Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Laos in World War II

The Kingdom of Laos was in a very unique position during the Second World War. The reasons behind this are due mostly to the position Laos had in the French colonial empire. For most of their history, the people of Laos had been divided into a number of small and shifting kingdoms or what were effectively city-states, traditionally dominated much of the time by the Kingdom of Thailand. There were also periods of Burmese invasions and extended raids by the Chinese and some Lao rulers occasionally had to pay court to the Vietnamese but the region remained essentially divided into at least three city-states. Then, one fateful day, the French arrived. When the King of Luang Prabang was driven out by Chinese renegades, the French (who were already established in Vietnam) came to his rescue and established a protectorate over the region. In quick order the states of Champasak and Vientiane became protectorates as well as the French united them all into the Kingdom of Laos under the ruler of Luang Prabang, King Sisavang Vong. This was a man who showed great integrity and never forgot that, when he was at his lowest point, had lost his kingdom and been driven from his throne, that it was the French who helped him get it all back and more.

King Sisavang Vong with French officials
Within French Indochina, Laos was treated with relatively benign neglect. There were, of course, occasions of resistance to the French presence but, on the whole, the French treated the Lao people more like charming simpletons who had to be cared for rather than property to be exploited (that was done elsewhere). The French also seemed unassailable; they had taken control of the whole of Vietnam, rested Cambodia from Thailand and suppressed every challenge to their authority. All of that changed with the outbreak of World War II, the conquest of France by Germany and the subsequent attack on French Indochina by the Kingdom of Thailand. The Royal Thai Army overran most of Laos in quick order and though the subsequent treaty, brokered by Japan, saw French authority restored, Laos did lose several provinces in the south to Thailand and all of French Indochina was occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army. What was very worrisome to Laos was that the dictator of Thailand, who was soon to become an official ally of Japan, Marshal Phibun, had declared his intention to re-unite all Thai peoples under his rule and by “all Thai peoples” he meant the people of Laos as well.

Since Laos was not considered very strategically important, the Japanese garrison was rather small and while the Japanese allowed the French colonial regime to remain in power, there was no love lost between the two sides. The Japanese leadership had stressed that this was a racial war, a pan-Asian movement to eradicate the ‘white skinned devils’ and the French never expected the peace to be indefinite. In those parts of Indochina where French colonial rule was most unpopular, this was a significant threat. The Japanese enjoyed forcing the French to bow and scrape to them and, in Vietnam for example, the locals liked seeing it as well and many Vietnamese began peppering their speech with Japanese phrases, a clear sign of who was really in charge. The French Governor-General of Indochina, Admiral Jean Decoux was not willing to do nothing while this was happening and to do what he could to strengthen the French position in areas where resistance had been the least active. French attitudes themselves had also changed with the establishment of the Vichy regime and this played a part as well.

Prince Phetsarath
Admiral Decoux gave his support to the cause of Lao nationalism, backing the “Movement for National Renovation” which advocated Lao unity, cooperation with France and a not-so-subtle opposition to Japan. There was also an anti-French resistance movement but, during most of the war years, it gained little traction. This situation prevailed throughout most of the war, no outright confrontations but with considerable tension between the French and the Japanese. The centerpiece for Japanese efforts to win public support was the pan-Asian movement of the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” but this did not gain widespread acceptance in Laos. There were those who sympathized of course but there were also those who looked at the basic fact that it was the French who had made Laos a united country whereas it was the Japanese who had backed Thailand in taking territory from them. For King Sisavang Vong there was no doubt that his loyalties remained with the French. They had aided him in his hour of need and he was not about to abandon them. Yet, as respected as the King was, the Japanese had a powerful potential ally in one of the most dynamic royal figures of that time and place. That figure was Prince Phetsarath Rattanavongsa.

The Prince was a nationalist and opposed to the French colonial regime. He argued that by giving up territory to Thailand, the French had failed to protect Laos which meant that the protectorate treaty was invalidated and that Laos should align itself with Japan and oppose France. King Sisavang Vong, however, argued in turn that it hardly made sense to hold France responsible for this loss while allying with those that had actually taken Lao territory. The French had, he reasoned, at least tried to defend Laos whereas Japan had backed Thailand which had attacked them. This difference of opinion reached the boiling point in 1945 when, clearly losing the war, Japan launched a surprise attack on the French, seizing control of Indochina and then urging the leaders of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam to declare independence and join the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in solidarity with Japan. In Cambodia, King Norodom Sihanouk did so, proclaiming the independence of the Kingdom of Kampuchea and, likewise, in Annam the Emperor Bao Dai declared the independence of the Empire of Vietnam in cooperation with Japan. The Kingdom of Laos, however, was to be a different story. Despite the fact that, for the moment, the Japanese still held the upper hand, King Sisavang Vong refused to cooperate and plainly asserted that this era of Japanese dominance was a temporary anomaly and that he supported keeping faith with France and having Laos resume its place in the French colonial union when the war was over.

Prince Phetsarath
Japan had taken this action when the Allies had pushed the Germans out of France, doing away with the Vichy regime which allowed the pro-Allied “Free French” resistance to claim power. Since the Japanese presence in Laos was minimal, all sides had greater freedom to fight for their vision of the future for Laos. In October, the King was sidelined and Japan backed Prince Phetsarath as the real power in the country with his own Lao resistance movement called the “Lao Issara” or ‘Free Laos’. They took control of the local government and while their flag was later adopted by the communist Pathet Lao (and is the national flag of Laos today) these were anti-communist nationalists who had rallied around Prince Phetsarath to oppose the French and cooperate with Japan. However, the Japanese had little strength in the area and the Lao Issara were woefully short of funds, weapons, training and supplies of every kind.

Meanwhile, at the time of the Japanese takeover, the French in Laos had fled to the jungles and mountains to form a pro-Allied, anti-Japanese resistance. King Sisavang Vong supported this group and his son and heir, Crown Prince Savang Vatthana was the leader of the Lao insurgents who fought against the Japanese occupation, with the Free French, on the Allied side. These Franco-Lao forces were, like the faction of Prince Phetsarath, short of heavy weapons but they did receive some support from the Allies and were able to take control of several rural areas and hold them. French and British special forces infiltrated the region to aid in the fight but they still lacked the firepower for major offensive operations. Nonetheless, they were able to be a considerable problem for the Japanese whose authority was mostly confined to the urban areas where Lao Issara under Prince Phetsarath was struggling to run an effective government with nothing to work with. Eventually, they began to cooperate with the anti-French and anti-Japanese forces of the VietMinh, which posed as a nationalist group but was really led by the communists under the Vietnamese revolutionary Ho Chi Minh. This was also an example of how the Allies had very different agendas. The French and the British, anxious to maintain their empires, backed the pro-French forces of Crown Prince Savang Vatthana while the United States, which opposed the reestablishment of colonial empires, gave support to the VietMinh which opposed the French as well as the Japanese. It would take quite a few years but this American policy would ultimately prove detrimental to all and most costly to the United States itself.

King Sisavang Vong
As far as all of these different factions went, the one led by Prince Phetsarath probably had the edge in terms of public sympathy. He was a zealous patriot, close to the people and much beloved. However, his cause depended on that of Japan and by the time the Japanese allowed for his cause to have a chance, their own was already lost and it was only a matter of months before Japan was forced to surrender. When that time came, the Lao Issara had nothing to do but simply wait for the inevitable French return. France had prepared a special force to participate in the war against Japan, the French East Asian Expeditionary Corps, but Japan surrendered before they arrived. Instead, they would be used in the reestablishment of French colonial authority, the suppression of dissident elements and later in the First Indochina War against the communist North Vietnamese. In 1946 the French formally returned to Vientiane and King Sisavang Vong was restored to his throne. The leadership of Lao Issara was forced to flee into exile in Thailand, including Prince Phetsarath. He would return later when Laos was starting to fall victim to communist subversion and almost certainly would have been the ideal man to defeat them, having patched things up with the King and still being extremely popular, but he died of a brain hemorrhage in 1959. He is still revered in Laos to this day, considered by some to be of almost godlike status.

King Sisavang Vong still ended up presiding over the independence of the Kingdom of Laos. The French were quick to grant Laos complete autonomy within the French union in recognition of the King’s loyalty but later they agreed to complete independence in the hope that this would save Laos from the communist contagion that was infecting Vietnam. Like his one-time prime minister Prince Phetsarath, King Sisavang Vong died in 1959, perhaps not so beloved but certainly respected by his people who had greater affection for him as time went on and so many of his predictions were proven correct. He was succeeded by his son King Savang Vatthana who would preside over a civil war in his country fought by three factions, a conflict that spilled over from the communist struggle to dominate Vietnam. When the United States pulled out of the region the communists quickly took power across Indochina and in Laos the King was deposed, replaced by a socialist dictatorship subservient to Hanoi and would die years later in a communist concentration camp.

The Kingdom of Laos emerged from World War II more unscathed than others. They came away as an independent monarchy still on very friendly terms with the former colonial power and enjoying a, sadly temporary, period of unity and peace. The two dominant royal figures of the period, the King and Prince Phetsarath, though for a time on opposite sides, were both good men who wanted the best for their country and they were ultimately reconciled. Laos was unique in that they had gained more than others from the colonial period and so looked at the war in a different way than, for example, many of their neighbors in Vietnam. Unlike Laos, Vietnam had been a united and well established independent country before the French arrived and so while the outbreak of war caused many Vietnamese to see it in terms of what they could gain, many in Laos, and certainly the King, saw it in terms of what they could lose. The misfortune of Laos was that they were at the mercy of powers far removed and beyond their control. The King was correct in judging the period of Japanese power to be only temporary but ultimately the fate of Laos would depend on the fate of the anti-communist forces fighting in Vietnam, first the French and later the Americans. They came away from World War II as a united, independent kingdom and that kingdom, while today only a memory, remains the precious dream of the Lao exile community and all those opposed to the existing communist dictatorship.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Worries for the Future of Western Civilization

I have often said in the past that I think, overall, the world is in a pretty dark place these days and that coincides quite significantly with the decline of monarchy across the globe. However, perhaps it has been hitting closer to home lately but I have become ever more distressed, irritated and increasingly radical in my views and dispositions. We are at or are fast approaching the point of critical mass for western civilization. Eastern civilization is all but gone already, it went with the Chinese Revolution of 1911 and the post-war period of de-colonization (believe it or not) so that traces of true eastern civilization only linger on in isolated places like Japan, Thailand or tiny Bhutan (and I said “linger” -tradition no longer dominates in any of them) . The internationalists have the world firmly in their grip and with the United States circling the drain, western civilization is going the same way. Of course, all monarchists know that the USA was never a pure example of western civilization, it has never had any of the high culture of Europe but that is to be expected as it is a branch rather than the tree itself. The case of the United States is one of starting out in a lower position but which did better than most in maintaining that position while the rest of the west plummeted much faster.

This may require more explanation than I have time here to detail and I can already hear the internet-outrage boiling up but, as I have pointed out to the America-bashers before, the fact is that there is not a monarchy in the world that does not directly or indirectly depend on the United States for its security. Like it or not, that is the fact of the matter and I at least am very concerned about the toppling of the United States even as a monarchist as there is practically no monarchy in the world that has chosen to use the blanket of security that America provides to build up its own strength in preparation to stand alone. That worries me. The fact is that there is practically no existing monarchy that really matters on the world stage these days. Not that many countries of any sort really do anymore. The fate of the United States is a concern even if for no other reason than that the United States still matters. As a monarchist I am concerned because there is no monarchy left that really matters anymore. That also makes me worry for western civilization as there is not a single country in Europe that really matters anymore. Russia still matters but then Russia, to many people, is not a “European” country.

Russians would be wise to ignore the sizeable community of communist traitors in their midst who are nostalgic for the “good old days” of the Soviet Union when they were a superpower. Russia is actually much stronger in many ways today than it ever was as the Soviet Union (neither have ever been as strong as Imperial Russia was at its peak under the first Nicholas). The mistakes Russia has made today are major ones that I think may have already doomed them but it is nothing like the multitude of smaller mistakes that the Soviets made on a daily basis. Putin himself is responsible for the best and the worst of what Russia is doing today. He has, at least, given Russia a chance to survive though he had to metaphorically make a deal with the devil in terms of foreign policy to do it, the Russians have a chance to take what they have been given and change direction. Putin being one of those rare leaders today who actually does, I think, want his nation to survive and be significant, has given Russia the time to have that chance to do the right thing. All depends on what the Russians do with their opportunity. If they carry on they are doomed but if they use the time Putin has purchased for them to restore the monarchy, revive traditional Russian culture and change direction on the world stage they can not only survive but become immensely successful and possibly go on to save a great many others. However, admitting that changes will need to be made will be difficult so we shall have to wait and see on that score.

Regardless of that though, the heart of western civilization and the monarchies that once guarded that are in Europe and, as I said, no European country matters anymore. Thanks to the European Union, no country matters and the continent as a whole does not matter. Those pushing the EU have always liked to talk about how there is “strength” in their unity but it should be obvious to all by now that this is a sick charade. The leaders of the EU have emasculated the countries of Europe to empower their central EU government while also making sure that Europe itself is never significant again. They are all part of the same internationalist clique. They don’t want any European country to be great because that would detract from the European Union and they don’t really want Europe to be great because they have nothing but contempt for European culture, European history and western civilization in general. Some actively want to destroy it while others are just looking out for themselves and willingly go along with those who do want to destroy it to further their own interests. Europe is being eradicated and this certainly matters and is of concern to me because that means the surviving monarchies of Europe (and those other lands that share a crown with them) will be eradicated too and those that have already fallen will have no country to be restored to.

The internationalist, revolutionary clique has taken hold of the continent and almost every country (like most of the rest of the world) is either a republic or, even if still a monarchy, has been gripped by the republican mentality. Europe is being wiped out on every level. It is being wiped out spiritually, the churches are empty and church leaders care more about “social justice” than salvation. It is being wiped out economically, Greece is just the canary in the coal mine, virtually every country is on track to go the same way. It is being wiped out demographically, native Europeans have all but stopped reproducing while the birthrate of non-Europeans is healthy and boosted by continued non-European immigration (whether legal or illegal) into the continent so that native, ancestral Europeans being wiped out in a human tidal wave of foreign cultures, peoples and religions becomes a mathematical certainty. If you think it cannot happen, go look for some Algonquians, Manchurians or Egyptians (not the Arabs, but the original folks who built the Sphinx) and then get back to me. I would say Europe is being wiped out militarily but that has pretty much already happened. After cutting their own throats in two world wars the Europeans have found that socialism is expensive. After World War II, European countries found that they could not afford both an empire and a welfare state, more recently they have learned that they cannot even afford “free” healthcare and pretty much any sort of military at all. Britain is a heart-breaking example for no matter who is in power in Westminster, the NHS just gets bigger and the royal armed forces just get smaller and smaller.

Right now, by way of that farce known as NATO, these countries depend on the United States to defend them. Similarly, they depend on Russia (and soon Iran) for their energy because the ruling elite have got so many people to buy into the “global warming” hoax and refrain from using the energy that is right under their feet. Dependencies, by their very nature, do not matter -the countries they depend on matter. Russia is happy to provide Europe energy of course, but as the Russians are not complete idiots, it comes at a price and we have already seen how uncomfortable the EU is when paying that price clashes with their own desire to expand and keep their continental Ponzi scheme afloat for a little while longer. As for depending on the United States for security, I doubt anyone who saw recently the White House bathed in rainbow colors to celebrate the imposition of gay “marriage” on the country is standing in fearful awe of the American giant anymore. The countries that do matter in the world probably rolled their eyes and had a good chuckle at that ridiculous spectacle.

So, what is to become of Europe? What is to become of the heartland of western civilization? Well, as usual, there are only two options. Either Europe continues on its present course and grows weaker and weaker until it dies completely or else it takes radical action to change direction. If it chooses to die, then it is gone and none of this matters at all anymore. Monarchy will not survive, the changes in succession laws prove that, because monarchy runs counter to the revolutionary “values” of the EU elites. If Europe dies and monarchy survives it will be monarchies that are raised up after the EU has collapsed, representing totally different peoples with totally different religions, languages and cultures. If that death does not happen, however, monarchists such as ourselves are still not in the free and clear. The EU, as stated, is firmly in the grip of the internationalist elite right now and one of the problems is that they have forbidden any reasonable debate on their position. There is a nationalist counter-movement forming across Europe in many countries but because the traditionalists are shunned or forbidden to speak or equated with the lunatic fringe when they do, the crazy club has more often than not become the only alternative many people see. These people are not monarchists though they will, for the sake of history, tradition and so on, refrain from attacking monarchs so long as those monarchs do not oppose them.

This is the danger that I see: traditionalists are blacklisted, reasonable debate is not allowed and so the only people speaking against the established system are often the unreasonable people and in many instances themselves rather unsavory and frightening organizations. Some are a bit more mainstream, like the Front National in France, but they are intensely vilified and certainly not ardent monarchists or royalists. I hear from people all the time who are being, effectively, pushed into the radical camp because they see no other alternative and because they see less and less stigma attached to being labeled “far-right” since that label is applied to virtually anyone who opposes the EU ruling class such as Geert Wilders, Joerg Haider, Jean-Marie Le Pen and Matteo Salvini among others even if they hold many decidedly non-right wing views on numerous issues and none of them are monarchists (even Wilders in the Netherlands has been very critical of the Dutch monarchy which is generally very popular). So, in short, if Europeans decide they do not want to die, I fear their only option will be to join up with some fairly extremist elements (more extreme than those above). If that happens, I do worry about what will become of the surviving monarchies in Europe.

Even among those that are not particularly anti-royalist in their views, I worry that, as things grow worse and if European peoples finally feel compelled to make such a choice, they may view their royals as part of the problem rather than the solution. After all, for all the talk of monarchs being non-political and non-partisan, what they usually mean is that a monarch is not allowed to be politically “right”, traditional, conservative or to advocate for their own position. Everyone knows perfectly well that monarchs and royals are allowed and even encouraged and celebrated to take political positions and champion certain causes so long as they are ones which the internationalist elite approves of. Things like reaching out to religious groups (provided they are not Christian), racial or sexual minorities, environmentalism or calling for something meaningless but grandly benevolent sounding like “sustainability” is all perfectly fine. Anything, however, that could be considered in any way “right-wing” is certainly not. Additionally, royals have all been brought up in this particular environment and through no fault of their own have often been taught to think a certain way. I happen to think that the current way leads to ruin and if the peoples of Europe one day decide they would rather not be ruined, I am increasingly concerned as to whether or not the remaining royals will be able to “abandon ship” before they are dragged down as well.

The micro-monarchies like Monaco and Liechtenstein have the least cause for worry. Luxembourg also seems relatively safe, though not as secure as the smaller ones. Spain seemed very secure not so long ago but today I do worry about the Spanish monarchy very much. The royals are doing their best to just do what is expected of them to remain popular but if there is a change in direction it remains to be seen which way they would choose to go. The Falange-types have been gaining a little more strength lately and while Franco was a monarchist, the Falange never was and I don’t think any great number of those that go with this crowd are royalists. Belgium gives me cause for concern though it has long been teetering on the brink. Even if the country stays together, the royals have, like most of their countrymen at the present time, taken a very pro-EU stance and if that starts to go it could mean trouble for them. The Netherlands is also very much a cause for concern to me, despite how popular the Dutch monarchy is at the present time. With those who have already shown themselves to be less than devoted to the House of Orange and the new, more ‘egalitarian’ style favored by King Willem-Alexander, I worry that they may find themselves on the wrong side of the line if things turn around.

Of the larger monarchies, the one that worries me the least is the venerable Kingdom of Denmark. As the oldest monarchy in the western world, it has the deepest roots, remains very popular and the current Queen has shown herself to be someone less than enthusiastic about many of the changes that have happened in Europe. The Crown Prince is popular and seems to be taking care to not go too far in any direction so that I think Denmark is relatively safe. Norway, on the other hand, is one that concerns me a great deal. I would expect no problems while King Harald V lives but the next generation worries me a great deal. The Crown Prince and Princess have done it all from promoting man-made global warming in Greenland (despite coming from a country in which oil production is very important) to promoting the cause of transvestites in Nepal, there is scarcely a “progressive” cause they have not taken up. It also doesn’t seem to have won them any fans on the left as members of the Labor Party have, since 2012, started joining with the Socialist Left to support abolishing the monarchy. If there is a major shift in Norway in the future, I could easily see the monarchy being viewed in a very negative way by those who would come to power.

For Sweden, I think the problem is more deeply imbedded. The King is not exactly wildly popular at the moment but Crown Princess Victoria is and most seem to content to wait for her to have her turn. However, Sweden has gone so dramatically to the left that it is hard to see how the monarchy, even purely ceremonial as it is, can survive in a country whose “values” are so diametrically opposed to it. Just as an illustration of where Sweden is, I recall when Obama was elected President of the United States, seeing a Swedish republican advertisement featuring an African actor wearing the King’s uniform accompanied by a short article basically saying that Sweden needed to get rid of the monarchy so that they could have a Black head of state some day. What exactly that would accomplish, I don’t know but I think that illustrates the mindset. The British would seem to be in a better position and I do not think there is any immediate threat, however, there is still plenty of cause for concern. The latest changes to the succession, again, I think demonstrate how there is going to be an inevitable clash between the values of egalitarianism and the institution of monarchy. I don’t see how it is avoidable. In the case of Britain, I think the Prince of Wales has been more astute than he is often given credit for, championing causes associated with both the left and the right at various times. The problem is that I don’t think that is how he is perceived. I think he is perceived more as the British version of Al Gore who thinks the sky is falling and wants to have an inter-faith coronation. It’s not true but I think that is the image in the popular mind.

I have no fear for Britain as long as the Queen lives but I think when the sad day comes that Her Majesty is called to her eternal reward there could be trouble in Britain and I am almost certain there will be trouble in numerous Commonwealth Realms. Charles may not be given a chance and even if he were to cut his own reign short in favor of William (in the manner of the King Juan Carlos of Spain) it would only be a temporary fix as making the monarchy a popularity contest can last only until you have someone unpopular who is unwilling to abdicate. However, for Britain, the royals themselves are not the primary cause for concern that I have but just the overall direction the country has been going in with the new succession law, the abolition of the House of Lords (in all but name and it could be gone in name as well in the future) and regionalism breaking up the country into insignificant mini-states that will have to be forever dependent on some larger power.

All of that being said, these are, as stated, causes of concern for me and not causes for panic. I can still hold out hope that if such a shift in public opinion occurs, the royals of Europe will manage to get out in front of it and save themselves from potential disaster. I can also only hope that the public takes on a more pro-monarchy mentality that allows for a more Japanese-like attitude that, regardless of what the royals say or do, those outside the halls of power today simply assume that the royals really agree with them and will recognize their status as being sacrosanct. There is also the possibility that no change at all in Europe occurs and everything just carries on in the direction it is currently going to its inevitable conclusion. As for most of my opinions above, I am willing to concede that I may be wrong. However, that the current path will not lead to disaster is not one of them. Everything compels me to believe that I am not wrong on that score. If you have any thoughts on the subject, feel free to share them.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Thailand in World War II

The history of the Kingdom of Thailand during World War II is not a popular or widely-known subject and, yet, it was a critical period in the story of the Thai nation and, though many miss it, the Thai monarchy in particular. Relatively few people are aware that it was the war-time regime that changed the name of the country from Siam to Thailand, that it came at a time of great upheaval and trepidation for the Thai monarchy with some wondering whether the revered institution would survive at all. Relatively few people are aware that the Kingdom of Thailand, the “Land of Smiles” was a member of the Axis, albeit a minor one, going to war with the Allies and even having its own period of wartime expansion at the expense of Laos, Cambodia, Burma and Malaysia. One thing that can be noticed (and which very long-time readers here might just recall) is that monarchies were well-represented among the Axis powers, or at least seemed to be. There was Italy, Japan, Hungary, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Manchuria, Thailand and so on. Yet, the numbers alone can be misleading. In Italy, everyone knew it was Mussolini and not the King who ruled the country. The Emperor of Japan tried to keep his distance from politics, Hungary was a monarchy in name only, with no monarch, the King of Romania supported the Allies, the King of Bulgaria tried to stay out of the conflict and the designated King of Croatia never set foot in the country. Likewise, with Thailand, the King was absent during this period and would certainly not have held much power had he been present.

Prajadhipok signs the first constitution
In order to understand the situation of Thailand in World War II, we must go back to 1932. Mussolini was already in power in Rome but Hitler had yet to assume office in Germany. The year before Japanese forces had occupied Manchuria after the famous “Mukden Incident” and in Siam, as it was known at the time, there was a coup. That alone would not be seen as very remarkable as, in the recent history of Thailand, the country has become rather known for having a coup every now and then, and usually handling them quite well compared to most other countries that have them. However, the 1932 coup in Siam was different, it was not just a coup against the government but against the monarchy; specifically, King Prajadhipok. It was led by a clique of civilian and military elites who called themselves the “People’s Party”. They were backed by a movement of people, many young and western educated people, who looked with admiration on the French and Russian Revolutions. The coup, thankfully, did not go as far as either of those horrors but it did give Siam a constitution and bring to an end about seven hundred years of absolute monarchy. King Prajadhipok, who had instituted reforms himself as soon as he came to the throne, was simply informed after the fact that a coup had taken place and he was obliged to decree the new constitution. Distressed and fearful of the personal safety of himself and his wife, within a few years he abdicated and left the country, worried that Siam was not ready for democracy. Not a few would argue that subsequent events might have proven the King correct.

There was a failed royalist counter-coup in 1933 and the fallout from that probably helped persuade the King to abdicate and leave the country in 1935. He would die in exile in England in 1941 (soon to be, officially, “enemy” soil) and was succeeded by his nephew King Ananda Mahidol, who was only nine years old. The young King of Siam was to have a troubled and tragically short life. His parents were traveling, studying and living abroad when he was born in Germany (his younger brother, the current King, was born in the United States). His father died when he was only four and, in fear of his safety, his grandmother suggested that he not return home after the 1932 coup that stripped the monarchy of its power. As such, the prince spent most of his earliest years in Switzerland. According to the new constitution, it was up to the cabinet to choose a successor to the throne when King Prajadhipok abdicated and it was they who chose Ananda Mahidol to be king, Rama VIII. Siam had, of course, not really become democratic at all but was being ruled by a select group of elites with military backing and they realized that having a child monarch who was living and studying in another continent would be no threat to their continued hold on power.

King Ananda Mahidol
With their former King living in England and their current King living in Switzerland, Siam was effectively a monarchy without a monarch. With royal absolutism having been cast aside, power in the country was up for grabs and the man who ultimately grabbed it was Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram (Phibun). He came to power in 1938, the first year that King Ananda Mahidol, at age thirteen, actually visited his country (along with his younger brother Prince Bhumibol Adulyadej), and quickly consolidated his power as leader of the government and commander of the army. King Vajiravudh had, in his time, promoted the cause of Siamese nationalism but when Phibun did the same, combining it with a cult of personality centered on himself, it seemed to take on “fascist” overtones in the eyes of most observers. His portrait was seen everywhere, portraits of the former King Prajadhipok were banned and in 1939 he changed the name of the Kingdom of Siam to the Kingdom of Thailand. Phibun ran what was, effectively, a military dictatorship and, indeed, since the 1932 coup the Thai military has been known as much for its role in politics as in national defense. The Phibun regime also began a noticeably more pro-Japanese and anti-Chinese foreign policy. Phibun was also increasingly antagonistic with the western powers while at the same time pushing his own people to adopt more western habits such as wearing western clothes and using silverware.

When World War II broke out in Europe and France came under German attack, Phibun saw an opportunity for Thai expansion. Fighting broke out on the border between French Indochina and Thailand in October of 1940 and in January of 1941 Phibun launched a full-scale invasion of Laos and Cambodia. The French colonial army was outmatched and fared poorly. Most of Laos was overrun relatively quickly and though more resistance was offered in Cambodia, the French only won a single significant victory in the Franco-Thai War before the Empire of Japan intervened and brought both sides together for peace talks in Saigon. Japan backed Thailand and as Germany backed Japan the French had little choice but to concede to most Thai demands. Border territories in southern Laos and northwest Cambodia were ceded to Thailand and soon the Vichy French regime was obliged to allow Japan to occupy Indochina. However, many Thais were more concerned than pleased over the expansion of their country. The war had earned the Phibun regime the enmity of Britain and France and left Thailand with no leverage against Japan. Phibun tried to win over the British and Americans but it was to no avail given all that had happened and the increasing Japanese military build-up in the region.

Marshal Phibun
At the end of 1941 the Empire of Japan launched its massive offensive throughout the Pacific and Southeast Asia. Japanese forces invaded Thailand but after only a few hours of fighting Phibun ordered a halt to all resistance and agreed to allow Japan to occupy Thailand in order to carry out military operations against the British in Burma and Malaysia. A military alliance was signed between the Kingdom of Thailand and the Empire of Japan, giving Japan full access to Thai military bases, road, rail and communication networks. Thailand had chosen its side and, in the wake of that initial Japanese offensive, it must have seemed that Phibun had picked a winner. Japan duly rewarded Thailand with border territory from Burma and the addition of four provinces in the south from Malaysia. In early 1942 the Thai government officially declared war on the Allied nations. Britain responded by declaring war in return while the American government responded to the news that Thailand had declared war on the United States by basically laughing, saying, “that’s cute” and ignoring them.

Actually, the internal political divisions of Thailand allowed the Allies to respond differently. The Thai ambassador in Washington DC, an aristocrat who disapproved of the Phibun regime’s alliance with Japan, refused to deliver the declaration of war and the United States refused to recognized the actions of the Phibun government as legitimate. The regent for King Ananda Mahidol had not signed the declaration of war and so, lacking royal approval, the American government considered it invalid. A “Free Thai” movement (Seri Thai) was formed to coordinate underground resistance to the Japanese. The Thai embassy in Japan actually supplied information to the American OSS (fore-runner of the CIA) and though Britain had declared war on Thailand, the British also worked with Thai exiles that opposed the Japanese occupation of their homeland. The widow of King Prajadhipok, Queen Rambai Barni, in England became a leading member of the Free Thai Movement. The internal opposition to the Phibun regime steadily increased as the glow of the initial Japanese victories dissipated and the effects of the war began to set in. There was only one major market for exports, only one source of imports (Japan in both cases), the economy went into nosedive and Allied aircraft were soon bombing Bangkok. Those in the underground at least also knew what the war situation was, that the Allies were pushing forward and nowhere were the Japanese able to stop their steady advance.

The King in 1938
In late 1942 there was actually a small skirmish between Thai villagers and Japanese troops. Japan dispatched a new commander for the garrison in Thailand and began making an effort to improve relations but, of course, as the war situation worsened for Japan this became increasingly difficult. The Empire of Japan had established the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” as the framework for what they expected a post-war Asia to look like after a Japanese victory and it became the centerpiece of the Japanese justification for the conflict, the realization of their goal to destroy colonialism and eradicate the White race in Asian lands. However, as conditions became worse for Japan, tensions arose between the government, which wanted to foster pan-Asian unity, and the military which wanted Japan and the Japanese war effort to have priority. The government did not want to squeeze occupied lands too much and risk creating an anti-Japanese backlash, however, many in the military not unjustly reasoned that Japan was the one actually fighting the war and so the needs of Japan should come before all else. In Thailand, Phibun began to realize that he was bound to a country that was certain to lose and relations between his government and Japan began to cool as the war dragged on. At the same time, Phibun tried to win Allied good will by such actions as releasing Chinese prisoners being held in Thailand.

It was to no avail as in 1944 the National Assembly removed Phibun from power, taking their example from the removal of Mussolini the previous year. The next prime minister pledged public support for Japan but in private backed the Free Thai Movement. Free Thai forces made plans and preparations for a massive uprising against the Japanese in 1945 but the atomic bombings and subsequent unconditional surrender of Japan prevented this. British-Indian troops moved in to occupy Thailand and take the surrender of Japanese forces in the country and Thailand was forced to return the territory they had gained by allying with Japan. Phibun was arrested and, under pressure from the Allies, put on trial for collaboration with the Axis powers. However, he was acquitted and in 1948, following another coup, actually became prime minister again, renewing his anti-Chinese campaign which was much more popular with the Allies that it had been before. Overall, there was some division over how to deal with Thailand since, while Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand etc had declared war on the country, the United States had not and while the British and Commonwealth countries wanted punishing terms on Thailand, the United States opposed these. As such, America made no demands on Thailand while the kingdom had to negotiate separate peace treaties with the U.K. and Australia, including reparations (in the form of rice shipments) to Malaysia.

King Ananda Mahidol
Finally, in December of 1945 the young King Ananda Mahidol was able to visit his country again and was soon back to stay. He was immediately hugely popular, being untainted by involvement in the war and as such could be a focus for unity for both the pro-Japanese and pro-Allied factions. He made a major impact in calming ethnic tensions by visiting the Chinese section of Bangkok as during the Phibun regime and Japanese occupation the Chinese minority in Thailand had been singled out for exclusion and vilification. However, the reign of the beloved young king was not to last long as the following year he was found dead with a gunshot wound in the palace. Officially the cause of death was announced as accidental suicide but mystery and speculation about the death of King Ananda Mahidol rose up quickly and has never completely gone away. He was succeeded on the throne by his younger brother, King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great, who went on to become one of the most revered and beloved monarchs in all of Thai history. Later, after the next coup by Phibun, a Thai court ruled that the late King had been assassinated though those accused of the crime were not found guilty and no one has ever been punished for the supposed crime. The only survivor of the event is the current King who has always held to his opinion that it was simply a tragic accident.

World War II was a critical period for Thailand. The power of the monarchy had been shaken by the 1932 coup, a king had abdicated and left the country in fear of his life. Siam, soon to be Thailand, rushed to become like other countries but the result was a military dictatorship followed by a succession of governments dominated by political in-fighting and one coup after another, a cycle which still continues today. Thailand has never known the sort of order that existed before 1932 to date. Phibun gained no small amount of popularity for his actions during the war and expanding the territory of Thailand. Given some of his actions, a few historians have speculated that he might have done away with the monarchy had events unfolded differently. As it was, Thailand suffered considerably from the war but still emerged better off than most would have expected. Despite being an enemy of the victorious Allies, Thailand was not harshly punished, its leaders were not prosecuted and it maintained its independence. The arrival of the handsome, young King after the war was like a savior returning to his people. The hardships of military rule as well as the chaos and often criminality of the civilian regimes inadvertently worked together to make the monarchy more revered and even more politically critical than anyone around in 1932 would have thought possible. Even while Thailand remains a constitutional monarchy, the King has been able to wield considerably more influence than any other national leader because he alone is regarded as being concerned with Thailand as a whole rather than himself or a particular faction. Thailand entered World War II with the monarchy at its lowest point but it ultimately emerged from the conflict and post-war chaos as strong as it had ever been.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Monarch Profile: King George II of Great Britain & Ireland

The second British monarch of the House of Hanover, George II was the sort of king that probably would have been much more popular had he reigned at a different time. In time he would be hated by some, respected by others but rarely ever loved by his subjects to any great degree. He was born in Hanover, Germany in 1683 and was part of what would be a Hanoverian family tradition from the start; antagonism. His parents separated and Prince George probably never saw his mother again after around the age of ten. His father, later Elector of Hanover and King George I of Great Britain, did not get along with his son (again, something of a tradition for the Hanoverians) and never missed an opportunity to insult, belittle and exclude him. Still, in spite of this adversity, he grew up to be a strong and fit young man of sound intelligence if no great curiosity. Until he was four he spoke only French, thereafter learned German and would eventually speak passable English and Italian as well. He was diligent though not devout in his religion but was most interested in genealogy and anything related to the military, which was well enough as he was given a very military-centric education.

After Queen Anne came to the British throne, with no surviving children, the succession laws were altered to ensure that a Catholic could not succeed to the throne, which meant that the rest of the Stuarts were disinherited and Prince George of Hanover suddenly became a future heir to the British throne. In 1705 he was made a British subject and invested with the Order of the Garter the following year and made Duke of Cambridge along with a number of other noble titles. Also in 1705 he married Princess Caroline of Ansbach, a wife of his own choosing. Despite a number of infidelities during his married life, he probably always loved Caroline best and she had a very strong though subtle hold on him from that time forward. She was a big, flirtatious blonde who was very clever, very outgoing and very interested in advancing her own power and influence which she was able to do masterfully. George was so devoted to Caroline that he caught smallpox from her in 1707, after the birth of their first child, when he refused to leave her side. Thankfully, both recovered and, having secured the succession, Prince George had the joy of finally going to war, fighting in the Battle of Oudenarde with the great Marlborough in the War of the Spanish Succession. “Corporal John” gave the Prince high marks for his service in combat though George’s father did nothing but belittle it.

In 1714 the Stuart Queen Anne passed away and the Hanoverians came to England to take up the British throne with the coronation of King George I. As in Hanover, the new Prince of Wales was excluded from the halls of power by his father and not given anything to do of any significant importance. When he proved more popular than his father the situation did not improve and George I actually separated his son from his children, later allowing him to visit his children only once a week. Naturally, Prince George began to associate with the King’s political enemies and the rift between him and his father only widened. They remained bitter and unreconciled until George I died in 1727, in Hanover, and his son became King George II of Great Britain & Ireland. He didn’t even attend his father’s funeral but no one in England seemed to hold it against him. Prior to his accession, George II had become very disgusted with politics and to the extent that he did involve himself in government it was mostly in the directions that Queen Caroline advised. He was more interested in battles, buttons and regimental uniforms than he was in politics.

Like his own father, he carried on the tradition of having a very poor relationship with his son, Frederick, Prince of Wales, who he had left behind in Germany when he came to England and did not see again for more than a decade. When the Prince came to England he was immediately scooped up by the King’s political opposition which did no good for peace in the family. After an intense quarrel broke out when George II refused to give his son more money, the Prince of Wales and his family were banished from court. Not long after, Queen Caroline died which depressed George II greatly. Famously, on her deathbed, the Queen urged her husband to marry again after she was gone to which the sobbing George II replied, “No, I shall only have mistresses!” These mistresses were invariably German and during his reign King George II became ever more focused on German affairs which did nothing to help his popularity in England. The political establishment generally supported him for staying out of their affairs and essentially allowing the masters of Parliament to govern the country but while he might not have been seen as a hated figure, he was increasingly seen as target for mockery and grumbling. What King George II most wished for was a good war and he was finally to have one, though at one point the war spread a little too close to home for his comfort.

The King actually got out in front of his government in supporting the Archduchess of Austria and Queen of Hungary, Maria Theresa, in the War of the Austrian Succession in his capacity as Elector of Hanover. He was convinced that a Hapsburg defeat would allow France to threaten Hanover and possibly dominate Europe though it was a struggle to get the British government to go along. The King had also been thwarted in his efforts to reform and strengthen the British army which Parliament always wanted to downsize. When war came, King George II was in his element and famously led British troops (as part of a wider coalition) to victory over the French at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743. This would be the last time that a reigning British monarch led his troops personally on the battlefield though it did not result in the boost to his popularity that most might have expected. Most viewed it as essentially a war between Prussia and Austria, a German affair that no Englishman should have to risk his life or his pocketbook for. In the end, peace was finally settled but not before an off-shoot of the conflict nearly cost King George II his British throne.

In an effort to bedevil the British on the cheap, the King of France backed another rebellion in Scotland by the Jacobites (loyalists of the House of Stuart) to force George II back to Hanover and restore the (Catholic and pro-French) Stuarts to the British throne. There had been an earlier Jacobite rising in 1715 but it had been crushed in its infancy with little difficulty. The 1745 uprising would be a different matter even after King Louis backed out from sending support. Under the dynamic leadership of “Bonnie Prince Charlie”, grandson of the late King James II, the Jacobites came fairly close to success despite having all of the odds heavily stacked against them. Often portrayed as a war between Scotland and England, it was actually much more complicated than that. The mostly Protestant lowland Scots were firmly Hanoverian in sympathy and while loyalty to the Stuarts was more widespread in the Catholic highlands, it was by no means universal. Likewise, there were Irish and English volunteers who fought for the Stuart cause just as there were Scots who fought for “German Georgie” (as the Jacobites tended to call him).

The Bonnie Prince and his Jacobites, in their plaids and kilts with white roses in their bonnets, occupied Edinburgh, won a surprising victory at Prestonpans over General John Cope and then invaded England, very nearly reaching London where George II had ships prepared to take him to Hanover if the need should arise. However, aside from a few hundred volunteers, England did not rally to the Prince as he had promised his chieftains they would. Most Englishmen neither loved nor hated George II with any great passion and were content to ‘wait and see’ how events would unfold. If the Prince was victorious, they would cheer his arrival and say “good riddance” to George of Hanover but if he should lose, they were content to go on with business as usual and no one wanted to risk backing a loser and being condemned as traitors. With the odds so heavily stacked against the Jacobites, most Englishmen wouldn’t risk backing him until he won another great victory and that chance would never come as the Scottish chieftains overruled their Prince and marched back to Scotland. They won another victory over General Hawley at Falkirk but continued to retreat until their ragged remnant was crushed at the Battle of Culloden by the King’s son the Duke of Cumberland in 1746. King George II and the House of Hanover was secure on the British throne and would never be so troubled again.

With the end of the war, King George II was forced to return to his peacetime routine of family quarrels and political headaches until the outbreak of the French and Indian War in America over control of the Ohio Country. This later merged into what is known in Europe as the Seven Years’ War starting in 1756 between Prussia, Britain, some minor German states and Portugal on one side and France, Austria, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Saxony on the other (with various Native American tribes and the Mughal Empire of India also joining in the contest). This was to prove a critical time for the future of the British Empire and a decisive moment in the long-standing feud with France. However, King George II was not to play a major part in it. The Duke of Cumberland, his favorite son, proved an incompetent commander when faced with professional armies rather than half-starved Scots armed with swords, and while George II was mostly concerned with Hanover and wished to focus on Europe, his government moved to focus on the war in America. The result was a victory that would determine the fate of North America with French Canada falling to the British though at the same time setting the stage for the American War for Independence.

The war was a great victory and made Britain a major imperial power, however, King George II would not live to see the final defeat of his nemesis King Louis XV of France. Half blind and almost deaf, the 76-year old monarch died at Kensington Palace on October 25, 1760 and the throne passed to his grandson King George III. He had never been a very popular monarch. He was certainly more popular as Prince of Wales but even then was seen as something of a foreign oddity and after coming to the throne he seemed to become ever more like his father, ever more hateful toward his children and ever more obsessed with German affairs. His lack of concern for affairs in Britain allowed the grip of Parliament to be strengthened at the expense of the monarchy, a trend which started with the downfall of the Stuarts and coincided with the rise in status of the King’s prime minister and the way the monarch was increasingly seen as an unnecessary part of government. Still, any proud native of the British isles could not say that the reign of King George II had been all that bad with the numerous victories in war and expansion of the British Empire in North America, the Caribbean and India that these brought about. Perhaps it was simply that, at the end of the day, George II was still seen as a German prince who just happened to be King of Great Britain. It was not until the reign of his grandson that the House of Hanover gave Britain a thoroughly British monarch.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Cambodia in World War II

The Second World War came to Cambodia at the end of the reign of King Sisowath Monivong when the country was under the colonial rule of France as part of French Indochina. King Sisowath Monivong had given the French little cause for complaint, he had even been quite helpful to the French cause in the First World War and held rank in the French army. With the outbreak of war in Europe, there seemed to be no immediate cause for alarm in Cambodia, however as France was defeated and largely occupied by Nazi Germany, the worsening situation for France meant that Indochina was a tempting target for neighboring enemies. In 1940 the Kingdom of Thailand, under the dictator Plaek Pibulsonggram (Phibun), decided to take advantage of French misfortune and attack Indochina in order to gain certain border territories that Thailand had long thought should belong to them. The French colonial forces were outmatched in every way and quickly driven from Laos though they put up more determined resistance in Cambodia. In 1941 the Empire of Japan intervened, using their alliance with Nazi Germany to exert pressure on the Vichy regime in unoccupied France. The French, Japanese and Thais met in Saigon and arranged a peace that was favorable to Thailand, giving the Thais control of the territories they wanted, most of which were in Cambodia.

King Monivong
That same year, in August, the Japanese occupied Cambodia with about 8,000 troops. The Vichy regime had, under pressure from Germany, allowed Japan to occupy Indochina and establish bases there. The immediate reason for this was to cut off supplies going to the nationalist forces in China that Japan had been in an undeclared war with for many years. Before the year was out, however, they would be used to launch attacks on all neighboring countries. At the outset, and for most of the war, the Japanese allowed the French colonial regime to remain in place. King Monivong, however, was increasingly distressed by the course of events unfolding around him. In the French colonial empire, things had been stable for the monarchy and Cambodia had progressed in technical areas while suffering relatively little unrest. The increasingly dominant position of the Japanese worried the King as their intervention had cost his country a great deal of territory. Their support helped ensure that Thailand would not oppose the Japanese invasion of their own country and the use of Thailand in attacking Malaysia, however, for the King of Cambodia it had certainly not been beneficial and could result in the loss of his throne if the Japanese were to go further in supporting historic Thai claims over Laos and Cambodia.

Reports came to the King from the border provinces of Cambodians being oppressed and mistreated by the Thais and Japanese but King Monivong was powerless to do anything about it. The French were still in control but the Japanese were effectively in control of them and the French were not about to do anything to anger Japan and risk being treated like every other European population in the Japanese-occupied territories. Full of sorrow and frustration for the state of his country, King Monivong washed his hands of his mostly ceremonial position in government and retired to Kampot. Not long after, he died on April 24, 1941 in Bokor. He was supposed to be succeeded by his son Prince Sisowath Monireth but the French thought that Prince Norodom Sihanouk would be more loyal to their interests and enthroned him instead as the new King of Cambodia on May 3, 1941. For the next few years, Cambodia was relatively calm though, like the rest of Indochina, it had to bear a double burden with the French and Japanese to support. The young King Norodom Sihanouk spent most of his time on sporting activities with the occasional tour of the countryside, waiting for events to unfold.

King Sihanouk
Unlike neighboring Vietnam, which saw a potential for gain in these years of Japanese triumph, Laos and Cambodia saw only that what they had lost due to the Japanese-Thai alliance. While a Japanese victory could mean the reunification of Vietnam, it would make permanent the territorial losses to Thailand by Laos and Cambodia. The way the French and Japanese cooperated with each other also made them reluctant to believe the Japanese racial rhetoric of “Asia for the Asians” and more susceptible to the views put out by the small but growing communist movement that both the French and the Japanese were their enemies. Yet, the relationship between the French and Japanese was never cordial and the superior status taken by the Japanese encouraged dissent toward the French. During the occupation, a Buddhist monk named Hem Chieu began preaching nationalist, anti-French sermons to troops of the French colonial army in Cambodia. The French suspected the monk of being supported by the Japanese and they had him arrested. This, in turn, sparked a large anti-French demonstration in Phnom Penh led by Pach Chhoeun who was arrested and exiled.

Also among the prominent demonstrators was Son Ngoc Thanh who would have a long history as a republican rebel in Cambodia. He was an admirer of Japan and the pan-Asian movement with a long history of supporting what he termed “National Socialism”. When the demonstration was broken up, he fled to Japan but would be back in due time as a long-standing enemy of King Sihanouk. Of course, after the initial offensive in late 1941 and early 1942, things went from bad to worse for the Empire of Japan. The year 1942 saw the Imperial Japanese Navy suffer a crippling defeat at the Battle of Midway followed by the horrific defeat at the Battle of Guadalcanal. Allied counter-offensives throughout 1943 were fiercely resisted but everywhere victorious and 1944 saw the Japanese invasion of India end in total failure and the near collapse of Japanese forces in the region. The British-led offensive into Burma made steady progress so that the fall of Thailand and Indochina seemed to be inevitable. By 1945 the Allies had taken or were in the process of taking Borneo, The Philippines and were approaching the Japanese home islands. The situation was desperate and Japan tried to make a last-minute effort to gain more local support by sponsoring declarations of independence for the occupied countries of French Indochina.

Kingdom of Kampuchea flag
By this time, the Vichy regime in France had collapsed and the Governor-General of Indochina, Admiral Jean Decoux, had transferred his allegiance to the provisional government of the French Republic. Starting in March of 1945 the Imperial Japanese Army began moving troops into position near French garrison towns and barracks. On March 9, they struck, surrounding the French troops and ordering them to lay down their weapons or be killed. Most surrendered, those that did not (as well as some who did) were massacred. Most of the French commanders were massacred with two top colonial generals in Saigon being beheaded when they refused to sign the surrender. A little under 6,000 French colonial troops managed to make their way to China to join the nationalists and these were the only ones to escape. All other French survivors, military and civilian, were put in concentration camps while the local leaders in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam were “informed” that the time had come to declare independence.

King Sihanouk decided to cooperate and seize this opportunity to assert Khmer independence, even though the Japanese did not entirely trust him as he was thought to be too friendly with the French. Perhaps in an effort to keep the King in check, the Japanese brought Son Ngoc Thanh back from Japan and installed him as Minister of Foreign Affairs and then a couple of months later as Prime Minister. The Latin-style written version of the Khmer language was abolished in favor of the old script and the country was renamed from the Kingdom of Cambodia to the Kingdom of Kampuchea. However, the regime did not have long to live as the war situation was rapidly worsening for Japan. In August of 1945 the Empire of Japan surrendered to the Allies and the collapse of the Kingdom of Kampuchea was only a matter of time. That time officially ran out in October as Allied forces (mostly British-Indian troops) moved in to disarm the Japanese and take their surrender. With the Allied victory the French in Indochina were liberated and returned to power (at least in those areas where the British rather than the Chinese oversaw the Japanese surrender). The French Far East Expeditionary Corps, formed to fight the Japanese, arrived too late to fight Japan but served to restore French authority in the region.

Son Ngoc Thanh
Some Cambodians who wanted to carry on the fight for independence fled to the northwest provinces that had been ceded to Thailand to carry on a guerilla war against the French with Thai support. However, they splintered due to internal disagreements and ultimately proved to be of little consequence. The territories that had been ceded to Thailand from Cambodia and Laos because of the Franco-Thai War were ultimately returned after France threatened to block the entry of Thailand into the United Nations unless the provinces were given back. Son Ngoc Thanh was arrested by the French for collaborating with the Japanese and exiled to France under house arrest. However, he later returned after his nemesis, King Sihanouk, was deposed in an anti-communist military coup that established a republican government in Cambodia, becoming Prime Minister for a short time starting in 1972. Following the American withdrawal from South Vietnam and the communist takeover in 1975 he was executed by the Khmer Rouge.

King Norodom Sihanouk mastered the events of World War II quite adeptly. He had gone along with the Japanese declaration of independence but never burned his bridges with the French. However, he used his position at the end of the war, when the Japanese were returning home, to extract considerable concessions from the French to make the return of the colonial regime go more smoothly. The result was that the French agreed to autonomy for Cambodia within the French Union. While Vietnam descended into division and civil war, life in Cambodia remained relatively stable and a period of bountiful rice harvests after the war led to a time of prosperity that was attributed to the semi-divine status of King Sihanouk who became more popular than ever, particularly after the granting of total independence from France for the Kingdom of Cambodia after the end of the French Indochina War. Despite being, briefly but officially, on the losing side in World War II, King Sihanouk had emerged from the conflict as a clear winner.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Day the Bomb Fell

It was August 6, 1945 that the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Even today, when there is little about World War II that is considered open to debate, it remains a controversial topic. Some regard it as an act of barbaric cruelty, a vindictive massacre of innocents against an already all but defeated enemy. Others consider it a harsh but justifiable war measure that saved more lives in the long run by forcing Japan to surrender and ending the war before the planned Allied invasion of the main Japanese islands. As with much of history, if looked at honestly, both of these sides have valid points. The American point of view at the time was simple and clear cut: the U.S. and Japan are at war, the Japanese have refused to surrender, using the bomb will remove all doubt as to the hopelessness of their situation and deploying the weapon will save the lives of huge numbers of American military personnel who would otherwise have to invade the Japanese home islands. The Japanese side is more complicated because, as with so much of the war, there was no unity. Some in Japan knew that the war was lost (and some knew it had been for some time) and already wanted to surrender. Yet, there were others who were determined to go on fighting even if it meant the total annihilation of their country. In fact, more than a few wished to carry on fighting even after both atomic bombs had been dropped.

What cannot be denied by anyone was that the atomic attacks were horrific and whether one considers them justified or unjustifiable, they were certainly cruel. Of course, so was the conflict as a whole. The conventional bombing of Japanese cities had already taken a devastating toll on the country and far more died in that way than were killed in the nuclear attacks. Japan had also done the same, bombing and shelling civilian areas in the course of the war. One reason why no one was convicted of war crimes for bombing civilians after the war was that both sides had done it and the Allies had to recognize that they were just as or even more culpable in that regard as the Axis. Yet, there were also limits that both sides adopted. Neither the Axis or the Allies ever resorted to the use of chemical weapons and as both sides were capable of employing such weapons it would have been needlessly cruel to do so as neither would have gained a clear advantage in their use. World War I was the example of that. That war also saw an international outcry about the unrestricted use of submarine warfare. The United States was the most vociferous in condemning the unrestricted submarine warfare policy of Germany and yet, in World War II, the United States waged unrestricted submarine warfare against Japan from the very outset. There again was a case of both sides using tactics that they had at one time criticized when done by the “other” side.

Having often talked to people in and from Japan, I have often been asked my own opinion on the use of the atomic bomb and it is a difficult question to answer. I am rather repelled by those who seem to take a simplistic view of it and take for granted that it was either absolutely right or absolutely wrong. It is far too terrible a thing to take lightly or adopt a knee-jerk reaction to without serious thought. Originally, my point of view reflected that of most people around me. It was a terrible thing but it had to be done to end the war. “They started it, we finished it” was a phrase I often heard. Later, however, I took the opposite view after learning about Japanese efforts to make peace which long pre-dated the nuclear attack and of the numerous and often very prominent American military leaders who were critical of the decision. Anyone who would be quick to adopt the Allied position without thinking would also do well to really read and understand the details of the attack. If you can read that and not be horrified by the gruesome, catastrophic suffering of so many truly innocent people, well, I think you need to turn in your membership card for the human race. Fairly early on, it also seemed to me that even if one could justify the attack on Hiroshima, the subsequent attack on Nagasaki, coming so soon after the first, was totally despicable and unjustified.

However, I did still more thinking and had more internal unrest on the issue. In a war, the object is to destroy the enemy, to kill or be killed and would not the American President have been guilty before his own country and those of the other Allied powers if huge numbers of their troops had been killed in an invasion of Japan that he could have prevented by the use of atomic weapons? And there were, as stated, those in Japan who were determined to fight on even after both atomic bombs were dropped and who were prepared to kill their own leaders and even make their own august Emperor a prisoner in order to spare their pride from surrender. Also to be considered is the fact that, like the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany, the Japanese also had their own atomic bomb project and were working toward obtaining a nuclear weapon of their own. Would they have invested so much in such a project if they never intended to use such a weapon on the United States, Australia or any other Allied power they were capable of striking? Further, I can easily see the point that if you have a weapon of overwhelming power that would enable you to destroy the enemy and so save the lives of countless numbers of your own people, it would seem almost cruel not to use it. One can also reasonably ask why the method of killing is more important than the killing itself. More civilians were killed in the conventional bombing attacks so why is it morally worse to use nuclear weapons to end the war rather than to continue on with the conventional bombing campaign, costing far more lives?

I do have a position on the issue though, as I hope I have demonstrated, it is not necessarily unchangeable. The atomic bombing was a horrific event that I hope I never become so insensitive to as to not have doubts and questions about. Currently, in any event, my position is that the use of atomic weapons was acceptable in theory but unjustifiable in fact. In theory, I say, drop the bomb if it means ending the war quickly and saving the lives of your people. The other side would do the same if they were able to. However, given the facts that existed in August of 1945, I do not see how it was absolutely necessary to do so. I know the invasion of Japan would have been very costly and even more so for the Japanese than the Allied nations. However, why did the Allies have to invade Japan at all? Why is it taken for granted that such a thing had to happen? After all, Germany came very close to winning World War I without ever giving the slightest thought to invading Britain itself because the submarine campaign was so successful. In World War II, by August of 1945 the Allies held complete naval and air supremacy over and around Japan. There were practically no Japanese air defenses left and the Imperial Japanese Navy had long been wiped out. A total blockade of the Japanese islands would have eventually forced a surrender without endangering the life of a single Allied soldier. It would have taken resources and patience but no great sacrifice of lives to have done that.

Supporters of Japan, however, must realize that, being engaged in a war that was clearly hopeless, ultimately it was the Japanese leadership that bore responsibility for the suffering of the people in that country and there would have been plenty of death and suffering if the atomic bombs had not been used. A blockade would have brought a rapidly increasing breakdown in Japanese society. There would have been rampant starvation, suffering from the elements because of a lack of resources and widespread disease from insufficient food, shelter and all the modern conveniences that go along with an industrial society that requires resources Japan did not possess. There could have been even more conventional bombing but even if that had been stopped as well, there would have been a slow death that likely would have prompted ugly internal unrest, even revolution. Admiral Mitsumasa Yonai said, “It may be inappropriate to put it in this way, but the atomic bombs and the Soviet entry into the war are, in a sense, God’s gifts. Now we can end the war without making it clear that we have to end the war because of the domestic situation. I have long been advocating the conclusion, not because I am afraid of the enemy’s attacks or because of the atomic bombs or the Soviet participation in the war; the most important reason is my concern over the domestic situation.” Although not often remembered today, there were those at the time who felt that being defeated by superior forces was a more honorable end to the conflict than disloyalty, unrest and revolution.

The bottom line, of course, is that Japan was fighting a war that could not be won and the suffering was going to be great until the Japanese leadership admitted defeat and surrendered. Personally, I think the Allied demand for unconditional surrender for all Axis powers was a bad decision. It never made sense to me why you would want to make it harder for your enemy to give up but, that decision having been made, the war and misery was going to go on for as long as the Japanese leadership refused to surrender. The use of nuclear weapons in bringing that about was, to my mind, unnecessary though it can be theoretically justified and, under different circumstances, could have been necessary. But, that inevitably leads back to my overall view that the war itself was unnecessary and should never have happened. The Allies should not have been antagonizing Japan and the Japanese should not have launched attacks that unquestionably doomed their empire (and which guaranteed the defeat of all the Axis powers for that matter). The antagonism arose over the Sino-Japanese war in which Japan had no clear goal in mind and which was being waged against the wrong party in China anyway.

If some readers think that the atomic bombings were justified or unjustified, I really have no problem with either position. Whether you agree or disagree with my current thinking on the subject matters to me not at all. I do hope, however, that all who hold an absolute view of the question would give the other side, whichever it is, some consideration. The suffering, the misery and the horror, which lasted for years, is far too immense to be taken lightly or to have no questions about it at all. Whether you blame the United States for using the bomb or blame the Japanese government for not surrendering long before when there was clearly no chance of success, the victims and what they endured should be remembered regardless and the issue is one that should be considered with fear and trembling, not jingoism or self-righteous bravado.
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