20 February: The Vichy regime of Admiral Decoux & the Buddhist Institute 1941-1945
The Vichy regime of Admiral Decoux
& the Buddhist Institute 1940-1945
20 February 2014
• Tully, see chap. 18 & 19, Chandler, chap. 9, V.M.
Reddi, chap. 2 & 3
• Milton Osborne, Sihanouk: Prince of Light, Prince of
Darkness, Silkworm Books, 1994, chap. 3
• History of Southeast Asia (1824-1965), Joginder Singh
Jessy, Longman, 1985.
• Une Colonisation éducatrice ? L’expérience indochinoise
(1860-1945) Pascale Besançon, 3e Partie, chap. 3: ‘La
Politique scolaire vichyste’, L’Harmattan, 2002
• Philip Short, Pol Pot, the History of a Nightmare, John
• Nhiek Tioulong, Chroniques khmères, 1980s
• & French military tribunal archives at Le Blanc, Indre.
Prelude : Norodom Sihanouk: 1941-1945
• As David Chandler pointed out in his The Tragedy of
Cambodian History (Yale University Press, 1991), “for the first
four years of his reign, Sihanouk was a pliant monarch and a
willing pupil” (15).
• Milton Osborne, in his biography of the King wrote
exactly the same thing: “The essential feature of Sihanouk’s life
was his readiness to play the part the French planned for him. For
more than three years he was subservient to the French in all the
public issues that counted” (30).
• In particular, at the time of the first demonstration for
independence on 20th July 1942, he did not raise his
eyebrows and allowed some 20 Cambodians (200 for Ben
Kiernan! How Pol Pot Came to Power, 44) to be arrested and
dragged to a military court in Saigon.
Sihanouk, the consumate diplomat
• This meant that he behaved exactly like his two
predecessors, Sisowath and Monivong and was on
very friendly terms with the French administrators
• Besides, he was an attentive pupil of his private
tutors and perfected his wonderful French, as if he
had lived many years in the metropolis. “AmédéePhilippe de Boysson, de famille noble, enseigne de vaisseau de
1ère classe” (Souvenirs doux & amères, p. 61).
• Young Sihanouk learnt from the French upper class
tutors and advisors his perfect manners and
etiquette that later made him the consummate
diplomat on the international scene.
Sihanouk & diplomas
• One must also be well aware that at the time, Sihanouk
was only a schoolboy and then a very young man and he
learnt certainly very quickly the business of
government, but he had no diploma to show for this.
Probably, that was later to give him a sort of inferiority
complex in comparison to Cambodian students fresh
from French Universities in the Sangkum period.
• They were straightaway given ministerial responsibilities
for which they had not much competence, the most
notorious being Khieu Samphân.
• Sihanouk was trained on the job – but trained
nevertheless and it was quite normal for him to take four
years to be in a position to act more independently from
his French mentors.
Sihanouk‟s in-house training
• In other words Decoux‟s astute move to put aside
Sisowath Monireth proved wise only for the next four year
period. From a French viewpoint, Decoux‟s choice was to
prove not so wise, at least in the longer run and at least
since the Japanese coup de force on 8th March 1945.
• Similarly, when the French advised the young King to
tour the country, a habit Sihanouk maintained throughout
the Fifties and Sixties – if not the Nineties – that
contributed to the monarch‟s popularity and gave him
that trump card during his Royal Crusade for
Elections & coronation
• Monivong died at Bokor on 23rd April 1941 & Norodom
Sihanouk was immediately chosen by Decoux who
dispatched to the Res. Sup in PPenh that this was the
French Government‟s choice because “the election of Prince
Sihanouk will unite in the person of the new monarch the two
branches of the Royal Family of Cambodia, that of the
Norodoms, from his father’s side, and that of the Sisowaths, on his
mother’s side.” Suramarit was the son of Prince Sutharot
(1872-1945), himself a son of Norodom (1836-1904).
• On 3rd may, it was it formal investiture and he received
his royal titles. The day of the official grand coronation is
fixed by astrologists on 28th October, before the young
Monarch‟s 19th birthday on 31st October.
Family tree of Norodom Sihanouk
Le Palais du Roi du cambodge, Julio Jeldres, 2002
Prince of Light, Prince of Darkness, Milton Osborne
Prince Sisowath Monireth (1909-1975-76),
eldest son of King Monivong (1876-1941)
• « Sihanouk is the nephew that I cherish most, and the
son of my loving sister. I cannot say anything. (Je n’ai
rien à dire). But let no one come and tell me that he has
been chosen solely because he unites the two branches in
his own person . Because I myself too am directly born
of the two branches. I am indeed called Sisowath and is
not my mother (Kan Yuman-Kan Viman,-18761912) an authentic Princess, a daughter of King
Norodom ?” (1836-1904)
I - The New Order in Southeast Asia
& the Japanese occupation
• In July 1940, Governor General Raoul Catroux slipped
away into the maquis to join the Gaullists & was replaced
by the « collaborationist » Admiral Jean Decoux that was
to remain à la barre de l’Indochine until the 9th march 1945
• September 1941, Decoux allowed the Japanese army
• In Europe, Hitler had launched the crazy “Operation
Barbarossa” against the USSR on 22nd June 1941. It led
to the combined German and Russian losses of
16,8500,00; while the losses of World War I had been
around 8 million. Shortly before, Stalin had purged
between 30 and 40,000 of his best and most experienced
The Japanese in Southeast Asia
• Plans for New Order in Southeast Asia were
formulated by the Japanese government in the
closing months of 1941 and early 1942.
• Apart from Thailand and Indochina, which had
signed treaties with Japan, the other countries of
the region were to be brought under the complete
military, political, economic and cultural domination
• Initially these countries were to be brought under
military administration, which would gradually
transfer its authority to local organs of selfgovernment.
Japanese brand of liberation
• For example in Malaysia, all the power throughout
the country was held by the military and through it
by the dreaded Kempeitai or military police. The
Kempeitai, that came under the direct control of
Tojo, the Prime Minister, was given powers unheard
of in any imperial regime. These included the right
to arrest, and investigate by torture or other vicious
and inhuman methods.
• Those methods soon alienated the admiration that
the local people once lavished on the Japanese as
their liberators from Western colonial rule. The
atrocities of the Japanese army during the initial
invasion of Malaysia and Singapore and the ferocity
of the Kempeitai will always remain a painful
memory for those people.
The Co-Prosperity Sphere
• This meant firstly that these regions would supply
food and raw materials that were needed to feed the
Japanese armies and supply industries (for
Cambodia it was a lot of rice, for instance); and
secondly act as markets for Japanese manufactured
• In Malaysia, the Japanese failed to keep the tin
mines and rubber estates in operation, while the
economic life of the people was brought to the
brink of utter ruin by black-marketing, corruption
and inflation. On top of that, the Allied Forces
imposed a maritime blockade on the peninsula and
the very idea of a “Co-Prosperity Sphere” became a
big joke or a farce.
The Pacific War
• The Japanese had declared war on the Allies on 8th
December 1941 with the surprise attack on Pearl
Harbor. By mid-1942, Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma
and the Philippines had come under the direct
control of the Japanese army.
• Although there were 35,000 Japanese troops
throughout Indochina and 8,000 in Cambodia, the
French were very much left to themselves to
manage the local administration, while the Japanese
had taken the security in hand. The Japanese were
stationed at a few strategic centres, so that there was
almost no contact between them and the local
population. In fact, Indochina was the only country
in Southeast Asia which remained under colonial
Admial Decoux‟s policies
• Admiral Decoux tried his best to retain the goodwill
of the people. He set up an “Indochinese
Federation”. Its members were given a greater
autonomy than in the old Indochinese Union, while
the rulers of Annam, Cambodia and Luang Prabang
were given greater prestige and a little more power.
Public works were begun on a large scale and new
schools were built, like the Norodom Sihanouk
College in Kompong Cham. Indochinese
administrators were appointed to higher posts in
the government services.
• Relations between the French troops, who kept law
and order, and the units of the Japanese military
• First, a small resistance movement was organized by
Frenchmen who were against the acceptance of the agreement
with the Japanese, like Georges Groslier. As the Japanese
began to face difficulties in their war against the United States.
From 1943 onwards, a few French officers were parachuted
into Indochina by the Free French Mission in Calcutta. The
Japanese secret police knew about this.
• More worrying even for the Japanese ambitions were the
activities of the clandestine Indochinese Communist Party
(ICP). In May 1941, took place the conference organized by
the ICP in the Chinese Kwangsi province in China where the
decision was taken to form the League for the Independence
of Vietnam that is more commonly known as the Viet Minh.
Although the movement was said to include nationalists as
The origins of the 1st Indochinese war
• In March 1944, a second conference was held which
resulted in the setting up of the Provisional government
of Vietnam, with the aim of securing the independence
of the country. A resistance movement was also formed
with Vo Nguyen Giap who was also a hard-core
communist. At the time, the movement was encouraged
by Americans who promised to supply arms and other
war materials that they needed.
• That should have been a worrying development for the
Cambodians for, according to Nhiek Tioulong, what he
calls the “pan-annamitism” was to survive colonial days:
the Vietnamese developed their idea of the “Great Viet”
or “Dai Viet” represented by their two secret societies:
the Dai Viet Quoc Dang Dan (DVQDD) and the Viet
Doc Lap Dong Minh (Viet Minh).
Cambodia squeezed between 2 imperialisms
• The nationalist and the communist, both shared an
imperialist ambition for the creation of a “Grand
Vietnam” in Indochina, just as Pibun Songkhram in
what became Thailand wished to take advantage of
WW II and Japanese presence to build a larger and
grander Thailand too. Defenseless Cambodia was
squeezed between the two ambitious neighbours
and defeated Vichy France was not really in a
position to protect it.
• Taking advantage of the war situation, the
Vietnamese infiltrated into the Japanese military
organizations mainly in the positions of intelligence
officers and interpreters of the Japanese.
The loss of Western territories
• In late 1940, the Thais opened hostilities after intense
propaganda campaign in the West for soldiers and officials to
join the Thai cause of Greater Thailand. The Thais used
infantry raids, aviation attacks and ranks to wage what Tully calls
“a skirmish war”. The Franco-Khmer army can only line some
14,000 troops along a 240 km border. There were numerous
casualties on both sides, but no decisive victory.
• But in January 1941, the French navy achieved a decisive victory
around Koh Chang where almost the entire Thai navy was
destroyed, 860 marines were killed and only 82 survived, while
the French suffered few, if any, casualties.
• But the then triumphant Japanese in the Pacific forced the
French to sign the Treaty of Tokyo on 11th March 1941 that
delineated a new border, thus annulling the 1904 & 1907
Treaties. Indochina has to cede the whole of Battambang, plus
parts of Pursat, Siemreap (except Angkor) & Stung Treng.
The Japanese attempt at enrolling
Khmer spies too
• They started being contacted by the Japanese secret
services. Their agency had settled since a long time
in Phnom Penh under the form of a trading
company Dainan Koosi Khaisha Limited that had
opened in the capital an unassuming China
(porcelain) and Japanese wares.
• Officially, the Japanese consul Takashima had
already established a whole network of friends
among the locals and also among the French
population, including persons in high positions.
Public opinion in Cambodia was very badly
informed of what was going on and this is why
rumors created a quite tense atmosphere.
The French population …
• … was to a large extent unaware of the evolution
of the native population of Indochina. The
colonizers were nevertheless divided into two
clans, as in France itself, the Pétinistes and the
• The latter group was growing more and more
confident with the nomination of General Mordant
as head of the resistance by the Alger Committee.
But he remained underground because of the
massive Japanese presence. On the other hand, the
Japanese themselves were perfectly well informed
and they knew all the names and addresses of the
France Libre partisans.
the Cambodian nationalist movement
• … was emerging around essentially the Nagarawatta
newspaper that every Khmer civil servant was
avidly reading, a Khmer newspaper to which many
had subscribed when it was first launched in 1936.
• The paper had been created by Pach Chhœun
(1896-1971) by subscription. It was first moderately
Siamese, Vietnamese and Chinese, but not really
anti-colonial until France‟s two defeats in Europe
and in Cambodia. The most active in the group
who were producing the paper were Son Ngoc
Thanh (1908-1977), Sim Var (1906-1989), Bun
Chan Mol (1914- ) and Haèm Chieu (1898-1943).
The nationalists & Japan
• From 1941, they agreed that it was time for France to
restore Cambodia‟s independence. What they disagreed
about was their position in regards to the Japanese
• Son Ngoc Thanh was wholly in favour of gaining
independence with Japanese aid and seeing Cambodia a
pillar of the Japanese Co-Prosperity Sphere.
• Others thought exactly the opposite as they feared the
Japanese would simply be worse and more cruel
colonizers than the French.
• Besides, they disagreed about the use of violence and
the kind of government they wanted for independent
Cambodia: a constitutional monarchy or a Republic.
• As to Sihanouk himself, he was to envisage neither.
The Japanese secret police tries to enlist
Pach Chhœun (1896-1971) seemed to have been
one of the most politically mature of the group (along
with Achar Haèm Chieu), just hoping for Japanese
neutrality and was not very keen to see them too
much involved into the political affairs of Cambodia.
• When he was in the Saigon prison, on 15th
September 1942, he told the French police how he
had been approached at his paper by the Japanese
and what were his reactions. His main fear in the
early months of 1942 was that the Thais would not
stop at Battambang, Siemreap and Northern
Cambodia, but would wish to swallow the entire
country to the Mekong river. That fear was also
expressed in French quarters and was not
« The Thais are planning to swallow
the entire Cambodian territory »
• On 15th April 1942, Pach Chhœun received a visit
of a Japanese civilian at his news paper to inform
him that many soldiers were massed at
Aranyaprathet in Thailand, ready to invade
Cambodia. He was asked by his visitor if, as a
Cambodian, he would be happy to become part of
a greater Thailand. He replied he strenuously
rejected the idea of Cambodia being under Siamese
domination. “But you accept the French who are nonAsian. They are your brothers racially”, he replied.
• Chhœun told the Japanese that he had voluntarily
fought during WW I in France and acted as a sublieutenant. The Japanese offered to help him to find
paper for his publication.
Gendarmerie (Kempeitai), came under the pretext of asking
Pach Chhœung about various economic statistics. The latter
replied he should ask the Chamber of Commerce. He retuned
a few days later to ask him to work for the Japanese
intelligence services and asked him to provide information:
1 - Gouvernement Général or Résidence Supérieure notices advising
the civil servants not to communicate with the Japanese
2 – Information about the new Cambodian Ministers: their
training, their family origin, their political affiliation, their
weaknesses, their private lives, …
3 – information about the French people surrounding the
King and their influence on the Monarch.
4 – Information about Poc Hell, a brother of Poc
Khun, founder of the Khmer Issarak on 18/12/1940, and a
son of Poc (1833- ) a high official of Norodom court, and
Prince Sanphanouvong and to try and find out about the
relationships between the Japanese officers and the
Son Ngoc Thanh (1908-1977)
• A few days later, Son Ngoc Thanh confessed to
Pach Chhœun that he was in close negotiations
with a certain Lieutenant Ochi, the commandant
of the Japanese Gendarmerie in Phnom Penh.
• Son Ngoc Thanh thought the time had come
for the Cambodian people to rebel against
France, provided the Japanese army accepted to
help them. Ochi had promised to send a report
to Saigon to ask for the Japanese general‟s
Son Ngoc Thanh‟s schemings
• Later, at the end of April 1942, Son Ngoc Thanh came to
fetch Pach Chœun at his house at about 8 p.m. saying that
Ochi had given them an appointment in his car behind
the Sisowath High School. He made them get into the car
and he drove round the city to inform them that the
Saigon General had given his answer: he approved of the
uprising, but thought that the time had not yet come to
drive the French away. Certain conditions must first be
fulfilled by the Japanese army in the Far East.
• In the meantime, the Cambodians must continue to
recruit supporters, provoke incidents to show the French
are not in a position to maintain order and the Japanese
can then intervene. On the other hand, Achar Haèm
Chieu was not at all convinced that Japanese intervention
was in the least to be desired – as we shall see later.
II - Elements of the Vichy ideology
John Tully, chap 19
In the meantime in Indochina, the Japanese had struck a deal
with the Vichy regime and the “Révolution Nationale” was to be in
harmony with their objectives of the “Co-prosperity Sphere”.
The motto of the Pétain regime was “Travail, Famille, Patrie” to
be spread among the young population and the love of the
Fatherland (in this case Vichy, France of course) and personality
cult of the Great Leader, Marshal Pétain whose portraits were
distributed all over the Federation. Cambodian schoolchildren
were not yet made to sing Japanese songs, but French to the
glory of the great Marshal:
Marshal, here we are !
Maréchal, nous voilà !
Saviour of France, before you,
Sauveur de la France, devant vous,
Your children swear to serve you,
Vos enfants jurent de vous servir,
And follow along your path.
Et de suivre votre chemin.
The enrolment & brain washing of youth
• Sihanouk confessed in his memoirs that after
hearing the song being sung every day, he had of
course learnt this patriotic song by heart.
• It was probably the first time in Cambodia‟s history
that the youth was made to sing patriotic songs.
That could have given the future leaders of
Democratic Kampuchea, who were schoolchildren
at the time, to do the same later, but on a grand
scale, and compel the entire society – the young in
particular – to learn scores of revolutionary songs.
Order, unity, work & blind obedience
to the supreme guide …
• … that was the ideology that was taught to Saloth
Sar, Khieu Samphan, Hou Yuon, Hu Nim at the
newly created Sihanouk College in Kompong Cham
they all attended. “The peasantry were romanticized as
the incarnation of the nation; the city was decried as
inherently depraved” (Philip Short).
• All school children were recruited in a militarized
youth movement that can be seen as a forerunner
of Sihanouk‟s Yuvan movement, the Khmer Rouge
or the Youth Movement of the Communist Party
of Kampuchea (CPK). Among the intriguing
relationships between Petainism and PolPotism, one must emphasize the blind obedience to
and worship of the Great Leader – the invisible
Le Jeunesse de France
• The previous Khmer Scout movement led by Prince
Sisowath Monireth, was transformed into a new youth
movement, the Yuvan. Sihanouk had been a boy scout
himself. Yuvan was the Khmer section of the “Jeunesse de
France” of the Pétain regime. The Grand master of the
similar youth movements in all the Indochinese countries
was Commandant Ducoroy from the French navy. He
was General Commissar for Sports and Youth in
Indochina. As soon as it was created the movement was a
sweeping success (100,000 members) as it was constituted
from the earlier scout movement. The Yuvan cadres were
recruited among the high and middle-rank Khmer civil
servants in two special schools at Nhatran in Annam:
• l’Ecole Supérieure des Cadres de la Jeunesse, de l’Indochine
• l’Ecole Supérieure des Sports & d’Éducation Physique de
The repression at the Buddhist Institute
• Pascal Bourdeaux (Siksāckr 89-101) „The Turning point o
1942‟ rightly points out to « the simultaneousness of religious reform
independence through non-violence », but fails to grasp the fu
brutality of the Vichy-ist repression of the Buddhist Institut
and Higher School of Pali lashed out by Res. Sup. Gautier. A
few examples of litany of fierce measures :
• In 8th March 1941, Suzanne Karpélès (1890-1930-1968) wa
sent to early retirement because she was accused of being o
Jewish origin. Replaced by Pierre Dupont (1908-1965) who
remained at the head of the Institute till late 1946
• A Kret (decree) of 21st July1942 says “The 2nd class magistrat
Son Ngoc Thanh, Assistant-Librarian of the Royal Library, is hande
back to the Ministry of Justice.”
• Yoeurn Choeum was appointed to his post. On 27th
July 1942, Yoeurn Choeum also replaced Son Ngoc
Thanh as “in charge of minor expenses and AssistantSecretary-Interpreter at the Buddhist Institute”. Ngo
Hong, assistant accountant at the Buddhist Institute
was laid off from his post from 1st October 1942 and
also replaced by Yoeurn Choeum.
• On 21st July also, an internal memorandum at the
Institute indicated that the Achar Hy Heng, Chan
Khan, Ouk Chea, and Penn Sok, teachers at the
Higher School of Pali, were relieved of their duties
for an indeterminate time. They were banned from
gaining access to the Higher School of Pali. Only four
teachers retained their positions.
The repression at the Buddhist Institute - 3
• Another Kret dated 12th August 1942 closed the Higher School
of Pali. It was to reopen on 1st December of the same year. The
Buddhist lectures organized by the Buddhist Institute were
phased out. So was the mobile library.
• Repression was not limited to the Institute and its annexes. On
4th August 1942, de Lens sent a curt letter to the President of
the Buddhist Society enjoining the association to stop all
activities sine die as soon as the letter was received:
• “Recent incidents to which influential members of the Buddhist society were
accessory have revealed a regrettable state of mind and have created a
malaise susceptible not only of bringing discredit to your activities, leading
people to believe you are following self-interested goals, but also of sowing
confusion where order and discipline have always prevailed.”
Repression - 4
• On December 18th, Pierre Dupont wrote to the Résident
Supérieur that all publications had been stopped by
censorship and lack of paper, except for the periodicals
(Kambujasuriya & the “Bulletin religieux”). [ANC, 22.345].
• Georges Gautier, the new Résident Supérieur, answered
dryly on the same day:
• “I have the honour to detail to you the principles according to which
you must regulate your relationships with the services of Censorship
of Information Propaganda and Press (IPP). I must point out first
that all quarrels and polemics must be banished, each department
working in its own field within a common enterprise that must be
pursued in a spirit of whole-hearted collaboration.”
Repression - 5
• “In the past the Pali School, the inspirer of the Buddhist
Institute, possessed a de facto monopoly in Cambodian
publication. Now from a higher point of view, it has been
unable to reach the masses, and so has hardly helped to
shape the Cambodian spirit. Besides, religious text
commentators have not restricted themselves to refine their
theology, but have shown too much sympathy for certain
political tendencies. The events of last July have proved
• On 22nd June 1943, Gautier still another report containing
this contradictory demands to Pierre Dupont : “policy
directives will have to take into account the constraints today in
Cambodia : the need to stir up the creative activity of the Khmers
and maintain a perfect political stability. At a time when the whole
of Indochina is alive with a sustained effort, Cambodia – favoured
in various ways – cannot remain slumbering in the contemplation of
its past and its traditions. It must take part in the activities of the
day … The Protectorate is resolved to pursue with ever-increasing
energy the general awakening that is indispensable. A web of
contradictions. But at the same time remain
• In response, Pierre Dupont pointed out that “Its political
action consists principally in offsetting Siamese influence”.