In This Review

Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot

Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot
By David P. Chandler
254 pp, Westview Press, 1992

From 1975-78, during the reign of terror by the brutal Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, more than one million people died as a result of ideologically driven, genocidal policies. The leader of the Khmer Rouge was (and probably still is) Saloth Sar, better known by his nom de guerre, Pol Pot, a shadowy figure about whom little is known. A respected historian has spent five years assembling what scant evidence there is about Pol Pot's life and fitting this into the history of the Cambodian revolution. The subject is challenging because no modern revolutionary leader has left so little trace. Unfortunately, Chandler does not succeed in bringing Pol Pot alive. The picture that does emerge is that of a brutal but charismatic, super-nationalistic ideologue--largely out of touch with reality--who saw communism as a set of "liberating techniques that could be applied to Cambodia to remove the handicaps of hierarchy, injustice, and subservience." One of the few Western journalists ever to interview him, Elizabeth Becker, later wrote that she was "grateful when the interview ended" because, for her, the sense of unreality that Pol Pot's talk exuded was overwhelming.