more than having glasses. Glasses were seen as a reliance on modern science and study, and were therefore seen as opposition to the regime. It was that easy to be singled out, gathered up, and executed. Any hint of modernity was punishable by execution. Even just being a student at the school that would eventually become S-21.
2. Some Westerners Caught Up In The Mess
John Dewhirst, Kerry Hamill, and Stuart glass were from England, New Zealand, and Canada respectively. These three men embarked on an oceanic voyage, to travel about the Gulf of Thailand. Eventually they were to sail to Singapore, and journey over land. But they never got to complete their expedition. Drifting into Cambodian waters, a Khmer Rouge vessel came upon them. Perhaps the most lucky of the three, Stuart Glass was shot dead at the scene. The other two were brought to S-21, where they were tortured for over a month. No one is quite sure just in what way. But the above entry about torture might give some idea. Ultimately, Dewhirst was coerced into penning a confession of being a part of the CIA, sent to spy on the Cambodian regime. Both he and Hamill were murdered there. The above photo is of Hamill’s brother, at S-21…which must have been a haunting experience for him.
1. Allied Support
So first off. The Khmer Rouge would likely not have gained as much support as it did, if it did not oppose the former regime, and the American bombings of the North Vietnamese camps in Cambodia. A little bit of strategy there, since Pol Pot’ regime would later eliminate every Vietnamese person in his country. But that was a good strategy it seemed. Thanks to opposing the Americans at the outset, and eliminating Vietnamese towards the end, this allowed the Cambodian Communist regime under Pol Pot to be seen as the legitimate government. Even after Vietnam came in, saw the horrors there, and pushed the Khmer Rouge out. But the Cambodian genocidal party still held the U.N. seat until 1982! And of course it doesn’t help at all that it is constantly rumoured that both the United States, and the United Kingdom supported the Khmer Rouge because of their mutual opposition to Vietnam.