Pol Pot renames Cambodia - HISTORY
Year
1976

Pol Pot renames Cambodia

On this day in 1976, Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot announces a new constitution changing the name of Cambodia to Kampuchea and legalizing its Communist government. During the next three years his brutal regime sent the nation back to the Middle Ages and was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1 to 2 million Cambodians.

Pol Pot, who was born Saloth Sar in 1925 to a relatively well-off Cambodian family, became involved in the Communist movement as a young man studying in Paris. After he returned home to Cambodia, which gained its independence from France in 1954, he rose through the ranks of his homeland’s small, underground Communist Party. Influenced by China’s Mao Zedong, by the mid-1960s, Pol Pot, also known as Brother Number One, was heading up Cambodia’s Communist movement and living in a remote part of the country with a band of supporters.

Cambodia’s ruler, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, was overthrown in a pro-American coup in 1970 and the Khmer Rouge, with initial help from Vietnamese Communists, then waged a civil war against the new government of Lon Nol. At the same time, the U.S. launched a bombing campaign and sent in soldiers to Cambodia to hunt down North Vietnamese Communist troops operating there.

In April 1975, following five years of fighting, Pol Pot’s guerillas seized power in the Cambodian capitol of Phnom Pehn. Exhausted by years of conflict, many of the city’s 2 million residents initially welcomed the Khmer Rouge as liberators who would bring about a social revolution. Instead, Pol Pot’s inept attempt at building a peasant-based agrarian utopia became a nightmarish reign of terror and genocide. Cambodians were forced into the countryside to work in communes, anyone with education or wealth was killed and schools, newspapers, hospitals, culture, religion and private property were abolished. Tens of thousands of Cambodians died of starvation while countless others succumbed to disease and forced labor or were murdered.

In December 1978, following clashes over territory, Vietnam invaded Cambodia. Pol Pot fled to Thailand and spent almost two decades hiding out in jungle camps there and in northern Cambodia, protected by guerillas and the Thai military. In 1997, following an internal power struggle, Pol Pot was arrested by members of his own party on charges of treason. He died of natural causes on April 15, 1998, without ever having to face justice for his crimes.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Prague Spring begins in Czechoslovakia

Antonin Novotny, the Stalinist ruler of Czechoslovakia, is succeeded as first secretary by Alexander Dubcek, a Slovak who supports liberal reforms. In the first few months of his rule, Dubcek introduced a series of far-reaching political and economic reforms, including increased ...read more

Kamikaze pilots get first order

On this day in 1945, Japanese pilots received the first order to become kamikaze, meaning “divine wind” in Japanese. The suicidal blitz of the kamikazes revealed Japan’s desperation in the final months of World War II. Most of Japan’s top pilots were dead, but youngsters needed ...read more

First divorce in the colonies

In the first record of a legal divorce in the American colonies, Anne Clarke of the Massachusetts Bay Colony is granted a divorce from her absent and adulterous husband, Denis Clarke, by the Quarter Court of Boston, Massachusetts. In a signed and sealed affidavit presented to ...read more

Dreyfus Affair in France

French officer Alfred Dreyfus, condemned for passing military secrets to the Germans, is stripped of his rank in a humiliating public ceremony in the courtyard of Paris’ Ecole Militaire. The Jewish artillery captain, convicted on flimsy evidence in a highly irregular trial, began ...read more

Golden Gate Bridge is born

On January 5, 1933, construction begins on the Golden Gate Bridge, as workers began excavating 3.25 million cubic feet of dirt for the structure’s huge anchorages.Following the Gold Rush boom that began in 1849, speculators realized the land north of San Francisco Bay would ...read more

New York Yankees announce purchase of Babe Ruth

On this day in 1920, the New York Yankees major league baseball club announces its purchase of the heavy-hitting outfielder George Herman “Babe” Ruth from the Boston Red Sox for the sum of $125,000.In all, Ruth had played six seasons with the Red Sox, leading them to three World ...read more

Truman delivers his Fair Deal speech

On this day in 1949, President Harry S. Truman announces, in his State of the Union address, that every American has a right to expect from our government a fair deal.In a reference to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies, Truman announced his plans for domestic policy reforms ...read more

Nixon launches the space shuttle program

Also on this day in presidential history, Richard Nixon signs a bill authorizing $5.5 million in funding to develop a space shuttle. The space shuttle represented a giant leap forward in the technology of space travel. Designed to function more like a cost-efficient “reusable” ...read more

House resolves to stop sharing Oregon

Boldly reversing its long-standing policy of “free and open” occupation in the disputed Oregon Territory, the U.S. House of Representatives passes a resolution calling for an end to British-American sharing of the region. The United States, one congressman asserted, had “the ...read more

Alexandre Dumas pere fights a duel

On this day, 23-year-old Alexandre Dumas fights his first duel. He sustains no serious injury, although his pants fall down in the fight. He’ll later fill his romantic works, including The Three Musketeers, with duels, battles, and daring escapades.Dumas was the son of one of ...read more

Sonny Bono killed in skiing accident

In his characteristically blunt and self-deprecating manner, Sonny Bono transformed himself relatively late in his life, morphing from the shorter, homelier, masculine half of a 1960s husband-and-wife singing and acting sensation (alongside his glamorous third wife, Cher) into a ...read more

Landslides kill 33 in California

On this day in 1982, a series of landslides near San Francisco, California, kills up to 33 people and closes the Golden Gate Bridge. In all, an amazing 18,000 different landslides took place in the San Francisco Bay Area following a very heavy rain storm.Two fast-moving fronts ...read more