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The Leaders of the Khmer Rouge

Ben Kiernan, Professor, Yale University

I think it's important to understand the leaders of genocidal regimes, and the decisions that they make are obviously key to the implementation of their policies. And I think it's important to understand that they're often not particularly informed; they're not particularly intelligent. They have skills that have enabled them to come to power.

Pol Pot was a very effective guerrilla organizer, a very effective secret Party administrator. He was in some ways very smart, but he didn't know very much. He had very little understanding of the world, and many of the policies that the Khmer Rouge carried out were so impracticable as to be laughable, if they weren't so criminal and tragic. And I think that combination of ignorance and ideological preoccupation on Pol Pot's part, as well as the undoubted skills that he used to purge his opponents and rivals in a secret and conspiratorial manner, go a long way towards explaining how the Pol Pot regime could have committed the genocide that it did.