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The Most Terrible Villains of the Past One Hundred Years: Part 4 of 5 - Pol Pot

Updated on April 18, 2015
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Missing Link is originally from rural Ohio. He currently lives in Hillsboro, OR. with his Wife and two Sons.

Pol Pot
Pol Pot

Please be warned---this hub contains disturbing content

Saloth Sar, better known as Pol Pot, was born in 1925. He was a Maoist revolutionary who led the Khmer Rouge from 1963 until his death in 1998. Khmer Rouge was the name of the group under his control who did his bidding.

Like the other villains in this series, he gradually worked his way up in "the system." He used people and exploited opportunity wherever and whenever he could. People either did not fully grasp how evil and insane he was or by the time they did it was too late. He became the leader of Cambodia in April of 1975.

During his time in power, he imposed agrarian socialism. He promised he would create a utopian society but instead delivered unspeakable misery and suffering. 21% of the Cambodian population perished during the nightmare of his reign.

When Pot was a young boy, his Father did own some land and several farm animals. The family was considered to be moderately wealthy. His sister was a concubine of the King. He did gain admission to exclusive schools as a young man but proved to be a dunce. He was never successful at any kind of formal studies.

As a young man, he became attracted to movements which were anti colonialist and communist in nature. Cambodia had been under French colonial rule in the past. In one communist oriented group, his poor academic past was considered an attribute as the group was anti intellectual and saw uneducated peasants as the true proletariat.

The Cambodian monarchy was able to hold back the communists but there was also an underground movement over which the government had limited control. In time, Pot became the acting leader of the underground communist party. This group was small initially with only a few hundred members. In time, they were able to establish a communist base camp and engage in armed conflict against the Cambodian government.

By the late 60s, Pot had become the absolute leader of the Khmer Rouge. He now had his own compound with a personal staff and guards. Outsiders were no longer allowed to approach him. Rather, people were summoned into his presence by his staff. Can you say hypocrite?

Pot was such a hypocrite! He talked of a peasant utopia but himself grew up moderately wealthy. As alluded to earlier, he went to reputable schools when younger bud didn't do well. Perhaps he persecuted educated people because he was bitter at his own educational failures?

As the Khmer Rouge became more established and organized they began to enforce (here is the where the true nightmare begins) new levels of discipline and conformity in areas under their control. Minorities were forced to abandon their customs. Land holdings were to be of uniform size which means many had land seized. The confiscated land became other words, the land became jointly owned. Individual possessions were banned so say goodbye to all your stuff. All private means of transportation were confiscated so say goodbye to your car, truck, etc. Any who resisted were considered not worthy of the coming utopia and were executed. Ah, the perfect society.

The Khmer Rouge began to train new recruits to a higher level. A great deal of time, effort and money was spent on indoctrination. So called middle peasants, who had before been accepted, came to be rejected. Those who were considered to have more of a "rock solid" peasant background were kept. This policy was ironic in that most of the senior party leadership, including Pot, came from student and middle peasant backgrounds. Again, can you say hypocrite? By becoming more and more exclusive, the Khmer Rouge were able to justify more and more killing.

The Cambodian government ultimately collapsed and the Khmer Rouge took control of Phnom Penh, the capital, in April of 1975. Pot was designated leader of the new regime and adopted the monikor "brother number one."

The Khmer Rouge began to implement the concept of "Year Zero." The measurement of time itself was to begin anew with his reign---what a nutcase! Pot ordered the evacuation of Phnom Penh and other recently captured towns and cities. Those leaving were told the evacuation was due to the threat of severe, American bombing and that they could return in a few days. In truth, the Khmer Rouge burnt their homes to the ground. Most of the evacuees would instead die a horrible death.

Pot "evacuated" these masses to the countryside so he could more easily control them. Most of these people would not qualify for his vision of utopia so were marked for execution. Most of these people were starved to death. Any who resisted were summarily executed. Most who did not resist were executed anyway.

It was announced at some point only two million people would be needed to build the new agrarian, communist utopia. As for the others, per the Rouge's own proverb: "To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss."

Many soon to be victims were classified by religion and ethnicity. All religion was banned and minority groups were forbidden to speak their primary language or practice their customs. Some highly targeted groups for execution were Buddhists, Muslims, Christians, those viewed as Western-educated, educated people in general, people who had had contact with Western countries or with South Vietnam, disabled people, etc. Hmmmmm----who wasn't targeted? People were treated as opponents based on appearance and/or background. Thousands of politicians and bureaucrats accused of being associated with previous governments were executed. Torture was widespread and commonplace. Wow, what a wonderful utopia!

Over a million people were forced to dig their own mass graves. Bullets were not to be wasted so many were buried alive or killed in some other way and then buried. These mass graves are often referred to as "The Killing Fields". MORE THAN 20,000 MASS GRAVES HAVE BEEN DISCOVERED.

Some outside entities did offer humanitarian aid for the masses during this nightmare but Pot refused it. Outside help went against the Khmer Rouge's principle of self-reliance. Education was dispensed at communal schools and children were indoctrinated to the hilt.

Due to tension with North Vietnam, Pot ordered all Vietnamese in Cambodia be exterminated....even though many were part of the Khmer Rouge or had assisted him in the past. He also ordered the masses in general to be further "purified". Many thousands who were said to have Khmer bodies but Vietnamese minds were exterminated.

In time, North Vietnam toppled Pot and the Khmer Rouge and Pot fled to the Thai border. In January 1979, Vietnam installed a new government in Cambodia. Pot tried to make a come back into power but could not.

Pot resigned from the party in 1985 citing health issues but continued as the de facto Khmer Rouge leader. He handed day to day power to Son Sen, a hand-picked successor. Pot then went to China for medical treatment and ended up staying there for several years.

In the late 1980s, North Vietnam withdrew from Cambodia. Pot wanted to return to power but refused to cooperate with a peace process that was under way. Pot and the Khmer Rouge chose instead to fight the new coalition government of Cambodia (what a surprise). The Khmer Rouge was able to keep the new government forces at bay until 1996, when Khmer Rouge troops started deserting. Several important Khmer Rouge leaders also defected at that time. The new, Cambodian government offered to make peace with Khmer Rouge individuals who were willing to give up the cause and lay down their arms...and many did.

Pot ordered the execution (he wouldn't would he?) of his right-hand man, Son Sen, in June of 1997 for attempting to make a settlement with the new government. Eleven members of Sen's family were killed as a result though Pot denied having ordered the atrocity... (really?) Pot subsequently fled but was later placed under house arrest by the Khmer Rouge.

Pol Pot died in 1998, while under house arrest, shortly after it was demanded he be handed over to an international tribunal. The faction that had protected him via house arrest claimed he died due to heart failure. Despite government requests to inspect the body, it was cremated a few days later. Some say he committed suicide while others believe he was poisoned. At any rate, the monster was dead.

*Wikipedia was used as a source in creating this hub

Was Pol Pot One of the Worst Five Villains of the Past 100 Years?

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    • Missing Link profile image

      Missing Link 5 years ago from Oregon

      Thanks much hirundine,

      For me, it was a very difficult hub to write. A ways into it I was like "oh brother what have I gotten myself into"? With time and work and effort though it came out pretty good. With North Vietnam being a friend and then later a foe and with China, the USSR, the USA, Laos, South Vietnam, different Cambodian governments involved, other shifting dynamics, etc. what a headache! Yes what a horrible chapter in human history...and it wasn't that long ago. Thanks much again!

    • hirundine profile image

      hirundine 5 years ago from Nelson, B.C. Canada

      While living through those years and bemused by the whole charade. Of a fascist government calling itself communist, etc. I think you did a good job here, presenting a lot of complicated facts. I might have enjoyed to see a little more dating, within the narrative? Even so, it's a great hub about a horrific state of affairs. The man Pol Pot was obviously following an agenda. Who's agenda, might be a little more obscure?