Why Was Pol Pot Called Pol Pot? 10 Interesting Facts About Pol Pot

An Old Photo of Pol Pot

Pol Pott is one of those interesting political figures that forever changed the landscape of Cambodia. He was one of the biggest villains of his time. I have been to Cambodia and seen first hand the destruction and killing fields from the Pot Pot era.

Pol Pot is short for the French word Politique Potentielle; Pol Pot was used as an alias by the brutal Khmer Rouge leader who killed many Cambodians between 1975 to 1978. Pol Pot’s real name was Salot Sar; because Pol Pot used an alias, many of his own family members had no idea he was the infamous Khmer Rouge leader.

Here are 10 interesting Facts About Pol Pot, Why He Has the Name Pol Pot and Some Other Information.

1 – Pol Pot Is Short for Politique Potentielle

The name Pol Pot is short for the French word “Politique Potentielle” or Potential Politics. This is an interesting choice of an alias for a man who wanted to kick all foreigners and educated people out of Cambodia. It is ironic that he would take on a French name.

It is rumored that the Chinese gave him the name Pol Pot, but we are not really sure if that was the case. We do know that he is known more by the alias Pol Pot than the name he was born with.

2 – Pol Pot’s Real Name is Salot Sar

Pol Pot’s real name is Salot Sar. The word Sar meant pale or white; this referred to his relatively white skin and light complexion.

The record shows that Pol Pot was born in 1928 as Salot Sar; some historians say this record is not correct that he was actually born in 1925. The truth is we really do not know if 1928 or 1925 is the year he was born.

3- Many Khmer Communists Had Aliases

Having an alias was not that uncommon during the time the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia; many of the Khmer communists took on an alias. Some other aliases were: Khieu Samphan was called Hem, Kang Guek Eav was called Duch, Tou Samuth was called Sok, and Son Ngoc Minh was called Mean.

We do not know why Khmer Rouge officials like Pol Pot took on aliases, but it meant many of their own relatives had no idea of their involvement in the Khmer Rouge or Communist party. It was one way for them to remain hidden from the public view.

Sketons piled up at the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields
A Pile of Skeletons piled up at the Khmer Rouge Killing Fields.

4- Pol Pot Did Not Embrace the Cult of Personality

Pol Pot did not embrace the cult of personality. He kept a very low public profile. Because he had an alias, many of his own relatives had no idea that it was the mysterious Angkor Leu or in the upper organization of the Khmer Rouge until the Khmer Rouge fell from power.

The Khmer Rouge was so secretive that only the top organization knew who he really was and what he looked like; his image and persona were so well hidden that If an ordinary Cambodian citizen passed him on the street, they would have no idea he was the famous Pol Pot.

5 -Pol Pot Came From Cambodia’s Elite

Pol Pot came from Cambodia’s elite. His father was a wealthy farmer in Prek Sbauv, Cambodia. Pol Pot was educated in some of Cambodia’s most elite schools.

His father, Loth, who later took on the name Saloth Phem was prosperous. He had over nine hectares of rice land and quite a bit of cattle. Their house was one of the largest in the village. In fact, when it came time for harvesting, his father would hire the poorer neighbors to come to help with the harvest.

His mother, Sok Nem, was locally respected as being a very pious Buddhist woman. She was the 8th of nine children, and her parents were strict Theravada Buddhists.

6- Pol Pot Was an Mediocre Student

Pol Pot was not a brilliant student and can best be called mediocre. When he was about four or five years old, he went to live in Phnom Penh with his elder brother. During this time he was educated in the French curriculum.

Pol Pot was given some of the best Cambodian-French education for this time. But as a very mediocre student, he failed the entrance exams for high school. Because he failed the high school exams, he ended up studying carpentry at a technical school in Phnom Penh.

7- Pol Pot Went to School in France

He was eventually able to get a scholarship in 1949 to study electronics in Paris, France. During his time in Paris, he became involved with the French communist party and joined with a group of left-wing Cambodian nationalists who later became his fellow leaders in the Khmer Rouge.

During his time in France, he spent more time on his revolutionary activities than on his study. Because of this, his scholarship was cut short as he failed his exams and was forced to return to Cambodia earlier than planned.

8- Under Pol Pot’s Leadership Millions Died

If Pol Pot is famous for anything, it would be he brutally killed so many Cambodians. Between 1975 to 1978, an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died by execution, forced labor, and famine – all under the Khmer Rouge. This, of course, does not include the rest who survived but were raped, tortured, and forced out of their homes.

I have personally been to both the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. Cambodia. . Both of these places were execution grounds where many people died.

At the Killing Fields it is heartbreaking to see the skeletons of those who died under the Khmer Rouge stacked up in a huge pile. When you walk the sacred ground, you can see the fabric of the victim’s clothing coming out of the ground.

In the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the Khmer Rouge took photos of all their prisoners. Room after room is lined with photos of the victims. Cambodians of all ages and all genders faced their executioners with defiance in their eyes.

For most of these victims, their major crime was they were educated. Many of them were from Cambodia’s elite, just like Pol Pot.

Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge wanted to set up an agrarian utopia, where Cambodia was filled with mainly poor, uneducated farmers. This, of course, never fully happened.

People at Tuoi Sleng Museum seeing the photos of victims
People viewing photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum

9 – Pol Pot Was the Figure Head of the Khmer Rouge For Many Years.

In 1979 Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia and captured Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge was forced to retreat to the jungle.

During this time, Pol Pot continued to remain the leader of the Khmer Rouge. It was not until 1985 that he officially retired, but he remained the Khmer Rouge’s effective head for many years, even after retirement.

In the mid-1990s, a friend and I traveled by car from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, Cambodia. We had to be very careful on the roads between Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh because the Khmer Rouge ruled a large part of the Cambodian countryside; the Khmer Rouge was known to kidnap foreigners.

10 – Pol Pot Was Never Punished For His Crimes

In 1997 the Khmer Rouge had an internal power struggle and decided to place Pol Pot on trial. He was sentenced to life in prison by a People’s tribunal. Pol Pot was never convicted by a U.N. court or any other court for “crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide.” Instead, his only conviction was in this People’s tribunal for “treason.”

In an interview about this conviction Pol Pot said:

“My conscience is clear.”

Pol Pot About 1997

After his “treason” conviction, many hoped that Pol Pot would be extradited and stand trial at the Hague or another court. Instead, he was allowed to die of natural causes in 1998 while under house arrest.

After 12 years of investigations, a lengthy UN-backed Khmer Rouge trial convicted only a small handful of Khmer Rouge leaders. Many of the former top Khmer Rouge leaders died before sentencing, were physically or mentally unable to stand trial, or died soon after being sent to prison. The truth is that most of the top Khmer Rouge leaders were allowed to roam free throughout Cambodia most of their lives.

I witnessed firsthand the destruction in Cambodia due to Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime. I have always found it so amazing that the Khmer Rouge was able to kill so many people but so few of their leaders were ever punished in any way. I am not sure if it was the aliases they were using, but no doubt the aliases allowed many of them to stay hidden even until this day.

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Anita L Hummel

Hi, I live in Hanoi, Vietnam but spend time traveling the region. I love to share with you things I see and learn through my travels.

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Why Was Pol Pot Called Pol Pot?