In the late 1970s in Cambodia, 1.5+ million people (a quarter of the country’s population) were killed. Today, the prison in central Phnom Penh where thousands of people were tortured before being executed is a genocide museum, and the place where those prisoners were taken to be executed—now known as the killing fields—is open to visitors.
I’ll let the photos mostly speak for themselves, but I have to say that the killing fields were a difficult place to visit. Emotionally, they were the most difficult place I’ve ever visited. It was hard to reconcile the beautiful, peaceful fields I was looking at with the atrocities that took place there. And I felt guilt that bordered on shame when I saw middle-aged Cambodians—people who had witnessed and somehow made it through the slaughter that undoubtedly robbed them of loved ones—because I knew that the perceived difficulties of my life would never approach anything even remotely close to the actual horrors of theirs. The endearing friendliness and extraordinary optimism of the Cambodian people is made all the more astonishing when taken in this not-too-distant historical context.
In the tuk tuk back to the city from the killing fields, we passed by a little stand that sold neon-colored baseball hats to tourists. Two of them said FBI and CIA on them. It was tragically ironic that these hats were being sold just a stone’s throw from the place where eventually, after having been identified as an American spy and subsequently tortured, you would have been bludgeoned or hacked to death with a dull farm implement and shoved into a shallow mass grave.
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