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Life of Pol Pot and the Driving Forces to “The Killing Field” (Fall 2012)

            How can one describe “The Killing Field” of Cambodia? Through interviews and documentations, good Intentions gone wrong would a statement from Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge behind The Killing Field. However, for millions of surviving Cambodians it was simply the act of torture and killings of their own family, friends, and people. Through Pol Pot’s studied abroad in Paris, France, and his return to his native land encounters all paved the path for this infamous leader’s road to the killings some 2 million Cambodians.

            Many document supported that Pol Pot was born as Saloth, Sar on May 19, 1925 in the small fishing village of Kampong Thom Province during the French colonialism of Cambodia. His parents were Pen Saloth and Sok Nem. Like many rice farmers’ family; it is not surprising that he was the eighth of nine children; having many children is ideal to help with the labor out in the field. By the standards back then, Sar’s family was moderately wealthy considering they owned 12 hectares of land and several buffaloes.

            According to Wikipedia, in 1935, Sar attended the École Miche, a Catholic school in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. In relations to his cousin, a woman called Meak, who bore King Monivong's son, earned him admission to the exclusive Lycée Sisowath, French-language School of the Protectorate, but he failed his studies there. Sar than transferred to a technical school still in Phnom Penh.  After, he qualified for a scholarship to study radio electronics in Paris from 1949 to 1953.

            According to his interviewed ever since he was a young boy, he was never a really talkative person; keep to himself most of the time. Jacques Verges, a journalist who first interviewed him from 20-30 years ago described Pol Pot as a polite and discreet young man. That took a changed when Sar study abroad. He was introduced to may new ideology and beliefs because of the different movements after World War II in Europe. 

            Many young Cambodian studying abroad like he fined anti-colonialism views very appealing because of the horrible rule under the French in their country. They envision their independence from France and want the quest to remake their society “as a kind of utopian agrarianism—referring to the creation of an autochthone communist society based on national economic self-sufficiency and independence as well as modernization.”

            Many sources concluded that he joined a communist cell in a secret organization known as the Cercle Marxiste ("Marxist circle") and the French Communists (PCF) organization with anti-colonialism views. While abroad, he liked to read books like La Grande Revolution Française, etc. With bad grades and unable to maintain a good academic record, Sar was sent back to Cambodia.

            So the revolution started when Sar returns home. He came back to his people and saw the inequality ruled by the French. Seeing the lower class and the uneducated hard working laborers who are look down a pond that faces hardship daily that has no hope for a better future suggested the want to create a unity among the population, beyond clan and family networks; forming an “organization [that] was not a complete rupture with the past. The agrarian values “included the expectation that young people should engage in productive labor in order to contribute to society and that values of obedience and reciprocity between themselves and figures of authority should be upheld” gained very many support from young individuals and the lower class people like farmers. Sar was able to gain many supporters in such short period of time and this was also credited to his “charm and grace with an unflinching ruthlessness.” In 1962, Sar became the secretary-general to the underground Cambodian Communist Party. During his interviewed, he claimed that he never wanted that position of a leader. He was appointed by his fellow followers, the Khmer Rouge.        

            Even fearing persecution from Prince Norodom Sihanouk's secret police, Sar continues to team up supporters and activist to carry out their plan in creating a unity society. Sar and the Khmer Rouge when into hiding and keep everything very secretive. Not even his own family knew that he was the leader of the Khmer Rouge.

            They based themselves in a remote are in northeastern Cambodia. They then got the help from the North Vietnamese in helping them formed their organization to become stronger and more equipped with war weapons and other resources. The success was shown because “by the middle of 1973, the Khmer Rouge under Sar controlled almost two-thirds of the country and half the population.”

            Came April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh. As the leader of the Communist Party, “he took the name "brother number one" and declared his nom de guerre Pol Pot. This derives from Politique potentielle, the French equivalent of a phrase supposedly coined for him by the Chinese leadership.” 

            Pol Pot began his Year Zero plan that “quickly set about transforming the country into his vision of an agrarian utopia by emptying the cities, abolishing money, private property and religion and setting up rural collectives.” Basically, everyone in the cities was evacuated by force to the country sides. 

            Anyone who was seen as a threat to their vision of an agrarian utopia was executed. The Khmer Rouge especially targeted, “Buddhist monks, Muslims, Christians, Western-educated intellectuals, educated people in general, people who had contact with Western countries or with Vietnam, disabled people, and the ethnic Chinese, Laotians and Vietnamese.”  They abolished all religion and cultural activities believing it’s good for the whole.

            You no longer own any property; all valuables were collected. The schools and community buildings are gone. The Khmer Rouge separated the minority, parents, and children. The children were taught to lover there agrarian utopia more than their parents and should do and take part in any action deemed necessary for the greater whole. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were extremely paranoid. There for killing people like hot cakes; “as their proverb put it, "To keep you is no benefit, to destroy you is no loss."

            Everyone from the cities was force to the countryside to do manual labor. Most of them worked in the rice field. The plan was to make sure there was enough food for everyone. However, over work and under feed resulted in starvations. The poor working condition and no doctors or medication for treatment spread lots of diseases.

            Nothing seemed to be fair; “people were treated as opponents based on their appearance or background.” The act of execution and torture was widespread among the Khmer Rouge and “Phnom Penh was turned into a ghost city, while people in the countryside were dying of starvation, illnesses, or simply killed.” Under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian people lived in fear and hunger.

            The killings began in ones, hundreds, and eventually thousands; killing over a million people. They were buried in mass graves. The mass graves are often referred to as The Killing Fields. One of the most mass killings took placed in Tuol Sleng or Security Prison 21 (S-21).

            S-21 was formerly the Chao Ponhea Yat High School which was named after a Royal ancestor of King Norodom Sihanouk. In August 1975, the five buildings of the complex were converted into a prison and interrogation center. In pictures, “the buildings were enclosed in electrified barbed wire, the classrooms converted into tiny prison and torture chambers, and all windows were covered with iron bars and barbed wire to prevent escapes.”

            It was estimated that over 16,000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng. S-1 is where the Khmer Rouge kept those who are highly a threat to their organization but they included men, woman, and children. Through readings, “most of the victims were from the previous Lon Nol regime and included soldiers, government officials, as well as academics, doctors, teachers, students, factory workers, monks, engineers, etc. Later, the party leadership's paranoia turned on its own ranks and purges throughout the country saw thousands of party activists and their families brought to Tuol Sleng and murdered.”

            To say that "brother number one" did not have a clue that the killings were happening and had no part in the torture and killings is very hard to believe and support this claimed. Per Pol Pot’s defends in an interviewed, he claim that the tortures and killings in Tol Seng was done by “fake” members of the Khmer Rouge who sided with the Vietnamese and executed on wrongful killing.

            “Please understand, with my high level of work. I only made decisions concerning the very important people. I didn’t supervise the lower ranks. These men joined and led the Democratic Kampuchea Party but they weren’t real members. What I have mentioned occurred in 1976 and 1977. This group hatched a plot to carry a coup and topple me, the party leader, and kill me. This group was involved with the Vietnamese. I…don’t remember everything…but I have documents to prove the plot. There was…someone called Ya…Ya had been a Vietnamese agent since 1946. That I came to join the revolution was not to kill the Cambodian people. So, as far as my conscience and my mission were concerned, there was no problem.”Pol Pot officially retired as leader of the Khmer Rouge at the end of the 1980s.

            In 1979, after four years of rule, the invasion by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam ended Pol Pot and his regime. Many of the Khmer Rouge fled to the northwestern part of Cambodia along the Thai border and still continue to survive into the 1990s. It was not until “1996, following a peace agreement, their leader Pol Pot formally dissolved the organization.” In his sleep, Pol Pot died on April 15, 1998. He was never put on trial or punished for his wrong doing. His regime created genocide that can never be forgotten and effect Cambodian and their future generation.  

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