Austere Georges Thierry d'Argenlieu, Vice Admiral of France and Father Provincial (on leave) of French Carmelites, sat stiffly under nine royal umbrellas of silver and white silk. Beside him lolled young (23), plump-cheeked Norodom Sianouk, king of sleepy Cambodia. As colored searchlights played over the Pnom-Penh palace grounds, monarch and monk watched ornately dressed, slant-eyed dancing girls glide through the supple, serpentine movements of the Cambodian ballet.

It was a command performance honoring Admiral d'Argenlieu, French High Commissioner for Indo-China, who with a single word had brought joy to Cambodia. Resplendent...

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