The Killing Fields and S 21

The Killing Fields and S 21

Visiting the killing fields and the school turned interrogation compound known as S 21, crosses many lines. It takes you from simple tourist to observer of atrocities. From pleasure seeking to education reaping. From joyful to pensive. A lot of people will opt to avoid such trips and save themselves a day of depressing thoughts. That is a shame as it misses one of the most important recent stories of Cambodia.

Cambodia has an endless sea of sad tales. The killing fields with their sunken pockets of mass graves is still today, in some parts, covered with the teeth and bone fragments of the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. The provided audio tour guide helps to give you a sense of what would have been present at the time. Now, very little remains but the bones and earth. Buildings were torn down by angry and desperate villagers soon after the discovery of the fields.

From The Killing Fields and S21

The fields themselves are not much more than earthy empty pits. The central monument is a pagoda that has level upon level of human skulls and bones stacked to the soaring rooftop. It’s hard to imagine the nightmares that played out here simply because the descriptions of the killings – children’s heads smashed against trees, machetes and hatchets used since bullets were too precious – are beyond any normal imagination’s grasp.

From The Killing Fields and S21

Moving on, S 21 remains much more as it would have been at its gruesome peak. The juxtapose of what the facility once was – a school where ropes were used for climbing – to what it became – an interrogation center where ropes were used for hanging – is possibly the most vivid image of the period. The inviting spirit of the school still exists in the body of the buildings. You can even imagine children playing in the central square.

But if the body is still innocent then its face has been badly contorted into a mask of horror.

From The Killing Fields and S21

Walking the three story buildings, entering room after room, you are shown scene after scene of terror. In one building, nothing more but a wire bed frame and some instruments of restraint and torture remain. Along side them on the wall is often an over-sized black and white picture of the last person to occupy the room invariably stretched out on the frame, blood splattering from their head wounds covers the floor below.

The next three buildings have their former classrooms filled with wooden and brick makeshift cells. Others contain the astonishing photographic details of the time; portrait photos, row upon row, of the victims fill the rooms. The scope of photographic documentation is disturbing and a good reminder of just how recently this facility was used. Here you can match the faces to the skulls back at the killing fields.

From The Killing Fields and S21

And so it is that Susana and I walked through among the ghosts of these places on the eve of Christmas. And yet, despite its horrible tales, it provides a great gift. Looking at so much death has an impact on the observer. For me, it reminds me that life is precious; that I have lived such a rich one, full of love and friendship. I am lucky to have such gifts and must strive daily to justify them by living my life fully. To enjoy my time and to share it with those I care about.

From The Killing Fields and S21

At this time of year, people rush about buying gifts for their loved ones and can miss the meaning of the festive season. Touring the killing fields, as strange as it sounds, is a great gift to give to myself. It reminds you that life is precious and ultimately terribly short. For me, this reminder, so vividly delivered, is a true gift indeed.

If you enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to our free newsletter or 'like' the Facebook page. Or how about a good book or browse some of our highlights!

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


− 8 = zero

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>