Saturday, January 15, 2011

Seven Hellholes

Hellhole (n): A place of unremitting suffering and torment. An evil place devoid of hope.

7. The Black Hole of Calcutta
In the 18th century, British control of India was in the hands of a private business, the East India Company - which was kind of like Halliburton and Blackwater controlling Iraq (don't they?).  The East India Company had its own army and navy and even engaged in sea battles against rival companies.

In 1756, the East India Company owned Calcutta and was building up their private army. The Nawab of Bengal saw this as a threat to his rule (because it was). He ordered the private army out of his land but the company, being much like Blackwater, ignored the order.

The Nawab attacked and defeated company troops. The 146 defeated mercenaries were locked into a 14x18 foot room overnight. According to one survivor, 123 of those prisoners died that night from the heat, crowding, and trampling. Historians dispute if this ever really happened.

6. Devil's Island
A small island (35 acres) located off the coast of French Guiana.  In 1852, Napoleon III began a penal colony on the island for political prisoners and hardened criminals. The shackled prisoners were shipped across to the mainland and used as slave labor. Between the shark infested waters and mainland crocodiles few of the prisoners ever escaped.

The penal colony wasn't closed until 1952 and is now a popular tourist destination.

5. Guantanamo Bay
The modern Devil's Island of the United States. Look at the prisoners. They are shackled with thick gloves on their hands so they can feel nothing. They are blindfolded with ear muffs and face masks so they cannot see, hear, or smell. Even without waterboarding they are tortured daily with sensory deprivation. 

And there is the utter hopelessness because Congress is determined that the remaining prisoners will never be allowed to leave.

4. Lubyanka
There was a saying in Soviet Russia that Lubyanka prison was the tallest building in the world. That even from its deepest dungeons you could see Siberia. 
Lubyanka was headquarters to the KGB and before that to the NKVD and the Cheka. It was where political prisoners were first imprisoned and tortured before they were sent to disappear into the Siberian Gulag. During the lives of Felix Dzerzhinsky and Joe Stalin no place in the whole of the Soviet Union was more terrifying that the entrance to Lubyanka.

3. Andersonville
During the American Civil War Andersonville was the most notorious of the Confederate prisoner of war camps. In 1864, the Union stopped exchanging prisoners with the South on the sound but cruel calculus that the Confederacy would eventually run out of soldiers. The South found itself having to house tens of thousands of captured Yankees.

In Andersonville the prisoners were forbidden to build shelters. Their drinking water was also their sewer. A daily meal would consist of rancid grain and a couple ounces of beans. During the summer of 1864 prisoners were dying at a rate of over 100 a day. In all, a third of the camp's population, some 13,000 men, died of disease and starvation in just 14 months.

2. Choeung Ek
Choeunk Ek was one of the many Cambodian "killing fields."
One of American strategies during the Vietnam War was to bring neutral Cambodia into the war as an American ally. To that end the CIA funded a military coup in 1970. Having a corrupt American puppet running the country's government caused a Communist rebellion to blossom. The Communist Khmer Rouge was infinitely worse.

Upon gaining power the Khmer Rouge drove 2.5 million people out of the cities and onto collective farms. Having an education was an act of treason. Even wearing glasses was punishable by death as the Khmer Rouge strove to build an agrarian paradise unpolluted by intelligence. In all, over two million people, about a quarter of the country's population, died either at the hands of the Khmer Rouge or by starvation and disease.

1. Auschwitz
The word Auschwitz is now a synonym for Hell. The largest of the Nazi extermination camps, it is unknown how many souls passed through the gate shown above. Estimates are that over a million people died in the Auschwitz gas chambers. By the time Soviet troops reached the camp there were only 7,000 left alive to liberate and they were living skeletons.

Beyond the systematic mass murder were other horrors. There were the bizarre and hideous medical experiments of Josef Mengele and August Hirt's Jewish skeleton collection. In all of human history no place on earth has been a more unremitting place of pure evil than Auschwitz.

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