Pol Pot and the Killing Fields

Four Years of Genocide

From 1975-1979, Cambodia's citizens were under the brutal rule of Pol Pot; who ordered the torture, rape, starvation, and murder of his fellow countrymen. If the Native American removal of 1830 in the United States can be called "The Trail of Tears," then certainly the genocidal murder of millions of Cambodians can be called "The Trail of Blood."

Saloth Sar who would later become known as Pol Pot, was born on March,1925, in the small village of Prek Sbauy. He was initially educated by Buddhists, later attending a private Catholic institution in the capital Phnom Penh. At the age of twenty, he was awarded a government scholarship to study radio and electronics technology in Paris. While in France Pol Pot became involved with the Communist Party. So much so, that he neglected his studies, losing his scholarship, and forcing his return home. It was in 1953 that he returned to Cambodia and immediately upon his arrival he joined the underground communist movement. Cambodia which was a French possession, was given full independence in 1954. It was then ruled by a royal monarchy.

By 1962 Pol Pot was head of the Cambodian Communist Party earning the enmity of Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who was then leading the country. For his own safety, Pol was forced to seek sanctuary in the jungles of Cambodia. His time in hiding was not spent in being idle, for it was in the jungle that he began to form an armed resistance movement. His guerrilla army came to be known as the Khmer Rouge(Red Khmer or Cambodian). They consisted of the young villagers, farmers, and the uneducated. All were manipulated into violence and killing against their fellow citizens, They were trained to follow orders without hesitation including that, to kill their peers.

Pol Pot and his supporters considered Sihanouk as weak and ill equipped to lead, as well as a French puppet. By the time 1970 rolled around many high ranking government and military officials were disillusioned with Sihanouk's leadership. Along with his other problems, Sihanouk was trying to balance a tenuous neutrality between Cambodia and North Vietnam backed by communist China as well as South Vietnam backed by the United States. Both North Vietnam and South Vietnam had a military presence in Cambodia.

Also in 1970 when he was out of the country, Prince Norodom Sihanouk's government was overthrown by a peaceful military coup. The new leader was the military's General Lon Nol. Lon Nol allowed the continued bombing of Viet Cong strongholds in Cambodia, by the American military, all taking place between 1969 and 1973. During these bombing raids it is estimated that between 150,000 and 700,000 Cambodian peasants were killed, depending upon one's source of information. This bombing which took place mainly in the countryside,drove peasants to flee to the capital of Phnom Penh. This along with Lon Nol's repressive methods contributed to his disfavor among those he ruled.

By 1975 the Americans had withdrawn its troops from South Vietnam and most of Southeast Asia, opening the door for Pol Pot. By this time, with training and aid from North Vietnam and the support of China, the Khmer Rouge who already controlled most of the countryside; surrounded Phnom Penh and took it over.

Khmer Rouge
Khmer Rouge

Pol Pot's Legacy

Upon taking over Pol Pot was ready to make radical changes. Inspired by Mao Zedong's teachings he followed Mao's example of the "Great Leap Forward", which included evacuating all of the cities and destroying all perceived enemies of the state. Pol renamed Cambodia the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea. He stated that, "This is Year Zero."

Under this extreme form of communism, his aim was to purify all Cambodians. Western culture, foreign influences, religion and city life were no longer acceptable practices. All foreigners were expelled, embassies closed down, television and radio stations shut down, newspapers closed, money banned, education ceased, and parental authority taken away. No foreign languages were allowed to be spoken, all with the intent of shutting out the rest of the world. The restrictions are too exhaustive to list, but among them, mail and telephone usage discouraged, and health care completely eliminated.

Next began forced evacuations of the cities. Phnom Penh had a population of two million people who were forced to leave the city for the countryside, at gunpoint. During this forced evacuation, 20,000 people died. People who were accustomed to city living, were now forced to labor in the fields growing rice and fruit. The workers were not allowed to eat that which they grew, but were rationed a cup of rice (180 grams) per person, every two days. Once crops were harvested Khmer Rouge driven trucks would confiscate all of it.

People were worked under armed supervision, where guards were eager to mete out pain, suffering, rape of young girls, and even murder. The work day began at between four and five in the morning and lasted eighteen hours. People soon began to die from overwork, sickness, and malnourishment.

Purges of the so called old remnants were conducted regularly. Targeted were almost anyone who had once lived in the city, the educated, former police, doctors, lawyers, teachers, Buddhist monks, and former government officials. In effect, everyone was Pol Pot's enemy. Before it was over many of those once trusted by him were executed by him.

People were encouraged to tell on neighbors and children were taught to tell on parents, whether there was an actual infraction or a perceived one. It is conservatively estimated that the Khmer Rouge killed an estimated 1.7 million of their own people in a four year span.

Finally Saved

One error that Pol Pot made was the harassing border attacks the Khmer Rouge would launch against Vietnam. Tiring of this, the Vietnamese launched an all out attack on December 25th, 1978. Phnom Penh was taken January 9th, 1979, with Pol Pot fleeing to Thailand. The government was then taken over by a few Khmer Rouge defectors, with the blessing of the Vietnamese.

Pol Pot still attempted to wage a guerrilla war with what was left of his forces, against a succession of Cambodian rulers. After numerous internal power struggles, Pol Pot finally lost control of the Khmer Rouge. In 1998 at the age of 73, he died of a heart attack, while under arrest. So, on this earth Pol Pot was never brought to trial to pay for his atrocious acts of murder and genocide.


Pol Pot's Killing Fields
Pol Pot's Killing Fields

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Comments 41 comments

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

Awesome! My best friend went to Cambodia to adopt a baby boy, and she saw the Killing Fields.

mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Thank you, I never made it there, but spent time in Vietnam just prior to that.

GusTheRedneck profile image

GusTheRedneck 6 years ago from USA

Brother mcquee - This is an excellent article because it accurately relates the Pol Pot history, a dreadful example of man's inhumanity to man that few people think about today.

Gus :-(

mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Thanks Gus, had to back and edit.That's what happens when you read with one eye and type with one finger.

CLQ 6 years ago

Gratuitous abuse of power...it is a wonder how such people achieve such power and do such damage, both physically and mentally. Keep the articles coming; to date, I believe this is the best one yet.

mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Thank you for the comment and for reading.

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

Hi, mquee, It never fails to amaze me how a country can follow one man, and turn to so much evil. Hitler, Pol pot, and even today Mugabe, seem to have such an evil hold over their people. Thank goodness there are countries out there that fight back. Thanks nell

mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

You're right Nell, sometimes it seems that people are just like sheep. I guess it's easier to follow than to think for one's self. Thanks for reading.

pmccray profile image

pmccray 6 years ago from Utah

My God man's inhumanity to man. I've never heard of this fiend and it was during my life time. This knuckle dragger was a modern day Hitler. Thank you for this bit of history as horrific as it was. There seems to be no end to the power mad who wish to dominate the weaker. Excellent work!

mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

You're so right, and I don't think he received the coverage he should have gotten at the time. Thanks for reading.

Writer David profile image

Writer David 6 years ago from Mobile, AL

I knew a Cambodian man when I was working in Houston, TX in 1999. He stated to me there was not an area that you could walk in any direction more than "100 steps" and not walk over a buried Cambodian. Not sure if that is accurate. But, he certainly seemed sincere. I'll never understand why this didn't get the recognition it deserved. It was certainly an "Asian Holocaust." Thanks for a truly great hub.

mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Thank you for reading, and I am sure your friend is very accurate in his statement. Nobody knows the body count for sure.

DMQ  6 years ago

This is a part of history I had no knowledge of...It is amazing how one can just abuse their power.Sad but very informative.

mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Thanks for reading and for comment. Many people that have the upper hand feel like they are the Gods of this earth, but it is a false concept they have of themselves.

itakins profile image

itakins 6 years ago from Irl

It never seems to end -there always seems to be a spot in the world controlled by one of these lunatics...what a horrid man!

mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

True, it seems some people delight in terrorizing others. Thanks for reading.

louis rams profile image

louis rams 6 years ago from florida


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

You are 100 per cent right. It seems that there are times that the world stands by while atrocities are committed against our fellow man. Thank you for reading and commenting.

World-Traveler profile image

World-Traveler 6 years ago from USA

I've read some of your writings. My best to you on Memorial Day and all those that follow. I lost too many high school friends in the Viet Nam war.

mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

There was a time when all of us knew of someone lost in the Vietnam War. For the most, they were all very young. Thank you for the visit as well as for the comment.

romper20 profile image

romper20 6 years ago from California

wow is all I have to say. Awesome Hub!!!!

Scary pictures...


mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Yes, he was another monster.

stars439 profile image

stars439 6 years ago from Louisiana, The Magnolia and Pelican State.

Thank you for a great hub that needed to be written. The world must not forget how dangerous bad politics can be. God Bless You.

mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

You are right in that the world should not forget these horrors, but the young people of today need to be aware that these things have happened in the past.

God Bless you and your loved ones.

Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 6 years ago

I couldn't believe we did not go in there and stop it. I remember seeing the movie. I remember the actor was actually a prisoner who escaped from there. I remember him dying years ago. The Movie Amadeus won best movie that year. I thought it was atrocious. Of course the Color Purple was beat out the following or so. The Killing Fields" was the most important message. Millions of people killed. Thanks for a great hub!

mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Yes Micky, that movie was difficult to watch. For the sake of power and greed so many common working people have been made to suffer. I truly appreciate your comments and that you have taken time to read.

Serendipity88 profile image

Serendipity88 6 years ago from California

I want to thank you for writing this article. Not only was it extremely informative and made me take a step back to reflect upon OUR history. I wasn’t alive during this time but I remember hearing stories and actually had to educate myself on the topic when it was very briefly discussed during one of my history classes. I emphasize that this is all of our history because for a lot of people it is far easier to ignore the tragedies of the past as well as those going on currently if one’s life is not directly disrupted. It doesn’t matter where you are from but events like this have long lasting impressions on generations. We must learn history in order to prevent it from repeating it. Also it is a great reminder of how quickly we can forget something so tragic. I love the line where you use the “The Trail of Tears” (an event that is known by everyone…I hope) to really prove your point of the tragic “genocidal murder of millions of Cambodians can be called "The Trail of Blood." Absolutely genius! Wonderful work :)

"The ultimate choice for a man, in as much as he is driven to transcend himself, is to create or to destroy, to love or to hate." Erich Fromm

mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Thank you for your comment and for reading. I thank you even more for your view regarding history. The world is smaller now than ever and all events affect all people.

julianardian profile image

julianardian 6 years ago from Indonesia

What an informative article.. Most people travel to Cambodia for fun without knowing the history..

mquee profile image

mquee 6 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

I think most people today look towards having enjoyment not realizing the history of places they vacation in. Thank you for the comment.

marshacanada profile image

marshacanada 5 years ago from Vancouver BC

Thanks for this hub mquee.I saw the Killing Fields and a prizon where innocent men women and children were tortured. Cambodian schools take their students to these memorials. I also read an excellent book by a girl who survived the deportation and slave labour. Its called "When Broken Glass Floats."

mquee profile image

mquee 5 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Thanks for commenting and reading. Also I will get that book.

lobonorth profile image

lobonorth 5 years ago

Thank you for reminding all of us old enough to remember those atrocities and letting a new generation know of Cambodia's sad chapter. Also, it serves to remind us of the importance of all the instruments of democracy and why we should defend them. I hope I am wrong in thinking that presently democracy as we used to know it is in deep trouble.


mquee profile image

mquee 5 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Thanks for the comment. I do think you are right regarding democracy. There are many things that need to be said and addressed, some are distasteful. In spite of that they need to be addressed. One troubling thing for me is that often now, when a person offers an opinion that goes against the grain that person may be subjected to name calling, ridicule, or threats. No matter how disagreeable an opinion is, that person has the right to speak. Thank you for a meaningful comment.

kerlynb profile image

kerlynb 5 years ago from Philippines, Southeast Asia, Earth ^_^

This story about Pol Pot is what makes Cambodian history utterly depressing. People wanting to discover Cambodia just have to descend to the hells of Tuol Sleng to learn about this very dark phase of Khmer history. Good thing, Cambodia is more than Pol Pot. It still has Angkor, Angkor Wat and its many impressive temples.

mquee profile image

mquee 5 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Indeed, Cambodia has a lot to offer the world. The courage of the Cambodian people during this dark period of it's history, speaks volumes about the strength and quality of the people. Thank you for this comment.

Yen Savy 5 years ago

I am Camboidian, In the Pol Pot's mind just want to do a great revolution in the country, But he is very very mad man. He did a big mistake for the country that make cambodian never forget his period from generation to generation.

mquee profile image

mquee 5 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

Thank you for commenting. It is good to hear from someone who really knows the situation.

wes.thompson profile image

wes.thompson 5 years ago from Saigon, Vietnam

Very informative and well written article. I currently live and work in Vietnam and have visited Cambodia four times. I have been to the Killing Fields just outside of Phnom Penh and it is an experience I will never forget. Overwhelming emotional day.

I enjoyed reading this.

(Just one thing... the photo at the top of your article is not Pol Pot. His name is Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch. He was a close associate of Pol Pot and is currently serving prison time for his atrocities.)

mquee profile image

mquee 5 years ago from Columbia, SC Author

First of all, let me thank you for the correction. I should have been more attentive. Thank you also for reading and commenting. Reading about some historical event or place can be very informative, but there is nothing like being there in the flesh. I will make the correction as soon as possible.

wes.thompson profile image

wes.thompson 5 years ago from Saigon, Vietnam

I just noticed on your profile that you served two tours in Vietnam. I can only imagine what Vietnam was like at that time and what the experience must have been like for you.

I will certainly read more of your articles. The country has changed a lot since the war.

Thanks and hope you are doing well.

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