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Pol Pot’s Khmer Regime, in the span of 1975-79, killed approximately 2,000,000 people both directly and indirectly. Death, though the most quantifiably horrific effect, represented just one factor of a leadership which crippled a country through bludgeoning it culturally senseless.

At the nucleus of the campaign (‘heart’ seems thoroughly inappropriate), lay Toul Sleng, or S-21, a converted school which functioned as a prison and torture centre for any who fell foul of the Khmer Rouge leadership. Many did. Of the 20,000 or more criminals, innocents, men, women, children, military and politicians who entered, 7 lived. The rest, after extensive torturing were disposed of in mass graves.

The mathematical precision of method is chilling (prisoners were filed by numbers and killed in regular droves), but it is the artistic execution which confounds.

Photographs were taken before and after victims’ torture. Now, they are on display in the school turned prison turned museum. Their quality, and even their beauty, indicates not merely a process of cataloging, but rather of infusing this brutal scheme into apparent normality. This wasn’t just the maths of murder, but the contemplated art of it, with an eye, of course, to controlling the masses.

Orwell calls such an institution ‘The Ministry of Love’ in 1984; the dark place where people go, not just to be killed, but to be broken into confession and repentance. The ‘love’, like the process, is all part of a controlling rhetoric, scripted with artistry as much as constructed with bricks. The Ministry of Love, like Toul Sleng, is not merely a functional place but a symbolic one.

Toul Sleng is a place which crushes public sense and reason. Quite literally, the Khmer Rouge targeted educated citizens and eradicated the literate – what better way to control a people than to remove their ability to think?

This, then, is what worries me most. Literacy rates are still low in Cambodia. Many people either cannot afford good education or, if they can, then they can instead choose to purchase a bogus diploma.

Although I haven’t talked to many people extensively about Pol Pot’s genocide, I have discussed the recent bridge crushings* with a few. It seems to have revealed a telling trait about the national attitude. Whilst all clearly express grief, most reactions appear accepting. Nobody I have spoken to has the confidence, or perhaps the thoughtfulness, to consider placing blame. Discussions of the subject are short; accept the accident and move on. The government, in fact, issued a statement saying that no politician will resign, and neither will any of the bridge’s developers or any police officer. All, surely, hold responsibility, but general apathy allows them pardon.

Less apathy, more ignorant youth, I spot on the grassy courtyard of Toul Sleng, two children playing football, mocking each other and jeering joyfully. After spending an hour or so contemplating the prison’s history, their ignorance seems at first beautiful. But if these children, and this nation, are to remain uneducated and ignorant of the powers of ‘Ministries of Love’ like Toul Sleng, whose rhetoric has held them captive in the recent past, it seems that they remain wholly vulnerable.

The physical genocide may be over, but the legacy of Pol Pot’s cultural and intellectual genocide lives on.

* On Tuesday approximately 360 Cambodian people were killed, and many more injured, in a gross over-filling of a new bridge in Phnom Penh following an annual festival.

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