Friday, January 25, 2008

Speaking of War

Written and posted in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

We went to the killing fields today. We saw piles and piles of human skulls. We saw a box full of bones and teeth. They are all that remains in the wake of Pol Pot's destruction.

We went to the killing fields today.

When we first decided to go to Cambodia, people told us that other than Angkor Wat, there wasn't a whole lot to see in the country. "Go straight to Siem Reap," they said. And when I told them that I wanted to go to Phnom Penh to see the killing fields, they looked perplexed. Maybe rightly so. It's not that I WANTED to see the killing fields, it's just that, after spending thousands of dollars on a plane ticket to come to this part of the world, it didn't feel right to abrogate my duty to pay my respects to the thousands of lives that were lost at the hands of an outrageous killer. And that's exactly how I saw it: coming to Phnom Penh, having the day that we had, it was my responsibility.

And so we went to the killing fields today.

We have no pictures from our day, only the grim images that will most likely remain in our minds for a long, long time, if not forever. We will remember the holes in the grounds where hundreds of Cambodians were left to rot, and we will remember the school-turned-prison with its bloodstains still on the floor. We will remember that tower of skulls, and the photographs that were meticulously taken of each prisoner. We will remember the shackles and the chains, the instruments of torture, the peaceful grounds that used to be a nursery.

We will remember that as we sat, grim-faced, heading from the prison to a temple, we were both thinking of the destruction going on in the world today. We thought about Darfur and Sierra Leone. We thought about the Sudan and Kenya. We thought about Guantanamo and Baghdad. We thought about Palestine. We will remember that those devastations, like Pol Pot's devastation, occured in our lifetime. In OUR lifetime.

Sitting in that tuk-tuk today, I thought about my parents and grandparents. My parents could not have stopped these atrocities, just as my grandparents could not have stopped Hitler. And I cannot stop Darfur and Kenya and Guantanamo. Oh, but I will remember.

At the end of our dark day, we asked our tuk-tuk driver to take us to that aforementioned temple. I wanted to say a prayer, because at the end of a day of death, prayer seemed fitting. And it didn't matter to me, not even a little bit, that the prayer couldn't be said in a place where I might normally pray. A house of God is a house of God, and if it was to Buddha to whom my prayer was directed, it was Buddha who would help me find peace again. I will tell you what I prayed for, because it is a message that I wish I could send around the whole world, to people who read this, and to everyone they know, and to everyone THEY know, and so on.

I prayed first for the people whose lives were lost, for their families who could not bury them, for the babies they could not have. I prayed for humanity, for the soul of humanity, which gets inexplicably lost in times of war. I prayed for the child-soldiers who carried out Pol Pot's plans of utter destruction, because I believe in my heart that when the soul of humanity is lost, even the purest of hearts can be persuaded to engage in evil. I prayed for justice, because I believe that I understand that word, because I took an oath to seek it out, and because justice, justice, I shall pursue. I prayed that Matt and I will be able to explain to whatever children we will someday be lucky enough to have, that these things do happen, and that we must remember them. I prayed for old people, that they might be able to forget. And I prayed for all of you, and for all of your children, that we all might someday know a world where these prayers simply aren't necessary, that humanity will find its soul, that justice will prevail. I ended my prayer with a note of thanks, thanking whatever deity was listening, even the one residing right there within me, for the man sitting next to me, for the ability to pray, and for all of the good and wonderful things that I see around me all of the time.

As we drove back to our hotel, I saw an old man playing a version of badminton with what I'm assuming was his grandson. I thought of the stories Matt told me of playing badminton with Tom when they were little. I felt the corners of my mouth curl towards a smile, at the old man and the young boy, and the child versions of Matt and Tom. I took a deep breath, exhaling this day, and decided to write this to you.

1 comment:

Steffers said...

I'm ashamed to openly admit this, but I had to google Pol Pot to have any clue what was so remarkable about the killing fields...which is a true testament to how easy it is for a person, even one who hates this country's current foreign policy
program(s?), can turn a blind eye to something horrible when it doesn't happen at home. Good for you two for going and visiting this remnant of human destruction. It clearly demonstrates that Americans really DO care about the rest of world, even if we sometimes have to use google to understand.