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Born in 1925, Saloth Sar was once the name of a wealthy land owner’s second son. Along with his 8 brothers and sisters he led a happy life in a village known as Prek Sbau, part of the Kampong Thom province. Even then Pol Pot portrayed the qualities that would serve him well in the years to come. A gentle demeanor, masking a calm yet calculating mind were some of the qualities Pol Pot withheld. Pol Pot’s brother, Saloth Neap, recounted “There was no one in the family who knew his thought, he study hard but as for his intention we just didn’t know. (Csreng)”. At the age of 9 Pol Pot’s world took a revolutionary turn as his parents moved him to Phnom Penh to further his education. It was here that he noticed the pertinent detail that played a significant part in forming his ideals. While watching his cousin, a dancer in the royal ballet, he was able to see a royal family which was only a fraction of its former greatness, riddled by corruption and held slave to the French colonial rule.

At school, Pol Pot learnt about a Cambodia that boasted a proud and prosperous past, under the authority of a king that was revered as a god. He learnt how foreign influence had crumbled this ancient civilization over hundreds of years. As many other well connected Cambodians, Pol Pot also spent a year learning about the roots and history of Buddhism, the religion that was the bedrock of the Cambodian society. This proved to be another decisive factor towards Pol Pot’s regime as the foundation of his education was taught to him in a French school, by catholic nuns. Scars of this cultural tension would later prove to contribute to Pol Pot’s Ideals. Pol Pot furthered his education in one of the country’s top high schools, at that time. Along with some of the country’s greatest young minds Pol Pot developed an opposition towards the French and the monarchy. In 1949 Pol Pot, along with other young idealists, became the first Cambodians to go study overseas. At the age of 24 Pol Pot arrived in Paris, the time when international communism was at its peak and the city was abuzz with talks of revolution.


The idea of implementing communism as a political practice in Cambodia, only seriously dawned on Pol Pot when he was studying in Paris. With a group of friends, Pol Pot came to the conclusion that this would be the first step to liberating their country from the French and healing as many wounds as they had left them. He joined the colonial wing of the French communist party as he wasn’t permitted to be a "full" communist (Joffe). The confusion that this could have spurred in Pol Pot’s mind is another significant piece of the puzzle depicting his extremely unorthodox ideology. Pol Pot spent most of his time in Paris formulating his unique political ideals incorporating a radical blend of communism and nationalism. In 1952 Pol Pot published his views for the first time in a student magazine. In this article, his statements reflected the general treatment of the Cambodian public under their monarchy. “Cambodian people are kept as slaves, made to work night and day to feed the king and his entourage. Monarchy is a malodorous running sour the people must just eliminate. (Pot)” This excerpt from his article reflected the extent to which his views had developed.

In 1953 Pol Pot returned to Cambodia and joined the Vietnamese Communists to fight against the French. Even though Pol Pot did not have very much consideration for the Vietnamese, the revolution gave him something to fight for. When France formally agreed to renounce its colonies in South East Asia, during peace talks, Pol Pot felt betrayed by the Vietnamese Communists as they opted for Cambodia to remain under the rule of their Monarchy led by King Sihanouk. After independence, Pol Pot took his revolution underground. In 1956 Pol Pot took up a job teaching history in one of the reputable schools of Phnom Penh. “As a history professor he expressed himself very clearly and his students liked him a lot,” Stated Mey Mann, a friend of Pol Pot. Simultaneously, Pol Pot and his associates started recruiting members to their Communist Party. Pol Pot’s campaign was based on targeting poorer people and promising them fair treatment, if they came into power, in exchange for their support. Pol Pot also based his campaign on secrecy, influenced by Lenin and his communist empire. As a result of this Pol Pot did not preach his ideals through the banner of the Communist Party of Kampuchea but rather disguised himself as Angkar, the organization.

Along with Marxism and Leninism, Pol Pot was influenced a lot by his own past and the country’s past. As a radical nationalist, he felt that the only way the country could prosper was by restoring its former glory, dating back to Ancient Cambodia. He felt that by giving people at the bottom of social ladder power he could improve people’s lives in contrast to the exploitation they had been subject to during the French rule. Pol Pot’s “Year Zero” declaration, symbolizing the start of a new beginning that was free of foreign influences, clearly reflected the sincerity he possessed to accomplish his task. By observing Mao Zedong’s success in China through the control of the distribution in wealth, abolishment of monopolization to achieve equality through the social ranks and a central control of agricultural production, Pol Pot formulated a plan to replicate its success; only his mental image was not even the shadow of what his actions finally produced (Dao).


The Four-Year plan (1977-1980) consisted of the abolishment of all markets, businesses and urban living to build an agrarian utopia based on expanded rice production. After national defense, Pol Pot placed cultivation of rice as the nation’s second most important policy. The Four-Year plan aimed at achieving an average yield of 3 tons of rice per hectare every year. This posed as an impossible task for a country that had never produced that much rice before. With added repercussions from war, the country lacked tools, farm animals and a healthy work force. Pol Pot aimed to make Democratic Kampuchea (the name given to the country after Pol Pot’s occupation) completely independent on both political and independent measures. However, the Khmer Rouge’s leaders were ignorant to the fact that inevitable difficulties were to follow the implementation of this plan (DY).

The creation of cooperatives (also known as labor camps) was one of Pol Pot’s most iconic practices. By 1975, after the civil war between the Khmer Rouge and Lon Nol’s government, “High – Level Cooperatives” had been established. These cooperatives usually consisted of 1000 families or an entire sub-district. Almost all people living in urbanized areas were forced to live in these cooperatives and perform hard labor. People were forced to live, work, eat and rest as one singular unit. To the Khmer Rouge there was no concept of family. Children were taught to totally cut themselves of from their families and were told to only trust Angkar. The Khmer Rouge felt this was the best way to abolish ownership and capitalism throughout the country. The Khmer Rouge also forced people to give up all their property so that it could be used collectively. This action was very similar to Mao Zedong’s actions and also those of other significant Communist leaders. The effects of these cooperatives left many people to die of starvation and/or exhaustion (DY).

Security was one of the measures that the Khmer Rouge refused to compromise on. Pol Pot believed that there were enemies everywhere. Many members of the public were often accused of being CIA, KGB or Vietnamese intelligence which generally resulted in their execution, without trial. Pol Pot also executed any people that even remotely posed as a threat to his plans and regime. This included the educated, those of different ethnicities, foreigners, those who showed signs of dissent towards Angkar and those associated with other political parties and leaders. “Culprits” were generally taken to a field, killed and buried in mass graves used for numerous people’s remains. Pol Pot also established 200 prisons, formerly referred to as “security centers” or “security offices”. The most famous of these prisons is the S-21 located in Phnom Penh. This prison, formerly a high school, was used for detention, torture, interrogation and in some cases execution. Pol Pot was responsible for the loss of almost two and a half million lives. In an attempt to “clean” the population so that it was made up of pure Khmers that withheld a “pure” mentality and background Pol Pot nearly exterminated half his country’s population. Many experts consider this to be “The twentieth century’s worst genocide (extermination of a certain group of people)” (DY).

Ho Chi Minh .vs. Pol Pol

There are many similarities and differences between Pol Pot and Ho Chi Minh. Communism as a political ideology was something that both of them shared to a great extent. Although both were influenced by many of the same people, both had different interpretations and plans for Communism. Pol Pot was worked towards taking Cambodia back into time to find the period of prosperity that it boasted, while Ho Chi Minh worked towards the demands of his people and the advancement of Vietnam. The main difference between the two was that one seized his country’s seat of power while the other was elected to it. Ho Chi Minh worked towards his people’s demands, which meant he did not have very many enemies. Pol Pot and his regime resulted in extensive loss of life which did not leave him very popular amongst his countrymen.

Works Cited

Csreng. The Life of Pol Pot. 17 August 2008. 31 May 2010 .

Dao, Liu Ye. Guangzhao New Express. August 1987.

DY, Khamboly. A History of Democratic Kampuchea. Documentation Center of Cambodia, 2007.

Joffe, Roland. Director: The Killing Fields Csreng. 17 August 2008.

Pot, Pol. Student Magazine, 1952.