At the time of the war, there were 15 million people in Cambodia. 85% were farmers, 10% office workers and 5% other. The Khmer Rouge, the governmental leaders, were well educated teachers, most receiving their degree in Paris. When they took charge they condemned education, and then annihilated the educated. Poetically, they used a school to house their prisoners.
They wanted to start the country afresh. Year zero. The educated, the prominent community figures, those who disobeyed rules were nothing but a hinderance to thwart their new ideals. So they got rid of them.
1 in 4 individuals ended up being killed. By their own people.
“Better to kill an innocent by mistake than spare an enemy by mistake,” said Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge.
Many were brought to the killing fields.
Large speakers tied to trees blared propaganda music to cover the noise of death. But it could still be heard.
Various methods were used to kill. Stems of sugar plan trees were used to slice necks, due to their teeth like jagged edges.
Adults were hit in the back of the head, whether dead or knocked unconscious, it didn’t really matter. They’d be thrown into the pit in the ground anyway. Chemicals that were thrown on top of them would finish the job… and stop the stench.
A giant tree stands tall in the middle of one of the fields, rope bracelets are tacked all over it. A sign of respect and remembrance. Infants were killed there. Soldiers would grab them by the legs, dangling the little one upside down. They smashed their head against the tree and then threw them the opposite direction into the mass grave that lays beside it.
When one member of a family was killed, the rest would be killed too - no matter their age - so on one would be left to seek revenge.
“You feel so isolated - among your own people, even though you speak the same language. It’s the most frightening feeling of your life,” a survivor states.
9000 remains were collected in 1980 alone. There are still fragments remaining in the ground. Bones continue to resurface even today. Every few months caretakers collect them and place them in a glass box - “it’s as if the spirits of those who died here do not lie still”.
A woman survivor stated, “I’m almost 70 years old, and I understand many things. I understand about love. Love between a husband and a wife. Love between a mother and her child. Love of your neighbors. But I don't understand this. That is why I cannot talk about it."