World and Its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia - Vol. 5

By Paul Bernabeo | Go to book overview

Modern Thailand

From 1940 through 1975, Thailand became home to large U.S. military bases and played a major role in attempts by the United States to rid the region of Communism. At the same time, Thailand fought a battle against its own Communist insurgents and made progress toward democracy from the 1970s.

From the late 1940s, the United States adopted Thailand as an ally in the so-called Cold War (an ideological struggle against the Soviet Union) to resist the spread of Communism in Asia. The United States offered military aid, which Thailand's ruling generals gladly accepted. In return, Thailand sent token assistance to help the United States in the Korean War (1950–1953). In 1953, the U.S. National Security Council proposed to develop Thailand as an [anti-Communist bastion] in Southeast Asia. In 1960, Thai troops fought alongside Americans against Communist guerrillas in neighboring Laos, and in the 1960s, the United States built seven air bases in Thailand and funded a network of highways to serve them. Three-quarters of the bomb tonnage dropped on Laos and Vietnam in the period 1965 through 1968 was flown from these bases. The number of U.S. service personnel based in Thailand peaked at 45,000 in 1969.


U.S. PATRONAGE

Massive U.S. military aid expanded the size of Thailand's armed forces, allowing the consolidation of the political power of the Thai military. Field Marshal Phibun Songkhram (1887–1964) became prime minister in 1948, but political unrest continued and several of Phibun's opponents were murdered. The army chief Sarit Thanarat (1908–1963) replaced Phibun in a coup in 1957. He abolished the legislature and jailed scores of critics and opponents. After his death in 1963, his second-in-command, General Thanom Kittikachorn, (1911–2004) took over. Military officers dominated other political positions, and several were able to make fortunes through the abuse of power.

After the mysterious death of King Ananda Mahidol (1925–1946), his younger brother, Bhumibol Adulyadej, or Rama IX (born 1927), became king. As long as Phibun, a leader of the 1932 revolution against the absolute monarchy, was still prime minister, the king's role was limited. Alter 1957, however, Sarit and his U.S. advisers expanded the role of the monarchy. The king traveled overseas to boost international sympathy for Thailand in the face of the Communist threat. King Bhumibol took a larger public role at home to focus national unity and personally promoted rural development projects to combat poverty.

U.S. aid and patronage transformed the Thai economy. After World War II (1939–1945), Thailand was still one of the most backward and rural countries in Asia. The United States provided aid and advice to boost economic growth and cement Thailand into the capitalist camp in the Cold War. Sarit embraced [development] as a national cause. Investments in transportation and technology resulted in a massive expansion of cultivated land and agricultural exports. To a lesser extent, foreign and local investment also expanded manufacturing, especially agri-processing and textiles.


THE RISE OF COMMUNISM IN THAILAND

A local Communist movement took root during the economic turmoil after World War II. In around 1950, the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) adopted a strategy of armed revolution from bases in the countryside. From 1965 onward, the Thai army and U.S. advisers confronted guerrilla bands in the remote areas of the north, northeast, and south. Increasing numbers of people, especially young people and intellectuals, sympathized with the Communists because they disliked the repressive military rule, the widespread corruption, the presence of U.S. troops, and the shock effects of economic growth.

An antimilitary student movement developed from the late 1960s and was able to overthrow the military government after a massive street demonstration on October 14, 1973. A new constitution was written and parliamentary government was restored. The end of military repression sparked an explosion of creativity in literature, art, music, and academia. A new civilian prime minister, Kukrit Pramoj (1911–1995), launched plans to overcome rural poverty and negotiated an agreement under which U.S. troops would leave Thai soil.

However, the Communist victories over U.S. forces in Laos and Vietnam in 1975 prompted a conservative reaction in Thailand. On October 6, 1976, troops and irregular forces killed around one hundred students in a demonstration at Thammasat University in Bangkok. On the same day, the army retook power in a coup. Around 3,000 students and others fled to join Communist camps in remote areas. The military rulers abolished the legislature, imprisoned critics, and repressed all intellectual activity. In the late 1970s, the world Communist bloc began to disintegrate as the rift between Russia and China widened, and from that time the Cold War gradually eased. In Thailand, moderate military and civilian leaders took the opportunity to reverse growing polarization between left and right. More moderate generals took power, restoring an elected legislature.

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World and Its Peoples: Eastern and Southern Asia - Vol. 5
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Country Locator for Volume 5 Myanmar and Thailand i
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Geography and Climate 580
  • The Land of Myanmar and Thailand 582
  • Geology of Myanmar and Thailand 590
  • Climate of Myanmar and Thailand 594
  • Flora and Fauna of Thailand and Myanmar 598
  • History and Movement of Peoples 602
  • Sukhothai and Ayutthaya 604
  • Later Burmese Kingdoms 608
  • British Intervention in Burma 610
  • Peoples of Myanmar and Thailand 612
  • Myanmar (Burma) 614
  • Government 618
  • Modern History 620
  • War and Independence 623
  • Independent Burma 626
  • Modern Myanmar 628
  • Cultural Expression 630
  • Art and Architecture 632
  • Music and Performing Arts 636
  • Festivals and Ceremonies 638
  • Food and Drink 640
  • Daily Life 642
  • Family and Society 644
  • Welfare 646
  • Yangon (Rangoon) 648
  • Naypyidaw 650
  • Mandalay 651
  • Moulmein 652
  • Pegu 653
  • Economy 654
  • Thailand 662
  • Government 666
  • Modern History 668
  • Siam in Transition 670
  • The Age of Reform 672
  • War and Military Rule 674
  • Modern Thailand 676
  • Cultural Expression 678
  • Art and Architecture 680
  • Decorative Arts 683
  • Music and Performing Arts 684
  • Festivals and Ceremonies 687
  • Food and Drink 688
  • Daily Life 690
  • Family and Society 693
  • Health, Welfare, and Housing 695
  • Education 697
  • Bangkok 698
  • Chiang Mai 703
  • Nakhon Ratchasima 704
  • Udon Thani 705
  • Economy 706
  • Further Research 716
  • Index 718
  • World and Its Peoples 722
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