Pol Pot was an infamous Cambodian politician of the 20th century. He was a revolutionary leader who led the Khmer Rouge movement. During his leadership in Cambodia, he introduced harsh and inhumane policies that brought much suffering to the people. He was accused of causing the deaths of many people in Cambodia during his totalitarian rule from 1975 to 1979 when he was overthrown by the Vietnamese invasion. Millions of Cambodians died from torture, execution, starvation, disease, and forced labor.
5. Early Life
Pol Pot was born in May 1925 in a small village in Cambodia. His parents named him Saloth Sar. His relatively wealthy parents took him to several French-speaking schools. Sar performed poorly in his studies and failed to secure a place in high school. He took up carpentry at a nearby technical school. In 1949, he got a scholarship to Paris to study radio electronics. In Paris, he joined a communist movement known as the ‘Marxist Circle’ and adopted his new name ‘Pol Pot.' He spent most of his time in revolutionary campaigns instead of studying. Consequently, he failed his examination. Pol was forced to return to Cambodia after his scholarship was withdrawn.
4. Rise to Power
Upon his return to Cambodia in 1953, Pol was determined to start a revolution in the country. He led an underground communist group referred to as Khmer Rouge. He also took up a teaching job at a private school in Phnom Penh. Pol continued to build up his Communist group over the years. In 1963, he fled the city due to fear that police would apprehend him. He moved to the rural areas where he established guerrilla camps to fight the government. The Khmer Rouge movement advanced in the remote villages of Cambodia as Pol Pot’s influence grew. In April 1975, Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge movement in overthrowing the government and took over Cambodia’s capital- Phnom Penh. Immediately, Pol Pot took leadership of Cambodia. He was determined to build a new Cambodia and adopted the concept of year zero.
Pol’s mission to transform Cambodia into a communist country encountered difficulties. Initially, he lacked the support and resources necessary to gain control of Cambodia. The Vietnamese failed to offer their support in his attempt to overthrow the government. The Cambodian police also posed a threat to him as they arrested anyone with communist ties. He had to flee from the city to avoid arrest. After taking over the leadership of Cambodia, some of his subordinates failed him by giving him false information. The officers told him that everything was well when the reality was contrary. After four devastating years in Cambodia, the Vietnamese invaded the country and removed Pol Pot from his position. He fled to Thailand and later lived his life hiding in the jungle.
After Pol Pot had taken charge of Cambodia, millions of urban dwellers were evacuated from their homes. They were forcefully taken to work in the farms in rural areas. His aim was to make Cambodia a self-reliant communist nation that relied solely on agriculture. He abolished religion, money, ownership of private property and selected books. Pol Pot was also against Westernization. Academics, government officials, Buddhist monks, and traders were executed under his command. Many people working in the farms died due to overwork. Thousands of others starved to death.
1. Death and Legacy
The Khmer Rouge regime under the leadership of Pol Pot is said to have been the most brutal regime of the 20th century. Close to 3 million people are said to have died between 1975 and 1979 when he was the ruler of Cambodia. He died in the jungle on April 15, 1998, where he was placed under house arrest for his crimes against humanity and he was about to be handed to an international tribunal.