Matthew Jagel

Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Clymer, Kenton J.

Degree Name

Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy)

Legacy Department

Department of History


Cambodia--Foreign relations--United States--20th century; United States--Foreign relations--Cambodia--20th century; Cambodia--Politics and government--20th century; Cambodia--History--20th century; Son Ngoc Thanh; Asian history; South Asian studies; Prime ministers--Cambodia--Biography


The Khmer Rouge period of Cambodia's history is one of the most scrutinized in studies of modern Southeast Asia. What has yet to be examined in sufficient detail is the period leading up to Democratic Kampuchea and the key players of that era, aside from Cambodia's King (later Prince) Norodom Sihanouk. The story of Son Ngoc Thanh, one of Cambodia's modern heroes, has yet to be told in detail, and will be a goal of this project. This is not a traditional biography, but instead a study of how Cambodian nationalism grew during the twilight of French colonialism and faced new geopolitical challenges during the Cold War. Throughout Son Ngoc Thanh is the centerpiece. Following a brief stint as Prime Minister under the Japanese, Son Ngoc Thanh's influence pushed Sihanouk toward a hard-line stance with respect to independence from France, resulting in a free Cambodia by 1953. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Thanh and his group the Khmer Serei (Free Cambodia) exacerbated tensions between Cambodia and its Thai and South Vietnamese neighbors as he attempted to overthrow the Sihanouk government. Thanh also had connections to both American Special Forces and the CIA in South Vietnam. He was involved with the coup to unseat Sihanouk in 1970, and returned to the new Khmer Republic government later that year, only to be pushed out by 1972.


Advisors: Kenton Clymer.||Committee members: Trudy Jacobsen; Eric Jones; Judy Ledgerwood.


272 pages




Northern Illinois University

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