Friday, February 27, 2015

The Monarchist Vietnam War

Thai military unit given honors by US forces
The war against communism in Vietnam, and more broadly across Indochina, is almost universally considered an “American war”. This is not due to America shouldering the largest burden in the fight against communism in Indochina but more because of a sort of obsession with the United States by the hyper-patriot “Yankee Doodle” types on one hand and the anti-American hysterics on the other, both of whom see the United States as the center of the world and the driving force behind everything that happens in it. However, it may surprise some to know that the United States was not the only country involved in fighting the expansion of communism in Southeast Asia and, more to our point, of the coalition of countries that were involved fully half of them were monarchies. It is rather unfortunate that their contribution and their sacrifices are often forgotten (though some seem to prefer it that way) because, while their contribution in numbers was not immense, they played a critical part in several key areas of the conflict. If one were to look at the war more broadly, in the larger sense of the struggle against the communist domination of Southeast Asia, monarchies played a still larger part.

British SAS in the Malaya Emergency
As in Europe, the roots of the Cold War go back to World War II with foreign invasions upsetting the political status quo and giving rise to the first internal conflicts between pro- and anti-communist forces. This was seen in Malaysia where largely communist dominated Chinese guerilla groups formed to fight the Japanese occupation. Likewise, in Vietnam, the communist revolutionary Ho Chi Minh organized the Vietminh to oppose the Japanese and the short-lived Japanese-sponsored Empire of Vietnam as well as the return of French colonial rule. The Allies, because of the war situation, gave support to such groups but they became extremely problematic as soon as the war was over. From 1948 to 1960 an all-monarchist war against communism raged in Malaysia between the forces of the British Empire and Commonwealth Realms against a communist insurgency backed by China, Indonesia and the Soviet Union. It was a much more small-scale conflict than that in Indochina, but no less intense and ultimately it was the monarchist side that prevailed which is why the monarchial federation of Malaysia exists today as a prosperous, independent Commonwealth country. If things had gone the other way, if the communists had prevailed, all the Malaysian monarchies would have been lost.

In Indochina, it was thanks to the forces of the British Empire that the communists did not seize control of the whole of Vietnam in the August Revolution of 1945. They took power in the north and central thirds of the country but in the south the British refused to allow this and even re-armed the surrendered Japanese forces to prevent a communist takeover before the French authorities could resume control. This was all the more controversial considering that, in other parts of the country, some Japanese had joined with the Vietnamese communists, perhaps out of shared support for communism or, as is more likely, simply out of a racist desire to fight non-Asians no matter what the underlying political cause. It was also controversial as the United States, under President Roosevelt, had made no secret of the fact that it opposed the restoration of French colonial rule in Indochina. That attitude, however, changed with the communist victory in China and the oncoming tidal wave of communist aggression from Korea to Malaysia. It is also worth noting that the areas of Indochina where the communists were the least successful were those areas where monarchist sentiment was strongest such as in Laos and Cambodia.

Emp. Bao Dai with French General de Lattre
The First Indochina War, seen by most as simply a clash between the French Republic on one side and the Vietnamese communists on the other, was actually a monarchist war as well. The non-communist Vietnamese were organized into the State of Vietnam which was not officially a republic but not a traditional monarchy either. It was rather like Francoist Spain prior to 1947 or Manchukuo from 1932-1934. Officially it was simply a “State” but the Chief of State was the legitimate monarch and it was effectively a monarchy. We know from history that the French defeat doomed the Vietnamese former-Emperor turned “Chief of State” Bao Dai but what is less well known is that it would have doomed the monarchies of Laos and Cambodia as well had not other factors intervened. Both countries had communist revolutionary movements and both had originally been established under the guidance of the Vietnamese communist leaders. In fact, when the United States first began to take the situation in Indochina seriously, the greatest concern was not South Vietnam where President Ngo Dinh Diem seemed to be holding his own but rather the Kingdom of Laos which was more fractured and seemed less stable and in greater peril than any other country in the region.

On the Lao front there were basically two warring factions and one faction which tried to remain above the fray. The Royal Lao Army of King Sisavang Vatthana, wanted more than anything to keep the Cold War from spreading to Laos, then there were the communists who fought a vicious guerilla war to gain power for themselves and the anti-communist forces that opposed them which consisted to a large extent of Hmong warriors backed, not-so-secretly, by the United States. The Kingdom of Thailand also played a critical part in the war in Laos as many Thai mercenaries fought on behalf of the anti-communist forces with the, again, not-so-secret blessing of the Thai royal government. The United States sent considerable military assistance to the Kingdom of Laos to aid in combating the communist Pathet-Lao and, at the time, the Kingdom of Laos received more U.S. foreign aid than any other country. Fellow monarchies such as Japan, Thailand and Australia also provided valuable assistance to the struggling royalists of Laos. The Pathet Lao had mostly Vietnamese advisors along with a few Soviet and a number of Chinese who were hoping that Laos could be secured, its monarchy abolished and made into a puppet-state through which China would have an open road to attack the Kingdom of Thailand.

King Savang Vatthana of Laos
For more than a decade the hard fighting Hmong, Thai and Lao royalists backed up by American air support fought a grueling and heroic struggle against communist domination for the preservation of the Kingdom of Laos. American President Kennedy landed a force of US Marines in Thailand to stand ready to intervene in Laos if the communists gained the upper hand. However, he quickly agreed to a proposal by the Soviets to withdraw forces and keep Laos neutral. Despite having ignored a similar, previous agreement, Kennedy went along and pulled the Marines out of Thailand and ordered the US ambassador to back the neutral faction. Meanwhile, the Soviets had no intention of doing the same and merely channeled their support through North Vietnam so that large sections of Laos effectively came under the control of the communist Vietnamese. The war in Laos went on but cooled from a boil to a simmer as both sides seemed to realize that all would depend on the fate of Vietnam.

In the war in Vietnam, while the South Vietnamese and United States obviously supplied the vast majority of the fighting forces, monarchist participants on the side of South Vietnam included Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and Laos. Monarchies not directly involved but which were supportive of the South Vietnamese struggle included Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom and the Empire of Iran. During the course of the war more than 60,000 Australians served in the war in Vietnam losing 521 killed and over 3,000 wounded. They gave heroic service in numerous operations, one of the most famous being the Battle of Long Tan in Phuoc Tuy where 108 Australians defeated about 2,000 North Vietnamese regular army troops. Likewise, 3,500 New Zealanders served in the Vietnam War with losses of 37 killed and 187 wounded. The Kingdom of Thailand, as well as supplying troops to the war for Laos, dispatched the “Queen’s Cobra” battalion to South Vietnam where it served from 1965 to 1971. Thailand also supplied bases for American air forces and support centers for American and other allied personnel. The Australians had a particularly good combat record and more than a few have commented since that the American high command could have profited by adopted Australian methods of counter-insurgency operations.

Troops of the Royal Australian Regiment in Vietnam
For the monarchist cause in each of the Indochinese countries each had a unique set of circumstances and must be dealt with separately. Starting with Vietnam, it had the disadvantage of losing its monarchy first when the August Revolution brought down the Japanese-backed Empire of Vietnam in 1945. That was really the end of the traditional Vietnamese monarchy. However, with the creation of the French-backed State of Vietnam (also recognized by the US, UK & others as the legitimate Vietnamese government) there was hope that a more modern sort of monarchy could survive. That it did not was due to the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu after which France washed its hands of Vietnam and left the anti-communist cause in Indochina in the hands of the United States. The biggest blow to the monarchy-in-all-but-name State of Vietnam, at least as far as the monarchy was concerned, came after the appointment of the American-backed Catholic nationalist Ngo Dinh Diem as Prime Minister. He set about breaking up the system of patronage that the former Emperor Bao Dai ruled through and so aroused the opposition of many.

The best chance for removing Diem was probably the attempted coup launched by General Nguyen Van Hinh, a Bao Dai loyalist, but Diem stood firm and Bao Dai blinked, recalling General Hinh who left for France and never saw Vietnam again. When Bao Dai finally summoned Diem to France to dismiss him it was too late and Diem organized a referendum in 1955 that saw the State of Vietnam become the Republic of Vietnam with Diem as president. Most regard that as the effective end of all monarchist hopes in Vietnam, however, that may not be the case. Ngo Dinh Diem had, as a young mandarin, been hand-picked by Emperor Bao Dai and promoted rapidly in government. He was known as a monarchist as well as a nationalist and came from a Catholic family that was close to the imperial court. His father, Nguyen Van Kha, had been a high-ranking official under Emperor Thanh Thai and had left public service in protest when the French deposed Thanh Thai. Diem had been aided in his career and had family ties with the staunch monarchist Nguyen Huu Bai, probably the most prominent Catholic in the imperial government at the time. His famous sister-in-law, best known as Madame Nhu, was a great-granddaughter of Emperor Dong Khanh, grandfather of the last Emperor Bao Dai. So the ties between Ngo Dinh Diem and the monarchy were numerous and far reaching.

President Ngo Dinh Diem
As such, and considering that Diem acted against the former Emperor only when his own position was under threat, it may have been possible to have effected a restoration of the monarchy under Diem. When the administration of President Kennedy turned against Diem, if they had been more realistic and far-sighted, they could have arranged a sort of compromise that, under the circumstances, Diem may well have accepted. The proposal could have been for a restoration of the Emperor or perhaps even the elevation of the Prince Imperiale Bao Long for a fresh start, with Diem reverting back to a more limited role as prime minister or perhaps stepping down completely on the understanding that he could come back at some point when the situation had changed. It is speculative but given the personal history of Diem and his family, I cannot help but think that there was some glimmer of hope for a monarchist revival up until Diem was assassinated in 1963. There were still many members of the Imperial Family in the country, the Emperor’s mother still lived in the Forbidden City in fact but after the death of Diem there would never be anyone in power in Saigon with such a monarchist past or so many connections again.

In Laos, it is strange considering how widely criticized Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai was for his cooperation with the French, that the leaders of the royal house did not face the same situation despite being even more pro-French than Bao Dai was. During World War II both King Sisavang Vong and the Crown Prince refused to collaborate with the Japanese and remained supportive of France. Prince Phetsarath led the Japanese-allied pro-independence forces and gained widespread public adoration but that never put him at odds with the rest of the family and the King was eventually reconciled with him. If there was one man who probably could have saved Laos from all of the troubles it was to endure in the course of the Second Indochina War it was Prince Phetsarath. Even decades of communist oppression has not managed to destroy his popularity amongst the Lao people. Unfortunately, Prince Phetsarath died in 1959 of a brain hemorrhage and the country soon began to fracture as discussed above.

Prince Sihanouk at Khmer Rouge rally
The Kingdom of Cambodia easily represents the most difficult case and it will always be one that few, if any, monarchists can look at without being troubled. Unlike Vietnam and Laos, Cambodia entered the era of the Vietnam War in probably better shape than any other Indochinese country. King Norodom Sihanouk had successfully navigated the French and the Japanese, cooperating with both, turning on both and escaping with his throne intact and independence for his country. An especially bountiful crop at the right time caused his popularity to soar to near godlike status and Cambodia under King Sihanouk seemed more united, prosperous and happy than any other country in the region. Unfortunately, the cancer that was the communist Khmer Rouge was in place, waiting for an opportunity to exploit.

King Sihanouk proclaimed neutrality in the Cold War but seemed to enjoy ‘dancing along the Demilitarized Zone’ as it were. He looked the other way as the communist terrorist group, the Viet Cong, established bases in Cambodia from which to attack South Vietnam, refusing offers of American support to remove them. The anti-communist forces became increasingly frustrated with Sihanouk and when he left on a friendship tour to Communist China, North Korea and the Soviet Union it was taken by everyone as a clear indication of where he stood (though in all probability it was likely an effort at playing both sides of the fence, hedging his bets as it were). While he was out of the country, in 1970 there was a military coup led by General Lon Nol, a man known as a right-wing monarchist but also a staunch anti-communist who was eager to take action against the Vietnamese presence in Cambodia. Lon Nol declared Prince Sihanouk deposed and himself President of the new Khmer Republic. Today, the most widely repeated story is that the coup was backed by the American CIA to get rid of King Sihanouk with Lon Nol as the willing traitor. However, though widely assumed, there has never been any actual evidence of CIA involvement and Lon Nol was actually extremely reluctant to remove Sihanouk as Head of State. In fact, he finally did so only at actual gunpoint.

President Lon Nol
However, big plans to drive out the Vietnamese communists and wipe out the native red elements proved unsuccessful. Lon Nol suffered a stroke the following year and while the Americans and South Vietnamese took care of the Vietnamese communist strongholds in the border areas, the deposed Sihanouk threw his considerable prestige behind the Khmer Rouge, urging people to flee to the jungle and join the guerillas. So Cambodia presented the world with an odd picture: a republic led by a monarchist which was struggling for survival against a communist insurgency that was notoriously anti-monarchist being backed by the former monarch. Even when acting under duress, Lon Nol felt so terrible about what he done to Prince Sihanouk that he bowed down in tears before the Queen Mother Kossamak to beg her forgiveness. For his part, Sihanouk lived in a palace in North Korea until the end of the Vietnam War when American support for the Khmer Republic was cut off and the Khmer Rouge seized power. He returned to Cambodia but was held prisoner by the fanatical communist regime and was only allowed to leave in order to argue the case of Democratic Kampuchea against Vietnam after which, rather than return, he relocated to China and North Korea until the eventual UN referendum saw him restored in a more limited constitutional monarchy.

That was a phenomenon that was unique and has never been repeated. For monarchists in Cambodia, there simply were no ideal options after 1970. Those who followed the King into the future dominated by Pol Pot came to regret it as the Khmer Rouge not only tossed aside the King after coming to power but went on to massacre about a third of the entire population in their drive to create a “pure” communist state. So, odd as it may seem, the best thing to do would have been to support Lon Nol and his republic. Given the depth of his attachment to the monarchy, I have no doubt that King Sihanouk could have easily returned to the throne, especially after Lon Nol was able to rid himself of the arch-republican Son Ngoc Thanh in 1972. There may have even been a restoration of the monarchy without Sihanouk if the republic had survived as the other major backer of the regime was Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak (a cousin of Sihanouk though opposed to him) who reportedly harbored hopes of his son becoming King of Cambodia. As it turned out, after the Khmer Rouge takeover in 1975 Lon Nol fled the country and Sirik Matak was executed.

Last of the King & Queen of Laos
So, all in all, a great deal hung in the balance for monarchists in the Vietnam War. The fate of the Kingdom of Laos was decided by the conflict, in almost any other case that of Cambodia would have been and even in Vietnam itself there remained at least room for hope prior to the communist takeover in 1975. The elderly Phan Khac Suu was briefly President of South Vietnam in 1964-65 (during the chaotic years after the assassination of Diem and before the administration of Nguyen Van Thieu) and he had, in the past, been known as a supporter of Emperor Bao Dai and was a member of the strange Cao Dai sect which had been supportive of the monarchy. If he had gained a greater following there may have been some chance for a restoration with the former Emperor still in France, ready to be restored if asked (and if he wished). What is important to remember is that the cause that those monarchists in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam who fought against the communist takeover and those of Australia, New Zealand and Thailand who helped them in that struggle, was a noble one and one worth fighting for. It is unfortunate that it has come to be seen solely as an “American war” and thus something to oppose and condemn by those who follow the fashionable chattering class in being against absolutely anything the United States is for. It does a disservice to all those brave military forces of the Queen of Australia and New Zealand, the King of Thailand and the local monarchs who sacrificed a great deal to stand against the tide of communist expansion in Southeast Asia.

6 comments:

  1. Do you know of any Belgian monarchist organizations? I'd like to contact them about getting Queen Mathilde a new tiara. The poor woman has only two. Every other royal woman has more.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Association Manoir de Mont.
      Belgische Unie - Union belge.
      Résistance royaliste de Belgique.
      Belgische Alliantie / Alliance Belge
      -take your pick

      Delete
  2. Even if I can't consider myself an expert in Asian monarchies,this is indeed a very interesting piece.My piece of cake are European monarchies,with all that it implies(royal succession,relationship with other monarchies,etc.).However,as a pan-monarchist,I have the sacred duty to defend existing monarchies(wherever they may be) and fight for the re-instauration of the (unfortunately) fallen ones.
    I discovered this blog a couple of months ago and I definitely remember being impressed by the quantity and the quality of your articles.I think that an article on romanian monarchy would be really interesting,considering the fact that all 4 kings of Romania(1866-1948) are truly ,,personalities''(more or less,depending on the perspective of the individual)..Also,a ,,Monarchist Profile'' on Corneliu Zelea Codreanu or Corneliu Coposu would be absolutely magnifique,for they are 2 of the greatest ideologues of Monarchism that my beloved country ever gave to the cause.I wish that I had your email,for I think that we have a lot of things to learn from one another,comrade in struggle!If you have any questions on romanian Monarchy or the 2 personalities,feel free to send me an e-mail:simionradu92@yahoo.com.
    With brotherly love and respect,
    Radu Simion,a 15 years old romanian monarchist and nationalist

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you. I have, in fact, profiled Codreanu in 2012. You can go to the "Articles" page and find the link to all posts concerning Romania.

      Delete
  3. Overally,what is your opinion of the Captain?I consider him a magnificent personality,one of the greatest sons of my nation.A committed monarchist,having fought against the communists in 1922,at a time when they wanted the King to abdicate,shouting:,,Long Live Soviet Russia'' and other filthy things about our King and about our national customs.
    He was definitely not a fascist,being an Orthodox-Nationalist(while Mussolini was an atheist) and a lover of country!God Bless Us and Salvation!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am a Vietnamese American. Although I do not feel so strongly attached to Vietnamese nationalism unlike my father, I cannot escape the cultural influences on my life. One of my high school teachers is also Vietnamese and he made me admire the history of my nation. I respect the monarchy and I wish to see it come back to Viet Nam one day.

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...