Pol Pot

Pol Pot

Anatomy of A Nightmare

Book - 2005
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A gripping and definitive portrait of the man who headed one of the most enigmatic and terrifying regimes of modern times

In the three and a half years of Pol Pot's rule, more than a million Cambodians, a fifth of the country's population, were executed or died from hunger. An idealistic and reclusive figure, Pol Pot sought to instill in his people values of moral purity and self-abnegation through a revolution of radical egalitarianism. In the process his country descended into madness, becoming a concentration camp of the mind, a slave state in which obedience was enforced on the killing fields.

How did a utopian dream of shared prosperity mutate into one of the worst nightmares humanity has ever known? To understand this almost inconceivable mystery, Philip Short explores Pol Pot's life from his early years to his death. Short spent four years traveling throughout Cambodia interviewing the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge movement, many of whom have never spoken before, including Pol Pot's brother-in-law and the former Khmer Rouge head of state. He also sifted through the previously closed archives of China, Russia, Vietnam, and Cambodia itself to trace the fate of one man and the nation that he led into ruin.

This powerful biography reveals that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were not a one-off aberration but instead grew out of a darkness of the soul common to all peoples. Cambodian history and culture combined with intervention from the United States and other nations to set the stage for a disaster whose horrors echo loudly in the troubling events of our world today.
Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Henry Holt, 2005
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780805066623
0805066624
Branch Call Number: DS554.83.P65 S53 2005
959.6042 S559p
Characteristics: xv, 537 : ill., maps ; 25 cm

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dennismmiller
May 03, 2019

When the Khmer Rouge captured the Cambodian capital of Phnom Phen in 1975, no one - not even the revolutionaries themselves - knew exactly what would happen next. Indeed, at that time the identity of the communists' ultimate leader was unknown to any outside of their own innermost circle. Saloth Sar, who took the revolutionary name Pol Pot, had been content to be a face in the crowd of Khmer Rouge officials, but he now held the power of life and death over seven million people. For at least a fifth of that population, that power would be death.

Jacob Burckhardt famously declared that "the essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity." It may be significant, then, that Pol Pot's brother-in-law once described him as having "a very simplistic vision of things." It is not a mistake that Philip Short repeats in his study of the Cambodian dictator, rather, he provides detailed intersecting accounts of the breakdown of Cambodian politics, the rise of the Khmer Rouge, and the making of the man Pol Pot. Unfortunately, this sometimes suggests obfuscation rather than accuracy, as the author seems to be at pains to highlight just about any negative influence on the Khmer Rouge other than progressive dogma, primarily blaming various elements of the Khmer national character for the regime's policies - an absurd explanation given the poverty of the Khmer precedents when contrasted with the rich global pattern of Marxist mass murder. It is distasteful for other reasons as well, as Short confesses when he notes that his description of the Khmer as a uniquely lazy people "will raise hackles."

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