A Special Relationship: The United States and Military Government in Thailand, 1947-1958

A Special Relationship: The United States and Military Government in Thailand, 1947-1958

A Special Relationship: The United States and Military Government in Thailand, 1947-1958

A Special Relationship: The United States and Military Government in Thailand, 1947-1958

Synopsis

The development of the Thai-American alliance from 1947 to 1958 dramatically transformed both countries' involvement in Southeast Asia. Bounded by two important political events in Thailand, an army coup in 1947 and the military's assumption of complete control of government in 1958, the period witnessed both the entrenchment of authoritarian military government in Thailand and a revolution in U.S.-Thai relations. A Special Relationship provides the most comprehensive analysis of this critical founding period of the Thai-American alliance. It reveals surprising new information on joint covert operations in Indochina, American support for suppression of government opponents, and CIA involvement in Thai domestic politics. Daniel Fineman's examination of newly released Thai and American official documents and his interviews with former intelligence officers, generals, diplomats, and politicians from Thailand and the United States bring to life the people and events that led America to its tragic entanglement in Southeast Asia and contributed to Thailand's descent into harsh military rule. A Special Relationship will be of intense interest to students and scholars of modern Southeast Asian history and American diplomacy. Nonspecialists will find it an absorbing look at a formative period in American diplomatic history.

Excerpt

President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger faced a troubling dilemma in May 1975. The new Khmer Rouge government of Cambodia had just captured an American merchant vessel, the Mayaguez, in international waters, and fears ran high as to the fate of the ship's crew in the hands of the unpredictable Khmer Rouge leadership. Ford and Kissingerwanted to recapture the Mayaguez by force, but the only American military bases close enough to launch an attack were in neighboring Thailand, and that country's fragile, two-year-old civilian government had refused the Americans permission to mount the operation from Thai territory. Without the use of the Thai bases, the United States had little hope of rescuing the detained seamen. But all was not yet lost for Ford and Kissinger. The Thai military, though it had been forced to relinquish its control of the government two years earlier, still jealously guarded its prerogatives against the civilian leadership, which it was, in any case, about to overthrow. Ford and Kissinger, therefore, simply ignored the elected government and got permission from the army to launch the attack. Then, even as the American ambassador in Bangkok informed the civilian prime minister that the United States would respect Thai sovereignty, American forces working out of Thailand proceeded with the rescue -- losing more lives in the process than they saved. The elected Thai government's protests proved futile.

More than just a panicked response to a momentary crisis, this U.S. decision to defy the elected government of Thailand and rely on the army was the legacy of twenty-five years of intimate American relations with a corrupt, undemocratic, and often brutal Thai military. The United States, over that period, provided arms, money, and political . . .

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