It’s funny (well, not funny, but you know – interesting) that even as I’m researching this stuff, I have trouble imagining how it happened. I saw first hand the aftermath of it, but some part of me still can’t wrap my head around it.

I guess I would just like to think that we live in a world where international organizations step in BEFORE genocide happens, but history has shown time and again that we don’t. A lot of the time, we just sit back and watch. When we do intervene, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. And sometimes our attempts just fail.

Still, it’s hard to look at the Khmer Rouge regime and not wonder: what the fuck were the rest of us doing? And … shit. I’ll get to it. But mostly, we first did a lot of nothing. Later, we’d help them out. Yeah. I know. I KNOW. It’s totally fucked up. Anyway, on to the decline of the Khmer Rouge. All the caveats I mentioned in earlier posts still stand. I’m an American. I’m not a historian. I tend to editorialize. 

Sign at Choeung Ek Genocidal Center.

 

By the second half of the 1970s, the Khmer Rouge had all of the Cambodia people in a vice. People would be dragged off to Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, where they were interrogated and tortured, then sent to the Killing Fields, where they were murdered in all kinds of horrific and creative ways (the Khmer Rouge didn’t like to waste bullets on executions), and dumped into mass graves.

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I would like to take a moment to talk about durian.

I have to. I have spent the larger part of the morning working on a post about the Khmer Rouge, and I very much need a mental break, and talking about stinky fruit will allow for that to happen.

So. Durian.

The stuff is notorious, and you’ve probably heard of it. Miraculously, I somehow failed to take a photo of the inside of the fruit (I think I was hypnotized by the smell) but here is its exterior:

 

I like to think of the spikes as being Mother Nature’s subtle way of saying, “Get back. Seriously.”

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Yesterday, I discussed the political situation in Cambodia that allowed for the Khmer Rouge to rise to power. Today, I want to talk about what happened once they were in control of the country. All the same caveats that I mentioned yesterday still hold true. Mainly: I’m not a historian, so while I’ve done my best to be accurate (and cite my sources), I may have made some mistakes. If you find one, please let me know in the comments, and include a source. Also, as you probably know, I’m an American. I’ve tried not to editorialize too much, but everything that I write will have that bias.

Statue at the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh.

 

Lesson 1: The Khmer Rouge (continued)

After years of Civil War and fighting (exacerbated by U.S. involvement), Cambodia was pretty damn unstable. The country had been ravaged – by bombs, by poverty, by hunger and war – under the old regime of the Khmer Republic. So when the Khmer Rouge (the KR) finally took Phnom Penh, on April 17, 1975, people cheered.

This was different. This had to be salvation.

This detail breaks my heart perhaps more than any other – because people were so damn hopeful for what the Khmer Rouge could do, for what they might bring to the country. They were cheering their would-be murderers.

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Lesson 1: The Khmer Rouge.

It seems pointless to tell you about Cambodia without first going into the country’s history, particularly in the last forty years or so. Some will chastise me, and will be quick to say that the country is more than the Khmer Rouge, more than this dark history. That’s true: I can’t and won’t dispute that. But this particular backstory is the reason why the country is what it is today. It is virtually impossible to speak of Cambodia and not touch on the issue. My stories won’t make sense.

Nicci and I realized this. That’s why, on our very first morning in Cambodia, we went to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, and later to the Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum. They was no way around it, and it framed the way we traveled, and how we saw the country, and I think that was the responsible way to go.

Some of the young victims of the Khmer Rouge.

 

It’s so important, I’ve made the “Khmer Rouge” Cambodia Lesson #1.

Note that I’ve added nothing else. Not “The Khmer Rouge was horrible” or “The Khmer Rouge left a legacy of death and terror” or anything to that effect. This is because of Cambodia Lesson 2.

Lesson 2: Don’t pretend for a second that you understand what the fuck happened here.

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