In 1975, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia with the help of the Vietnamese communists. At first they were welcomed by the Cambodian population, who recently suffered starvation due to extensive US bombing and fighting. Pol Pot’s government soon started moving the population from the cities to the countryside in order to achieve its dream of an autarkic farming nation.
Minorities and intellectuals were persecuted. Populations from the city were accused of being contaminated by western ideologies and thus were given restricted rights. Family unit was not tolerated. Marriages were arranged by officials, mass celebrated, and had only one goal of populating the country. During these 4 years of dictatorship, 2 to 3 million Cambodians died. This was the first auto-genocide in history.
Our main visit to Phnom Penh was to see the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Killing Fields.
The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum or S-21 was the main interrogation center of the Khmer Rouge. It was a former high school, where almost 17,000 men, women, regardless of age, were tortured and killed.
One of the three buildings was reserved to interrogate prisoners with any political connection. If you were a member of government or had family members part of government, you could have been brought in for questioning. In reality, the prisoners of S-21 were tortured because of the paranoia of the Khmer Rouge.
In the second building, we can see clothing and pictures of the innocent victims held prisoner. The faces were very disturbing to look at, especially of those that were just too young.
About 10 miles from Phnom Penh are the Killing Fields. Infants were slaughtered by smashing their heads against a tree to make sure they couldn’t come back for revenge. Sirens were used to cover up the cries during such killings.
Finally in 1979, Vietnam was tired of being victims of repeated attacks against its border cities, so they invaded Cambodia and overthrew the Khmer Rouge.