Vietnam in World War II
         The Vietnamese monarchy was not at its best when World War II descended on Southeast Asia. The hopes of the French, the Vietnamese royalists and the more nationalist groups in the era of reform following the return of Emperor Bao Dai from France had mostly been dashed. The reformers were disappointed that their goodwill was not met by real concessions from the French, the court was disappointed by their weakening and things shifting in a more liberal direction and the nationalists were disappointed by just about everything. Loyal nationalists such as Ngo Dinh Diem had been driven to look elsewhere for a means of advancing their agenda, Emperor Bao Dai had basically withdrawn from national affairs and the revolutionary groups were gaining strength. Essentially, no one was happy with the situation, even the French, who were always nervous about the stability of their hold on Indochina. Everyone essentially waited for some new turn of events that would offer them opportunities and that event was World War II.
         Just before the outbreak of war French Indochina received a new Governor-General in the person of Georges Catroux. At first, everyone was most concerned with events in Europe, especially the French, and not so much Japanese activities in northeast China. During the First World War the French had imported Vietnamese colonial troops to Europe and these saw service in places as far flung as metropolitan France to Greece, mostly as laborers. However, there was little time to organize such activities in World War II as France was conquered by Germany within six weeks and Indochina was suddenly in a delicate situation. The Japanese were quick to take advantage of France being overrun by their Axis ally and had long had at least some interest in Vietnam. Japan had long been the exile home of the Marquis Cuong De, a descendant of the son of the first Nguyen emperor, Crown Prince Canh, and anti-French monarchist pretender to the throne. There were others, but for monarchists, Cuong De was the best known and had previously worked with the well known nationalist Phan Boi Chau.
         Prince Cuong De had been educated in Japan and was impressed by their victory over Russia at the turn of the century as well as their modernization and rise to power while maintaining their traditional values and most honored customs. He, like many others, viewed the Japanese as an inspiration other Asians should follow in taking their countries back from western colonizers and restoring to power their traditional monarchs. Prince Cuong De had much of his support in the south, the homeland of the Nguyen dynasty, but separated by the French from the central area where the reigning Emperors had long held sway. Because of this it was easier for him to attract support from Vietnamese who were still loyal to the idea of the Nguyen dynasty but opposed the reigning Emperor for being too cozy with the French. He had support from the nationalist mandarin Ngo Dinh Diem and his family, who were of course Catholic, as well as from the more recent religious sects that had sprung up in the south such as the Cao Dai and the Hoa Hao.
The nationalist Phan Boi Chau and the Nguyen dynasty pretender Prince Cuong De
         Japan was also interested in Indochina because they wanted to eliminate any possible use of the region as a line of supply to the Chinese whom they were heavily engaged in fighting. On June 20, 1940 the Japanese demanded that Governor-General Catroux close the border between China and Tonkin to all military supplies and assistance to the Chinese. Given the relatively weak state of his colony in military terms there was little Catroux could do but comply and the Japanese sent a commission to Vietnam to make sure the border was sealed tight. Catroux was also in a difficult position because of the recent conquest of France, the destruction of the republic and the establishment of the new State of France at Vichy, which he opposed. This, combined with his quick submission to the Japanese demand caused Catroux to lose his job and he was replaced by Admiral Jean Decoux. Catroux went on to join the Free French Forces of Charles DeGaulle and was their top military commander until 1943.
         One benefit of the change in command for French Indochina, which benefited France as well as Vietnam, was the new staunchly anti-communist attitude of the Vichy regime. The Communist Party was banned in all its forms in France and across the French colonial empire and this included the relatively new Indochinese Communist Party led by the man the world would soon know as Ho Chi Minh. What did not change, however, was the basic military situation in Vietnam and Admiral Decoux, though loyal to Vichy and a proud Frenchman, was in no better position to reject Japanese demands than General Catroux had been. What the Japanese demanded they ultimately got, time and time again and even if they had so desired there was little the French could have done to stop them. Admiral Decoux did undertake some new policies of his own, however, such as appointing more Vietnamese to government posts (always under a watchful eye of course) and trying to bring Indochina more into line with the new Vichy regime in France.
         Through all of these events, Emperor Bao Dai essentially played no part at all, nor was he even kept very well informed of what was going on in the country which he still, nominally, reigned over. For the most part he kept up his routine of parties, tiger hunts and trips away from the ancient walls of the Forbidden City to his modern villas on the coast and in the highlands. It was a sign of the times as far as the monarchy was concerned that neither the French nor the Japanese saw him as someone worth taking any trouble over. The monarchists of the country still remained somewhat active, though there was division even amongst their rather small community, about whether their chances would be more favorable going along with Vichy France or Imperial Japan. Obviously, this also concerned the French quite a bit and Admiral Decoux was alarmed at the growing fascination with all things Japanese in the country. When the Japanese demanded rice exports they got them, when they demanded the right to station troops north of the Red River they got it and so on. Decoux worried, quite correctly, that all this was making the European race look weak and bringing about a sort of Asian racial pride among the Viets.
Emperor Bao Dai in Hue during World War II
        Admiral Decoux tried to counter this by encouraging Indochinese pride, promoting local customs, festivals and ceremonies which often had an inherently monarchist spirit being as most, if not all, revolved around the role of the emperor and the dynasty. He encouraged the celebration of traditional hero figures such as the Trung Sisters as well as the Nguyen dynasty founder Emperor Gia Long as a way to promote patriotism rather than xenophobia which he associated with the anti-French attitude of the Japanese slogan of Asia for the Asians. Decoux was also an admirer of the chief of the State of France, Marshal Philippe Petain, and encouraged the spread of a sort of hero-worship of the new French leader. Some Vietnamese conservatives found this an ideology they could work with and noted that the Vichy slogans of labor, family and country fit in quite well with Confucian moral doctrine which had long stressed loyalty to the emperor, devotion to the family and the need for everyone to persevere in their own state in life. Royalist newspapers in Vietnam soon featured portraits of Marshal Petain and his image soon graced religious altars in Indochina. The noted monarchist Pham Quynh was an enthusiastic support of the Vichy regime and pointed out the many parallels between the style of the Petain government and the Confucian social order. He even gave lectures about the parallels between Confucianism and the writings of the noted French nationalist and monarchist Charles Maurras. Pham Quynh went so far as to openly state that the failure of the old French regime was the result of its republicanism and that the revival being carried out by Petain and Vichy needed to be replicated in Vietnam with a revival of traditional values, one of which was devotion to the Emperor and the Nguyen dynasty.
         Admiral Decoux also maintained a rather high opinion of Emperor Bao Dai during this time and did not believe he was lazy or disinterested in government affairs as many claimed. However, he also did not believe that imperial prestige had suffered by association with the French which, though unfortunate, was certainly not true. Admiral Decoux wrote that Emperor Bao Dai was the ideal combination of east and west which French Indochina needed and he also expressed dissatisfaction with the rather erratic behavior of the French in regard to the Nguyen monarchy which alternated between treating the emperors with great respect and treating them as either unimportant window dressings at best or threats to them at worst. Decoux himself was determined to treat the Vietnamese Emperor as well as the Lao and Khmer kings with the utmost respect and felt it was in the best interests of France to do so. Indeed, his reflections after first meeting Emperor Bao Dai were practically glowing. He spoke of the Emperor as a very intelligent, well informed and pleasant man who possessed great talents which should have been put to better use.
         Emperor Bao Dai became much more visible during the war years and royalist newspapers reported extensively on his comings and goings and often tried to link the image of the Vietnamese emperor with that of the French Chief of State Petain. Emperor Bao Dai made many trips throughout the Annam region during the early war years and cultivated an especially good relationship with the youth, especially through his son Prince Imperiale Bao Long, and supported youth movements and organizations meant to encourage feelings of civic duty, sports, athletic competitions, educational activities and of course cultural appreciation and loyalty to the throne. However, the kind words of Decoux aside, the Governor-General and the monarch did not seem to get along very well. Decoux complained that he was not kept sufficiently informed about the movements of the Emperor, though one wonders why this was a problem as Emperor Bao Dai wrote that he had very little to do with Decoux and was never really made to be involved in national affairs. Decoux also did not much care for the presence of a Japanese mission at Dalat, where Bao Dai had a hunting villa, and the home government in Vichy also expressed her concerns about Japanese inroads to the Germans.
         Nazi Germany, ever conscious of race, did not especially like the idea of Asians supplanting European control of Indochina but was not willing to risk difficulty with Japan over the issue and more or less ignored the French concerns. Meanwhile, 1941 saw a new wave of, admittedly rather minor, political changes in Vietnam. On orders from Vichy all elected assemblies throughout the country were abolished. Admiral Decoux welcomed this news and he preferred to give more direct control to local village chiefs and strengthen his ties with them rather than tolerating the elected talking shops like the CRP. The court went on as it had with some minor streamlining in May of 1942 with a few ministers resigning and Pham Quynh being moved from the post of Minister of Education to the more prestigious Minister of the Interior. All the while the Japanese continued to foster ties with the various nationalist groups operating throughout the country.
         In 1943 the Japanese made some efforts to bring these groups together and under greater Japanese control. This idea was fostered by the retired General Iwane Matsui who saw the potential for new Japanese allies in her Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere and advocated working with these groups to overthrow colonial rule by European countries. As a result the Japanese became more protective of their Vietnamese allies who the French regime were inclined to see as enemies. They had some contact with Ngo Dinh Diem who was banished to Quang Binh as well as Huynh Phu So, founding leader of the Hoa Hao Buddhist sect, and the scholar Tran Trong Kim who the Japanese helped to move to Singapore to escape French animosity. They also kept in touch with Prince Cuong De as a sort of insurance policy should they need a pro-Japanese figure to take the imperial throne. Diem had contact with the prince as well and it was this, as well as his leadership of a Catholic, nationalist bloc, which prompted his exile to Quang Binh in 1944.
         By that time the Japanese had effectively occupied French Indochina, though they allowed the French colonial regime to carry on for the time being. Decoux had given in to Japanese demands for the use of bases and air strips in Vietnam for their conquest southward toward Singapore, but when they judged Decoux to be insufficiently cooperative they poured Japanese troops into Vietnam and even gave their blessing to the Kingdom of Thailand, an ally of Japan, to attack French Indochina to regain previously lost territories in the west. The French were not molested by the Japanese but were certainly not happy with this turn of events and complained bitterly that though the Japanese left them to govern the country they established a seminary (as they called it) in Hue under the auspices of the Japanese consul to turn Vietnamese members of the civil service to their side. Some French officials suggested Emperor Bao Dai might be useful in improving matters but moved so slowly and did so little for fear of making things worse that such talk remained almost entirely academic.
         In March, 1945, the Japanese finally decided to do away with all pretenses and took control of Indochina directly. The colonial forces were easy enough to overcome, some did not resist at all, French nationals were rounded up and Japan gained control of the region following an ultimatum presented to Admiral Decoux on March 9, 1945. Japan also announced their support for the independence of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam within the their Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere of course. Emperor Bao Dai knew nothing of this turn of events until he and Empress Nam Phuong were stopped by Japanese troops on his way back to the Forbidden City and told that Japan had taken control of Vietnam. What exactly the Emperor truly thought about this turn of events is hard to ascertain as he wrote very little about it in his memoirs. Whatever the case, he announced, with Japanese support, the abolition of all treaties and agreements previously made with the French and proclaimed the independence of the Empire of Vietnam as a member of the Co-Prosperity Sphere. In September of 1944 such a move had been advocated by the Japanese foreign minister but had been met with opposition by the military. It had been no different in Manchuria where the Japanese civil authorities favored working with native leaders in independence movements whereas the army favored allowing the generals to take direct control of conquered and occupied regions.
         Emperor Bao Dai did say that he expressed concerns as to whether or not Japan was truly committed to genuine independence for Vietnam especially in regards to their longtime support for the pretender Cuong De. He was told that the marquis had only been an instrument to use against the French and that he had the full support of the Japanese. Others claimed that Japan had threatened to replace Bao Dai with Cuong De if he did not cooperate (which may have been true but probably was not actually said) but Japanese accounts say that by 1945 Japan was in a far from secure position and did not wish to make any unnecessary trouble by changing monarchs when Emperor Bao Dai seemed willing enough to go with the flow rather than make trouble for them. Emperor Bao Dai seemed to take a very practical approach as he had at least the hope of independence to be gained by cooperating with Japan whereas resisting them would have meant possibly losing everything. Prince Cuong De, though his longed for return to Vietnam never happened, also made no trouble on the issue and put out a message to his followers that he had never desired the throne for himself but that his highest aspiration was for independence and if that had been obtained by the Japanese working through Bao Dai he was perfectly willing to declare his allegiance to the Emperor. On March 11, 1945 Emperor Bao Dai issued the formal royal ordinance which abolished the French protectorate and proclaimed Vietnamese independence. Little did he know there would be an even more consequential Vietnamese declaration of independence before the year was up.
Japanese imperial troops occupy Saigon
         Nationalist feelings which had been building for years finally were able to be voiced. Simply using the name Vietnam was exhilarating for the French had abolished use of the term since taking control of the area and diving the country up into their protectorates of Tonkin, Annam and the French colony of Cochinchina. Streets with French names were renamed for Vietnamese nationalists or figures from the history of the Nguyen dynasty. The entire cabinet resigned, including Pham Quynh and Tran Trong Kim was chosen to be the new prime minister of the empire. This was a little unexpected as Tran Trong Kim was known as a historian, a devout Confucian monarchist but not as a political figure. Most had expected Ngo Dinh Diem to be appointed to the post. In fact, Diem may indeed have been the first choice. Emperor Bao Dai said he had asked the Japanese to contact Diem in Saigon and summon him to Hue but that there had been no response. Diem said he never got the offer but Japanese sources say he was contacted but did not have full Japanese support and was not enthusiastic about Cuong De being sidelined in preference to Bao Dai whom Diem had worked with before and did not seem much inspired by. With no word from Diem, Emperor Bao Dai chose Tran Trong Kim of whom the Japanese wholeheartedly approved. Some have questioned whether or not the Emperor really wanted Diem in the first place or the Japanese for that matter who may have been concerned by the nationalism and extreme devotion to the cause of independence expressed by the Catholic Diem.
         The cabinet of the newly proclaimed Empire of Vietnam included a varied array of individuals from staunch conservatives to radicals but all at least had the common bond of being on good terms with the Japanese. From the outset there was concern about the level of Japanese involvement in the new regime. Of course, everything sounded good enough on the surface. The Emperor proclaimed the people the most important thing in this new regime, called on all patriots to devote their skill to developing the independent country and invoked the ancient morals of Confucius which had been the backbone of Asian monarchies since time immemorial. However, the French Governor-General did not go away so much as he was replaced by a Japanese one and Japanese advisors appeared to oversee things on every level of the new administration. Even the national integrity was not restored, despite the return of the name of Vietnam, as the Japanese kept the French colony of Cochinchina separate and thus the Empire of Vietnam technically included only the former protectorates of Tonkin and Annam. Tokyo made some promises of returning Cochinchina in the future but stated that it was of too great strategic importance to turn over at once.
         Still, there were those who let their hopes be raised by this turn of events and it is not hard to understand why. In spite of all the various circumstances there had been a declaration of independence, the treaties with France had been repudiated, a new national flag was designed and there was, for the first time, a national anthem for Vietnam called Dang Dan Cung or the King Mounts His Throne. Moreover, in terms of the monarchy, the Japanese placed far less restrictions on Emperor Bao Dai than the French had and he was able to have a much more visible and involved role in government affairs. Some of the new ministers were doubtful about the abilities of the Emperor until they actually started to work with him at which point they found him to be very knowledgeable and well informed about political affairs. This situation was aided by the fact that Japan was clearly losing the war and was more concerned with their military situation than with maintaining strict political control over the areas they occupied or which were allied with them. The down side to this was that Japan was in no position to help the new regime just as it was in no position to greatly hinder them. The Empire of Vietnam could be left to make its way on its own but this was extremely difficult as they were essentially starting from scratch in building a new government and a new infrastructure which would take more time to develop than they had.
         The fact remains though that the Empire of Vietnam did manage to do some very positive things for the country during the very short five and a half months that it existed. Certainly the biggest problem that the country as a whole faced was a horrific famine in the north, partially caused by the massive rice exports demanded by the Japanese over the previous period to feed their armies in China. The Tran Trong Kim government could not do much to help but it is often forgotten that they did do all they could and provided some relief. There was a renewed emphasis on the heroes of Vietnamese independence, the rehabilitation of several revolutionary figures who had opposed French rule and in general a more free press that was able to denounce French colonial rule as they had not been able to before. The rise of the youth movement, started by Decoux, was also continued with emphasis on loyalty to the Emperor but with the focus of loyalty named as Vietnam rather than French Indochina which was a significant difference.
         World War II, and the change in command, so to speak, also brought new opportunities for the Vietnamese communists. They actually, in a way, benefited from the Japanese overthrowing the French and allowing the Emperor to proclaim the independence of the Empire of Vietnam. The French could no longer hinder them, the new regime of Tran Trong Kim did not have the strength or the time and the Japanese, for the most part, simply had bigger fish to fry in 1945 than chasing down Vietnamese revolutionaries. Ho Chi Minh pounced on the opportunity that the war presented to put his movement on the side that, by 1945, seemed certain to win. He opposed the Japanese occupation and made contact with Allied agents, especially the American OSS (Office of Strategic Services) which was the forerunner of the CIA. The Vietminh (League for the Independence of Vietnam) which was a communist led movement founded by Ho Chi Minh in 1941 assisted the Allied war effort by rescuing Allied pilots who were shot down over Indochina. Ho Chi Minh did everything he could to cozy up to the Allies, especially the United States, and tried to portray his movement as a group of freedom fighters. In this, he was evidently somewhat successful as the OSS gave money, arms and training to the Vietminh. He also worked all the while to strengthen his popularity amongst the peasantry.
         Throughout this period, Emperor Bao Dai never heard of Ho Chi Minh, which is not surprising given how often he changed his name and how secretive he was. The Vietminh was operating on the fringes, gaining strength at the lower levels of society and secretly among the upper echelons while the Emperor and the Tran Trong Kim government took all the headlines. Emperor Bao Dai played the part well of a loyal native leader within the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. He spoke to Japanese journalists of how invigorated he was by Vietnam finally having the chance to seize their independence, raise the standard of living, modernize the country, increase production and so on while thanking the Japanese for all of their help in achieving this long sought after dream. In a move that must have surprised some, Emperor Bao Dai also spoke out against the French and said that while the French had kept him shackled, thanks to Japan he was able to actively work with his people. It can be debated whether or not this was sincere or if he was simply paying lip service to the people in military control of the country. However, he spoke very eloquently and wisely about the need to seize the opportunity to unite the country and that true independence was something they would have to earn as a people.
         In the series of ceremonies which followed the establishment of the Empire of Vietnam Bao Dai always spoke appreciatively of Japan but also called upon the people to come together and for everyone to contribute their talents to build up the country. He called for an end to corruption, an end to partisan bickering, reducing the heavy taxes imposed by the French and bringing famine relief to the north. This was, perhaps, more crucial than the Emperor knew as the Vietminh was bringing some relief to the starving peasants of the north and gaining massive public support among the northern peasantry for that very reason. Talk also spread quickly about ideas for a constitution and a national congress, both of which were totally unprecedented in the ancient history of the Vietnamese people. Some groups which had come out in guarded support of the new regime stressed that their support depended on the Emperor bringing these things about and effectively making the country much more liberal rather than restoring traditional Vietnamese society. The issue was argued over quite a bit for such a short-lived state. Some wanted a greater role for the Emperor, others wanted the public involved in drafting such a constitution, others warned against any document which would be handed down from the court and others argued against the Emperor becoming too involved simply because they did not want to risk the prestige of the dynasty on government policies which might prove unpopular or unsuccessful.
         Perhaps the most erratic force in Vietnam during World War II, and it was only very marginally involved, was the United States. President Roosevelt had promised the Free French full cooperation in regaining and retaining their colonies when he wanted French support in the Allied war effort, however, he later let his anti-imperialism show when he told his son that he would work as hard as he could against France regaining her empire after the war. In 1945, showing the extreme level of ignorance he possessed on the issue, Roosevelt actually offered Vietnam to the Republic of China! Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, however, had a more realistic understanding of the situation and the history of the two countries and turned down the offer on the basis that Vietnam would never submit to becoming Chinese. The US worked with the Vietminh solely out of short-sighted pragmatism because they were the only major armed force in the country opposing Japan, however, the US was quite careless in this regard and both the communists and the Vietnamese empire seemed to put more stock in American support than the level of American interest in the region really warranted. The US viewed Vietnam as a very minor sideshow.
         What was most infuriating about this period in terms of the monarchy was what great promise was never given a chance to bloom. Respectable society, even some of the more liberal papers, welcomed the chance for independence and hailed the Emperor for presiding over this opportunity. Some spoke of Bao Dai as a truly enlightened monarch and advised that as a respectful family is loyal to their patriarch so should all political parties honor the Vietnamese emperor. Some also observed that, even though the Japanese had supplanted the French in many ways, they were clearly a spent force and would soon be on their way out and Vietnam would be totally independence for the first time in about a hundred years. Most of these observers also, however, noted that they expected greater reforms to come quickly thereafter and did not hesitate to criticize earlier Nguyen emperors who had cooperated with the French and gone along with their colonization in a way which, in the old days of the monarchy, would have surely brought down swift punishment. Many papers also concentrated their political comments solely on Tran Trong Kim and the cabinet with no mention of the Emperor at all.
         The reigning Bao Dai was also not the only Nguyen dynasty monarch to be active during World War II, especially late in the war. The former Emperor Duy Tan threw his lot in with the Free French Forces and was actively campaigning for assignment to the western front in Europe after organizing a force of his own on Reunion Island where he had been exiled. He did eventually get his assignment to France and later was given occupation duty in Germany. There was talk of him possibly being restored with the return of the French after the war but that came to an end with his untimely death in a plane crash. His father, the former Emperor Thanh Thai, also got a change of scenery thanks to the upheaval at home. He had been exiled some time after being deposed on the charge of insanity but was allowed to return to Vietnam in 1945 where he was greeted by Emperor Bao Dai and kept under close supervision on Vung Tau Island until his death in 1954. The end of the war was to be the most tumultuous period for all involved and many would soon regret the loss of the former Emperor Duy Tan.
Former Emperor Duy Tan in the Free French service, former Emperor Thanh Thai arriving in Saigon in 1945 and Emperor Bao Dai escorting former Emperor Thanh Thai
         Throughout this period the Vietminh had been gathering their forces together and winning support among the populace, especially in the north where the used the horrific famine, which took the lives of millions due to starvation, to their advantage. When word spread in August of 1945 of the defeat of Japan and the unprecedented surrender message of the Japanese Emperor, the Vietminh took the opportunity to strike. Throughout this period the Vietminh army had been gathering strength, training and arming and was under the leadership of a former school teacher turned general Vo Nguyen Giap. He did not look like much but in time many would come to rank him as one of the great military geniuses of his time when by the end of his career he had defeated two world powers; the French empire and the United States. The defeat of Japan, while not a surprise, nonetheless caught the Empire of Vietnam unprepared for assuming full control of the country. With the Rising Sun now setting in Indochina one thing suddenly became very clear; the only major armed force in the country was the communist controlled Vietminh. The August Revolution erupted.
         The Japanese, for some months previously, had been forced to abandon large parts of the country they had formally occupied and the Vietminh were quick to fill the breach and march in with their odd looking soldiers, armed with bamboo spears, knives, old muskets, captured French or other weapons and yet well trained, disciplined and very motivated by their political propagandists. As they gained ground and came into the light of day it became more and more clear just how far their influence had secretly spread. The viceroy in Hanoi was forced to surrender to them, mass demonstrations planned for the empire were co-opted by the Vietminh and turned into communist demonstrations. Some areas right around the imperial capital in Hue were under communist control and the Vietminh had even infiltrated the imperial guard. When the dragon flag of the Nguyen dynasty was torn down in front of the Forbidden City and replaced with the red flag of the Vietminh the imperial guards simply stood by and watched.
         Some in the government advocated simply turning power over to the Vietminh but Tran Trong Kim refused to even consider such a move at least until the country was unified and the Japanese had, at the very end, promised to turn Cochinchina over to the Emperor. On August 14, 1945 Nguyen Van Sam was sent to Saigon to be the representative of Emperor Bao Dai in that region but by the time he arrived, about a week later, he found the area already mostly under the control of the Vietminh. One day later he turned power over to the Vietminh. Yet, all of this seemed to be no more than making beds in a burning house. Even before the formal surrender of Japan the cabinet appointed by Tran Trong Kim had resigned on August 5. Kim would likely have resigned himself but Emperor Bao Dai persuaded him to stay until things were settled and, especially after the surrender of the Japanese, he was unable to find anyone willing to join his government and accept a cabinet post. While the Empire was off balance the Vietminh continued to expand and between August 19 and 25 they had taken control of Hanoi, Hue, Tourane and Saigon.
         Emperor Bao Dai, in the meantime, had been doing all he could to save the independent Empire of Vietnam and had written letters to King George VI of Great Britain, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek of the Republic of China, General Charles DeGaulle of the Free French and President Harry Truman of the United States to call upon them to accept the situation and recognize Vietnamese independence. His letter to France was especially poignant and he pointed out how they must surely understand the feelings of the Vietnamese after being occupied by Germany and that they must understand that the days of colonial rule were over. If they desired to be the friends of Vietnam that was fine, the Emperor said, but they must realize that they would never again dominate the country and that if they so tried the very atmosphere of Vietnam would suffocate them.
         On August 17, 1945 Emperor Bao Dai issued a decree in which he called upon the Vietminh, who were obviously the dominant force in the country, to form a government under his authority if the people so willed it and that the form of that government could be desired later. Not long after he issued a second proclamation which reaffirmed the independence of the Empire of Vietnam, his desire to preside over it and called upon famous and anonymous patriots alike to come forward to carry the independent Vietnamese regime forward. He stated that he put the happiness of the Vietnamese people upon his Golden Throne and stated, tellingly, that he would prefer to be a simple citizen in a free country rather than the Emperor of an enslaved country.
The formal surrender of Japanese forces in Saigon (to the British Indian Army)
         Unfortunately, things were moving faster throughout the country than the Emperor realized. On August 23 he received a telegram from Hanoi informing him that the revolutionary government had been formed and asked him to hand over power to the Vietminh. At the same time Bao Dai was informed that all levels of society supported the Vietminh and that they also had the backing of the United States which would be essential for any government to survive in the post-war world. All of these things convinced him that he had to abdicate. Some suggested ignoring the request and taking refuge in the imperial tombs but the Emperor, recalling his education in France, said he remembered what fate had befallen the King who tried to oppose the revolution and was determined to abdicate. The Japanese troops still on hand, and loyal to the principle of imperial rule, offered to put themselves at his disposal and defend the Forbidden City citadel against the Vietminh if they should attack to force him off the throne. Emperor Bao Dai, never exactly an enthusiastic or ambitious monarch, refused the offer and said he could never be responsible for a foreign army shedding the blood of his own people on his behalf. Ready to resign, he made his position known to the Vietminh but stated only that, in keeping with his duty as a Nguyen emperor, there should be a formal ceremony to hand over power from the dynasty to the new provisional government.
         On August 25 another edict was issued by the Emperor which stated his willingness to sacrifice his imperial dignity for the happiness of his people and the independence of the country. It was, in every way, in keeping with proper Confucian morality. He expressed his sadness at the plight of the people, the need for unity and his regret that during all his years on the throne he was only able to be close to the people during the last few weeks. He accepted responsibility for all the ills that had befallen his country and expressed his determination to abdicate and turn over power to the citizens of the democratic republic. He only asked that the imperial tombs and temples be respected, that the republic be kind to all those who had struggled for independence regardless of party affiliation and that no one in the royal family or the public cause trouble for the provisional government out of loyalty to the Emperor. Finally, he spoke of the bitterness he felt at having been unable to do more during his time on the throne, resolved to not allow anyone to slander or defame the name of the Nguyen dynasty and ending by wishing long life to independence and long life to the democratic republic.
         With much of the same wording he used in that edict he issued another directed at his fellow members of the Nguyen dynasty. In it, he expressed his great sadness that the 388 years of Nguyen tradition were ending with him, but reiterated the importance of the people and called upon all members of the family to respect his actions, make no trouble for the new regime and commented on how little their sacrifice was compared to the multitude who had given their lives in the cause of independence. On August 29, 1945 a Vietminh delegation arrived at the Forbidden City from Hanoi to preside at the official handing over of power. They assured Emperor Bao Dai that he would be well treated and would have all of the rights of any other Vietnamese citizen under the new government. They stated that the government would take control of all property not actually belonging to the Emperor, his wife or the Empress Dowager and pledged to be responsible for the upkeep of the imperial tombs and temples. Emperor Bao Dai dressed in his ceremonial yellow robes and on the balcony overlooking the main gate to the Forbidden City read out his abdication edict and handed over the imperial sword and seal to the representatives of the Vietminh. The people were, by all accounts, very moved by his words and the Vietminh actually forbid his speech to be reproduced afterwards for fear that it would inspire monarchist sympathy among the populace. The imperial flag was lowered for the last time and the red flag of the Vietminh was raised in its place as Emperor Bao Dai became Citizen Vinh Thuy and the long reign of the Nguyen dynasty, which had begun with Emperor Gia Long in 1802 and reached back much farther in the south officially came to a final end.
1