The Tyrant Pol Pot wanted to bring back Cambodia to its might and glory of ancient times and implement them on his people. He thought of the Cambodian people as mere workers,of which are only useful for harvesting crops and working in the county side, in other words an agrarian culture. Pol Pot refused any form of modernization what so ever, and anyone who would oppose this during his reign would be sentenced to death. Pol Pot believed that cities were evil and anything modern was considered impure. He wanted to rebuild Cambodia as an agrarian society and eliminate any traces of the modern world.
History is always interesting and intriguing, especially historic events that have caused a great change in one nation, country or region. Pol Pot and his reign of terror is one of those events which has captured my attention and made me reach out for more information and different perspectives. Cambodia truly lived through a nightmare, but has slowly moved on from there to become a more stable nation.
The events that took place from (1975 to 1979), by Pol Pot and his radical communist regime the Khmer Rouge, was believed to be one of the world’s worst genocides of the 20th century. Pol Pot was a character famous for being unjust, inhuman and brutal ruler of Cambodia. In this paper, one will read why he was called all of those horrible names; did he really deserve to be called all of these things? And most importantly how and what where the main factorsthat influenced his climb to power and lastly his downfall.
Part 1: How it all started
The Khmer Rouge, under the rule of Pol Pot, were a terrorist group/organization that was started and led by Pol Pot and were greatly influenced by Marxist and Maoism ideas of a working class society,and that set the basis for their revolution. They seized control of Phnom Penh (1975), the capital of Cambodia, and over threw the monarchy. Cambodia was then renamed the communist party of Kampuchea. Tyrant, dictator and oppressor, are just a few samples of the names that were given to him. Under the short time of Pol Pot’s rule, Cambodia witnessed its greatest nightmare. Over a million and a half people lost their lives on the hands of the ruthless Khmer Rouge soldiers. (20th century history, Michael Richards)
Pol Pot was born SalothSar, in March of 1925, in a little fishing village called PrekSbav, in the Kampong Thom province, at that time when Cambodia was under the rule of French Indochina. Saloth’sfamily was of a comfortably middle class state and owned some rice fields, and that was their main source of income. He was the eighth of nine children. His family had some political and royal connections in the capital, Phnom Penh. He later changed his name to Pol Pot when he fully took control of the government (1975), for security reasons and secrecy, as many dictators do when they take control.
Pol Pot was educated by Buddhists at a catholic school in Phnom Penh, but was later transferredto a technical school. A couple of years later he gets a scholarship to go to Paris and study electronics and radio technology at the EcoleFrancaised’Electroniqueetd’Informatique (EFRIE).But Pol Pot proved not to be a very good student and showed little interest in the field that he was studying, however, he got influenced by communism and Marxist ideas. He later joined a Marxist circle and the French communist party (PCF).
Pol Pot lived in Paris from 1949 to 1953, and later returned to Cambodia after he had failed most of his courses. Upon his return he was fully influenced by communism and Marxism that he joined the Khmer Viet Minh of Cambodian communists. Members of the Khmer Viet Minh were all against the rule of the French Indochina. Amongst those people were Prince Sihanouk, and his party, who would later become the monarch of Cambodia as they gained their independence from France.
Cambodia became an independent country in 1954, as well as Vietnam and Laos. Prince Sihanouk took control of the country and under him it became an absolute monarchy. As soon as he took control of the country, Prince Sihanouk ordered for the arrest of all communist party members. As a result, Pol Pot went into the jungles for hiding along with his followers. There Pol Pot established a base camp and prepared for an armed struggle against the, as he called it, a “corrupt” monarchy. In 1966, Pol Pot returns from hiding with armed Khmer Rouge soldiers and starts his revolution, but never got full control of the country until 1975.As a result, Prince Sihanouk later fled to Paris, as he was scared for his own life.
That embarked the begging of Pol Pot’s reign of terror and the infamous killing fields, one of the worst genocides of the 20th century.
Part 2: Horrible atrocities; “Year Zero”
The meaning of “Khmer Rouge” is French for red Khmers. Khmers were an ancient Cambodian civilization that existed from 800 A.D. to the late 1370’s. (Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010.)
Pol Pot believed that cities were evil and that anything modern or Western oriented was considered impure. He wanted to bring Cambodia back to an agrarian culture/society. Pol Pot called this “Year Zero”, and it meant much more than just to restart the calendar; he wanted to purify the people from anything Western and modern influenced. He almost immediately abolished all private property and seized all factories and products, and that was the start of his bloody campaign. He saw educated people as a threat, and ordered them all to be killed. Furthermore, he often killed people for wearing glasses or speaking in foreign languages, a sheer example of how extreme he and his regime were. Amongst those thousands were intellectuals including: doctors, teachers, Buddhist monks, engineers, and anyone with education and foreign contacts. Writers Wayne C. McWilliams & Harry Piotrowski (The World Since 1945, p. 225) wrote that, “Those who resisted-members of the old regime, the western-educated elite, city dwellers, and all real or suspected “enemies of the revolution”-were exterminated”. Even the nation’s army officers were sentenced to death, however, these people would be tortured horrifically before they were killed. Embassies were closed, foreigners were expelled, money was abolished and any outside help was forbidden, all in the name of Pol Pot’s vision of an agrarian utopia. They even created a new flag for themselves and their movement.Cambodia was then literally sealed off from the outside world.
Pol Pot ordered the evacuation of everyone from the cities of Cambodia to the move to the country side and work there as farmers-an estimated 20,000 people died along the way (The history place, 1999). The infamous killing fields where peasants were virtual slaves, and had to work long hours (18 hours a day) to harvest crops, with little rest and barely any food. Many people died as a result of starvation, disease or over-work, and were buried in mass graves. They were often told by the Khmer Rouge soldiers: “whether you live or die is not of great significance.” (Ibid, 1999).
The estimated killings done by the Khmer Rouge are to be around 1.5 million Cambodians – almost one fifth of the entire population of Cambodia at that time (20th century history, Michael Richards).As a result of the revolution,as well, Pol Pot started theTuolSleng, S-21 (Security office 21) in Phnom Penh. It was a school that was converted into a jail. It was one of 167 jails or torture chambers around Cambodia. The purpose of this institute was nothing more than mere “torture chambers” or, in other words, “The place where people go in but never come out.” (The Killing Machine of the Khmer Rouge, 2003). Anyone who would oppose his regime orwas suspected of being a spy,or as the Khmer Rouge used to call them, “enemies of the people”(UliSchmetzer, 1997),were to be sent there. Thousands were imprisoned, tortured, interrogated and later killed. Even babies and children were not spared. It is believed that there was a huge motto hanging on the wall, for it to be seen by everyone, that said: “‘the secret enemy belongs to the CIA and KGB. We must arrest and kill them all.”(Thomas Bell, 2009).
Part 3: An end to cruelty
Pol Pot and his reign over Cambodia was not very long, even though its impact was devastating. For years Pol Pot believed that Vietnam was going to invade Cambodia. Pol Pot hated Vietnam and the Vietnamese people, and would often kill anyone he suspected of being a Vietnamese spy, even people who worked for him calling them “Vietnamese minds in Khmer bodies.” (NayanChanda, 2005). After there were violent border confrontations from Khmer Rouge soldiers towards some Vietnamese villages, a result of Pol Pot’s paranoia,and because of that Vietnam, ironically, invaded Cambodia in December of 1978. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge soldiers were forced into hiding, once again into the jungles of north-western Cambodia. After the horrible atrocities have been broadcasted around the world, many countries and International relief programs intervened to help the innocent and oppressed Cambodian people and end Pol Pot’s vicious regime. Some Khmer Rouge leader have been caught and put on trial for their crimes against humanity, while others fled and are still wanted by the new established government, to be held and punished for their crimes.
Pol Pot retired as the leader of the Khmer Rouge and of Cambodia in the 1980’s, and was put on house arrest. In an interview Pol Pot said, “I came to carry out the struggle, not to kill people,” he told his questioner. ”Even now, and you can look at me: am I a savage person?”(Seth Mydans, 1998).Many experts on Southeast Asia as well as the Cambodians who endured his rule would say “Yes” (Ibid, 1998). Later in that same interview he said: “My conscience is clear”, evidence of a clearly delusional man. Pol Pot’s, statement of a “clear conscience”, obviously enraged lots Cambodians (UliSchmetzer, 1997).He later died of an apparentheart attack while he was sleeping in April 15, 1998 (Seth Mydans, 1998). In the aftermath of the genocide committed in Cambodia, and after more than decade of his death, Cambodia and the Cambodian people still are deeply marked by his brutality. One elderly Cambodian man who took residence in the United States said: “How can I go there and have any peace so long as the people who killed all of my family are still free?” (Brad Adams, 2011).In yet another interview with another Cambodian, named Oum Bun Thoeun, whose life hasbeen deeply affected by Pol Pot’s regime, says: “I wish Pol Pot were still alive, I still want to know what happened, why Pol Pot killed so many people, why he killed my brothers. Yes, I would like to hear him say why he killed them.” (Seth Mydans).
Pol Pot had a vision of a unified Cambodia based on its old traditions, and against any form of modernization or Western ways of thinking. He wanted to build Cambodia to become an agrarian utopia. But that was what has led to the end of his horrible reign of terror and oppression of the Cambodian people. His regime was unjust, cruel and inhumane. It goes against any type of sanity. Killing of millions of innocent people and the torture of thousands as well, is not an action a mentally stable man would take, especially because he was influenced by Marxism and Maoism, and that set that basis of his revolution, even though Marxism and Maoism ideas and beliefs does not include the murder of intellectuals, i.e. Stalin of Russia, as well was influenced by Marxism but did not order the killings of intellectuals, so one can conclude that Pol Pot had a sort of twisted idea of what utopia really stands for. The only conclusion, in my opinion and many others, is that he died without being accounted for and punished for his horrible crimes against humanity.”This time we are sad because we have lost a criminal we cannot punish, I wish to see him in court. I wish to see him in handcuffs. I wish to see him suffer the way he made me suffer”, YoukChhang, a Cambodian who expresses his feelings about Pol Pot’s death (Seth Mydans, 1998).In another interview a Cambodian man named Ta Mok expresses his feelings, as well, towards Pol Pot, and said: “It is good that Pol Pot is dead. I feel no sorrow.” (Nate Thayer, 1997).As one would conclude, Pol Pot’s death has had lots of mixed feelings from the general public of Cambodia.
Lastly, Before Pol Pot’s death, hehimself agreed that communism is over and that the Western Liberal ideas have proven to be the best way of governing, stating: “When I die, my only wish is that Cambodiaremain Cambodia and belong to the West. It is over for communism, and I want to stress that.” – Pol Pot (Ibid, 1997).
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