Reading the biography of a 20th-century tyrant takes courage. The tales of atrocities can be numbing, the motives unclear, and the lessons uncertain. Evil seems like a lurking character in such books, either in one man, the body politic, or foreign players, and is eventually exposed as, well, a rather stupid mistake....via Arts & Letters Daily
Short's contribution is in describing Pol Pot's Cambodia as a modern slave state, as North Korea still is. Even today, Cambodia is ruled autocratically by former minor Khmer Rouge leaders, despite the efforts of the United Nations to bring democracy there. (Pol Pot's top men may face trial next year.)
Much like slavery's demise, the Khmer Rouge's downfall was due largely to its internal contradiction in denying each person's basic humanity. Its leaders eventually turned on themselves in a paranoid purge that provided an opening for Vietnam to invade Cambodia.
Just before he died in 1998 in a jungle hideout - unrepentant and unpunished - Pol Pot claimed in an interview that his conscience was clear and that he had done it all for his country. Like other tyrants of his century, we may never know enough about him to draw the right conclusions. Short's book, however, takes us more than half way there.
10 February 2005
Pol Pot's Slave State
In the 1 February edition of the Christian Science Monitor, Clayton Jones reviews journalist Philip Short's (psycho)biography of Pol Pot.