A Reflection on Cambodians

Feet in Cambodia colorful and half broken tiles

As a traveler myself, I have been fortunate to be welcomed whole-heartedly in strangers homes overseas and have been lent a hand when I needed (but didn’t expect) it. I have seen generosity come from anywhere and everywhere, and I have learned to give the same thanks to others without expecting in return.

Two monks in Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Two monks seen at the entrance to Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Lessons from Asia

I spent the past 5 months backpacking, traveling, and living in Asia. My boyfriend and I visited countries far less fortunate than ours where recent wars happened within the past 30 years. Some or most of these countries still monitor media for its people.
The most impactful was Cambodia. Cambodia taught me never to shun away from the horrors in humanity.
Cambodian people want you to know know about the 1975 genocide that destroyed their population.
It made me wonder, why would they want us to see this? Why should we experience the killing fields?
Then I learned: the idea is when more people experience the sadness, horror, and witness the abuse that happened to millions, acts of violence against humanity will never be repeated.

Short history of the Khmer Rouge

Pol Pot was a Cambodian man who studied abroad in France and adopted a Marxist view on life. When he moved back to Cambodia, after it became independent from the French, he started an underground communist movement, his forces becoming known as the Khmer Rouge.

On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge took the capital, Phnom Penh and decided to create “year zero,” where they would “purify society” and create their own utopia ruled by peasants. They point blank murdered anyone who had ties to the government, was a doctor, lawyer, policeman or educator.

If you wore glasses or appeared intelligent, you were murdered. If you had families ties to someone in the government, you were murdered. If you were in opposition of Pol Pot, you, your family and children were executed. They left no room for revenge by killing the entire family.

City life, religion, media, embassies, and foreign languages, all were banned. There would be no health care and no more education for all of Cambodia starting in 1975. Even more interesting, was that they shut out the world: no foreign help or medical assistance would be allowed. 

Cities were shut down and people were sent to work in the countryside, forced into manual slave-like labor. People weren’t adequately fed, they were abused, forced to work long hours in the heat. Many died from disease, became malnourished, or point-blank were murdered. The Killing fields came from the “ethnic cleansing” that happened when the Khmer Rouge destroyed the old society and its people. 

These atrocities lasted 3 years, 8 months, and 20 days. In that time nearly half the population was executed or died. Going there today you will see the impact; you will hardly see anyone living above the age of 50 and very few families grew up having the advice or care of grandparents.

child monk in Angkor Wat, Cambodia
child monk at Angkor Wat, Cambodia

The Impact of the Khmer Rouge

I found this past fascinating and of course terribly heart-breaking. When I arrived in the airport at Phnom Penh my tuktuk driver immediately asked if I wanted to visit the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum before going to my hotel.

I planned on going the next day, but it left me feeling an odd curiosity for why he wanted me to see this within my first hour of arriving in county.

Later, I learned the Cambodian people don’t shun from their past. The want the world to know their history.

I wondered why, but it was obvious, if you were exposed to such sadness how could you repeat this brutality to anyone else? Wouldn’t you be more sympathetic and more helping?

This way of thinking became so important to me. I felt their strength. It made me question what we learn in schools and about our history.

Why would we hide from the horror of our past? How could we hide from the horrors happing today? How can we turn a blind eye from the crimes committed against humanity, especially those happening now? 

Instead of turning a blind eye, children should learn about empathy through exposure; open their eyes, see what humans are capable of.

Why would we hide genocide from the world?

When more people experience the heartbreak from the stories at the Cambodia genocide museum and learn about the mistreatment of humans by their own people, humans will (ideally) never repeat it. This is what Cambodias believe.

Why is Cambodia Relevant to USA?

As an American, I don’t want to shun away from the many things that happen in our society and our country today.

I learned how Trump’s “Zero-Tolerance” policy is separating more than 2,300 children from their parents.

Supports are die-hards saying Obama did the same thing, and that “these people deserve it – a crime is a crime.” 

Aside from pointing fingers, why can’t we just ADMIT it is wrong? Why aren’t we doing something? Doing anything? Can’t we move forward to find a solution?

This is why Cambodian’s have it figured out.

They want you to know, they want the world to know the horrors they did and never repeat it.

As an American we need to accept that whatever or whoever we support that this is wrong.

I hope our country will open our eyes to the mistreatment of our own people and instead of pointing fingerswe should focus on how can we fix this and never let it happen again.

My adventures and ramblings through Europe, Australia, and now back the United States. I generally write from daily inspirations or from random thoughts.

Hey! If you enjoyed this post please tell me why or if you want more, let me know what to expand on!

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