Gather Round, Gather Round—The Killing Fields, Folks!

On the Road, Cambodia, 2015. The sign reads: "THE CHEMICAL SUBSTANCE STORAGE ROOM. HERE, WAS THE PLACE WHERE CHEMICAL SUBSTANCES SUCH AS D.D.T, etc., WAS KEPT.

The Killing Fields

The sign reads: "THE CHEMICAL SUBSTANCE STORAGE ROOM. HERE, WAS THE PLACE WHERE CHEMICAL SUBSTANCES SUCH AS D.D.T, etc., WAS KEPT. EXECUTIONERS SCATTERED THESE SUBSTANCE OVER DEAD BODIES OF VICTIMS AT ONCE AFTER EXECUTION. THIS ACTION HAD TWO PURPOSES: FIRST TO ELIMINATE THE STENCH FROM DEAD BODIES WHICH COULD POTENTIALLY RAISE SUSPICION AMONG PEOPLE WORKING NEARBY THE KILLING FIELDS AND SECONDLY WAS USED TO KILL OFF VICTIMS WHO WERE BURIED ALIVE."

The above is one of many texts to be found on site at Phnom Pehn’s ill-famed The Killing Fields, describing in gory detail the grim slayings and heinous disposal techniques undertaken by the Khmer Rouge during their rein from 1975-1979. The number of deaths resulting from Khmer Rouge policies is estimated to be anywhere between 1.7 to 2.5 million, with the DC Mapping Program and Yale University analysing 20,000 mass grave sites, indicating in their findings that at least 1,386,743 of these victims were brutally executed. Starvation and disease are said to have taken the rest. And like most places currently holding record for this kind of depravity, it’s now become a worldwide tourist attraction… and someone, somewhere, is making money. A souvenir shop and entry fee makes this case sharply evident.

From the begging of young men occurring outside the gates, it can be said that it’s not the average citizen taking home the bonds at the end of the day. Many travellers I’d met with spoke venomously of the beggars trying to make cash, solemnly deeming the whole experience—virtually, or to put into little words—trashed and tarnished by The Mouth of Poverty. But complaints about the "money grabbing youths" is just further confirmation that "readers are plentiful; thinkers are rare." Not many people seem to take the begging or thieving for what it really is: the honest truth; a perfect example of the overall damage inflicted by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime. Nothing left. Or not enough to go around, anyway.

So when there’s little money to be made, I don’t blame the kids for taking any opportunity they can to make a few dollars, which will most likely be shared among them or taken home to provide for their family anyway. And even if it’s drugs they’re on, or the cash is used for sex and drink, I still wouldn’t damn them. These desperate pleas for "anything you’ve got" are a clear reminder of what The Killing Fields truly represent, what lasting effect the war had on Cambodia, and how its people are still being greatly affected today as a result of the tragedy. It’s the war, still in motion, in real time. But because bombs aren’t dropping, not many outsiders seem to pay notice.

Presumably confusing for the Cambodian public is the irony of how such blatant sadism towards humanity and blood carnage can destroy a country, suppressing its society and financial wealth—in the process slaughtering millions of innocent bystanders in the same frenzied manner as the Chinese have been seen killing dogs—yet now, years later, the cruel infamy of the Khmer Rouge wears armour as a substantial contributor towards Cambodia’s climbing revival, creating a skyrocket boom in the tourist market. Odd. Ironic. Somehow iconic. Yes, human nature’s morbid curiosity is a strange mistress, indeed.

Throughout history’s horrific slayings, unfathomable murders and franchisee psychopaths have created endless covens of future gold and revenue for anyone near enough to cash in on the action. Usually it’s the industries, rarely is it the general public. A lot of people want to get as close to death without ever really going there. We want to stare and gawk at the harsh realities of others. So I guess that’s a major selling point.

Five years after the questionable 9/11 terrorist attack which killed 2,996 people, the film adaptation grossed $70,278,893 at the North American box office, saying a lot about "Western taste." Also proving "death is indeed profitable." The sicker the better, then—well, the more money you make from the product, obviously. I must admit that I too cannot help but be drawn into the dark realms of human depravity—everyone’s sick to some degree, that’s my theory. But does anyone ever ask who benefits from the grossed $70,278,893? My guess would be greedy, myopic writers and friends, the government and the national press—it’s probably these men and women who end up gaining from such tragic episodes... Everyone’s a loser except for those who play dirty. It’s a poor moral to a story, I know. But that’s life, baby.

Strangely, on the contrary, capitalising on dark pasts isn’t necessarily a bad thing or a behaviour that should go totally devoid as it can have the rounded potential to work harmoniously with equalizing the scoreboard for those affected by ill. Unfortunately, this rarely reels in as the catch. Greed is deep, empathy is shallow. Africa’s wealth report is by far the most significant example of this snake-hearted covetousness to date. There’s plenty of swine to go around, so why bother with veganism when you can just shelve an alternative product…

During my stay in Cambodia, witnessing firsthand much of the poverty, prostitution, drug dealing and skullduggery that remains ripe to the core, I began to wonder if all the money tourists were bringing in was being spent in the right place? As far as the eye can see, in the big cities there’s fancy hotels, fast-food joints, suave restaurants, car dealerships, bars, nightclubs, salons, convenience stores—all well and dandy for your average traveller and the lucky citizens living close enough to the heart to make ends meet. Yet so many families, especially those out in the countryside or poverty stricken in the slums, are remaining evermore rottenly desperate due to a sheer mountain of a finical crisis and the ongoing fight for land and property. It can get so bad many of whom are even willing to sell their young to organised sex traffickers—accepting in return roughly half of what the average English labouring man will make in a month for their precious cub. Girls will then be sold onto buyers or used to pull in dough off the street by romping with the foreigners. And helping to keep this industry thriving—with pockets full of illegal cash, bald, ugly and usually running from something—is The Western Male Pedophile, who’s found solace in a world where he can buy his way out of almost anything, and young girls can be dwindled to but a few dollars for sex, who don’t seem to tell authorities if you abuse them a little. Vulgar, yes, but true.

Naturally, not all western males in Acapulco shirts are part of the same gang. No, no, many just come out for sanctuary, retirement, or a good time… and others set upon in search for a young maiden to call bride while treating her good and clinging like a hillbilly to a fur scarf. But from what I witnessed with my own eyes and was told in fine detail, the ratios I calculated were frighteningly grim. My fears were further confirmed as according to the UN’s Children’s Rights Committee an estimated one third of prostitutes in Cambodia are under the age of 18, and 37 percent of people trafficked for sexual exploitation are children. Now, going back to what I said about The Western Male Pedophile, this is only the stem of the problem and the roots are in fact planted deep in its rural homeland. Apparently, it’s Cambodian men who pummel the majority of children through the sex trafficking market—something to be said about sexually repressing society.

As you may have guessed, it’s not only the native girls in danger here. A handful of foreign travellers I’d spoken with had tasted the brute of the beast out in Cambodia, so it seemed the shady "He" was indeed everywhere, and whenever I met one of the sleazy buggers, I felt a little sick and wanted to ask around for a water gun to play with…get the creep out of the bar with a ballsy act of craziness, then spray him blind with liquor and run the bastard crying into a field of water buffalo. But the law out here doesn’t take too well to white-on-white vigilantism, especially when these men are usually top paying customers, "respected," and nestled with friends in the community and often the police force. Ah… but drunken daydreams by the sea are nice nonetheless.

This all being said, before I go on, I must defend the Kingdom by stating, for the record, that I’d never felt more at home anywhere in my entire life. Despite its harsh underbelly, the shameful perverts and night stalkers it attracts, also the questionable spending of its government, the people are generally enthusiastic about life. Interesting conversation is plentiful, the sites are outstanding, time is relaxed and it’s an all-round buzz to explore. Much is quaint and simple, but so much is crazy too. I felt safe almost all of the time.

At first glance, the entrance to The Killing Fields looks similar to an amusement park—big iron gates, single entrances on either side, kiosks, a map display, no smoking signs, prompting boards, parking bay, beverage counter, that sort of thing. We’d pulled up to the gates around noon. Tourists were stood around the entrance, trying their best to seem solemn, equipped with a somber mask and some appearing to be wondering whether it looks like they’re having too much fun at a mass grave site. I felt it too, mind you, the need to show a raw tribute of respect by remaining silent, head down, walking up to the gates with a plagiarized expression of sobering melancholy. It’s hard to deny that I didn’t feel somewhat excited at the prospect of observing history’s grim realities. So I won’t.

But then I went inside… and this is when my honest fervor and practiced expression started to wither. Laying eyes on the commemorative stupa and tower of human skulls inside, I became engulfed by a boiling rage and churning sadness over what had happened here. It was very real. But I was not humbled, nor was I thankful for being spared the same twisted fate. Instead, upon exploring the grounds, I was hit with a paranoid realisation that what had happened in Cambodia could easily happen again, anywhere in the world, at any goddamned moment. The idea that, with mankind so furiously governed by fear, a fool can cry wolf and molest society to drop its bearings, is not a malignant prospect intimately attached to Nazi Germany or Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge. That such corruption, degeneracy, fear and loathing could inevitably boom again, I fail to find much to be thankful for. 

Today, innocent children in Cambodia may not be getting smashed to a gory pulp on Chankiri trees, yet many are still suffering through rampant poverty and being sold and raped, and elsewhere, others are under constant threat of gunfire, stuck in the middle of rich men’s frivolous wars. The mass graves are decorated with thousands of colourful friendship bands ("tokens," "signs of respect" from passing tourists); but is all they seem to do is hang in contrast to the many complaints regarding beggars and pocket-pulling youths. The hypocrisy is ugly, yet I was aware that some humanity still exists, despite Nixon being damn good at covering his tracks, as not everyone had been so dully educated. The bands may hang in contrast, but the compassion they were put there with is real; and then I saw a glimmer of hope. 

All in all, my visit was a sobering experience and I’d advise everybody to take a trip there at least once.

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Gather Round, Gather Round—The Killing Fields, Folks!
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