Today, There Are No Pictures

By Jane Mountain | April 18, 2014

12,972 km so far.

Today, there are no pictures.

Today we visited Security Prison 21, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

Like our trips to Auschwitz in Poland and The Terror Museum in Hungary, we felt obligated to see S21, the torture headquarters of Pol Pot’s brief but appallingly destructive regime.

I couldn’t bring myself to create art from atrocity. So today, there are no pictures.


There are plenty of pictures in the museum, mostly black and white portraits, documentation of the torture and murder at S21. Looking into the victims’ eyes, I expected to see fear, despair, or denial.

Instead, in most of the hundreds of pictures on display, the expressions were of sheer defiance. They were silently saying “You can kill me, but you can’t kill the spirit of the Cambodian people.” I would expect that strength from revolutionary masterminds, but these were mostly just ordinary people, being systematically murdered because of false rumours and finger-pointing.


As I read about the systematic destruction carried out by the Khmer Rouge, which was happening at the same time as I was a carefree little girl, riding around the Canadian countryside on my BMX bike, I couldn’t help thinking of Mao’s China.

In China, Mao expelled the intellectuals from the cities, sending them into rural areas to work the land. In the early 60s, around 45 million Chinese people died from famine, caused largely by the failed policies of the Communist government.

There’s no doubt that Pol Pot took a leaf out of Mao’s little red book.

Pol Pot presided over a totalitarian dictatorship that imposed a radical form of agrarian socialism on the country. His government forced urban dwellers to relocate to the countryside to work in collective farms and forced labor projects. The combined effects of executions, forced labor, malnutrition, and poor medical care caused the deaths of approximately 25 percent of the Cambodian population. from Pol Pot on Wikipedia

Almost every adult living in Cambodia today lost a close relative or friend during the four years of Pol Pot’s reign.

The Khmer Rouge learned a lot from Hitler and Stalin as well. The Killing Fields are mini Auschwitzes, while S21 was the Khmer Rouge’s version of Budapest’s Terror Haza, where systematic torture and murder was carried out.

They say without remembering our history, we are doomed to repeat it. But after today, I couldn’t help but wondering if remembering our history also allows us to repeat it.

After all, we continue to repeat these horrifying scenes. In 20 or 30 years, will we be visiting museums in Syria, North Korea, and the US, horrified by documentation of atrocities that are being carried out today?  

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  1. Pingback: Cambodia Itinerary: How to Get the Most from 2 Weeks in Cambodia | My Five Acres. Travel. Adventure. Yoga.

  2. Comment by Kimberly

    Kimberly April 29, 2014 at 6:09 am

    Thank you for this post…..sobering balance to my daily activities that I do without thinking about the freedoms that I have. Namaste.

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