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 Washington.

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.

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 imperialist aggression.

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.

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, 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 something salvageable."

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 hotels.

Before the coup, there was only a relatively small left movement in Cambodia. 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 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.

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 who ordered the defoliation (agent orange) attacks. It was U.S. policy to leave Cambodia in as devastated a condition as possible.

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 massive attack.

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.

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 move 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 the countryside.

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 government.

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 his vision of an agrarian utopia by emptying the cities, abolishing money, private property and religion and setting up rural collectives.

The Khmer Rouge's radical social experiment was based on the only culture the movement had known. Naturally it was opposed by many intellectuals and professionals. A hostility toward these types mutated into an issue of revolutionary ideology in the atmosphere of extreme hardship cause of relentless

American aggression. Revolutionary excesses grew out of control. 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 resurfaced.

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 broadcast 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 industrial capitalism.

For Asians, to be anti-imperialism is to be anti-capitalism.

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 would exploit 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 would rebel 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 to religion. 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 embargo. Vietnam invaded Cambodia in December 1978 and installed a new government but could not eliminate the Khmer Rouge as a political or military force. The Vietnamese withdrew in 1989, and in 1991 the Khmer Rouge agreed to a United Nations (UN) 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. That support required the demonization of Pol Pot.

Pol Pot officially retired as leader of the Khmer Rouge at the end of the 1980s.

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 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