My journeying takes me to Cambodia this weekend. First to Phnom Penh - the capital of this ancient land and then to Siam Reap – a city of ancient and very famous temples. Cambodia has been populated since the fifth century. It was once a part of the larger kingdom of Funan.
The Khmer Empire arose between the 9th and the 13th centuries. It was a period of great enlightenment and spirituality for the people of Cambodia. It also fostered a temple building frenzy. The Angkor Wat temple complex in Siam Reap was constructed during this golden age. The Angkor Wat is the biggest collection of Hindi temples and the largest religious monument in the world. It is one of the greatest man-made wonders on the planet.
The word 'Angkor' is Khmer for ‘city’ and a 'wat' is a temple. Angkor Wat is therefore a city of temples. Even though Angkor Wat is located in a city called Siam Reap and it is a rugged 5 hour drive from Phnom Penh - where I am staying - I will go and see it.
How can I not?
I have arranged for a car and a driver to take me from Phnom Penh to Siam Reap. I found him on the Internet. The driver's name is Black Rambo. His car is air conditioned and he has posted some good recommendations on his Internet site. I have had a flurry of email exchanges with Black Rambo about pick ups and drop offs and timings. He sounds like a bit of a character and I like him already.
Following the war in Vietnam in the 1970’s a political party called the Khmer Rouge emerged in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge was led by a crazy man named Pol Pot. They seized power in Cambodia through a military coup. Crazy is probably not an apt enough description of the man named Pol Pot. He was actually a completely insane fucker saturated by hate and power. He was a lunatic.
Pol Pot renamed Cambodia Kampuchea. History records the fact that during his regime Pol Pot attempted genocide on several Cambodian ethnic groups in his country. The Khmer Rouge maniacs slaughtered every person who they thought was associated with the previous government. They also killed anyone involved with foreign businesses and people they considered to be intellectuals or artists. They were indiscriminate in their butchering of men, women and children.
Much of the Khmer Rouge's cruel and bloody murders were inflicted on the Cham people of Cambodia. Pol Pot established a mandate to wipe this ethnic tribe out and he gave it a very good crack. The United Nations estimated that Pol Pot and his military followers executed and murdered at least two million people during his five year rule. More than 20,000 mass burial sites have been found across the country. The most infamous of these places is known as the “Killing Fields” It is a place of horror and terror and carnage.
Human remains still litter the site.
In 1979 the Vietnamese communists invaded Cambodia and deposed Pol Pot. Ironically it was the same Vietnamese government that the Americans had failed to annihilate that freed the persecuted Cambodian people and liberated them from the evil dictator Pol Pot.
The word 'atrocity' is defined as an action or behavior that is wicked or ruthless. Like many words in the English language it's origins are Latin. The original Latin word is atrocitatem. It was used by the ancient Italians in the Roman empire to describe an act of extreme cruelty. The Killing Fields of Cambodia are a place of incredible wickedness and ruthlessness and cruelty.
It is a place of atrocity.
The term ‘Killing Fields’ was coined by a Cambodian journalist named Dith Pran. A film of his story of escape from Pol Pot’s death camps and his witness accounts of the massacres and the tyranny of the Khmer Rouge was made into a Hollywood film.
The film was called “The Killing Fields”.
It is my intention to visit the Killing Fields whilst I am in Cambodia. It will be a stark contrast to the peaceful tranquility that I anticipate in the temple grounds of the Angkor Wat. I have spoken to people who have been to the Killing Fields and they have warned me that the experience will be harrowing and shocking and traumatizing.
I expect nothing less.
I have been to the Nazi concentration and death camps of Auschwitz and Treblinka in Poland. These horrific facilities have been preserved and like the Killing Fields of Cambodia they are open to the public to view. They are tourist attractions. I found the sadness and solemnity of these death camps to be overwhelming and I anticipate experiencing the same emotions when I visit the Killing Fields. Man’s inhumanity towards man has been appalling at times.
We need to remind ourselves of the sins of our past.
The term ‘man’s inhumanity towards man” was penned by the great Scottish poet Ronnie Burns in his work “Man was made to mourn: A dirge”.
It has been speculated by some literary critics that Burns may have reworded a similar quote from Samuel Van Pufendorf.
He wrote, “more inhumanity has been done by man himself than any other of nature’s causes”.
Ronnie wrote his dirge in 1784 and Samuel scripted his in 1673. This was several centuries before Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin and Pol Pot attempted their genocides.
History sometimes teaches us nothing.
Nor either does poetry.
I think it is important for we humans to maintain such reminders of our capacity for great evil and to preserve them. They should serve as monuments to the atrocities that were committed by such men as Pol Pot.
So that they should never again be repeated.