"HOLIDAY IN CAMBODIA" Lessons From S21
The school houses lots of evidence proving the atrocities of Pol Pot's clique to include the cells, instrutments of torture, dossiers, documents, list of prisoner's names, mugshoots of victims, their clothing, and their personal belongings. The mass graves surrounding S21 particularly the one situated 15 kilometers south-west of Phnom Penh in the Village of Choeung Ek, in the District of Dangkor, Kandal Province is where the majority of the bodies were located.
Democratic Kampuchea became the new name for Cambodia established by the The Khmer Rouge in 1975. No other regime had tried to go backwards so far, so quickly. A doomed attempt by a group of utopian thinkers to break free from the capitalist world system by reverting to the past in order to rearrange the future.
The Red Khmer as they were called was an extraordinary group which had abolished money, private property, schools, universities, buddhist monasteries etc. Publishing was not permitted. Leisure activities were curtailed. There was no postal system, no freedom of movement, no information exchange, no personal adornments(everyone had to wear the same clothing, identical black cotton pajamas).
Led by their leader Pol Pot who unlike other revolutionary leaders changed his name the moment he gained power thus concealing himself making him impossible to identify. He followed precedents set by several communist leaders, including Lenin, Stalin, Tito, & Ho Chi Minh. When in the underground in order to conceal their true identities from the police and to inspire their followers these men had changed their names. Stalin meant Steel, Ho Chi Minh meant "The Enlightened One" etc... Pol Pot's new name had no independent meaning. There was even confusion with his date of birth. He wasn't photographed till he visited China in September 1977 which revealed him to be a former 52 year old school teacher named Saloth Sar. Even then he never admitted his former identity till after he was overthrown in 1979. To his people he was known only by his Codename: Brother One.
Believing himself surrounded by enemies, Pol Pot approved the torture & execution of almost 14,000 enemies at the regime's interrogation facility "S-21". Most put to death there were loyal members of the party. Communist China at the time was going through a peculiarly radical phase where that regime on the eve of Mao Zedong's death in September 1976 never acknowledged the Khmer Rouge.
Cambodia had been a victimized country as far back as it's capital Phnom Penh had been bombed by Allied aircraft since February 1945. As a matter of fact if it wasn't for the USA there probably wouldn't have been a Pol Pot. US Troops had even invaded Cambodia on April 30,1970 on orders of US President Nixon.
Eventually the government was overthrown and replaced by a regime that sought an alliance with the US led by General Lon Nol. Ironically Pol Pot's closest friend at school was Lon Non whose oldest brother was Lon Nol who became president in 1970. He eventually was defeated by the communist led by Sar Saloth and the Vietnamese Communist. As defeat loomed in 1975 Lon Non by then a General hoped to capitalize on his friendship with the communists who he had gone to school with. He lingered in Phnom Penh after he was captured certain that these old friends would remember him and reach an arrangement. He was executed within 48 hours.
The last action of the Vietnam War actually occurred in 1975 off Tang Island Cambodia. Troops had been called in to free the crew of the USS Mayaguez which had been captured by the Khmer Rouge. Then U.S. President Gerald Ford ordered a rescue mission one month after Phnom Penh fell to the Khmer Rouge and two weeks before the fall of Saigon. Thirty-nine crew members of the ship were being held hostage but it turned out that the rescue mission was unnecessary. The crew had been set free hours before the U.S. Marines stormed the island. The U.S. had a total loss of three helicopters which were shot down and 38 soldiers died in the assault.
In November 1978, Cambodia was so bad Vietnam invaded it to stop Khmer Rouge incursions across the border and the genocide of Vietnamese. Vietnamese forces didn't enter S21 till January 1979 during which time they found 6 of the last tortured and dead prisoners tied to the beds or laying on the floor. The Vietnamese photographed these victims and buried them directly outside those very classrooms. On February 17, the People's Republic of China responded by sending in an invasion force into northern Vietnam.
I strongly believe that the Vietnamese Army won that incursion regardless what China fails to admit.
In the end most of Pol Pot's cadre were killed or defected. Ieng Sary defected to Hun Sen, the present leader of Cambodia. Pol Pot moved against Ta Mok who became second in command replacing Nuon Chea in 1995 and Son Sen who he had accused of contacts with the Vietnamese. Pol Pot ordered the brutal murders of Son Sen, his wife and several relatives, including small children. This angered the cadre at Anlong Veng who had not till then taken sides in the feuding at the top. After seeing the bodies Ta Mok loyalist Khem Nguon saw that Pol Pot's action in killing Son Sen was improper. wrong, and barbarous.
On June 13 Pol Pot fled with his family and a handful of supporters. The group was recaptured on June 16. The next ten months were all that remained of his life. He was more frequently on view during this time period than any other time since the 1970's. He sat slumped in a simple chair, an anguished frail old man struggling to maintain what remained of his dignity while watching his life crumble in utter, final defeat. He was being charged with murdering Son Sen. Throughout the trail Pol Pot never bothered to look at his accusers and was never asked to speak. "Without our struggle there would be no Cambodia now" he proclaimed. Certainly Cambodia would have been swallowed up by Thailand and Vietnam. In March government forces drove the Red Khmer out of Anlong Veng into a makeshift base within nine miles from Thailand. Pol Pot lived under guard in a roughly built 3 room house. He quietly died one night and his body was cremated beneath a pile of rubbish in a clearing 500 yards inside Cambodia.
And just recently this November, Kaing Guek Eav, 66, known as Duch, a former mathematics teacher who brought the strictness and efficiency of a schoolroom to S21 appeared at a pretrial hearing, the first appearance in open court of any Khmer Rouge figure.
Now a tiny, frail self-effacing man who wears glasses faces a special tribunal created last year with the assistance of the United Nations. Duch never killed anyone himself. He just occasionally drove out to the Choeung Ek killing field to observe the executions.
Duch, the personification of one of the great mass murderers faces a panel of five red-robed judges and a tribunal filled with prosecutors, lawyers and clerks. Long gone are the mysterious Black & White images I gazed upon. The Colored Photos have taken all the mystery away.
Cambodia today has become a Holiday in the Sun Theme equipped with a traditional amusement park and a half chinese built casino. Entrance is limited to High Ranking Government Officials, The Power Elite, Chinese Citizens/Tourists, and perhaps Angela Jolie a local celebrity known for her humanitarian contributions.
Because of Pol Pot, Cambodia now has a past and future to look forward to.
As for "Tuol Svay Prey the High School" which had become "S21 the Prison", it is now "Tuol Sleng, The Genocide Museum".
Tuol Sleng, The Genocide Museum has again become a school. This time teaching us exclusive Lessons from S21.