Sheri's Reviews > Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare

Pol Pot by Philip Short
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's review
Sep 20, 2011

really liked it
Read in September, 2011

I should probably stop reading books as informative and depressing as this one. I had started this biography of Pol Pot about a month ago and it has been my bedside companion since then, to be read about 10 pages at a time if I wake up at night & have trouble falling back to sleep quickly. When I was about 2/3 of the way through it, I read Samantha Power's book (A Problem From Hell: American And The Age Of Genocide) on my Kindle, one chapter of which addressed the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia. That spurred me to finish this biography much more quickly than I otherwise would have.

Philip Short has thoroughly researched the life and rise to power of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge cohorts. Pol's approach to power -- and the millions of deaths that resulted -- is an abject lesson in how pure ideology trumps human life at every turn. The "purity" of the communism to which Pol and the Khmer Rouge aspired is ultimately why 20% of the population of Cambodia died during his reign as supreme leader. Unfortunately, Pol had the assistance of China and the US in causing that massive loss of life. Under the precept that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, the United States was still reeling from its losses in Vietnam, and the enmity between Vietnam and Cambodia made Pol Pot our friend. Since the US also befriended Saddam Hussein, funded the mujahadin in Afghanistan, and aided Manuel Noriega (among others) at various times, Pol Pot was not such a strange bedfellow for America. It finally took Vietnam's army overrunning Cambodia, and producing photographs and leading tours of the "killing fields" in Cambodia (images closely resembling those from the Holocaust) for the US to wake up and assert moral high ground. By then it was too late.

Perhaps most disheartening is that Cambodia is still ruled today by leaders who were high ranking Khmer Rouge officials, and that virtually no one has been punished for the genocide that took place there.
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