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The Life of a Tyrant: Pol Pot of Cambodia

Updated on December 28, 2017

A tyrant who caused 2 million deaths

Birth of Pol Pot

Cambodia is a small country in the South East of Asia. It is a predominantly Buddhist nation that believes in the tenets of the Buddha namely meditation and non-violence. In such a society it is difficult to comprehend how a leader like Pol Pot could have emerged. Pol Pot was born in 1925 in Kampong Thom Province. He came from a relatively affluent family which owned about 50 acres of rice paddy land.

Early Education

Pol Pot attended a French Catholic school in his early years. In 1949 he won a scholarship to study radio technology in Paris. This was about the time he read Marx and became an active communist. Pol pot returned to Cambodia in 1953 to find the entire region in a state of ferment against French rule. The French were overthrown and Cambodia became independent. He joined the Khmer People’s Revolutionary Party (KPRP). At the same time from 1956-63, he taught French, History and Geography at a private school.

Pol Pot and Communism

These were formative years and Pol Pot plotted to bring his own brand of communism into Cambodia. In 1962 he became the leader of the Cambodian Communist party and escaped into the jungles to escape the wrath of Prince Sihanouk. In 1970 General Lon Nol staged a coup against Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who was out of the country. On his return, the Prince sided with the Khmer Rouge. This in a way was a mistake of immense proportion which had tragic consequences later on.

Support From USA

Pol Pot now received support from the USA which supported an offensive against the Vietnamese and Viet Cong who had entered Cambodia. A secret bombing campaign was launched which lasted from 1970-73 and saw the USA drop 500,000 tons of bombs on Cambodia. This was 3 times the total number of bombs dropped on Japan in World War II. The bombing ended in 1973. The Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot had now greatly increased their strength and in an all-out guerrilla war came to power in 1975.

The USA fearing a North Vietnamese domination committed another blunder by recognizing the regime of the Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot now started a campaign that has no parallel in world history. He believed that he could establish an agrarian utopia. The methods for setting up this Utopia were extremely brutal. His target was the elite consisting of the intellectuals, doctors, businessmen and other educated Cambodians who were forced to work in the fields. He created the famous ‘Killing Fields’ where thousands of Cambodians were buried after they died due to forced labor and starvation. At a conservative estimate Pol Pot executed nearly 25% of the population of Cambodia. This is one of the unprecedented acts of mass murder in world history.

The Fall of Pol Pot

The Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1979 with 60,000 troops and artillery and Pol Pot fled into the Jungles. He was effectively ousted and continued fighting a sporadic guerrilla war. He remained with a small remnant of the Khmer Rouge till 1998, when he died in his sleep at Anlong Veng. While hiding in the jungles he continued to be recognized by the UNO as the legitimate ruler of Cambodia.

Pol Pot never paid for the crimes he committed against the Cambodian people. It is one of the ironies of history that a man who executed or killed over 1.5-2 million people never paid for his crimes to humanity. In 1997 he was put under house arrest by a faction of the Khmer Rouge and died in bed.

A Mass Murderer: Hand of the USA

Much of this mass murder could have been avoided in case the USA had not supported the Khmer Rouge with arms and weaponry till the very end. After his death, a UN-sponsored tribunal was set up, but till date, one Khmer Rouge leader has been convicted. Pol Pot led a normal sex life. He married Khieu Ponnary in 1956. She was by his side when Pol Pot ordered the mass executions. In the early eighties, Pol Pot divorced her and married again. Khieu spent her last two decades in a mental asylum and passed away in 1993.

Last Word

Pol Pot remains one of the world’s biggest tyrants. It is a travesty of justice that a man who caused the deaths of nearly 2 million Cambodians lived his full span of life and died peacefully in bed.


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    • MG Singh profile image

      MG Singh 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thank you KoffeeKlatch. This is the beauty of history

    • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

      Susan Haze 4 years ago from Sunny Florida

      It's amazing to me how one person can adversely influence the lives of so many others.

    • MG Singh profile image

      MG Singh 4 years ago from Singapore

      Thank you Conrad for commenting. Yes, Ho Chi Minh never liked Pol Pot and finally the Vietnamese army sent him packing.

    • profile image

      conradofontanilla 4 years ago

      Prince Sihanouk was in China for a state visit when Lon Nol staged a coup. Ho Chi Minh and Pol Pot were opposites.