Today near Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I visited the Choeung Ek (“Killing Fields”) Genocidal Center. At this location, approximately 10,000 Cambodians were executed by the Khmer Rouge government of Pol Pot. Similar camps were located throughout Cambodia. Through torture, starvation, execution, and pathetically-planned forced relocations, almost 2,000,000 Cambodians lost their lives (fully 20 percent of the county’s total population).
During my Mormon mission, I visited the only Nazi concentration in France, KL-Natzweiler, located near Struthof in the Alsace. Here 22,000 died, including many who were the victims of medical experiments. It is now estimated that 10-11 million men, women, and children were executed by the Nazis, including Jews (6 million), gypsies, Russians, Poles, and homosexuals.
I’ve also visited eastern Turkey, once part of the Armenian homeland. Early in the 20th century, nearly 1 and 1/2 million Armenians lost their lives in another ethnicide. Today, the ancient Armenian churches that have survived in eastern Anatolia are merely shells, ghosts of their former selves. Most have not served as Christian churches for over 100 years.
At the Choeung Ek Genocide Center, the executions were particularly brutal. They didn’t want to waste bullets, so they used axes, shovels, and other farm tools to accomplish the killing. They used music to help masked the cries of the victims. Among the many killed were women and children. To remember this holocaust, there is now an information complex at the Choeung Ek site. In the center of the complex is a giant stupa, which also functions as an ossiary for the bones of many of the victims.
The intent of the Pol Pot regime was to re-orient society along proletarian lines. Those who died or were killed were frequently either political prisoners or members of the middle class (teachers, engineers, doctors, etc.) and their families. Although there was a component of ethnicide, Pol Pot was largely trying to make Cambodian society over according to his own sick and perverted vision, an extreme version of Maoism or Stalinism.
When one thinks of Cambodia, Nazi Germany, or Armenia, one wonders about God’s master plan. With so many people living and dying in such horrible ways, what is the point of life on earth? For example, the Mormon Plan of Salvation (or Happiness) only makes sense when an individual has some economic, political, and/or social freedom. So many billions have not or do not have real opportunity. Are we to believe that these billions who have suffered on earth are here to fill some hopeless role in a gigantic stage production?
Science-fiction writers suggest that maybe we are just characters in a giant computer simulation. For the sake of the Cambodians who died at the hands of the Pol Pot regime, I hope the genocide victims were not real, just a part of my personal computer simulation.