I contemplated not writing this post. Then I thought about why the The Killing Fields is actually open to the public, yes maybe it brings in tourists and generates revenue for the country, but it also keeps the memories alive of those affected my the Khmer Rouge, and to remind the world the effect such a group had on society in the 1970’s.
The Killing Fields is a site in Cambodia where over a million people were murdered and buried by the Communist Khmer Rouge regime.
When you first step through the gates, there is an eery silence that hits you. Suddenly you can no longer hear mopeds buzzing by, or locals shouting their latest deals on bottles of water. And the reason for such quietness isn’t because the site is void of visitors, no it’s because silence is an unwritten rule at the site. Upon entry, you are told to keep chatting to a minimum and not to take photos of your friends posing in the fields – you are allowed to take photos, but just not one where a person is the main subject.
This is a common theme I found at sacred/religious grounds throughout Asia, but at the Killing Fields, there is no need to talk. There’s a feeling, an aura that you just know there is tragedy and sorrow surrounding you – in the ground, in the air, in the water – it’s everywhere and there’s no escaping it. Like that feeling you get when you are at a funeral, you can’t always see it but you know grief is present.
You walk around imagining the unthinkable acts that took place there; but that’s just it, it is unthinkable. I have no reference point in my life where I can relate to such an atrocity. The site provides plenty of information and graphic detail, including loose bones, skulls and clothing to bring this horror back to life, to help us understand even a little, what it was like to stand in that very spot just 40 or so years earlier.
Photographs don’t do the Killing Fields any justice. Being there in person is the only way you can truly experience the overwhelming feeling that encompasses you.