Landscape, Memory, and Post-Violence in Cambodia.

Author:Rodell, Paul A.
Position:ASIA - Book review
 
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Tyner, James A. Landscape, Memory, and Post-Violence in Cambodia. London, Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.

Geographer James A. Tyner first traveled to Cambodia in 2001. This book, plus three others and thirteen articles, resulted from this visit and subsequent research trips. Tyner considers which sites of Khmer Rouge (KR) atrocities are remembered, how they are remembered, and to what purpose are they remembered. The book also reflects on the question of which sites of mass killings have been forgotten or ignored and why and how these other sites should be remembered. He also contemplates why the Cambodian government should take a different approach to remembrance. Tyner's comparative evaluation of oppositional forms of remembrance culminates in an ambitious and cogent study.

Tyner begins with a quick description of the Koh Sla dam, an altogether unremarkable earthen structure that was not discovered until twenty-eight years after the fall of the KR, even though approximately 9,000 men, women, and children were worked to death at this site and their bodies were entombed in the mud dam. Hundreds of other sites are similarly forgotten or unremarked upon in a country where one-quarter of the population, almost two million people, were killed. Many of these sites were wats (religious centers) and schools that the KR used and later returned to their former purposes so evidence of what transpired is not immediately evident.

In stark contrast, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh was established by a Vietnamese colonel soon after his country invaded Cambodia. The museum is located five miles north of Choeung Ek, where the KR executed thousands of Cambodians and others at its Tuol Sleng detention center and consigned the bodies to mass graves. Today, the museum and its remote execution site caters to foreign tourists and is part of the country's tourist industry. Its message is indistinct and lacks historical context. Stark pictures of detained and executed prisoners decorate the walls without details or explanations even as torture devices and human skeletal remains are on display. There is no acknowledgment that the victims here were charged with specific crimes, unlike the vast majority of Cambodians who were worked to death in fields and at construction projects such as Koh Sla dam. The only message at the Tuol Sleng museum is that unspeakable evil took place here. Meanwhile, at Choeung Ek visitors are met with tourist shops and phony...

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