By student, Semester at Sea, Spring 2017
While in Vietnam, I was fortunate enough to go on a Semester at Sea program that also visited Cambodia. I wanted to visit Cambodia for a few reasons. One being because of the rich history the country offered. Now this country’s history isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. Its recent history is filled with genocide and sorrow. The Khmer Rouge was the cause of this genocide that lasted from 1975-1979. I read the book “First They Killed My Father” by Loung Ung which is a true story based in this time period. I remember that after I read this book I wanted to visit Cambodia to see if the memory of this horror is being taught.
I had my hesitations about how well these sorrowful events would be displayed. Since the government is labeled as a Constitutional Monarchy, I was unsure about how the regime would display such a dark part of their country’s past. I know that their government is held on a stricter scale compared to Americas so my curiosity was fulfilled when we pulled up to the Tuolsleng Genocide Museum and walked in.
The museum was the converted school that the Khmer Rouge used to keep and torture their prisoners. You could walk through the barracks and see the pens where the prisoners were kept, what torture methods were used, and pictures of all of their victims. There were three buildings total in the museum with courtyards in the center to represent the few that survived and the ones that were lost. The government did not try to sugar coat this dark period of their history which was surprising and humbling to me.
I have always thought of Cambodia as this country with strict government rule who would only teach its citizens the remarkable things about the country. I applaud Cambodia and all of the other countries and cities that we are visiting/have visited on their ability to come to terms with the horrors that they have had and use that to educate the public so that maybe we will not repeat those mistakes.