On Genocide

I visited both the Cheung Ek killing fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, (formerly known as Security Prison 21) in the same humid, grueling day. I read stories from survivors and viewed the bones of those who died. The majority of this post was written at the killing fields, and certain parts were added at the prison camp.

skulls

“maybe for it to hit home, it needs to touch something personal, otherwise the monster is unrecognizable. I am forced to wonder, what if it had been me, what if I had been born to die in a Cambodian field, what if my fate was to serve as an example of human behavioral extremes and our propensity towards violence.

And that is the bloody cord connecting genocides- extremism. From lynchings in the southern American states to Nazism, the unifying theme is a kind of extreme version of “jumping to conclusions”. Fear, ignorance and other mitigating circumstances pushing people into behaving in inconceivable ways, into nurturing their most extreme and often violent appetites. Maybe moderation is the ultimate good and human ideal.

450 bodies were left in this pit. People have decorated the posts with colorful bracelets and money is scattered throughout the site. I think it was left as an offering.

450 bodies were left here. People have decorated the posts with colorful bracelets and money is scattered throughout the pit. I think it was left as an offering.

A song is playing on the audio tour now, it’s waiting for me to make a new selection. The song is called “A Memory from Darkness” by Him Sophy. [I couldn’t find a link to the song online, unfortunately]. The minor keys remind me of songs I liked to play on the piano when I was learning. I was told that I like minor keys because all Jews do, because tragedy is written in minor chords.   I say this as a reminder; no one is completely sheltered from the human extremes, not even privileged, first-world me. Do you think you are the exception?

a room from Security Prison 21

beds left in Security Prison 21

‘Do not let this happen again,’ was the advice of the day. Pictures and profiles of survivors begged us to remember them, to not allow the past to repeat itself. They wanted our lives to be better than theirs.

Prison rules

the prison’s rules

But what memorial will we visit next? One for the kidnapped school girls in Nigeria? Or the Yazidi people who are being routinely raped and murdered by IS?  What about Darfur? Or perhaps for those who have perished in the North Korean prison camps which have been operating for over 50 years? Where will we build a new house for the murdered, where will we go next to wring our hands and bear witness?”

a tree, now beautifully decorated, that was once used as a place to murder babies

a tree, now beautifully decorated, that was once used as a place to murder babies

house of bones

house of bones

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