Three million. As I drove home after watching the documentary “Enemies of the People” Thursday night, I felt like I was still processing the gravity of that number.
An estimated 3 million of Cambodia’s 7 million people were brutally murdered during the rule of the communist tyrant Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979. “The Killing Fields” refers to several sites around Cambodia where large numbers of people were killed and buried at the hands of Khmer Rouge followers. Many times the people doing the killing were neighbors, maybe even friends, of the victims.
There’s something desensitizing about a large number like “3 million” because it’s hard to comprehend. That’s why I suggest that everyone planning to attend the Eagle View Lecture featuring Loung Ung — an author who survived the killing fields in Cambodia as a young girl — should watch this film. Ung will speak at 7 p.m. March 6 in the CSI Fine Arts Auditorium. Admission is free. Even if you don’t plan to attend, I suggest watching this documentary.
“Enemies of the People” follows filmmaker Thet Sambath, who lost his father, mother and brother in the killing fields. Sambath forms a friendship with Nuon Chea, also known as Brother Number Two, the right-hand man of the Khmer Rouge’s leader, Pol Pot. For three years, Sambath doesn’t ask Chea about the killing fields or his part in it. Instead he gains his trust, often stopping by to eat and visit with Chea. The whole time, Chea has no idea that Sambath’s family were victims of his rule. Sambath spent seven years compiling interviews with Chea, Khmer Rouge leaders and victims.
There was a sadness surrounding the relationship of Chea and Sambath. Every week, Sambath would leave his wife and children to spend time with the man responsible for the death of his family. He probably knew this man better than his own father. In the end, Sambath reveals his family’s background. I could see the sadness in Chea’s eyes. He was a man who once ruled by what he believed benefited the “nation” and not the “individual.” Chea believed the killings were a necessary part of the revolution.
However, his friendship with Sambath introduced him to the “individuals” he once ruled. He saw the effect of his decisions.
Perhaps some of the most chilling parts of the documentary include Sambath’s interviews with those who killed. They were everyday rural folk, who were too scared not to kill. Sambath even asks one of them to show him how he killed. At the time, I thought, “Why is this necessary?” But it was necessary to show the brutality. People laid on their stomachs, legs and arms bound, as their heads were held back to expose their necks. One of the men said sometimes his hand got so tired from slicing necks, that he opted to stab instead. He said he also used to drink the gall bladders of his victims. He said he wondered how many hells he would have to endure before he was reincarnated as a man again.
One woman living near a killing fields site said the water would boil from all the decomposing bodies. Another woman said she often cools off in the water, but dares not drink it because of the bodies.
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) was founded in 2006 to investigate the crimes of the Khmer Rouge and try those responsible. The targets were the very top-level regime figures.
TIME Magazine reported Thursday that hearings into the genocide have seen just five indictments and only one conviction in eight years at a cost of some $200 million.
The College of Southern Idaho Diversity Council will hold free showings of “Enemies of the People” at 7 p.m. Wednesday; 8 p.m. Feb. 27; and 7 p.m. Feb. 28 in the CSI Fine Arts Recital Hall.