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Thread: Tuol Sleng

  1. #1
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    Tuol Sleng

    S21 - The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine



    I've never seen anything like Tuol Sleng and it really affected me. I have a real issue regarding my reasons for going to such a place to start with. What sort of person wants to go and have a look at a Tuol Sleng or a Omaha Beach in Normandy?

    I hope I go to these places for the right reasons; because we should never forget. But I have a nagging doubt about the whole voyeuristic nature of such trips.

    The Cambodian people are, at least on the face of it, quite content for us to be there and open about what happened. My belief is that tourism will help to repair Cambodia, visitor numbers went through the one million mark in 2005 and have been rising steadily since then.

    There are no punches pulled here, Tuol Sleng and the Killing fields is not pretty, but I think it important to try and understand what happened in Cambodia, and if you want to understand Cambodia's recent history then there are worse places you could start than Tuol Sleng.
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    Last edited by Steve@thaib; 9th June 2013 at 18:45.

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    A Brief History

    Cambodia got dragged into the Vietnam conflict because America believed that the Vietcong were smuggling arms through Cambodia. The American response was to bomb the shit out of Cambodia; the USA dropped more ordnance on Cambodia in 1973 than they did on Japan in the whole of WW11.

    Between 1970 and 1975 , a brutal civil war raged throughout the country. On one side, the anti-communist General Loon Nol, who had seized power in a military, coup ran an increasingly corrupt and American backed government.

    On the other side, the deposed Prince Sihanouk alligned himself with the anti-American Khmer Rouge. When the Americans pulled out, and the Loon Nol regime fell, Pol Pot and his barbaric 'year zero' vision was put into place.

    Under the Khmer Rouge communist ideal, the country was to be returned to an agrarian society where all crops (Cambodia was a nett exporter of rice) belonged to the state, Angkar, and the state fed the people. Pol Pot literally set the clock back to zero.

    There are no accurate figures for the number of people who died in Cambodia under the Pol Pot regime. Best estimates are that between 1.5 and 2 million people were killed or starved to death; around a quarter of the population at the time.

    What is certain is that almost twenty thousand people perished either in Tuol Sleng or the killing fields at Choung Ek 7km outside of Pnom Penh.
    Last edited by Steve@thaib; 9th June 2013 at 17:24.

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    Images of Tuol Sleng

    In a place of powerful images, these particular pictures fairly screamed at me. I can't look at the image of this young man without stopping and thinking.

    He must be 14 or 15 tops, I would think younger. He was in an adult 'prison' and clearly did not survive, only seven people did.

    Note how his tag is attached; that is all anybody needs to know about this place.And yet this is not the worst image we see.

    This young girl of a similar age would have been preyed upon by the guards , young women were terribly abused in Tuol Sleng. Her only blessing may be that she had no children, children were brutally treated at Tuol Sleng and the scenes depicted in the pictures here are accurate; Vann Nath survived the prison and his paintings are on display there.
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    Last edited by Steve@thaib; 9th June 2013 at 17:23.

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    We humans do have a morbid curiosity. Anyone who has come across a crash site, and the number of people who stand and gawk. Without offering assistance, tell us that.
    But if some good can come out of places like this, in that it reminds us of mans brutality. Then let that be.

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    After I visited I felt ashamed the West did little to stop these appalling acts, and seemed happy to do business with the KR.


    PS I think you mean Omaha Beach in Normandy, Daytona is in Florida.

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    Senior Member billpay's Avatar
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    Yes, I also went to S-21, and was physically weak upon leaving. I sort of regret going, but it is something that needs to be out there, I had the exact same feeling when visiting Dachau.
    After S-21 I could not bring myself to go to the Killing Fields.

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    Vann Nath survived the prison and his paintings are on display there.

    Painting by Vann Nath, one of only seven Tuol Sleng survivors.

    Bullets were seen as an expensive waste, victims were clubbed to death and children were beaten on trees or bayonnetted.
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    Last edited by Steve@thaib; 9th June 2013 at 18:09.

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    Conditions at Tuol Sleng

    There are seven torture cells at Tuol Sleng. The ammo boxes on the bed were the toilet facilities.

    Each cell was occupied when the camp was liberated and the picture of the person who was found there is displayed in each particular room.

    I apologise for the quality of the pictures of victims, they are neccessarily pictures of pictures, but I hope they give some sort of idea of what this place is like.
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    Chan Kim Srun

    Increasingly, the Khmer Rouge turned upon itself and it's own officials in a paranoid attempt to impose it's ideals on the people af Angkar, and to root out counter-revolutinaries.

    The lady in this picture was the wife of a party official. Such people were often arrested, 'interviewed' and killed once they had confessed to their crimes, usually of working for the CIA.
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    Liberation of Tuol Sleng

    Liberation of Tuol Sleng

    When the Khmer Rouge regime fell to the Vietnamese invasion in 1979, Tuol Sleng was abandoned and the final victims were left, literally, to the vultures.

    It is possible to actually stand in the torture cells at the foot of the bed and touch the place where this happened. The blood stains in the rooms, on the ceilings and on the walls, are left intact.
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    Last edited by Steve@thaib; 9th June 2013 at 18:32.

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    Photography Collection

    Ho Van Tay, a Vietnamese combat photographer, was the first person to bring images of Tuol Sleng to the world and is readily acknowledged here


    Doug Niven and Christopher Riley discovered the damaged negatives at Tuol Sleng and restored the collection to that which we can see at the site today.

    They too are readily acknowledged here, their work has enabled us to see and understand a little of what happened in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.

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    History of S21


    In different times Tuol Sleng was a school; Tuol Svay Prey High School. When the Khmer Rouge turned it into a prison the conversion was rough, basic and very effective.It is preserved as it was found, although it is very difficcult to stand there in the peace and quiet and imagine the twisted savagery that was inflicted on so many people there.



    Last edited by Steve@thaib; 9th June 2013 at 19:13.

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    Choung Ek

    Choung Ek, the Killing Fields, is the final resting place for the majority of the Tuol Sleng victims. There are human bones lying on tree stumps, clothing from the victims is left lying on the ground, and the tower of skulls is open to the elements. Choung Ek is the most appalling sight and yet it is so important that it must be preserved; not restored.

    Last edited by Steve@thaib; 9th June 2013 at 19:16.

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    Conclusion

    Although I wanted to visit the genocide museum at Tuol Sleng and the killing fields at Choung Ek, I wasn't really prepared for what I saw and learned there.
    I'm glad I went, and I do believe that I went for the right reasons.

    I hope others go as well, because visitors will be an important part of the healing and rebuilding process if Cambodia is to prosper in the future.
    Make no mistake, it's a tough day this one and the images of Tuol Sleng will move all but the hardest of hearts. If you can go to Cambodia you should; this poor, abused and battered country deserves our support.






    Last edited by Steve@thaib; 9th June 2013 at 19:24.

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    Sorry to not reply to earlier posts, I was busy trying to get the whole article on the forum.

    I wrote this a long while back, 2007, when the visit was very fresh in my mind. The formatting here isn't everything I want but with such graphic images I don't think that formatting is the biggest of deals.

    I went to Tuol Sleng for a second time when we were in Cambodia a couple of years ago. We had some new guys with us and they wanted to see it. Once I got there and went to find the picture of that young guy with the pin in his throat, I felt is was possibly the most powerful image I had ever seen. After that I really didn't want to be there any more and went to sit outside and wait for the guys; the most appalling place I have ever seen.

  16. #16
    Senior Member dontpanic's Avatar
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    I do plan on seeing both S21 and the Killing fields in a couple of weeks, the consensus seems to be that you do it all in one day just to get it over with, like you say something you have to see.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dontpanic View Post
    I do plan on seeing both S21 and the Killing fields in a couple of weeks, the consensus seems to be that you do it all in one day just to get it over with, like you say something you have to see.
    I think the same day is the way to go if you want to see both. Our tuk-tuk guy took us to a shooting range after the killing fields, he saw no irony in it at all. We were just appalled and politely declined the off of firing an AK47 or an RPG at a cow.

  18. #18
    Senior Member WarProfiteer's Avatar
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    Went to the S-21. Having been a soldier in Bosnia, and a high level civilian in Iraq and Afghanistan, the S-21 made me cry. Not too much of a tough guy to admit that. Man's in-humanity to man and all that jazz. It was too much. Overwhelming. So many..... just so many. Anyone with any hint of a mind... gone. Just, gone.

    I couldnt deal. Too much black. And I know too well the other side of the black... our own version of it. Two sides of the same coin, and how everyone goes along with it at the same time because there's something to gain. Fcuk it, it is what it is. The world turns in it's petty pace. Day to day.

    Rwanda illustrates the price of non-intervention. Thousands died. But it's rarely so easy. No idiot's easy calls to make, only tough decisions and ugly consequences... whatcha gonna do....
    Last edited by WarProfiteer; 10th June 2013 at 10:24.
    retepg and geir like this.

  19. #19
    Senior Member tnlawyer's Avatar
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    I've been to S-21 and Choung Ek as well. Incredibly sad. This was one of my favorite pictures from S-21.
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  20. #20
    Senior Member Lightemup's Avatar
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    In 2008, I went and saw both places.
    In my opinion, it is every humans obligation to see these sort of things if there is an opportunity, to make sure they will never be repeated.

    Together with MajorTom, I also visited Pol Pot's bunker on the border with Thailand, Ta Mok's house in Takeo and eventually we ended up at Pol Pot's gravesite too, it's nothing fancy and my reaction to that is: That's the way it should be, doesn't deserve better.
    Might post a couple of pics of it tomorrow if my laptops Internet comes back on.

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