- "We will burn the old grass and the new will grow."
- —Pol Pot
- "Exterminate the 50 million Vietnamese...and purify the masses of the Cambodian people"
- —Pot on a radio broadcast
Pol Pot (born Saloth Sar, May 19, 1925 – April 15, 1998) was the Prime Minister of Cambodia (which he called Kampuchia) from 1975 to 1979, he imposed a totalitarian dictatorship upon his country and essentially enslaved his entire country during his brief tenure. He achieved this through evacuating the entire population of Cambodia's cities to the countryside at gunpoint were the Khmer Rogue forced the people to work extremely hard labor.
Pol Pot is the only man in all of history to order official genocide against his entire country and declared that money, personal possession and religion as a whole was banned. Due to the poor working conditions attributed during his regime it is estimated that he is responsible for the death of up to 25% of Cambodia's entire population, which would amount to an estimate of 2,000,000, however the exact number of deaths attributable to his tenure as Prime Minister of Cambodia is still a subject of debate.
Pol Pot was born Saloth Sar on May 19, 1925 in the small fishing village of Prek Sbauv with a population of only a few people. At a young age, he was sent to train as a Buddhist monk in Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh which had a somewhat multicultural background that consisted of various other Asian groups, which he resented. His reign is often characterized for its harsh persecution of various Asian groups, most notably and infamously, towards the Vietnamese.
From 1949 to 1953, he studied electronics at EFREI in Paris and after being ultimately unsuccessful in his pursuit to obtain such a degree, would return to Cambodia later that year.
He became associated with the Communist Party of Kampuchea upon his return and later obtained the title of general secretary.
In 1968, he established the Khmer Rogue, which promoted his view of extreme communism as well as Cambodian nationalism.
The Khmer Rogue invaded Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975 and evacuated city residents to the countryside, this was done to make the urban dwellers work on collective farms and participate in forced labor project. Pol Pot called this his idea of a "purified utopia" were Cambodian society would be transformed into an extreme form of peasant communism. Following the Khmer Rogue's assent in Phnom Penh he became the de-facto leader of the country by default. His reason for evacuating the population to the countryside was to take advantage of Cambodia's thriving agricultural background.
His reign targeted many specific groups of people, mainly the disabled, the elderly and pregnant women as he thought they could contribute nothing of any significance to his regime. Initially, these specific groups of people were forced to work extremely hard labor, and those who became exhausted or fell ill due to this were immediately executed due to the attributed policies he had instigated during his regime. People who wore glasses were executed during his regime, although the reason for this in unverifiable, this is likely as he thought their limited eye site would not contribute his regime to the fullest potential.
He also had a resentment to those of an educated background, and also towards intellectual people.
He was militantly against immigration and other ethnic groups that resided in Cambodia during his dictatorship were perhaps the most infamous target for persecution. In particular, his hatred towards the Vietnamese which journalist Nate Thayer, who was a significant factor in the trial of Pol Pot, referred to as "psychotic".
Anyone who was originally from Vietnam, could speak Vietnamese, was married to a Vietnamese person, were of Vietnamese descent or even so much as resembled Vietnamese were immediately executed.
Pol Pot holds the distinction for being the only person in history to order official genocide against his own country. Many deaths could be attributed to the poor working conditions and significant malnutrition, many were found eating dead human flesh and drinking their own urine in order to avoid starvation.
It is estimated his regime totaled in the deaths of 25 % of Cambodian's entire population which was largely due to the Cambodian genocide and it could also be argued that a great number of deaths were caused as a result of the poor working conditions. Victims of both the Cambodian genocide and starvation were buried in what came to be known as the killing fields, in recent years further, previously unearthed killing fields have been discovered. Pol Pot's leadership and Khmer Rogue regime additionally resulted in sending Cambodia back 200 years.
When in power, Pol Pot's Khmer Rogue forces invaded Vietnam, which resulted in Vietnam coming into Cambodian territory. They succeeded in removing Pol Pot from power in January 1979, however he remained the leader of the Khmer Rogue until his final days. He disappeared from the public eye in the 1980s.
Pol Pot's atrocities were not brought to the knowledge of the western world until the final days of his life, when various members of his Khmer Rogue began to turn against him and hand him over to the Americans.
Nate Thayer became the second journalist from the West to interview the tyrannical dictator in October 1997, Pol Pot was under house arrest at the time, during the interview he showed aggression whenever challenged by Thayer and would often attempt to justify his inept actions during his brutal four year reign.
He died from heart failure on April 15, 1998 at the age of 72. Many, including Nate Thayer, believed his death was a drug related suicide as he was fearful of being convicted of his heinous crimes.
He was originally born Saloth Sar, but changed it officially to Pol Pot in July 1970. The author of Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare has suggested his name change was due to it deriving from pol: "the Pols were royal slaves, an aboriginal people", and that "Pot" was simply a "euphonic monosyllable" that he liked.