|Thai military unit given honors by US forces
|British SAS in the Malaya Emergency
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
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
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
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
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
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
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