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.
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|
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|