In 1970, Cambodia was a monarchy, and royal king Norodom Sihanouk was deposed in a coup by General Lon Nol. An anticommunist, Lon Nol led a brief government, that tried to contain the advancement of the Khmer Rouge. Despite his efforts, the Khmer forces eventually gained power and complete control over the country in 1975. The Khmer Rouge regime, which would be also ephemeral, despite its four years brevity, would prove to be corrosive and disastrous for the country.
At first a shadowy figure, Pol Pot emerged as the terrible force behind the communist regime. Determined to restore in Cambodia the greatness the country experienced in the distant past, with the primary goal to achieve the same level of glorious splendor the region had conquered in ancient times, Pol Pot was interested in conquering the idealized majesty established by the civilization that built the fantastic and monumental temple of Angkor Wat – one of the most beautiful ancient sites in Cambodia –, and a great source of inspiration to this principle. Like every communist regime, horror was brought in with the best intentions in mind.
To achieve its goals, Pol Pot initiated an ambitious agrarian project. All the population living in cities and urban areas were compulsory conscripted to work in collective farms. Everything western or deemed to be western was considered an evil influence. As a consequence, it was viciously eradicated. This was applied even to medicine and medical procedures in general. The Khmer Rouge viciously demanded entire populations to be relocated to rural areas, and then cities were completely emptied. The agrarian projects were developed for the country to be self-sufficient, and to rely on its own productivity to sustain the population. As a result, Pol Pot forbade any goods to be imported.
The Khmer Rouge regime was brutal and totalitarian. People would die from starvation, exhaustion in the forced labor camps, or disease. The regime also brutalized each and every sign of opposition. As a result, state repression and violence was widespread. A reign of horror, brutality and aggression brought to Cambodians a period of absolute despair and hopelessness. In its ephemeral and brief four years run, it is estimated that the Khmer Rouge was responsible for the genocide of approximately three million Cambodians. According to some estimates, there are approximately twenty thousand collective graves spread throughout the country. Neighboring countries, like Laos and Vietnam, were also dealing with communist regimes.
As the chronic instability in Cambodia was exceedingly intensified – and this was a symptom invariably entrenched to Cambodian politics, like everything established before, the Khmer Rouge regime was destined to perish. In 1979 Pol Pot was eventually overthrown. His genocidal regime brought tremendous social, political and civil unrest to the country and, with the subsequent conflagration of a civil war, the regime could no longer sustain itself. Khmer Rouge members that escaped to Vietnam formed resistance militias, backed by Vietnamese military, and a war between the two countries was declared.
The Khmer Rouge regime came to an end, as rapidly as it rose to power. Pol Pot has fled to the countryside, and continued acting as the main leader of the Khmer Rouge, who, over time, lost national political relevance, remaining only a local leadership. Pol Pot never faced any charges or criminal prosecution for crimes against humanity, although before he died, he was under house arrest, for having ordered the execution of a former auxiliary.
Pol Pot died 72 years old, in 15 April, 1998, in a district near the border with Thailand.