Imagine if the German government decided to use money garnered from Auschwitz tourism to construct an elaborate theme park on the site of the Treblinka extermination camp. Unspeakably offensive and inconceivable, right? Incredibly, this is essentially what the Ministry of Tourism of Cambodia is doing right now: funneling money from tourist destinations like S-21—a Khmer Rouge hotbed of crimes against humanity—into a project to convert a Khmer-era town from historic site to amusement park.
The Atlantic’s Andrew Burmon explains that Cambodia is capitalizing on the recent boom in dark tourism, or thanatourism, a branch of the industry that depends on the human fascination with the macabre: places like Auschwitz, the Tower of London, Chernobyl, and the bridge over the River Kwai are visited by millions of people every year.
Specifically, the Ministry of Tourism plans to take the money reaped from thanatourism to bastardize the town of Anlong Ven, which used to be a fief run by Pol Pot and his deputy Ta Mok (fondly nicknamed “The Butcher”):
A number of sites from that era will be rebuilt as attractions, including Mok’s lakeside compound, Pol Pot’s house and the bungalow on a cliff where he was eventually imprisoned, a radio station that used to broadcast propaganda, and a munitions warehouse—complete with stockpiles of the anti-personnel mines that not infrequently still rip the legs off local farmers.
The real kicker (although I suppose this is pretty obvious by the mere existence of such a project) is that the Cambodian government doesn’t appear to see anything wrong with cashing in on their gruesome history:
Unlike other custodians of authentic tragedy and inhumanity, the Cambodian government has made little effort to endow the sites it operates with a mission more complicated than collecting cash. When I asked the Minister of Tourism, Thong Khon, whether he worried that building a theme park at Anlong Veng after cashing the checks from S-21 and the killing fields might appear callous or opportunistic, he said simply, “It is right that the government should profit from remaking this historic place.”
I wonder just how oblivious the Ministry of Tourism must be that they don’t understand how enormously insensitive and exploitative this endeavor appears to the rest of the world. Or maybe they just don’t care.