I was naïve and spoiled. I thought that everyone lived a good life, and that life was assured. I assumed that everyone got to live the pleasant life of a four year old, and visit Costco with their Dad for ice cream and then go to a movie. I was wrong, and now I believe that everyone should have the right to live.
Two years ago, my beliefs changed. It was the winter of 2006. It was one hundred degrees and the Christmas tree had wilted in the hotel lobby. I had just turned 11 and my family and I were visiting Cambodia. It was beautiful! We visited lush forests on an elephant’s back and toured serene Buddhist temples, including the elegant Angkor Wat, arguably one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
On Christmas, my Dad decided to take me to the Killing Fields. I had no idea what that was. I was excited and both scared at the same time. We arrived, to be greeted by a towering monument of skulls. It was astonishing, but it also didn’t seem to mean anything at the moment. I asked, “Dad, why is there a tower of skulls?’ The response I received was shocking. “Those skulls are the skulls of more then 200,000 people who were executed by the Khmer Rouge.” The main victims were ethnic Vietnamese, ethnic Thai, ethnic Chinese, ethnic Chams (Muslim Cambodians), Cambodian Christians, Buddhist monks, doctors, teachers, and anyone educated. Any family members of those murdered people were also killed. He also said there were British, Australian, German, and Americans who were killed. By the time he finished, it appeared that anyone and everyone were killed.
My father and I then went to S-21, the Khmer Rouge torture center. It was the station on the road to the Killing Fields. It was a simple elementary school, but each classroom had been turned into a room for torture or to store people to be packaged for death. In room after room, there were pictures. There were hundreds of pictures of children and of old people, of people who were frightened and defiant, and of people who were both hopeful and beaten. Their faces were like a stone thrown into a pond; their memories sank into my heart. Every one of these people, photographed on their way to be killed, was a stranger. Yet even though most knew no English, I could hear they were asking the same intimate questions. Why should I die? Why should I not live? Most of those people would have been alive today except for the genocide in Cambodia. Their faces, that will haunt me forever, tell me that everyone should have the right to live.
Driving back to the hotel I noticed that the streets of Phnom Penh were deadly quiet. Those lost souls, the faces of all those murdered people should have filled the streets with life. I believe everyone has the right to live.