The Dictators: Pol Pot

Pol Pot was born as Saloth Sar on May 19th, 1925, in Cambodia, at the time part of French Indochina. He was educated in French colonial schools, and qualified to go to technical school in France. While there, he participated in an international labour brigade in Yugoslavia, and joined a Communist Cambodian student organisation, as the Soviet Union had recognised the Viet Minh as the government as Vietnam, and thereby indicated its support for Indochinese independence. Sar then failed his exams in France, resulting in his return to Cambodia, which gained independence in 1954. He became a teacher and, along with the rest of the Cambodian far left, bided his time. In 1962, the government launched a crackdown on the Communists, during which the General Secretary was killed, leaving the top leadership position vacant, to which Sar was elected in 1963. He and the rest of the party fled to the North Vietnamese border, where they developed what came to be the Khmer Rouge. The ideology of the Khmer Rouge, while calling itself Communist, was the opposite of Marxism, as it declared that rural peasants were the true proletariat. In 1968, riots broke out over food prices, which the Khmer Rouge took advantage of, raiding government arsenals and stealing weapons.

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In 1970, a strange incident paved the way for Sar’s takeover. The King of Cambodia, Sihanouk, ordered anti-Vietnamese demonstrations in the capital, which spilled out of control and destroyed the North and South Vietnamese embassies. The National Assembly then deposed Sihanouk. North Vietnam, also in response to the riots, offered Sar any material assistance he might require to fight the Cambodian government, and itself launched an invasion of Cambodia. While the North Vietnamese army did most of the fighting at first, Sar and his forces served as minor players and reaped propaganda benefits. The Khmer Rouge also raised their membership requirements; only poor peasants would now be accepted, and middling peasants and students would not. The great recruitment possibilities created by the North Vietnamese invasion allowed the Khmer Rouge to begin their social revolution in the countryside, as ethnic minorities were forced to conform to mainstream Cambodian norms, and villages organised into structured cooperatives. By 1973, the Khmer Rouge controlled most of the country behind the advancing North Vietnamese Army, and Sar determined to take the capital, Phnom Penh. it was placed under siege, and the social transformation Sar was set upon effecting stepped up. The party itself was purged, as well as the general populace, where those with educations and former government employees were killed. Dismayed at the resistance of the cities to his party’s ideas, Sar simply ordered their populations to be forcibly deported to the countryside. Ethnic Thais were purged from the party, Sar’s so-called “death list,” which was what it sounds like, was brought into the open, and relations with North Vietnam began to break down. The Khmer Rouge finally took Phnom Penh on April 17th, 1975. Shortly after, Sar adopted the pseudonym Pol Pot.

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Pot, in his new regime, was made head of government as Prime Minister, and swiftly renamed the country to “Democratic Kampuchea.” The campaign of city evacuations was stepped up, which resulted in the infamous Killing Fields, as any and all those judged to be Capitalistic in any way, educated, or hostile to the regime were shot and buried in mass graves. Torture and violence of all kinds became widespread, while agriculture stagnated and foreign aid and trade were both refused. The entire domestic rule of Pot resembles the Great Leap Forward, on a proportionally larger and more costly scale. In International relations, Pot aligned Kampuchea with China, and set about provoking Vietnam, which finally invaded in 1978. Cambodia was defeated, Pot ousted, and a Vietnamese puppet government set up the following year. Pot and his loyalists fled to the Thai border, where they remained until the 1990s. Pot refused to negotiate with the new Cambodian government, even after Vietnamese withdrawal, and directed a Khmer Rouge which became weaker and weaker as the years went on. He finally died on April 15th, 1998.

Pol Pot is among the most senselessly brutal rulers in all of history. His purges and mass murders constituted one of the proportionately most deadly genocides in history, and he absolutely wrecked the country irreparably for generations. The closest possible comparison would be to say that he turned the country into an Auschwitz and executed a Great Leap Forward within it; the depth of the crimes perpetrated by his regime are staggering.

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