This photo haunts me. It is a photo of a little boy probably less than 5 years old with fat cheeks and innocent eyes. He is a child therefore he isn't guilty of any crimes, so why did he end up in S-21 prison where over 15,000 Cambodians were tortured, starved, and killed during the reign of madness headed by Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime (only 7 people survived). I am haunted by this little boys eyes and the expression on his face. He has no idea what is in store for him because he is a child and innocent of all crimes.
The S-21 prison is now called the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum but before Pol Pot led Cambodia into a spiral of death it (S-21) was a high school. I like to ponder the fact that we humans can turn a high school into a prison then into a museum.
Please look at the photo of the woman and child. Did you notice the date? She was brought to S-21 prison in May 1978. I cried when I realized that this woman and her child were being photographed and imprisoned while I played with my friends and ate ice cream on the other side of the world.
In 1978, I was a child whose major concern in life was how many gifts Santa Claus would bring me on Christmas Day. The fact that I was going to school, reading Sesame Street books to my brother, and pestering various relatives for 25 cents so I could go to the store and buy some candy or potato chips, while thousands of innocent people were being murdered leaves me breathless. This woman may have been guilty of some crime according to the Khmer Rouge but the baby in her arms is guilty of being born in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I went to Phnom Penh, Cambodia to see the ugliest side of humanity. I went to Phnom Penh to learn some unknown lesson. However, once I walked into classrooms which served as former torture chambers and realized that the red stains on the floors were someone's blood, I was beyond horrified. I was left speechless and terrified about the evilness that can lay in man. Pol Pot was a mad man and Cambodia has no natural resources for many Western powers to covet but couldn't we have mounted an effort to depose him? Why didn't someone try to stop Pol Pot and his regime from ultimately cannabilizing their own people?
I left S-21 shaken to my core and rode in a tuk-tuk to the Killing Fields. I had a lingering feeling in my stomach that I shouldn't go to the Killing Fields because I had seen enough death to last me a lifetime but I went anyway. The Killing Fields is a big field outside of Phnom Penh where most of the prisoners at S-21 ended up. It is now several plots of land which are a testament to a regime's madness. I don't have anything to say about the Killing Fields because nothing more needs to be said. I did find it odd that my tuk-tuk driver tried to convince me to go to a near-by shooting range after visiting the Killing Fields. I wonder who decided that visitors may want to shot a few rounds after seeing human skulls in a memorial.
The country that is left after Pol Pot's reign of blood is a nation "starting from scratch" in my own words. The Cambodians are survivors trying to catch-up in a world which fast-forwarded ahead of them decades ago. I believe in the innate greatness of the human spirit even in our darkest days, so I'm hoping that Cambodia can win its battle to catch-up in today's technological world. However, there is a sadness in my heart that our governments allowed this genocide to occur and the powers-to-be continue to remain silent as people die all over the world for various reasons.
I've also come to the conclusion that war makes men and women uncivilized. I believe no matter how righteous, moral, or high-minded your cause is, once you take up arms to fight against another human being, you will eventually lose your humanity. War makes animals out of us all. I wish President Bush could realize that by using guns to rid Iraq of Saddam Hussein and attempt to find weapons of mass destruction, we (U.S.A.) can do nothing but lower ourselves to the depth of animals.