The Killing Fields and Genocide Museum


People visiting the Killing Fields leave bracelets to honor the victims of the Khmer Rouge.

Cambodia has a lot of interesting history and plenty of travelers doing the SE Asia thing go through Cambodia and party and drink like it’s Thailand, but it’s not.

Cambodia is a little more complicated than that.

Cambodia had an edge of darkness to it and for good reason.  It’s a country that’s still healing from the relatively new memory of genocide.  It was war-torn and economically shattered for years and is now healing.  It’s a beautiful place full of wonderful people, but to go there and not acknowledge the recent past is a bit like glossing over Rawanda.

Obviously, I was a bit conflicted with Cambodia.  I loved it but I didn’t quite trust it.  I also found that some of the tourist attractions are really ethically concerning.  For example, in Phenom Penh, you usually will go to see the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum and then in the same day, go pay hundreds of US dollars to shoot a bazooka or machine guns.  I grew up in Montana where everyone owns a gun, but they’re not tourist play things.  I just can’t imagine going to a genocide museum and then going to pay to shoot heavy artillery, especially somewhere that’s an impoverished country that’s rumored to let you shoot cows if you pay enough.

There are two sites to see here, the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum. Both are places of horrific crimes against humanity. The brutality of what people endured under the Khmer Rouge is unbelievable. It’s estimated that ¼ of the Cambodian population was killed using barbaric methods of beating with bamboo sticks, hammers and whatever else was available. There were guns, but bullets were too expensive. I don’t want to go into the details too much, because it truly was horrible.

Up until a year or so ago, I had never heard of the genocide in Cambodia. We watched Band of Brothers all the way through in World History, which took up the majority of a semester. Even then, I spent most of my time drawing cartoons. So, a big reason I wanted to visit Phenom Penh was to see the museums and get some understanding of what happened. I think it’s really important to know what can happen and how people, who I believe are mostly good, can be pushed to such unspeakable acts.

I guess if there is a good part of it all was gaining some knowledge and understanding of the events that took place, but it doesn’t make it any easier to comprehend how people could be so cruel.