Coming to Terms with Trauma Tourism

Laura Beth Clark



At Nagasaki, there is a large statue of a man pointing at the sky where the bomb came from. Tourists like to stand in front of this sign and take pictures of themselves posing in the same position as the statue. This is so popular that at the tram stop the sign to the memorial park actually uses this gesture of posing for a photo as the marker of the park’s location.

Over three days at three different concentration camps in Poland, I see a dozen different tour groups of Israeli high school students. In these groups, every student carries a flag large enough to wrap themselves in. The groups mark the site with a particular Zionist reading of the Holocaust, not just for themselves but for all the other spectators as well.

In Phnom Penh, I cannot leave my hotel without being asked by a tuk-tuk driver if I would like to visit the “killing fields.” Both the use of the term from the popular film The Killing Fields (1984), over Cheung Ek (the monument’s actual name), and the presumption that as a “baraing,” I will at some point be purchasing transportation to the genocide memorials, indicate the prevalence of the global practice of “trauma tourism”

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