Born In: Prek Sbov, Cambodia
Pol Pot was a Cambodian revolutionary leader, who came to kown for his brutal regime that led to the killing of a sizeable population of Combodia. He served as the general secretary of the ‘Communist Party’ of Kampuchea. His regime is regarded as one of the bloodiest in the annals of the 20th century. The sheer scale of the horror that he unleashed can never be justified. It was also senseless with regard to its aim and method. If all he wanted was the establishment of an agrarian utopia, he could have taken a less brutal route. But, his regime was responsible for a genocide that systematically wiped out a quarter of the population in Cambodia. His policies were beyond comprehension. He targeted educated men and women, who in any other country would have been considered assets. He used the poor, uneducated, and impressionable to execute his commands; he won them over with claims that he was fighting American imperialism and then kept them on his side with tall promises. Fear, anger, torture, poverty, hunger, and the feeling of helplessness left a horrible scar on a generation of Cambodians. People who survived his regime are still trying to come to terms with their past, a chilling reminder of a man’s madness.
Also Known As: Saloth Sâr
Died At Age: 72
Spouse/Ex-: Khieu Ponnary (m. 1956–1979), Mea Son (m. 1985–1998)
father: Pen Saloth
mother: Sok Nem
siblings: Saloth Chhay, Saloth Nhep, Saloth Roueng
children: Sar Patchata
Born Country: Cambodia
political ideology: Communist Party of Kampuchea
place of death: Anlong Veng, Cambodia
Cause of Death: Heart Failure
Pol Pot was born Saloth Sâr on May 19, 1925, in Prek Sbauv, Kampong Thom, French Indochina, to Pen Saloth, a rice farmer, and Sok Nem. He was the eighth of nine children born to the couple.
In 1935, he left his village to attend ‘Ecole Miche,’ a Catholic school, in Phnom Penh where he stayed with his cousin Meak. Not a very bright student, he switched to technical studies.
In 1949, Pol Pot got a scholarship to study radio electronics in Paris. There, he joined the ‘Cercle Marxiste,’ consisting of the Khmer students in Paris, and the French Communist Party.
He failed twice in his exams and headed back to Cambodia in 1953. He advised the ‘Cercle’ members, who returned home, to join the Communist revolutionary organization, ‘Khmer Viet Minh.’
In August 1953, he secretly left home for Krabao where the Viet Minh’s Eastern Zone Headquarters was situated. Here, he was appalled to find that the Cambodians were considered inferior to the Vietnamese.
With the Cambodian independence following the 1954 Geneva Accord, the ‘Khmer Viet Minh’ were forced to break up and he returned to Phnom Penh. He joined the ‘Democratic Party’ and hoped to influence its policies.
He and his friends decided that a revolution was required when Khmer Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia, who had abdicated the power, rigged the 1955 elections, which were held as part of the Accord.
Following Cambodia’s independence, he became a member of the ‘Kampuchean People's Revolutionary Party’ (KPRP). After a power struggle within the KPRP in the early-1960s, he took control of the party.
The KPRP, which was renamed the ‘Communist Party of Kampuchea’ (CPK) in 1966, was more commonly known as the ‘Khmer Rouge.’ Khmer King Norodom Sihanouk had embarked on repressing his dissidents. Hence, Pol Pot took refuge in the jungles.
In 1964, with the help of North Vietnam, he established a base in the border region and called for an armed struggle against the Cambodian monarchy.
By 1968, he had become the sole authority of the party. Even though ‘Khmer Rouge’ did not have popular support, he decided to instigate a revolt against the Cambodian Government.
In 1970, Sihanouk was overthrown in a military coup by General Lon Nol. Around the same time, America started to bombard Cambodia. Now, ‘Khmer Rouge’ was fighting American imperialism and hence gained widespread support.
In 1975, the civil war ended with the overthrow of General Lon Nol and ‘Khmer Rouge’ seized power. Their leader began calling himself ‘brother number one,’ maintaining his real name a secret.
The regime banned religion, and scattered the minority groups. Buddhist monks, Christians, Muslims, and educated people were arrested and imprisoned.
In 1976, Pol Pot evacuated Phnom Penh and transferred the people to rural areas. According to an AUN investigation, 2–3 million died of starvation or executions, but he attributed them to the Vietnamese invasion.
He was suspicious of Vietnam and carried out incursions into their territory. Fed up of the belligerence, the Vietnamese forces invaded Cambodia in 1978. They took control and ended Khmer Rouge’s rule.
‘The Khmer Rouge’ and their leader retreated to the remote area of Cambodia along the Thai border. Powerless and weak, he resigned as the head of ‘Khmer Rouge’ in 1985.
In 1997, he had his old associate Son Sen murdered, spreading fear among other ‘Khmer Rouge’ members. He was tried for the murder and sentenced to house arrest for life.
After capturing Phnom Penh in 1975, Pol Pot began to implement the ‘Year Zero’ concept, which ordained drastic de-industrialization and initiated a new revolutionary culture within the society.
Pol Pot was married twice. Khieu Ponnary, his first wife, became mentally ill by the time he came to power. In 1986, he married Mea Son, who gave birth to a daughter.
Just before ‘Khmer Rouge’ was about to turn him over to an international tribunal, he died on April 15, 1998. Though he was suffering from facial cancer and a paralytic stroke, there were suspicions of suicide and murder.
‘The Killing Fields,’ a film about the ‘Khmer Rouge,’ was directed by Roland Joffe. Based on the experiences of two journalists, the film is one of the best portrayals of the regime’s cruelty.
This leader justified his actions with these words, “I did not join the resistance movement to kill people, to kill the nation. Look at me now. Am I a savage person? My conscience is clear.”
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