Much of Pol Pot’s ability to get people on his side came from his charm and manner, and this was not lost on the journalists who met him, Britsh author Philip Short told the Khmer Rouge tribunal Thursday on his last day of testimony.
On the witness stand and under cross-examination from the defense counsel for Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, Mr. Short, who wrote the book “Pol Pot: Anatomy of a Nightmare,” offered a detailed description of Pol Pot—who he first met in Beijing in 1977.
“Pol Pot’s charm and smile, which was simply angelic—a winning smile—was very, very noticeable,” Mr. Short said. “You couldn’t remain immune to it. There are many descriptions from Cambodians of how after one meeting they were completely subjugated. With many leaders, charisma and social magnetism is very important.”
Mr. Short also spoke of the differences in how the Khmer Rouge manifesto—an agrarian dream-turned-nightmare—was disseminated, compared to other communist ideologies.
“We are dealing with a movement where political consciousness and imbuing yourself with a political line between the enemy and ourselves, to smash enemies, to show revolutionary vigilance at all times, to cut off your heart—that political consciousness was perfectly capable of creating a generalized understanding,” Mr. Short told the court.
“It wasn’t Soviet or Chinese, where the written word was important, it was Khmer—passed on orally and a premium on political consciousness.”
Mr. Short also opined on the situation of Cham Muslims, of which an estimated 100,000 are thought to have died under Pol Pot. But he said his research led him to believe quite strongly that there had been no intention from the outset to wipe the ethnicity out.
“I’m absolutely convinced there was no plan to exterminate an ethnic group,” he said. It was a totally different situation in Cambodia to Rwanda or Nazi Germany…. That simply did not apply in Democratic Kampuchea.
“The Chams are often cited as an example to prove that was the case. But the difficulty for the Chams was that they had a very identifiable and deeply rooted culture that was different from Khmers.
“Pol Pot was about making everybody equal…. That is not the same as a conscious attempt to exterminate a racial group.”
Hearings resume May 20.