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Who is Pol Pot?

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  • Written By: Venus D.
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 29 March 2014
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Born on 19 May 1925 as Saloth Sar, Pol Pot was the Prime Minister of Cambodia from 1976 to 1978. While he was in power, Cambodia was known as Democratic Kempuchea and underwent a series of experiments in order to become a socialist society. Sar was born in the Kampung Thrum Province in Cambodia to a wealthy family. He was familiar with the royal family, since his sister was the concubine of a king.

After attending college and technical schools in Cambodia, Pol Pot also studied in France and volunteered with the international labor brigade to build roads in Yugoslavia in 1950. While abroad, he became involved with the French Communist (PCF) anti-colonialist movement, which supported the Vietnamese war against France. Pol Pot joined a secret communist cell known as Cercle Marxiste that had taken over the Khmer Student Association (AER) that year, 1951.

Failed exams forced him to return to Cambodia in 1953. While teaching French literature and history, he became the link between established political parties such as the Democrats and Pracheachon and the underground communist movement. In the 1960s, as the Cambodian government arrested members of Pracheachon, Pol Pot rose up the ranks rapidly to become Secretary of the communist party.

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His involvement with communism eventually caused him to flee to Vietnam, where he founded the Khmer Rouge movement. Emphasizing self-reliance, the movement broke from its communist roots to embrace Cambodian nationalism. Elements of Therewada Buddhism also helped to enable the party to move away from communist ideology.

It the late 1960s and early 1970s, as North Vietnam continually denied support, Pol Pot organized the Khmer Rouge movement into a legitimate political party, the Cambodia Party of Kampuchea (CPK), which led uprisings against the Cambodian government. One of the party's major tenets was that proletariats should be defined as working class farmers, and the betterment of their lives was the purpose of the movement. Gaining momentum among students and teachers, the Khmer Rouge movement, by 1974, was recognized by 63 countries. The United Nations voted on whether to recognize the movement or the then current government as the legitimate government of Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge movement lost by two votes.

Pol Pot came into power once the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, fell in 1975. The party began to execute his plan of eliminating capitalism. This included evacuating cities and sending mass amounts of people to the countryside. Currency was rendered useless. Eating and education were conducted through communal living.

Anyone who posed a threat was eliminated ruthlessly. Out of a population of eight million in 1975, two million were executed. Economic failure induced a countrywide hunger crisis; however, outside aid was not accepted, because self-reliance continued to be the foundation of the Khmer Rouge.

In 1978, the Vietnam invasion of Cambodia caused Pol Pot to flee to Thailand. Thereafter, he spent the remaining 20 years of his life in the forests of Cambodia and Thailand, although he still retained some power within the Khmer Rouge. On 15 April 1998, he would hear through the radio show Voice of America that the party he had founded was handing him over to US authorities. On the same day, suffering from Hodgkins disease and cancer and paralyzed by a stroke, he died in his sleep. Questions remain whether his death was due to heart failure or suicide.

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Discuss this Article

anon938515
Post 28

What's up with people and their obsession with voting dictators into power? Now its happening in the Middle East, too. You just wait until there's another one coming!

anon320983
Post 26

He was a coward. Running away from life by being killed or committing suicide. I hope he burns in hell forever. His soul should never find peace. No court can judge him enough. Communism failed in all its ways in Cambodia. Why? because Pol Pot had a superiority complex, like so many dictators. He blew it all. I hate him, hate communism. Every word that ends with "ism" brings only sadness and grief.

anon284066
Post 21

They say he originally chose to eliminate the people who displayed intelligence, like those who wore glasses and those who had wrist watches.

The phrase "a just society" is terrifying to me because here in the U.S. they have changed the phase to "a fair society". Wow! Could this ever happen again?

anon256208
Post 18

What was wrong with this guy? He killed millions of people and he should have died a slow, painful death.

anon252803
Post 17

I've been to the concentration camps. I've seen the blood on the walls, the electric wires. I've seen the killing fields. I met one of seven survivors who walked away from this. I shook his hand. I listened to his stories about his toenails being ripped out and being thrown against walls and into pure electricity.

He was sick.

anon252358
Post 16

I have to to a research paper on him. This is making me sick looking up all this stuff about such a horrible person.

anon126937
Post 13

This makes me sick. Just look up Pol Pot. The thought of how many bones there are makes me so sad.

anon114508
Post 12

he is the reason why cambodians are in this situation! It makes me mad that he would do such a thing. Ugh.

anon88298
Post 10

Without Pol Pot, my country might be on a great level in Southeast Asia. I hate Pol Pot so much. Because of him my beautiful country was destroyed.

anon87232
Post 9

Pol pot is one of the persons who left my parents' country in poverty. Cambodia is now a wreck because of him along with other Nazi related ideals. I hate it how rich people think that they can do whatever they please. It sickens me.

anon82863
Post 8

this guy sounds like hitler.

anon78720
Post 5

Pol Pot was insane!

anon75767
Post 3

he decided to use force and terror and made people into scapegoats which is ruling out a particular group and indoctrination, which is brainwashing a particular group.

anon71301
Post 2

he destroyed the nation.

anon32623
Post 1

what were effects of pol pots rules that he instated when he was in power and how did they effect cambodia?

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