3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 10 October 2011
Having backpacked through Cambodia and seen the horrific evidence of 1975-79 in the form of S-21 (Tuol Sleng) and The Killing Fields, I wanted to try and understand what could drive human beings to commit such horrific genocidal atrocities. I found this book hard going and very disturbing but at the same time very informative about the time frame in which this happened and the sequence of events. Of course, there is no switch that was evident within Pol Pot's life to drive him to do the horrific things he did and instructed others to do and that is what may be most disturbing of all - this man was a relatively well educated, relatively well travelled (some years in France) teacher who came back to his country and committed horrific atrocities in the name of a warped and crazy regime (including the brutal murder of the children he may well have taught). I found it very difficult to comprehend that this happened as recently as the 1970s but also that it was allowed to go on for 4 years before intervention (from the Vietnamese) in a supposed 'civilised' global era. I also still find it very difficult to understand why Pol Pot was never apprehended for his crimes (the UN had Pol Pot down as head of Cambodia until 1991?) and Brother Number Two (Nuon Chea) was only apprehended recently (around 2009?) having lived in what I can see as relative peace since being responsible for the killing of millions of Cambodians in 1975-1979. I would also recommend watching The Killing Fields and also a recent documentary 'True Stories: Voices from the Killing Fields' which features interviews with Nuon Chea (Brother Number Two) saying 'Who killed Cambodians? The US and Vietnam - no Cambodians killed Cambodians' and also telling killers who acted under him and killed hundreds if not thousands each that because they had no intent themselves and that they were acting under orders that by Buddha's teaching, they were free from sin.....' Later the killers admitted that they would 'smash' people so they could drink from their gall bladders which they thought had health benefits......I must admit to feeling very aggrieved that justice has not been done and struggling to understand why in such recent history.......
on 19 March 2012
This is THE landmark study on Pol Pot - and of the Cambodian Communist revolution and the Khmer Rouge tyranny. These three are too closely interwoven as they can be clearly separated. The supreme rule of the Khmer Rouge was secrecy, as emphasised time and again by Pol Pot and others, and this explains why there is so little known about Pol Pot, or Saloth Sar, the person, the individual. Possibly, with the current trials in Cambodia, we may learn more about the person as those who sat with him in the Politburo and other Angka gremia may share insights. But it is doubtful that these octogenarians will say more than what they already said, or actually know more about an individual of whom most of them probably were terrified when he was still alive and in power. Pol Pot himself cannot say anything anymore; he died in the late 1990s a miserable death and without repenting for his crime.
So Chandler is tracing the outward shape of Pol Pot's life as much as it can be traced: his upbringing and schooling; his studies in France; his double life as a teacher and party leader; then his tenure in power; eventually his return to the jungle. What went on in Pol Pot the human being, or what motivated him to act the way he eventually did, is left mostly to testimonies by others, inferences and speculation. But as said, this is not Chandler's fault for a world and a man where secrecy was everything and paranoia reigned supreme. Revolutionaries usually adopt aliases when they go underground. In this case, Saloth Sar became Pol Pot when he was about to emerging from obscurity, i.e., when the Communists took power and he became the country's leader. This alone highlights the obsession with secrecy.
Only a few minor details are to be criticised in this scholarly work: editing could have been a bit more careful in some instances; it suffices to mention once or maximum twice that Kang Sheng was Mao Zedong's secret police chief. But as said, this is minor stuff.
on 28 September 2013
For anyone who intends to visit, has visited or is merely interested in Cambodia, this book provides a good insight into the country's 20th century history. Having read the book whilst visiting myself, it answered all of my questions regarding how a motley crew of rebels could empty an entire city within the space of days and turn a whole country into a giant slavery machine.
Despite its title, this book is an account of Cambodia's history and not merely the ruthless 'Brother Number 1', spanning from the early days of the French-educated Cambodian elite in Paris to their violent takeover of the former Francophone colony, one of the most shocking aspects of this being the assault on Phnom Penh.
It also explains how the self-proclaimed communist revolutionaries benefited from the war in neighbouring Vietnam anti-Vietnamese sentiment, using 'Khmer Pride' as a tool to market their ideology.
Although Cambodia is still relatively unknown outside Southeast Asia, this book may become more important as this developing country steps into the limelight.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 21 September 2007
This book is a difficult read. So much is unknown about Pol Pot. The author cannot uncover where Pol Pot was for much of his life, so I found the biographical part of the book patchy.
The book is definitely not for those with a passing interest in Pol Pot or Cambodia. This book is strictly for the student of this man, and the chaos that engulfed this part of the world during his lifetime.
Readers who have a passing interest in the man, and this period in history, should seek a general book on the subjects.