Monday 5 September 2011

Eventually the paranoia sets in.

Socialism. I'm pretty ignorant about what this word means or what the concept is about. The rest of my family is far better informed, both brothers have degrees in history and politics and my father has one too, except his certificate is missing. They could argue me out of the room about the facts of this political movement. But I've visited the places where Socialism has caused the most damage. I have seen the aftermath of this political and economic theory (thanks for that definition). I know there are different types of socialism, but essentially the results all seem to end up the same: one leader, with ultimate power, dictates exactly what he wants everyone to do, he has a big vision, most likely an unrealistic one, he usually ends up making a few mistakes along the way, but doesn't like to be proven or admit he's wrong (who does?), the power goes to his head, he eliminates anyone to question him, he starts to feel his power is slipping away from his grasp (possibly true but that is really irrelevant) and he begins to fear military coups or public revolts and in his paranoia begins to turn on his own people. In China this begun with 'anti-revolutionaries' (Chiang Kai-Shek's supporters), moved to intellectuals and finally ended up anyone and everyone, culminating in a population terrified that their neighbour, best friend or even children would shop them to the secret police (haven't you read 1984?).

In Cambodia, where I witnessed my latest offering of socialist annihilation it began with soldiers, leaders and government officials from the previous regime, then extended to academics, students, doctors, teachers, monks, engineers, and anyone one else deemed educated enough. Pol Pot, like Mao before him, wanted a population of peasants who would be more easily manipulated and controlled. But then the paranoia set in and he began to fear his own supporters, making them follow in the footsteps of their countrymen, women and children to Security Prison 21 (S-21 or Tuol Sleng). This is now a haunting place in the centre of Phnom Penh (just off Mao Zedong avenue, the significance of which is not lost on me). This place is full of ghosts and suffering, and you can feel it. Perhaps even more so than Auschwitz, Poland. It used to be a High School. Children used to learn here. Walking along the balcony hallways and up and down the concrete staircases I whispered to Wendy, "It's like my school in China,". She looked back at me silently and nodded. Sadness began to envelope us. The make shift prison cells, lackadaisically built out of bricks on the ground floor and wood on the first and second, seem to tell you how hurriedly this place was put together. As if there wasn't much time so the guards had to find whatever they could to make the cells. In other rooms, where 30 year old blood stains still linger on the tiles, there are rows and rows of faces, men, women, and children documented right before their torture and death at the hands of the S-21 guards. Initially the corpses of those killed here were buried near to the Prison. But just as in Auschwitz, as the numbers of dead increased, the need for a bigger burial ground arose. A few miles outside of the city, is the site of the graves of the estimated 17,000 people killed in the S-21 complex. There's not much at the killing fields, except the feeling of death. Signs are placed around the relatively small space, detailing what used to stand on that spot. One of the most poignant for me; 'The place where the chemicals were kept. Used firstly to cover the stench from dead bodies which might raise suspicion and secondly to kill off victims that were buried alive'. 

There were only seven survivors from Tuol Sleng, and as of today only 4 are still living. They survived, again as in Auschwitz, because they could offer a skill. Two were artists, one a mechanic. The only female survivor is thought to have been spared because she hailed from the same place as the Prison Director 'Comrade Duch'. When the Vietnamese Troops liberated the prison, they found 14 dead bodies, the last people to be tortured and killed in S-21. These people are buried in marked graves inside the Tuol Sleng Complex. The perpetrators of this hideous regime are finally standing trial. Pol Pot died under house arrest before he could be punished. Comrade Duch was found guilty in 2007 of crimes against humanity, murder and torture for his role in the Cambodian holocaust. He admitted involvement but contested that everything he carried out was ordered by others. He received a sentence of 35 years. He is the first of the five central figures from the Khmer Rouge to be convicted. The others have been charged but still await their trials. They are: Nuon Chea, Chief political ideologist of the Khmer Rouge (Pol Pot's right hand man) who is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes but denies any wrongdoing. Leng Sary, Former Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, charged with the same crimes. His wife: Leng Thirith, charged with planning, direction, coordination and ordering of widespread purges ... and unlawful killing or murder of staff members from within the Ministry of Social Affairs. She is represented by a British Lawyer. Khieu Samphan: Former Head of state, charged with the same crimes as Leng Sary and Nuon Chea. I sincerely hope these people receive the retribution they deserve for the heinous crimes they have committed.

The rules of Tuol Sleng

One of the many pictures of the torture

Classrooms turned into torture chambers

Bloodstains last a long time.

The gallows. Previously the students exercise pole.

Pol Pot. Someone had gauged his eyes out.

Comrade Duch

Rows and rows of pictures

This guy caught my eye because it's obvious he has no idea what's instore for him.

Children too.

Shackles used to lock prisoners together by the ankles in the mass detention cells.

The wooden cells were the most eerie

The graves of the last 14 victims. 13 Men 1 woman.

Entrance to the Killing Fields

The soldiers used this tree to kill children and babies by smashing their heads against it's trunk.

The magic tree.

These children happily played on this trailer, seesawing back and forth metres away from the mass graves of their ancestors.

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  1. This is great! Very interesting. My sister is going to Seoul to teach English next year and she is looking for info like this! I'll be sure to tell her about it.
    Follow my blog and I'll definitely follow yours!

  2. That's great, but this is actually in Cambodia not Seoul. Korea is a great place to use as a base for earning money while visiting other parts of Asia.

  3. Horrifying, but we all need to be reminded of mankind's inhumanity. Would this happen if womankind had the power?