| Propaganda about Pol Pot
It is time to put the record straight and to expose this tiresome
propaganda on Pol Pot.
The Khmer Rouge, Communist guerrilla movement in Cambodia, was founded
in 1963 by Pol Pot. The organization engaged in guerrilla warfare
against the government of Prince Norodom Sihanouk and later the CIA
installed Lon Nol government. It also fought United States and South
Vietnamese forces that invaded Cambodia in 1970. Lon Nol led the coup
against the Cambodian constitutional monarchy led by Prince Norodom
Sihanouk in 1970. Lon Nol declared Cambodia a republic but began to rule
as a dictator. He suffered a stroke in 1971 and gave up many duties. But
in 1972, Lon Nol set up a new government with himself as president.
The New York Times reported at Lon Nol's death that when he was forced
out in 1975, he left behind a legacy of corruption and military defeat.
As the anti-communist Cambodian army under Lon Nol grew in size with
U.S. aid, corruption also grew, the New York Times said.
But hardly a word was said about 1970-75, the period when the CIA ruled
Cambodia through its agent Lon Nol. This was the defining period in
modern Cambodian history during the Cold War. It shaped all the forces
still in struggle there. Before Lon Nol's coup in March 1970, Cambodian
leader King Sihanouk had remained neutral in the Cold War and kept his
country out of the war raging in Vietnam. That did not satisfy
(Personal note: I had the opportunity in 1978 to have several long
private conversations with Sihanouk in Beijing on his views on Cambodia
in my status as a civilian with a political family background. In fact,
I sat two seats behind him, next to his secretary, on Pan Am 800 when he
flew from Beijing to NY to attend the UN General Assembly meeting in
October 1978. (pure coincidence, but we spoke some on the plane during
the 13-hour flight to JFK after the Shanghai stop over). He left no
doubt that the US was behind the coup against him while he was on a
state visit to Beijing and that his neutrality was his problem with
Washington. If he had gone the way of Thailand, there would have been
no coup against him. Despite Zhou Enlai's all out effort to treat him
as a head of state and a royalty during his exile, Sihanouk did not
enjoy living in Beijing. He was a playboy king who liked party and Jazz
and Beijing in the 1970s was not a hip town, with no night clubs or
French restuarants. Actually, our conversation was a bit funny, with
him pumping me for the latest pop music trends in America while I was
trying to focus on Cambodian politics. He wanted to go live in NY but
the Americans would have none of it, he said. A few weeks later, I read
in the NY Times of his meeting with US State Department officials in the
Waldorf during which he was reported to have broken down in tears
expressing his desire to stay in NY.)
The United States wanted to use Cambodia as a base from which to attack
Vietnamese liberation forces, who were gaining ground despite the
all-out war the Pentagon waged against them. So the CIA conspired with
Lon Nol, Cambodian army chief of staff, to take over from Sihanouk.
According to U.S. Green Beret Capt. Robert F. Marasco, quoted in the
International Herald Tribune of June 3, 1970, Cambodian mercenaries
under his command were operating in Phnom Penh during the coup. The coup
sparked mass demonstrations in 17 of Cambodia's 19 provinces throughout
the month of March. But Lon Nol's military, with U.S. might behind it,
responded with brutal repression - executing thousands of Cambodian
progressives by beheading.
While this was happening, Lon Nol was hailed in the Western media as a
friend of the "free world."
On April 24 and 25, representatives from the South Vietnamese National
Liberation Front, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, the Pathet Lao and
the Cambodian liberation forces met in an historic Summit Conference of
the Indochinese People. They announced their unity in the face of
The coup leaders put in place by the CIA then welcomed in the United
States, which launched a massive invasion of Cambodia on April 30, 1970.
That invasion touched off worldwide reaction. In the United States,
National Guard troops shot and killed protesting students at state
universities in Kent, Ohio, and Jackson, Miss. heCambodian invasion
also stalled US-China rapprochement talks for almost a year.
For the next five years, the Cambodian people organized resistance to
the U.S. occupation. Meanwhile the officer elite and a section of the
merchants grew wealthy off war and corruption.
On March 16, 1975, the New York Times described Phnom Penh: "Cabinet
ministers ride to and from their air-conditioned villas in chauffeured
Mercedes ... [while] refugees, crushed by food prices which have risen
more than 1,000 percent ... stir the garbage in the gutter in search of
While starvation and war spread in the countryside, the war profiteers
met with their U.S. and French contacts-- France had earlier colonized
all of Indochine - around swimming pools in Phnom Penh's five star
(De Long's abstract deliberation about the theory of famines under
communist dictatorships sounds really out of it in the face of this
Before the coup, there was only a relatively small left movement in
Cambodia. (Sihanouk pointed that out to me as well.) But the coup and
U.S. invasion thrust a war upon those who survived the executions. And
by the end of that war, the resistance - known as the Khmer Rouge -
found itself in power alomost by default with the task of trying to put
Cambodia back together again.
During the five years of war, at least a million Cambodians - out of a
population of only 7 million - were killed and injured. More starved in
the final months of the war. US policy was directly responsible for
Whenever it seemed clear that the Khmer Rouge was about to win, the
United States would pour in hundreds of millions of dollars more worth
of war materiel and money to prop up the Lon Nol regime.
Carpet bombings of the countryside by B-52s and Phantom jets became
routine. So did the dropping of napalm and defoliation agents that
eventually was to kill the son of the US Admiral Zemwalt who ordered the
defoliation (agent orange) attacks. It was U.S. policy to leave
Cambodia in as devastated a condition as possible if it should go
The Lon Nol regime crumbled in the middle of April 1975. As the Khmer
Rouge entered Phnom Penh, the streets were lined with thousands of
people who greeted them as liberators. But in less than a month, the
United States attacked again.
A U.S. warship, the Mayaguez, penetrated Cambodia's territorial waters
and was detained by Cambodian authorities. The U.S. then launched a
A-7 fighter-bombers launched from the aircraft carrier Coral Sea bombed
Cambodian cities and sunk ships in the Gulf of Thailand. Marines
accompanied by a flotilla of 12 naval craft invaded Koh Tang Island.
It was after this incident that seemed to threaten a resumption of the
war that the Khmer Rouge began to evacuate major cities in the area--a
decision that ended in a bloody purge.
The U.S. media have devoted enormous attention to this last period,
which they have dubbed the "killing fields." Yet they breeze over the
years of pain and suffering that brought the Cambodian struggle to that
point. Most of all, they have tried to erase from the consciousness of
people in the US and the world the Pentagon's horrendous war against the
peoples of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. That war's effects persist today
in all areas of life and will for decades to come.
Po Pot 's real name was Soloth Sar. He remained mostly behind the scenes
in the years 1975-1979 when he and his Khmer Rouge tried to remake
Cambodia according to agrarian socialist principles. They wanted people
to move from cities to the countryside to avoid US bombing and to solve
urban shortages of food and supplies. The bourgeois classes opposed the
relocation program and had to be dealt with harshly.
In 1979, the Vietnamese invaded and overthrew Pol Pot, who fled into
jungles near Thailand and led a Khmer Rouge guerrilla war from there.
Born Saloth Sar - Pol Pot was a nom de guerre - the revolutionary leader
grew up in a relatively prosperous farming family in Kompong Thong
province, the heartland of the then French protectorate.
One of his brothers, Saloth Neap, once described Pol Pot as a gentle and
kind child. He added he had no idea what his sibling had become until he
saw a poster of "Brother Number One" - Pol Pot's title as leader of the
Khmer Rouge - hung up at a work collective.
Having studied at a Buddhist monastery and a Roman Catholic school, Pol
Pot won a scholarship in 1949 to study radio electronics in Paris.
There, the young activist devoted his time to radical student politics
and Marxism - charming converts at cell meetings in his Latin Quarter
apartment in Paris. He eventually returned to Phnom Penh in 1953.
Pol Pot then joined the ranks of the underground Cambodian Communist
Party and became secretary-general in 1962.
In 1963, fearing persecution from Prince Norodom Sihanouk's secret
police, Pol Pot and several of his trusted right-hand men fled deep into
Based in remote northeastern Cambodia, he became influenced by the
surrounding hill-tribes. These "original Khmers" were self-sufficient in
their communal living, had no use for money and were untainted" by
Buddhism. From this base he waged war against the US-backed Cambodian
When the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975, as a countermeasure to US
led aggression and embargo, they quickly set about transforming the
country into their vision of an agrarian utopia by emptying the cities,
abolishing money, private property and religion and setting up rural
The Khmer Rouge's radical social experiment was based on the only
culture the movement had known. Naturally it was opposed by many Western
educated intellectuals and professionals. A hostility toward these types
mutated into an issue of revolutionary ideology in the atmosphere of
extreme hardship caused by relentless American aggression.
Revolutionary excesses grew out of control under such conditions.
The Khmer Rouge government fell in 1979 when Vietnam invaded Cambodia
after a series of violent border confrontations. Southeast Asia has
always been the Balkan of Asia. With the end of the Cold War, and the
demise of Western political imperialism, local ethnic nationalism
Pol Pot and his forces once again fled to the northern jungle. The
errors of revolutionary excesses they committed during the years of
struggle for survival were repackaged as evidence of their atrocities
and was roadcast around the world as part of a new American strategy to
demonize the Khmer Rouge leader so that the movement itself can be
incorporated in a new American brokered coalition for Cambodia.
Socialism as an emerging social force is to link itself to revolution as
a vehicle to power. Yet the ideology of socialism is independent of the
metabolism of revolution. Revolutions of different ideologies go through
similar stages, often including reigns of terror. As Mao said:
revolution is not a dinner party.
Socialism in Asia allied itself with nationalism's struggle against
Western imperialism, which Lenin had identified as a new stage of
For Asians, to be anti-imperialism is to be anti-capitalism. An Asian
capialist is a Western running dog comprador. There is no escaping that
Similarly, Martin Luther (1483-1546), in placing theological protest
under the protection of secular power politics, would exploit the
political aspirations of budding German principalities in the sixteenth
century. In return, he would conveniently provide the German princes
with a theological basis for political secession from the theocratic
Holy Roman Empire.
In like manner, Buddhism in China provided the petty kingdoms that had
sprung up during the dissolution of the Han empire since the year 220,
with a convenient theology for transition from ancient feudalism under a
centralized authority to a fragmented political order of independent
regional sovereign states. Analogous to the rise of European nationalism
which would be a facilitating vehicle for the religious movement known
as the Reformation which in turn would give birth to Protestant national
states as political by-products, the fall of the Han dynasty (B.C.
206-220 A.D.) had not been independent of the growth of Buddhism in
China. In fact, recurring official persecution of Buddhism in China
throughout history has been motivated by the religion's persistent
involvement in secular dissident politics. The corrupt impact of
Buddhist politics on the ruling authority was deemed bu historians as
being responsible for the tragic fate of the disintegrated Han dynasty.
Luther exploited the political aspirations of German princes to be
independent of the Holy Roman Emperor to bolster his theological revolt
from the Roman Catholic Church. But he would come to denounce peasant
rebellions when the peasants rebelled against the same Protestant German
princes. He would do so even though such peasant uprisings against the
German princes would claim inspiration from the same theological ideas
of the Reformation that had motivated the revolt against the Holy Roman
Emperor by the same German princes for independence, even though such
radical ideas had been advocated by Luther. However, even Luther's
professed personal sympathy for peasant demands for improved treatment
from their oppressive princes would not persuade him to endorse peasant
uprisings. In fact, Luther could be considered a Stalinist. Or more
accurately, Stalin would in fact fit the definition of a Lutheran
diehard, at least in revolutionary strategy if not in ideological
essence. Like Luther, Stalin would suppress populist radicalism to
preserve institutional revolution, and would glorify the state as the
sole legitimate expediter of revolutionary ideology. Early
Protestantism, like Stalinism, would become more oppressive and
intolerant than the system it would replace. Ironically, puritanical
Protestant ethics celebrating the virtues of thrift, industry, sobriety
and responsibility, would be identified by many sociologists as the
driving force centuries later behind the success of modern capitalism
and industrialized economy. Particularly, ethics as espoused by
Calvinism which in its extreme would advocate subordination of the state
to the Church, diverging from Luther's view of the state to which the
Church is subordinate, would be ironically credited as the spirit behind
the emergence of the modern Western industrial state.
Early Buddhism, after its initial grass-root political successes in Tang
China in the seventh century, would adopt similar Stalinist postures
against further social revolution in following centuries, and it would
always stop pragmatically short of demanding subordination of the state
In the French Revolution, Robespeierre and the Committee of Public
Safety, with a democratic program of its own to concentrate on the
revolution, suppressed the "enrages", extreme revolutionism of
Herbertism as well as Dantonist revisionism. That strategy led to the
Reign of Terror and eventually to Robespierres own downfall.
After U.S. and Vietnamese forces withdrew from Cambodia in 1973, the
Khmer Rouge in 1975 toppled the Lon Nol government. The Democratic
Kampuchea (DK) was established as the new government in 1976 with Pol
Pot as prime minister. The government abolished money and property and
collectivized Cambodian agriculture, moving citizens into the
countryside to overcome urban shortages left by years of US bombing and
Vietnam invaded Cambodia in December 1978 and installed a new government
but could not eliminate the Khmer Rouge as a political or military
Carter and Brzezinski basically followed the Nixon Ford Kissinger
geopolitical strategy on China in the context of superpower rivalry, but
they put increased emphasis on anti-Soviet cooperation between the US
and China, Carter's purported concern for universal human rights
notwithstanding. Kissinger's preoccupation with "détente" with the USSR
was replaced by Brzezinski's hawkisk attitude toward the "polar bear".
Two months before the announcement of US recognition of Beijing on
December 15, 1998, Carter even yielded to China's objection to pending
US normalization of relations with Vietnam, against which China would be
involved with an unsucessful border war with US acquiesence and secret
satellite intelligence support three months later, in February
1979, two weeks after Deng Xiaoping's triumphant US tour, causing
Vietnam to enter into a formal alliance with the USSR. US recognition
of Vietnam would be delayed until 1995, 17 years later.
(A perosnal note: I happened to be in Beijing dealing with some
non-governmental matter in the new US-China relationship on the day that
the Sino-Vietnam border war began. I remember while we understood that
Sino-Soviet conflict was the main rationale behind the war, many of us
were profoundly saddened by the state of affair nevertheless. We could
not believe that two decades of side-by-side struggle against US
imperialism would end with armed conflict between comrades.) The
Chinese expedition force performed miserably, partly because the
Vietanmese troops were freshed from valuable fighting experience against
US forces, and partly because they had superior captured US weapons.
But the biggest factor was that People's Liberation Army units were
infested with low morale in a war against former comrade in arms. The
political will was absent.
The Vietnamese withdrew in 1989, and in 1991 the Khmer Rouge agreed to a
United Nations cease-fire and peace accords. The UN agreed to monitor
general elections in 1993, but the Khmer Rouge refused to participate.
The Khmer Rouge continued fighting the elected government, retaining
control over parts of Cambodia.
Even though international audiences were horrified by the Hollywood
propaganda movie about Pol Pot's rule, (The Killing Fields), the Khmer
Rouge was offered support from the United States because of its
opposition to America's main enemy: Vietnam, a Soviet ally. That support
required the demonization of Pol Pot.
Pol Pot officially retired as leader of the Khmer Rouge at the end of
Following a complex internecine power struggle inside the Khmer Rouge,
Pol Pot was arrested by his former colleagues last July who were eager
to make a deal with the US. Pol Pot was charged with treason before a
"people's tribunal" which sentenced him to life under house arrest. He
gave an interview shortly before his death in which he declared: "My
conscience is clear".
Pol Pot's dilemma was not unique for revolutionaries. The same dilemma
was faced by Robespierre, Stalin, Mao, Castro and will be by other
revolutionary leaders in the future.
But to blame the death and destruction caused by foreign invasion and
embargo during 1975-79 on Pol Pot's controversial revolutionary policies
is merely reactionary propaganda.
Henry C.K. Liu
When the news of Pol Pot's death came across the news, my first thought
was that he was murdered. Then I read the following news report:
It may have been murder: Kissinger
LONDON: Former United States secretary of state Henry Kissinger said on
Thursday that the Khmer Rouge may have killed Pol Pot to avoid handing
him over for trial.
Mr Kissinger, secretary of state under presidents Richard Nixon and
Gerald Ford, spoke to the BBC after Thai military officials at the
border with Cambodia said Pol Pot was dead. Cambodian government
officials have said they want to see his body to verify his death.
Pol Pot is widely held responsible for the deaths of more than one
million Cambodians during his 1975-79 rule, and US officials had said
recently that they were consulting other countries, including Thailand
China, on contingency plans to try him.
Mr Kissinger said there may have been some in the Khmer Rouge who feared
pressures for Pol Pot to be extradited for trial abroad. ``I think so
ill of the Khmer Rouge that I don't even exclude that they killed
him in order to avoid pressure of this kind,'' Mr Kissinger said.
``Because if (he was) alive, there would be international pressure to
extradite him, and that, to refuse that would have outlawed the Khmer
Rouge even more.''
He called Pol Pot "one of the great mass murderers of history'', saying
he had killed nearly a third of the population of his own country
"without any purpose''.
The Far Eastern Economic Review said this week Pol Pot had agreed to be
tried by an international court. It quoted a Khmer Rouge general as
saying that Khmer Rouge forces were trying to reach the US
or another country to turn over their former leader for trial abroad.
Pol Pot was purged last year after a power struggle with Khmer Rouge
military commander Ta Mok.
Sentenced to life imprisonment in a July 1997 show trial, he was being
held in a Khmer Rouge stronghold.
My reason behind a suspicion of murder was the opposite of Kissinger's.
I thought the CIA did it to prevent a trial in which CIA involvement
with the Khmer Rouge would be exposed in detail.