Independence to Disaster, 1945–1975
No longer part of French Indochina from 1953, Cambodia’s first steps toward democracy were enthusiastically received by all. Before long, however, excitement turned to consternation. King Sihanouk abdicated in 1955 in order to participate directly in politics—yet seemed reluctant to abide by democratic principles. Improvements to education, public health, and basic infrastructure were short-lived. The war in neighbouring Vietnam soon spilled over into Cambodia, causing a refugee crisis and diplomatic strain. Corruption prevailed at all levels of the government. Western criticism set Cambodia on a course toward the communist bloc. In a polarised world, there were only two ways in which the domino of Cambodia could fall—and the events of 1945–1975 ensured which direction it took.