An Old Photo of Pol Pot

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

Written By:

Post Date – Updated:

Pol Pott is one of those interesting political figures who forever changed Cambodia’s landscape. He was one of the biggest villains of his time. I have been to Cambodia and seen firsthand 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.

Table of Contents

10 interesting Facts About Pol Pot, Why He Has the Name Pol Pot

Pol Pot is one of the most notorious mass genocide leaders in modern history. His actions led to the death of millions, and his legacy will forever remain that of tragedy and destruction. While much about Pol Pot has been written, many may not know precisely why he was labeled ‘Pol Pot’.

We will explore 10 exciting facts about Pol Pot, so you can better understand who Pol Pot was and what drove him to such measures. Keep reading to discover more!

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 alias for a man who wanted to kick all foreigners and educated people out of Cambodia; ironic he would take on a French name.

It is rumored that the Chinese gave him the name Pol Pot, but we are not sure if that was the case. We know that he is known more by the alias Pol Pot than by 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 born in 1925. We do not know if 1928 or 1925 was his birth date.

3- Many Khmer Communists Had Aliases

Having an alias was not uncommon during the time the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia; many Khmer communists took on an alias. Some other aliases were: Khieu Samphan called Hem, Kang Guek Eav called Duch, Tou Samuth called Sok; and Son Ngoc Minh 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 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 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. 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 a pious Buddhist woman. She was the 8th of nine children, and her parents were strict Theravada Buddhists.

6- Pol Pot Was a 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 of this time. But as a very mediocre student, he failed the entrance exams for high school. Because he failed the high school exams, he studied carpentry at a technical school in Phnom Penh.

7- Pol Pot Went to School in France

He eventually got 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 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 studying. 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 been to both the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. Cambodia. . Both places were execution grounds where many people died.

It is heartbreaking to see the skeletons of those who died under the Khmer Rouge stacked up in a huge pile at the Killing Fields. Walking 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 entirely 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 remained the leader of the Khmer Rouge. It was not until 1985 that he officially retired, but he remained the Khmer Rouge’s 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 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 for 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.

At A Bus On A Dusty Road, we talk about history, travel, life, sailing, and ex-pat living. We are all about “Living Life As A Global Citizen.” We explore social, cultural, and economic issues and travel.

We would love to have you be part of our community. Sign up for our newsletter to keep up-to-date by clicking here. If you have any questions, you can contact me, Anita, by clicking here.

Listen to our Podcast called Dusty Roads. You can find it on all major podcast platforms. Try out listening to one of our podcasts by clicking here.

Subscribe to our A Bus On A Dusty Road YouTube Channel filled with great videos and information

What is the Cambodia Krama Scarf?

The Cambodian Krama scarf is a gingham scarf that is not only used as a scarf but is also used as a bandanna, baby carrier or even a blanket. Traditionally each Cambodian would hand-weave their own scarf in cotton or silk. Many in the western world may recognize the red and white gingham scarf that the Khmer Rouge used when they ruled Cambodia.

You can learn more by reading The Cambodian Krama Scarf, The Story Behind This Iconic Scarf by clicking here.

Is Cambodia Safe for a Solo Female Traveler to Travel Alone?

Cambodia is a safe country for a female traveler to travel solo. But with any developing country, there are precautions that you must take to ensure your safety. I have traveled alone to Cambodia many times and have always felt safe.

You can read more with our blog Is Cambodia Safe for a Solo Female Traveler to Travel Alone? by clicking here.

Anita L Hummel
Follow Me

Share Our Content

One response to “Why Was Pol Pot Called Pol Pot? 10 Facts About Pol Pot”

  1. Kayıt Ol | Avatar
    Kayıt Ol |

    Your article made me suddenly realize that I am writing a thesis on After reading your article, I have a different way of thinking, thank you. However, I still have some doubts, can you help me? Thanks.