Tuol Sleng. Security Prison 21. One of over 100 execution centers utilized by the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian genocide and the location of over 20,000 persons who were tortured and killed. We visited this place today and the reactions and emotions of each of the members of the ACJ crew varied from one extreme to the next. For me, the experience was rather infuriating. My point of view is a tad different since I didn’t have any relatives that had to live through that hell but from the human aspect, the mere knowledge that human beings can do such a thing to one another is extremely disheartening. During the Khmer Rouge occupation of Phnom Penh, the educated, skilled, and rich were taken prisoner at S-21, shoved into tiny rooms built into the former high school, and tortured daily until their eventual death. Many others were sent directly to the killing fields which were located nearby for a quicker, more “merciful” death.
My heart goes out to the Families of the victims and everyone who has undergone this hell. My heart also goes out to the people out there that are currently undergoing a similar hell. Because let’s not kid ourselves, similar events are occurring all around the world even as you read this. Perhaps not to this extent but it’s been an ugly part of human history for generations.
I wonder how a human can torture another human and live with themselves. To wake up each day, eat breakfast, torture humans, eat lunch, torture humans, eat dinner, and torture more humans before going to bed to renew the pattern. How can this become your 9-5 job? I would rather die. Psychologically speaking, those people must lose their grip with their humanity.
Something that I didn’t think about until my visit with this prison, is how many people of the Khmer Rouge are living among the people they tortured for years. There’s one room where several Soldiers and leaders of the Khmer Rouge described their duties and whether or not they regret what they did. Several explained that they feared for their lives and the lives of their families. Many were apologetic and accepting of any punished that may occur to them in the future. But so many more were proud of what they had done. Or chose not to accept responsibility for their actions. These same people could be eating a meal at a table next to me at any given moment. Shopping in the same market as me. And to think that they were the ones who tortured and killed so many on a daily basis. It’s so hard to digest. It’s infuriating.
This is why we must never forget. We must also never turn a blind eye. Edmund Burke is quoted for stating, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” This is alarmingly true for what occurred during and following the Cambodian genocide. It’s taken so long for those involved to be punished because a blind eye was turned for decades. We as human beings must make an effort to ensure this no longer happens. We need to wake up and realized there is a Tuol Sleng out there in the world still and the pain endured by the Khmer people are being endured by others elsewhere. My heart and prayers go out to all victims of human injustice and cruelty.