[Paleopsych] NYTDBR: 'Pol Pot': Cambodia's Murderous Mystery Man
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The New York Times > Books > Books of The Times | 'Pol Pot': Cambodia's
Murderous Mystery Man
February 18, 2005
[Followed by the Sunday Book Review, the first chapter, and the obituary.]
Cambodia's Murderous Mystery Man
By WILLIAM GRIMES
POL POT: Anatomy of a Nightmare
By Philip Short
Illustrated. 537 pages. Henry Holt. $30.
Even among the most accomplished mass murderers of the last century,
Pol Pot deserves a special place. In raw numbers, his achievements
cannot match Hitler's or Stalin's, but statistics can be deceiving. In
three years under the Khmer Rouge an estimated one and a half million
Cambodians died, out of a total population of only seven million. Many
were executed. Many more died of overwork, disease or starvation
laboring quite literally as slaves to realize the political fantasies
of their gently smiling, almost Buddha-like leader. For lethal speed
and destructiveness, the Cambodian experiment stands alone and apart.
"Money, law courts, newspapers, the postal system and foreign
telecommunications - even the concept of the city - were all simply
abolished," Philip Short writes in his superb, authoritative account
of the man and the madness that transformed Cambodia, almost
overnight, into hell on earth. "Individual rights were not curtailed
in favor of the collective, but extinguished altogether. Individual
creativity, initiative, originality were condemned per se. Individual
consciousness was systematically demolished."
This was utopia as envisioned by Saloth Sar, better known by his party
alias, Pol Pot, and Mr. Short goes a long way toward explaining how
and why Cambodia got there. Drawing on interviews with former members
of the Khmer Rouge movement and archival material in France, Russia,
China, Cambodia and Vietnam, he carries the reader along in a
remarkably lucid exposition of the political events that brought Pol
Pot to power, kept him there briefly and then brought him down.
Pol Pot, the man, remains an illusive, shadowy figure. But the forces
that shaped him, and his thinking, come into focus, and Mr. Short
chronicles the stages of the Cambodian revolution with admirable
For the biographer, Pol Pot is a steep, uphill climb. Intensely
secretive, he baffled even his closest associates, who never managed
to penetrate beneath his opaque smile and smooth demeanor. "Even when
he was very angry, you could never tell," said Ieng Sary, a Khmer
Rouge leader who had known Pol Pot ever since their student days in
Paris. "You could not tell from his face what he was feeling. Many
people misunderstood that - he would smile his unruffled smile, and
then they would be taken away and executed."
For years no one knew that Pol Pot headed the Communist Party of
Cambodia or, after it took over, that he was the one running Cambodia.
In his youth, the smile simply seemed friendly. It helped Sar, an
indifferent student who showed no interest in politics until his 20's,
gain influence in the Marxist group formed by fellow Cambodian college
students in Paris in the early 1950's. Mr. Short ingeniously teases
out the various strands of revolutionary thought that influenced the
young Sar, who, he argues, was unusually receptive to the most extreme
versions of political radicalism.
In part, this was a matter of personal history. As a young child, Sar
had been sent for a year to a Buddhist school whose emphasis on strict
discipline, rote learning and suppression of individuality became, the
author argues, "key elements of his political credo." But Sar's
attraction to the most inflexible, utopian strains in Stalin, Mao and,
above all, the Russian anarchist Kropotkin reflected a deep-seated
tendency in Khmer culture, according to Mr. Short. He contrasts the
tempering influence of Confucianism on Vietnamese and Chinese
political thinking with the nihilistic precepts of Theravada Buddhism
and the dark shadows of Khmer superstition, still very much alive in
the late 20th century.
In the waning days of the Lon Nol regime, generals were instructed in
ancient Khmer practices of warfare, and a line of colored sand was
drawn around Phom Penh to give the city magical protection. "Whereas
Mao was the product of an intensely rational, literate society, with
highly developed traditions of philosophical debate, Sar's cultural
heritage was irrational, oral, guided by Theravada transcendentalism
and by k'ruu, spirit masters, whose truths sprang not from analysis
but from illumination," Mr. Short writes.
Years spent in the countryside building a revolutionary organization
deepened Pol Pot's conviction that true Communism could be built only
by the poorest, "purest" strata of the peasantry, on fire with
revolutionary consciousness. In truth, he was a poor theoretician, his
Marxism an ill-digested blend of anti-colonialism, xenophobia and
Sar and his fellow revolutionaries never bothered to examine the
social conditions in which their lofty ideas would be put into
practice. The absence of an industrial proletariat, for example,
bothered them not in the least. In May 1975, less than a month after
seizing power, they simply decided to make the "extremely marvelous,
extremely wonderful, prodigious leap" to full Communism.
Mr. Short dismisses the argument that the American bombing of Cambodia
in 1970 brutalized and radicalized the Khmer Rouge. Many more were
dropped on Vietnam, and in any case, the Khmer Rouge leadership did
not experience the bombing firsthand. "The bombing may have helped
create a climate conducive to extremism," he writes. "But the ground
war would have done that anyway."
But the bombing did have profound effects and led, indirectly, to a
harsher regime, Mr. Short argues. It sent tens of thousands of new
recruits to the Khmer Rouge, flooded the cities with refugees and
accelerated Pol Pot's policy of collectivization in
Communist-controlled areas. "The outcome was a harsher, more
repressive regime under which the suffering of individuals became
unimportant because there was so much of it," the author writes.
Mr. Short is judicious in describing the atrocities and myriad
insanities of Pol Pot's regime. He does not catalog. A few chilling
details, expertly deployed, do the necessary work. After the first
year of Khmer Rouge rule, to take just one example, foraging for food
was denounced as a manifestation of individualism. Some might wind up
with more than others. Better that all should starve equally. In the
countryside, peasant soldiers would make "smoke children," or magic
talismans, by slicing open the stomachs of pregnant women, removing
the fetuses and hanging them up in the eaves of huts to shrivel and
Suffering was not distributed equally in Cambodia. Mr. Short paints a
complicated picture of Khmer rule, which was arbitrary and highly
disorganized. Because Pol Pot failed to organize a truly unified,
disciplined party, his revolutionary directives were applied almost
haphazardly from region to region and even village to village.
"The prevailing image of the Khmers Rouges as uniformly mindless
automatons, bent on destruction, was fundamentally wrong," he argues.
"What the deportees themselves experienced was a mosaic of idealism
and butchery, exaltation and horror, compassion and brutality, that
defies easy generalization."
Mass starvation and economic failure led Pol Pot to a simple
conclusion: internal enemies were to blame. In short order, he
embarked on a series of purges that bled the Khmer Rouge white, while
carrying out military operations and civilian massacres against
Vietnam, Cambodia's ancient enemy, thereby ensuring his downfall.
Three years, eight months and 20 days after winning power, the regime
of Pol Pot collapsed as the Vietnamese overran the capital.
Mr. Short finds a fitting epitaph in the words of an aristocrat whose
sons served the regime. "Didn't they win a glorious victory?" she said
to a friend. "But they wouldn't treat people properly, so now they've
lost everything. Band of cretins!"
To the end of his life, Pol Pot, who died in 1998, denied
responsibility for the suffering under his rule. At times, he would
seem to recognize a shortcoming here and there. "The line was too far
to the left," he might say. More often, he expressed regret at too
much trust in those around him, "the real traitors."
Up to his final moments, he was still ordering executions from his
encampment along the Thai border. As for Cambodia's extremely
marvelous leap, he remained unapologetic. Just days before his death,
he told a visitor, "My conscience is clear."
The New York Times > Books > Sunday Book Review > 'Pol Pot': The Killer's Smile
February 27, 2005
'Pol Pot': The Killer's Smile
By WILLIAM T. VOLLMANN
POL POT: Anatomy of a Nightmare.
By Philip Short.
Illustrated. 537 pp. A John Macrae Book/ Henry Holt & Company. $30.
I remember the first time I saw the killing fields at Choeung Ek: pits
with rainwater in them, scraps of cloth and concretions of bone in the
exposed earth. In one mass grave swam fat, unwholesome frogs. A child
was catching them; his family was going to eat them. When I try to
conceptualize Cambodia's suffering, that sight -- repulsive to me,
presumably ordinary to the boy -- reminds me equally of the presence
of the murdered and the sad expedients of the living. Pol Pot and his
Khmer Rouge had been expelled by the Vietnamese a dozen years before,
but their influence remained everywhere. During that first visit of
mine, in 1991, one could stand in the middle of the widest boulevard
in Phnom Penh at night and count stars. Electricity was the loud, weak
and temporary product of generators. In place of the vehicle fumes of
a couple of years later, one smelled sandalwood. Everything seemed as
broken as the bones at Choeung Ek. Wasn't all this of a piece?
Obviously it was the Khmer Rouge's fault that children were catching
dinner in mass graves.
Philip Short's new biography of Pol Pot proves me wrong. It quotes an
old member of the Khmer Rouge who remembers being a child and finding
decapitated heads in fishing ponds. ''It didn't bother us. . . . We'd
yank them out by the hair, and throw them aside.'' That was in 1949,
before there was a Khmer Rouge. Pol Pot was then an undistinguished
student en route to accept a radio technology scholarship in Paris.
There are two ways to distort the enduring presence of atrocity in
Cambodia. One is to dwell, as I tend to do, on victims. Short, a
British journalist who previously wrote a well-regarded biography of
Mao, tends to dwell on perpetrators. In place of the boy at Choeung
Ek, he brings to our notice a woman named Khoun Sophal, whose husband,
a government minister, had taken a 16-year-old mistress. Her
countermeasure: three liters of nitric acid. ''Scores of teenage
Cambodian girls are disfigured and in many cases blinded in acid
attacks by rich men's wives,'' Short writes. ''The parallel with Khmer
Rouge atrocities is striking. One way to try to understand why the
Cambodian Communists acted as they did is to enter into the mind of a
well-educated, intelligent woman'' like Khoun Sophal.
This 1999 incident evidently haunts Short as much as the sight of the
frog-fishing boy does me. In his afterword, which bluntly states,
''The present Cambodian government is rotten,'' he brings up the Khoun
Sophal sisterhood as exemplars of ''a culture of impunity. . . . In
such circumstances, trying the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders for past
crimes offers an alibi for doing nothing about present ones.''
In other words, he seems to say, what Pol Pot did was hardly beyond
the Cambodian ordinary. ''Every atrocity the Khmers Rouges ever
committed, and many they did not, can be found depicted on the stone
friezes of Angkor . . . or, in more recent times, in the conduct of
the Issaraks,'' the anti-French insurgents who threw those heads into
the ponds back in 1949.
Obviously, whether or not one accepts this interpretation of Cambodian
history affects how one sees Pol Pot.
And who was Pol Pot? In 1996 I asked a Khmer Rouge defector and,
through a translator, got this answer: ''He don't know. Pol Pot is
just another word for Khmer Rouge. Maybe not a person. But if a
person, Pol Pot always have a black uniform, and wear red fabric on
head and wear shoes from rubber. But he never see.''
Nobody had seen him; everybody had heard his name. ''In the Pol Pot
time,'' people would say, and the story that followed was always
horrendous. A woman I loved told me how she'd had to watch her
family's heads smashed in one by one; if she had wept, she would have
been next. She blamed Pol Pot. A number of Cambodian slum dwellers and
Thai dealers in illegally logged hardwood admired him; most abhorred
him. His brother, Loth Suong, told me that Pol Pot had been a kindly
child. He didn't consider himself Pol Pot's relative anymore. Until
recently, nobody even agreed about whether he was still alive. (He
died once and for all in 1998, at 73.) One might call him the Osama
bin Laden of his epoch; but he was more invisible to our knowledge
than that other bugbear. In David P. Chandler's excellent biography,
''Brother Number One'' (1992), there is an eerie photograph of Pol Pot
applauding and smiling in a crowd. What do we know about him, except
that he smiles? Oh, that smile of his! Short quotes his henchman, Ieng
Sary: ''His face was always smooth. . . . Many people misunderstood
that -- he would smile his unruffled smile, and then they would be
taken away and executed.''
Short's book is ampler than Chandler's, and his footnotes contain
evidence of an impressive diversity of sources, not to mention any
number of thoughtful qualifications and interesting anecdotes. His
text sparkles with shrewdly plausible inferences mortared into a
compelling narrative. For instance, about the odd, yet in retrospect
perfectly natural spectacle of the young Saloth Sar, who was not yet
Pol Pot, lauding the Buddha as the first champion of democracy, Short
comments: ''Like his choice of the pseudonym Khmer Daeum, it suggested
a conscious desire to identify himself with an authentically Cambodian
viewpoint rather than imported, Western ideas.'' If we fail to
understand that desire, Pol Pot's anti-Vietnamese xenophobia and his
expulsion of the urban populations will never make sense.
Were this biography a novel, I would apply the word ''verisimilitude''
to much of it, for Short's Pol Pot possesses a detailed reality
whenever he appears. And why shouldn't he? We know more about him than
we did when ''Brother Number One'' appeared. Short got the benefit of
Nate Thayer's groundbreaking interview with the old murderer, not to
mention eyewitness accounts of his remarriage, death and cremation.
His account of Pol Pot's final two decades is of exceptional interest.
But my qualification that Pol Pot is vividly drawn whenever he appears
remains unfortunately necessary. I wouldn't have wanted Short to cut
any of his multipage summations of royalist Cambodia's domestic and
foreign policies, Nixonian realpolitik during the Vietnam War or the
politics of postwar Cambodia. But one may wish for more than the
all-too-occasional paragraph or two in which Pol Pot takes a direct
role. ''In September 1994,'' Short writes, ''the gentle old man who
doted on his small daughter ordered the execution of three young
backpackers''; such details do acquaint us with the monster, but there
are not many of them. Our protagonist does get his biographical due in
youth and old age, and fleetingly during his three years as the ruling
despot of Democratic Kampuchea. But during the crucial two decades
between the mid-1950's and his secret entry into a subjugated Phnom
Penh, he remains ''just another word for Khmer Rouge. Maybe not a
Could it be that because Pol Pot identified himself so thoroughly with
his revolution, there was no him for us to know? Isaac Deutscher's
biography of Stalin, and Alan Bullock's of Hitler, manage to ''bring
alive'' tyrants whose personal lives were banal. Perhaps the problem
is that Pol Pot was mediocre in almost every sphere: a failed
technical student, an uninspired military leader who wasted the lives
of his troops in badly planned offensives and ignored emergencies, a
misguided ruler. In sum, Pol Pot would exert little claim on our
attention were it not for the fact that millions died through his
cruelty and incompetence. In ''Brother Number One,'' Chandler admits
defeat at the outset: ''I was able to build up a consistent, but
rather two-dimensional picture. . . . As a person, he defies
When Short doesn't give us Pol Pot, what do we get? First and
foremost, a highly readable summary of a half-century of Cambodian
history. His characterization of Prince Sihanouk, the man for whom the
word ''mercurial'' was invented, is vivid and at times based on
personal observation. He is excellent at coining pithy summations of
political motives that ring humanly true. For instance, shortly after
World War II ''the Cambodians embraced Marxism not for theoretical
insights, but to learn how to get rid of the French and to transform a
feudal society which colonialism had left largely intact.'' Indeed, in
my own interviews with Khmer Rouge I have been struck by how few of
them knew anything about Marx. Short is correct: more than we would
like to think, theirs was an indigenous movement. Most of us would
like to believe the worst of the Khmer Rouge, but Short doesn't always
let us. He takes pains to show that between 1970, when Sihanouk was
overthrown by the American puppet Lon Nol, and 1972, when Pol Pot
demanded that the revolution be sped up, the Khmer Rouge not only
respected the autonomy of most peasants in their control, but
performed such active kindnesses as sending help to bring in the
He is especially good at conveying the incremental buildup of
harshness in the revolution. Here it differed from its Russian
analogue, where, as Trotsky famously put it, ''something snapped in
the heart of the revolution'' after the assassination attempt on Lenin
in 1918. In Cambodia there does not seem to have been a triggering
event. One of the Khmer Rouge's first roundups, which occurred the
year before they conquered Phnom Penh, netted their own Communist
compatriots who'd sojourned in Vietnam. A detention camp was built for
these victims ''with Khmer bodies and Vietnamese minds,'' most of whom
were then liquidated over a period of years. Meanwhile, strangers in
the ''liberated zone'' had begun being treated as spies, and peasants
were killing the educated, although this was not yet Pol Pot's
stipulated policy. These events, to which Chandler's biography lacked
the space to do justice, Short narrates with clarity and detachment,
coincidentally underscoring his thesis of the normality of Cambodian
atrocities as footnotes to the stone friezes of Angkor. Meanwhile he
renders Pol Pot's crimes less aberrant, less simply sadistic, by
explicating their rational basis. For instance, here is Brother Number
One's directive concerning the Cham insurgents (they disliked being
ordered to abandon their cultural distinctions): ''The leaders must be
tortured fiercely in order that we may obtain a complete understanding
of their organization.''
Short has much of value to say about the organization of rural life in
Cambodia and how that sometimes informed, and sometimes defeated, Pol
Pot's expectations. He is equally adept at explicating the Khmer Rouge
grand strategy, which seesawed between Vietnam and China, all the
while retaining Prince Sihanouk as an improbable figurehead. He gives
reasonable due to the progressive destabilization of Cambodia caused
by the Americans and the North Vietnamese in the 70's, a tale told
first and best in William Shawcross's ''Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon and
the Destruction of Cambodia.'' Short discounts Shawcross's opinion
that the Khmer Rouge's radicalization into cruelty had much to do with
the carnage and terror caused by America's secret bombing campaign. He
prefers to believe that Pol Pot and his ilk would have been atrocious
anyway. So do I.
At times, Short's summations of motives decay into snap judgments. At
one point, he claims that the Khmer Rouge killed captured government
troops without mercy because ''in the Confucian cultures of China and
Vietnam, men are . . . always capable of being reformed,'' for
instance into good Communists; ''in Khmer culture they are not.'' But
40 pages earlier, while laying out what made the Cambodian style of
Communist revolution different from all others, Short invokes
Theravada Buddhism to obtain the following result: ''The idea that
'proletarian consciousness' could be forged, independent of a person's
class origins or economic status, became the central pillar of Khmer
communism.'' If it was really a ''central pillar,'' surely royalist
prisoners could have been indoctrinated instead of exterminated.
There are many such preconceived moments, as when Short informs us of
the parallel lives Cambodians supposedly live, one grounded in reason
and the other ''mired in superstition,'' or glibly declares that
''Cambodians assert their identity by means of dichotomies: they are
in opposition to what they are not.'' There is a whiff of hubris in
these categorizations. They may be correct for all I know, but where's
the proof? And when he comes to the three hellish years of Pol Pot's
rule, he offers as one of the reasons for creating ''a slave state,
the first in modern times,'' the following unpleasant assertion: ''Pol
. . . faced a genuine and all but insurmountable problem, which had
defeated the French, defeated Sihanouk, and has defeated every
Cambodian government since. The problem was: how to make Khmers work.
Putting it in those terms will raise hackles. But the issue is too
important to be brushed aside with comforting platitudes.'' Short does
not quite say that laziness is a national Cambodian characteristic,
but he comes close.
I do grant that Cambodians frequently work more slowly, and with
smaller material ambition, than do many Americans, Germans and
Japanese -- but I would never characterize that as an exclusively
Cambodian phenomenon; and I would hold climate, malaria and intestinal
parasites responsible. When I go to, say, Burma, I eat less and less;
my strength declines; lassitude decreases my resolve while increasing
my patience; then the fever or the diarrhea starts. Short himself
mentions Pol Pot's incapacitating bouts of malaria. The book's
rationalization of the Khmer Rouge program of forced labor, no matter
how it's hedged, makes me uneasy. More specifically, it makes me look
apprehensively back upon Short's near equation of Khmer Rouge
atrocities with acid attacks carried out by jealous middle-aged wives.
I don't entirely disagree, but I worry that Pol Pot's crimes might
thereby be trivialized.
Most likely Short's opinionated peculiarities are well-meaning
attempts to add nuance to our indictment of Pol Pot. Did he commit
genocide? Short argues persuasively that he did not. His crimes
against humanity were for the purposes of enslavement, not
extermination. So what? As Short writes: ''The U.S. Army's conduct in
Iraq (as earlier in Vietnam) merely lengthens the catalog of
inhumanities perpetrated in the service of democratic ideals. The
United States, whose allergy to supranational justice is so highly
developed that it rejects it out of hand for American citizens,''
asserts that ''international tribunals should be limited to
exceptional crimes such as genocide and not allowed to spill over into
areas where the actions of 'normal' governments might come under
scrutiny.'' In the wake of My Lai and Abu Ghraib, this point is sadly
well taken. Short is no apologist for the Khmer Rouge, but an honest
researcher who tries, if occasionally too zealously, to keep
everything in perspective.
No doubt some people will be offended by this book, not only for its
indiscretions, but also for its restraint. Wasn't Pol Pot a monster
pure and simple? How dare Short imply otherwise! This attitude,
understandable though it is, hinders our apprehension of reality. The
truth is that even now you can find poor people in Cambodia who -- no
matter that they lost relatives in the Pol Pot time -- wish for the
return of the Khmer Rouge.
William T. Vollmann's recent books include ''Rising Up and Rising
Down.'' His new book of fiction, ''Europe Central,'' will be published
The New York Times > Books > First Chapters > First Chapter: 'Pol Pot'
By PHILIP SHORT
The village of Prek Sbauv extends along the east bank of the River
Sên, which flows southward from the town of Kompong Thom to the Great
Lake, the Tonle Sap. Wooden stilt-houses stand half-hidden amid orange
and purple bougainvillea, morning glory, yellow-flowering anh kang
trees, cactus hedges and palms. Fishermen row flat-bottomed canoes,
with a lazy sweeping motion, standing with a single oar at the stern,
to string out nets on stakes in the shallows. The water gleams
yellowish-brown. Buffalo with small, erect pink ears peer out
suspiciously from the mud. It is a gentle, idyllic place.
Nhep's home is set back about thirty yards from the river, separated
from it by a cart-track which leads to the provincial capital, three
miles distant. The stilts are a protection against flooding, although
severe floods have come only once in Nhep's lifetime, a few years
back, the result of uncontrolled logging along the Mekong river, which
Cambodians know as the 'Mother of Waters'. As in all traditional
Cambodian dwellings, everyone lives in one large room, occupying the
whole of the first floor, which is reached by a flight of steep wooden
steps leading up from the garden outside. The house where he and Sâr
were born stood on the same spot, Nhep says, and was built in exactly
the same way. It was destroyed in a bombing raid during the civil war.
The family was well-off, indeed, by local standards, wealthy. Their
father, Loth, owned 50 acres of rice-paddy - ten times the average,
comparable to the living of a junior mandarin - and their home was one
of the biggest among the twenty or so houses in the village. At
transplanting and harvest time, Loth hired his poorer neighbours to
provide extra labour.
Nhep, the youngest child, was born in the summer of 1927, the Year of
the Hare; Sâr, eighteen months older, in March 1925, the Year of the
Ox; and their brother, Chhay, in the Dog Year, 1922. There were three
elder siblings - two boys and a girl - who had also been born within a
year or two of each other, but more than a decade earlier. Three
others had died young. Because they were so close in age, the three
youngest were inseparable, particularly Sâr and Nhep. They played and
swam in the river together, and in the evenings, by the light of a
rush-lamp, listened to the old people of the village recounting
stories and legends from the days before the French established the
protectorate in the 1860s.
Their grandfather, Phem, was a link with that time. The children never
knew him, but Loth used to tell them of his exploits. Phem had grown
up during what were afterwards called the 'Years of Calamity', when
Vietnamese and Thai invaders vied for suzerainty over what remained of
the old Khmer kingdom, and court poets voiced the nation's fears that
soon 'Cambodia would no longer exist'. The Royal Palace at Oudong was
razed and Phnom Penh was destroyed. Among the populace, those who
escaped the corvées imposed by the rival armies 'fled to the forest to
live on leaves and roots'. The Vietnamese were in the habit of gouging
out their captives' eyes, salting their wounds and burying them alive.
A French missionary who witnessed the devastation left by the Thais
reported that they were little better:
The Siamese method of warfare is to steal everything they can lay
hands on; to burn and destroy wherever they pass; to enslave those
men that they do not kill, and to carry off the women and children.
They show no humanity towards their captives. If they cannot keep
up with the march, they are beaten, maltreated or killed. Unmoved
by tears and wailing, they slaughter small children in front of
their mothers. They have no more scruple in killing a person than a
fly, perhaps less, for their religion forbids them to kill animals.
Eventually a compromise was reached between the Thai court and the
Vietnamese Emperor at Hue, peace was restored and Phem prospered. He
became a notable - 'Elder Phem', the villagers called him - and,
during the great rebellion against the French in 1885-6, he organised
food supplies for loyalist troops, fighting to preserve the
prerogatives of the monarchy against the inroads of colonial rule. But
one day, Loth told the children, Phem and two friends walked into an
ambush in a village on the other side of the river and were killed.
From that time on, the family received the favour of the provincial
governor, a staunch royalist named Dekchoa Y, which gave them a place
in the patronage network percolating down from the Throne. Loth's
sister, Cheng, obtained a post in the household of King Norodom, and
around the year of Sâr's birth, her daughter, Meak, was chosen as a
royal concubine for the heir apparent, Monivong. The Lady Meak, as she
was now known, bore him a son, Prince Kossarak, and after Monivong
became king, was appointed Head of the Royal Bedchamber with overall
responsibility for all the palace women. With her help, in 1930,
Loth's eldest son, Suong, secured a grace-and-favour appointment as a
palace officer. Soon afterwards Meak summoned his sister, Roeung, then
sixteen years old, to join her in Phnom Penh, where she, too, became
one of Monivong's favourites, remaining at the King's side until his
death in 1941.
This was not such an unusual story in Cambodia in the early part of
the twentieth century. The mother of Sâr's contemporary Keng Vannsak
was another of Monivong's concubines. The King handed her on to his
brother, but she then fell in love with Vannsak's father and persuaded
her royal master, who had a surfeit of women already, to restore her
liberty. Monivong had more than thirty wives. King Norodom, who died
in 1904, had 360 - as Sihanouk, his grandson and spiritual heir, was
forever pointing out to justify his own philandering. Even a lesser
figure, like the Lord Governor of Battambang, had more than a hundred
consorts and insisted, to the dismay of the Buddhist clergy who
visited him, that all the women in his household, from the lowest
serving girl to his principal wife, should go about the official
mansion nude from the waist up. Polygyny was a sign of virility,
guaranteeing the fruitfulness of the realm.
Cambodian life has an earthy, elemental quality. Nature teems and
fructifies. The sun beats like an iron hammer, the jungle steams, the
land pulsates with the heat and colour of the tropics. In late spring
the countryside is blotted out by dense, palpitating clouds of orange
butterflies, several miles wide, which float across plains of lotus
blossom and bright green paddy-fields. Girls flower into women as soon
as they enter their teens, and fade when they reach twenty. Small boys
run about naked; girl children stagger under the weight of their
brothers, almost as big as themselves. In the days when Sâr and Nhep
were young, herds of elephant used to pass by Prek Sbauv, heading for
the water-meadows beside the Great Lake. At flood time, the villagers
organised hunts on buffalo-back, using javelins to spear wild boar.
When Loth's eldest son, Suong, travelled for the first time to Phnom
Penh, a hundred miles to the south, the choice was between an
eighteen-hour journey in a Chinese merchant's steam launch or three
days in an ox-cart - but only during the dry season. During the rains,
the roads disappeared.
The landscape, and the lifestyle, were, and are still, closer to
Africa than China. Substitute baobabs for bamboo, and papyrus for
lotus, and you could be in Kenya or Tanzania. Dark-skinned Cambodian
peasants proudly call themselves 'black Khmer'. At the country's
eastern border, the subtle, sinicised world of the Vietnamese
scholar-official - sustained by a meritocracy based on Confucian
notions of propriety and virtue - butts up against the sensual
harshness of Brahminism, against Buddhism and the mind-set of the
Cambodia, even more than the other nations of the region that the
French named Indo-China, lies on the fault-line between Asia's two
great founding civilisations.
Loth's family, like many Cambodians, including the Royal House, was of
Sino-Khmer extraction. Sâr derived his name from his right 'Chinese'
complexion - the word sâr means 'white' or 'pale' - a characteristic
shared by his brother Nhep. But race in Cambodia is determined by
behaviour rather than blood line. Loth - or Phem Saloth as he later
called himself, to satisfy the colonial authorities' insistence that
everyone must have a family as well as a given name - did not practise
the Chinese rites. He and his wife did not sweep their ancestors'
graves at the Qingming festival, or celebrate the Chinese New Year.
Nor did they speak Chinese. They lived as Khmers and therefore,
racially, they were Khmer, in their own minds as well as those of
their neighbours. Their culture was Indianised, like that of the
Burmese and the Indonesians, and all the other serendipitous nations
which inhabit the water margin of Asia, from Sri Lanka to the Timor
It was, in Nhep's words, a normal, happy family. Loth was a reserved
man, who kept his own counsel. 'He never joked with us, or with anyone
else. If he was angry, he didn't show his feelings or become violent.
He always remained calm. Our mother was the same, and I think that's
why they got on so well.' The younger children closely resembled him,
and Sâr inherited some of his character. He was a disciplinarian, like
most Cambodian fathers, but by the standards of the time the
chastisement he meted out was mild. For those were the days when a
village schoolmaster would make a recalcitrant pupil lie down on a red
ants' nest to help him mend his ways. Keng Vannsak endured that once,
and never misbehaved again:
I didn't like arithmetic, and I hadn't learnt my multiplication
tables. So every time we were going to have a lesson, I said that I
had a stomach ache and wanted to go home. The third time I did
that, the teacher said: 'All right, you may go. But first recite
the seven times table.' Of course, I didn't know it. Ai-ya! How he
beat me! Kicks and punches ... he was brutal! Then he took me
outside, and put me under a grapefruit tree - full of red ants!
After that, I knew my times tables. I knew them so well that I did
all the other children's questions, and in return they gave me
things from their lunchboxes, because their parents were richer
than mine and they had nicer things to eat.
Yet punishments like this were so much the norm for Cambodian
youngsters that Vannsak remembered that same teacher as 'an adorable,
saintly man' who first instilled in him a love of learning. Certainly
he was no worse than his own father, who used to tie his arms
together, throw him on to a bed and beat him with a cane until he
Sâr and his brothers were more fortunate. Or, as the people in the
village would have put it, it was not their fate to suffer that way: a
genie protected them.
Cambodians, at that time even more than today, lived parallel sets of
lives: one in the natural world, among the laws of reason; the other,
mired in superstition, peopled by monsters and ghosts, a prey to
witches and the fear of sorcery. In this sense Cambodia was, and to
some extent is still, a medieval country, where even the King takes no
important decision without first consulting the court astrologer. The
resemblance to Africa is again overwhelming. Every village has its
witch, or ap, and its k'ruu, or healer; each rural community its neak
ta, the ancestor figure or tutelary genie who inhabits a stone or an
ancient tree and must be propitiated by offerings of incense and
perfumed water. In the countryside, more murders are attributed to
sorcery than to any other single cause. Cambodian officials,
university-educated men, still sometimes justify the beating to death
of a suspected witch by a mob by saying: 'The powers of those persons
are too terrible. What else can the peasants do?'
Sâr's earliest memories were coloured by the lore of this nether
world. One story that he would retell as an old man was about a
dhmap', or wizard, whose mouth, as a punishment for his blasphemy, had
been shrunk until it was no bigger than a straw. To feed himself, so
the story went, he rolled dough into fine strips, which was how the
Cambodian people came to eat noodles. He recalled tales about glutton
spirits, which, like the ancient Chinese taotie, had only a head and
intestines, and fed on foul things that lived in the mud; and there
were gruesome stories of corpse wax, extracted from the newly dead to
make potions, and of foetuses ripped by husbands from their wives'
bellies and mummified as kun krak, 'smoke-children', familiar spirits
with magical powers of protection.
Not all Cambodian folk-tales were so grim. The common lore of
childhood in Sâr's day revolved around the exploits of Judge Hare and
the human and animal companions he constantly outwitted. Yet here,
too, was an undertow of menace and of the injustice and
unpredictability of life.
Unlike children's stories in most lands, in which virtue is rewarded
and evildoing punished, the imagined world from which Sâr and his
contemporaries derived their first insights into the ways of Cambodian
society had no such clear-cut rules. In Khmer legend, thieves go
unpunished and live happily to the end of their days. Men are executed
for deeds of which they are wholly blameless. Villainy is praised so
long as it succeeds. Trickery is admired; honest conduct decried; and
goodness regarded as stupidity. There is little place for compassion.
Judges are portrayed as fools; true justice can come only from the
King, whose rulings brook no appeal.
Through these stories, Sâr and his brothers were introduced to the
moral tenets of Theravada Buddhism, which teaches that retribution or
merit, in the endless cycle of self-perfection, will be apportioned
not in this life but in a future existence, just as man's present fate
is the fruit of actions in previous lives.
Prek Sbauv was too small to have a Buddhist temple of its own. But on
Buddhist holy days, four times a month, Loth and his wife travelled by
oxcart to the great wat, or monastery, of Kompong Thom, where their
two eldest sons, Suong and Seng, had learnt to read and write. Loth
himself had been taught his letters there, and though the boys'
mother, Nem, was illiterate, there was enough Chinese ancestry in
Loth's make-up for him to understand that education was important. In
the early 1930s, rice prices rose. The family prospered and he decided
that the time had come to send the younger children to school in Phnom
Penh, where Suong, now well-established in his job at the palace, had
recently married a young woman from the Royal Ballet corps.
Chhay went first, followed, in 1934, by Sâr. They travelled, not by
oxcart, but in one of the new-fangled steam buses the French had just
introduced, powered by an engine burning charcoal. Cambodians were
being dragged willy-nilly into the modern age.
The New York Times > Books > Pol Pot, Brutal Dictator Who Forced Cambodians to
Killing Fields, Dies at 73
April 17, 1998
Pol Pot, Brutal Dictator Who Forced Cambodians to Killing Fields, Dies at 73
By SETH MYDANS
Pol Pot, who created in Cambodia one of the 20th century's most
brutal and radical regimes, died on Wednesday of heart failure,
according to his Cambodian jailers. He was 73 years old.
Already enfeebled from malaria, Pol Pot had become seriously ill in
recent months while under house arrest by some of his former allies.
In the last two weeks he was encircled by the Cambodian Government
Army and had retreated farther into the jungle. His wife said he died
in his sleep.
Pol Pot conducted a rule of terror that led to the deaths of nearly a
quarter of Cambodia's seven million people, by the most widely
accepted estimates, through execution, torture, starvation and
His smiling face and quiet manner belied his brutality. He and his
inner circle of revolutionaries adopted a Communism based on Maoism
and Stalinism, then carried it to extremes: They and their Khmer Rouge
movement tore apart Cambodia in an attempt to ''purify'' the country's
agrarian society and turn people into revolutionary worker-peasants.
Beginning on the day in 1975 when his guerrilla army marched silently
into the capital, Phnom Penh, Pol Pot emptied the cities, pulled
families apart,abolished religion and closed schools. Everyone was
ordered to work, even children. The Khmer Rouge outlawed money and
closed all markets. Doctors were killed, as were most people with
skills and education that threatened the regime.
The Khmer Rouge especially persecuted members of minority ethnic
groups -- the Chinese, Muslim Chams, Vietnamese and Thais who had
lived for generations in the country, and any other foreigners -- in
an attempt to make one ''pure'' Cambodia. Non-Cambodians were
forbidden to speak their native languages or to exhibit any
''foreign'' traits. The pogrom against the Cham minority was the most
devastating, killing more than half of that community.
Assassination He Ordered Becomes His Undoing
Though Pol Pot was responsible for an untold number of deaths, he
never faced charges until July 1997, when some of his former Khmer
Rouge followers turned on him, denounced him for crimes against
humanity in a carefully scripted show trial and put him under house
arrest for life.
Pol Pot had incurred the wrath of his former allies by ordering the
assassination of a political associate. In a pattern he established
when he was in power, Pol Pot blamed Son Sen for his fading grip on
the movement. He not only ordered Son Sen killed, but also told
followers to execute more than a dozen of his relatives, including
In a magazine interview in October 1997, the sickly ex-dictator
expressed regrets about the deaths of his rival's family: ''You know,
for the other people, the babies, the young ones, I did not order them
to be killed.''
The interview, with Nate Thayer for the Far Eastern Economic Review,
portrayed a man succumbing to age, bored and preoccupied with his
aches and pains, but free of remorse. ''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?''
Many experts on Southeast Asia as well as the Cambodians who endured
his rule would answer him with a resounding ''Yes.''
But Pol Pot, while acknowledging that ''our movement made mistakes,''
insisted that he had ordered killings in self-defense, to save
Cambodia from its Vietnamese enemies, and that the numbers of dead
were wildly exaggerated.
Yet even today his legacy fractures the country with continuing
violence, political feuds, corruption and social fragility.
Pol Pol's army captured the capital on April 17, 1975, after a
devastating five-year civil war. During it, the United States dropped
more bombs on Cambodia in its campaign against Pol Pot than it had
unleashed on Japan during World War II. After it, with breathtaking
speed, Pol Pot and his black-clad followers immediately ordered weary
Cambodians to leave their homes for the countryside and begin life at
''Year Zero.'' After three years of terror, he was driven from power
in 1979 by an invasion from neighboring Vietnam.
From then on, Pol Pot used the geopolitics of the cold war to his
advantage, convincing most of Asia and the non-Communist world that
his Khmer Rouge Government was unlawfully thrown out by Vietnam. His
exiled government retained the political recognition of the United
States and much of the world throughout the 1980's while
Vietnamese-occupied Cambodia was placed under severe international
Until the approach of internationally supervised elections in 1992,
the Khmer Rouge occupied Cambodia's seat at the United Nations and
took the leading role in agencies like Unesco.
Pol Pot was one of the most secretive of national leaders. His bland
face and unthreatening manner, his self-effacement, his rare and
turgid public statements and his life in hiding -- even during his
years of absolute power -- were some of his chief tactics in keeping
his rivals off balance and his hold over his followers.
There was little evident in Pol Pot's background to suggest any
personal drama. Since his childhood, the phrases used to describe him
were uninspiring: polite, mediocre, soft-spoken, patient, even shy.
Still, people who knew him described him as warm and reassuring,
especially in small groups.
An Interviewer Describes His Personal Appeal
One of the few Western journalists to interview him, Elizabeth Becker,
now an editor at The New York Times, described his personal appeal in
her book ''When the War Was Over'' (Simon & Schuster, 1986).
''He was actually elegant, with a pleasing face, not handsome but
attractive,'' she wrote. ''His features were delicate and alert and
his smile nearly endearing. There was no question of his appeal.
Physically, he had a strong, comfortable appearance. His gestures and
manner were polished, not crude.''
In an hourlong interview she had with Pol Pot just weeks before his
fall, he railed against Vietnam but never raised his voice, Ms. Becker
wrote. ''At most he nodded his head slightly or flicked his dainty
wrist for emphasis,'' she added.
Pol Pot was less comfortable and revealing in a larger arena, making
few public appearances even when in power, obscuring his identity,
changing residences and warning of treachery from every quarter. When
he had a stomach ailment, he said his cooks were trying to poison him.
When the power at his residence failed, he had the maintenance workers
This fear of treachery -- by foreign nations or by poisonous
''microbes'' within his own organization -- motivated much of his
behavior, from his secretiveness to the bloody purges that began to
consume his revolution beginning in 1977.
Speaking to a party cadre in 1976, he said: ''We search for the
microbes within the party without success; they are buried. As our
socialist revolution advances, however, seeping into every corner of
the party, the army and among the people, we can locate the ugly
Pol Pot surrounded himself with men from his early years, those who
originally joined the Vietnamese-dominated Communists or others with
closer roots to Thai Communists, including Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan
and Son Sen. But he held the kind of absolute power that Stalin had in
the Soviet Union.
As a revolutionary, he took the name Pol Pot, which has no particular
meaning. He was born Saloth Sar in 1925, in a village near Kompong
Thom, 90 miles north of Phnom Penh, the eighth of nine children of a
land-owning farmer named Pen Saloth and his wife, Nok Sem.
A Student in Paris Turns Rabid Communist
At the age of 6 he was sent, like many Cambodian children, to live
with more prosperous relatives -- in his case a brother who worked in
Phnom Penh as a clerk at the royal palace and a cousin who was a
dancer there in the Royal Ballet.
Soon after his arrival he spent several months in a Buddhist
monastery, a much briefer exposure to Buddhist teaching than was
common in Cambodia, where most schooling was conducted by monks.
He completed primary school but failed his exams to enter high school
and studied carpentry at a trade school.
In his 20's, he received a Government scholarship to study radio
technology in France, where he spent three years and became involved
in Communist activities at a time when the French party was dominated
by Stalinists. It was there that he began his long association with
Mr. Son Sen, Ieng Sary and others who became members of his inner
It was also there that he met his future wife, Khieu Ponnary, a
schoolteacher several years his senior whose sister was married to Mr.
Pol Pot claimed to have been a good student when he first arrived in
Paris. ''Later I joined the progressive student movement,'' he told
the Vietnam News Agency in 1976. ''As I spent more of my time in
radical activities, I did not attend many classes.''
Others said he passed much of his time reading French poetry, and in
1950 he spent a month working on a highway project in Yugoslavia.
While in Paris he published his first tract, an attack on the
Cambodian royalty. It was the King, Norodom Sihanouk, who dubbed this
movement the Khmer Rouge, or Red Cambodians.
Eventually the conservative Government of the young King, which was
under French colonial rule, canceled his scholarship and he returned
home, where he dedicated himself to the underground Communist
In 1954 at the Geneva Convention, Vietnam was split into the Communist
north and non-Communist south, and Cambodia became independent. Hoping
to remain in power, King Sihanouk demoted himself to Prince and led
his own political party to victory in the first elections. He was
promptly made head of state.
In 1956, while continuing his underground activities, Pol Pot married
Khieu Ponnary and became a teacher of French, history, geography and
civics at a private high school.
Rising to the Top Of the Party He Founded
In 1960, in an out-of-the-way corner of the Phnom Penh railway yard,
Pol Pot met secretly with other Cambodian Communists and helped create
Cambodia's own Communist party, the Khmer Workers Party, separate from
the old Vietnamese-dominated Indochinese Communist Party. Within two
years, he rose to be its leader.
Fearing arrest, he fled in 1963 to Vietnam, along with Mr. Ieng Sary
and Mr. Son Sen, and for the next decade lived in hiding, a pattern
that held for most of his life.
Visiting China on the eve of the Cultural Revolution, Pol Pot observed
many of the patterns he later instituted in his own country, from
revolutionary theory to the soft Chinese-style hats adopted by the
The widening war in Vietnam fueled the Communist movement in Cambodia,
and after a peasant uprising in Battambang Province in 1967, Pol Pot
began his move into armed rebellion. By 1970 he had 3,000 fighters
For years the Vietnamese Communists used Cambodia to buy rice, to
transport weapons and to channel soldiers from North Vietnam to the
South along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Prince Sihanouk and his Government
-- intent on getting along with the Vietnamese Communists, who the
Prince believed were likely to win the war -- never protested the
Nor did he protest when the Americans began bombing suspected
Vietnamese positions in eastern Cambodia. The bombing forced the
Vietnamese to move deeper into Cambodia, and the Khmer Rouge spread
Prince Sihanouk found himself criticized, particularly by the
Cambodian Army, for playing both sides of the Vietnam War. In March
1970 the National Assembly deposed him while he was abroad, replacing
him with pro-American officials led by his previously loyal Prime
Minister, Gen. Lon Nol.
Furious, the Prince joined sides with the Khmer Rouge and soon
Cambodia was plunged into the Vietnam War. Within months the
Vietnamese Communists and their Khmer Rouge allies controlled vast
areas of the country.
In 1973, after the United States signed the Paris Peace Accords with
the Vietnamese Communists, American B-52's dropped huge quantities of
bombs on suspected Khmer Rouge positions in Cambodia to try to prevent
a Communist victory there. Phnom Penh became a swollen refugee center,
and many displaced or angry villagers flocked to join the Khmer Rouge
army. By the time of its victory in 1975, the army had grown to a
force of 70,000, a growth aided by the prestige of Prince Sihanouk,
who in one of his many political hairpin turns became titular
president of the movement.
Tougher, more disciplined and more brutal than the American-backed
forces of Gen. Lon Nol, the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh two weeks
before the Communists took Saigon, with Pol Pot as a leading commander
and political strategist.
By the time Pol Pot himself entered the city, on April 23, 1975, 12
years after he had fled into the jungles, the capital was silent and
From the very start, his troops pushed radical plans to turn the
nation upside down.
Everyone -- the elderly, the blind, the sick, even infants -- was
ordered right away to ''return to the villages.'' The Angkar, or
organization, ruled in resettlements called rural cooperatives that
resembled the Soviet Gulag. Some 20,000 hospital patients were forced
to move out, some on wheeled beds. Tens of thousands of people died of
starvation and disease in the first weeks of the revolution's victory.
Many others were killed outright: soldiers from the defeated army,
bureaucrats, merchants, ''parasites,'' ''intellectuals.''
In his victory speech, Pol Pot claimed that his Communists would build
a revolutionary society, becoming ''a prosperous country with an
advanced agriculture and industry'' so that ''our people's standard of
living will be rapidly improved.''
To that end, Pot Pot made Cambodia one of the most isolated countries
in the world, shutting its borders, restricting all but a very few
foreign diplomats to their chanceries in an eerily quiet Phnom Penh.
Prince Sihanouk, the first President, was confined to his palace and
then to a guest house.
Meanwhile, the radical experiment was destroying the country. The
slave labor gangs were not producing the food required. With no
outside contacts, the country's stocks were becoming depleted. The
huge public works projects, especially in irrigation, were shoddily
made and fell apart.
Numbering the Dead In the Millions
But Pol Pot refused to believe that his revolution was to blame. He
looked for scapegoats: first the Cambodians loyal to the old regime,
then Communist leaders of select regions of the country, then key
Communist leaders close to him. These suspected ''enemies'' were
arrested and taken to security centers, including Tuol Sleng in Phnom
Penh, where they were tortured to confess to imagined crimes and then
Pol Pot was ordering the deaths of his closest comrades as the
Vietnamese invaded the country.
Because of the closed nature of the country, it remained unclear to
outsiders what was happening, and reports by refugees of the horrors
of Democratic Kampuchea were often met with disbelief.
The full picture emerged only in 1979, when the Vietnamese conquerors
of Cambodia allowed in foreigners, and hundreds of thousands of sick
and starving refugees poured into Thailand.
In the name of a radical utopia, the Khmer Rouge regime had turned
most of the people into slaves. Husbands were separated from wives,
parents from children. Holidays, music, romance and entertainment were
banned. Dictatorial village leaders and soldiers told the people whom
to marry and how to live, and those who disobeyed were killed.
Children informed on their parents; many other youngsters who did not
bend to the political mania were buried alive, or tossed into the air
and speared on bayonets. Some were fed to crocodiles.
Religion and prayer were outlawed. Buddhist monks were murdered and
temples were razed.
Communal work brigades were formed to farm, clear forests and dig
canals. Almost all the work was done by hand, without machinery, and
people were forced to labor from dawn until late night.
Thousands died from malnutrition, thousands from overwork.
Thousands were jailed, to be tortured and die. The meticulous records
kept by the Khmer Rouge of the people they tortured to death proved to
be among the most valuable documents establishing their crimes.
Above all, though, were the mass graves and killing fields uncovered
after the Khmer Rouge defeat.
Vietnam Puts an End To the Awfulness
Instead of utopia, the Khmer Rouge had brought ruin.
The regime's downfall came after Pol Pot attacked Vietnam and tried to
seize territory along the frontier. On Dec. 25, 1978, Vietnamese
troops crossed the border in strength and soon there were 200,000
Vietnamese inside Cambodia. Within two weeks they occupied Phnom Penh
and much of the rest of Cambodia, overthrowing Pol Pot.
In the years that followed, the struggle for control of Cambodia
continued, with China and Thailand giving Pol Pot and his circle
refuge, medical care and military support in a game of anti-Vietnamese
and anti-Soviet geopolitics.
In an evident effort to improve their image and retain their seat at
the United Nations, the Khmer Rouge announced in 1980 that they were
no longer Communist and now favored democracy, religious tolerance and
Over the years further announcements were made that Pol Pot had
resigned from various posts, culminating in 1985 with one that said he
had stepped down as military commander. Few believed those
After a comprehensive peace settlement providing for Cambodian
elections was signed in Paris in 1991, Thailand ceased to recognize
Democratic Kampuchea or to give refuge to Pol Pot and his entourage.
He is believed to have gone back then to living in a jungle
headquarters in Cambodia before his recent overthrow by his former
Earlier, Pol Pot's wife was hospitalized in Beijing with a nervous
breakdown, and with her permission he remarried in 1987 and had a
daughter with his second wife.
His hardened army, still in their black clothes and sandals, dwindled
after the United Nations peace plan, with thousands of soldiers and
their families abandoning the mountain stronghold for offers of
amnesty from the Government and a chance to lead normal lives. At the
time of Pol Pot's death, the Khmer Rouge ranks numbered only in the
Though by all accounts Pol Pot remained unremorseful throughout his
years in power and in exile, Steve Heder, an American scholar on
Cambodia, reported a curious account from a supporter who visited him
''He said that he knows that many people in the country hate him and
think he's responsible for the killings,'' the supporter said of Pol
Pot. ''He said that he knows many people died. When he said this he
nearly broke down and cried. There were people to whom he felt very
close, and he trusted them completely. Then in the end they made a
mess of everything.''
In the interview last fall, Pol Pot was asked if he thought his young
daughter would be proud later to call herself his daughter. ''I don't
know about that,'' he said. ''It's up to history to judge.''
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