Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Angkor War Museum and the Khmer Rouge

This posting is mostly for our gun-nut son (you know which one you are!).

As surely everyone in the world knows, Cambodia was in a state of war for about 29 years -- from 1970 until 1999. The movie "The Killing Fields" provides a good depiction of the sheer hell that the Cambodians suffered during those decades. Pol Pot was an assumed name by a man who was half-Cambodian and half-Chinese. The name stood for "POLitical POTential" and he was supported by the Chinese military. The population of Cambodia was 7 million at the beginning of the Pol Pot regime of terror; the population was less than 4 million when the war finally ended. Most of those 3 million people were either bludgeoned to death (bullets cost too much), or they were literally worked to death or starved. Pol Pot separated families -- his army would enter a village or city and women would be sent to one camp, men to another and children to another. Pol Pot's army placed tens of thousands of land mines throughout the Cambodian countryside, especially heavilly near the borders with neighboring Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. They also would put mines in the city streets for children to pick up and detonate. In retaliation for these mines, the regular Cambodian troops also set land mines. Today, most of these land mines have been removed except in the northern part of Cambodia near Thailand. Tourists are warned not to venture off well-traveled paths or roads anywhere in Cambodia. With good reason. The war ended only after Pol Pot died of a heart attack in 1998 and his army no longer wished to fight, although even today there are still a few remnants of the Khmer Rouge out in the jungle of northern Cambodia. In 1999 peace was finally declared.

BTW, Khmer Rouge is not pronounced the way we say it in the USA. In Cambodia, Khmer is pronounced "k-m-eye" with the m and the eye sounds blended. And Rouge is pronounced "roo." Khmer Rouge is pronounced K-m-eye Roo or K-mai Roo. Shown is the Khmer Rouge flag. The gold shape in the center represents the distinctive shape of the temple of Angkor Wat.

In Siem Reap one sees victims of the land mines on every street. Some have both arms blown away at the elbows. Some have missing hands or fingers. Many have only partial legs or no legs. It is very, very sad. To learn more about this recent period we started our tours of Cambodia at the Angkor War Museum located in the outskirts of Siem Reap. Our tour guide was a victim of a land mine. He lost several fingers and still has visible shrapnel in his face, shoulder, wrist and groin. He is still saving to have operations to have these shrapnel fragments removed some day because they are painful. The government does not help with these expenses; cannot afford to because there are so many victims and so little money. All around the Siem Reap area we saw signs at various construction sites that were financed by gifts or grants from governments all over the world -- like hospitals built and operated by Germany, pharmacies by France, schools by Brussels, playgrounds by Australia, police stations by other countries, and so on. In 1999 Japan gave Cambodia the money to build the roads and highways that are in use today. Without this worldwide financial assistance, Cambodians would not be able to rebuild their country. BTW, we did not see one sign where the United Stated is helping Cambodia -- at least not in the Siem Reap region.

Our guide suffered his injuries when he was a child. He picked up what looked like a green toy that was lying in the city street and it blew up in his hand. He said that he lost many friends to land mines during the war. At certain exhibit stations he would look away and get teary because he would remember friends who had died in that particular manner. He said he lost everything in the war and has no family left. The mines were of multi-national origin. Shown is a Claymore mine, USA manufactured.

There was a Chinese MIG on display, as well as some large Chinese or Russian helicopter. All the artilerry in this outdoor museum had been found in the jungle nearby. Some of it dated back to WWI and there was a lot of WWII stuff. In the top photo Bill is holding a M80 grenade launcher, something he qualified expert on when he was in the Army back in the late 1960s. Shown on the left are a few WWI automatic rifles. Above are only a few of the AK-47s they had found in the nearby jungle. And on the right are an AR-15 and an M-16. Also shown is an American jungle periscope which could be used to sight in range to target. This thing still works! On the left is a Chinese automatic pistol, obviously many years old. Then again on the left are shown a couple of Chinese automatics.

Lastly, there are a few of the many anti-artillery guns or whatever these are called. Some are American, some are Russian, some are Chinese. It surprised me how many of these things they had recovered from the jungle. These date back to WWII and the Vietnam era as well as what were used during the Pol Pot regime. Bill identified what each one is and what time period, but I will not go into those details here.

However, must identify one more thing. A Russian T-54 tank, shown on the left. This was the first time either Bill or I had seen a tank of this type. And this little museum had several of the T-54s. The driver of this small tank had to be a very tiny person because you would not believe the size of the little compartment where the driver was seated. The driver's compartment was on the front of this model tank, under a hatch door on the left side beneath the gun. I think our 9-year-old grandson would have had a difficult time getting into that tiny space! Where in the world did Russia find men small enough to use these tanks? I could see finding small Chinese or Cambodian men because there are many Asian men of small and thin stature. But one normally thinks of Russians as being fairly large and hefty guys. Seems like a strange design for Russians to me.

The rest of our time in Cambodia was spent looking at temples and cultural villages and floating villages.

Enough with the guns already.

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