A little piece of Thai history: World War Two: This time it is PERSONAL…
And it is the fifteenth again. The fifteenth of July granted, but debt of honor does not take summer vacation. So as the custom is, here is a little post about Thai history. And yes, I know the last post was riddled with glaring spelling mistakes. I’ll proofread this time around but the typos stay on the last one. Teach me humuility, I’m hoping.
Anyway, I wrote about kings in my last post. The notion of monarchy is sacred in Thailand. Kings, not so much. Well kings in general but there is always a king. In 1932 the absolute monarch was absolutely deposed, and a new constitution was written calling for a baby-steps approach towards democracy in Thailand, all supported by the new regent (a 9-year old boy studying at a boarding school in Switzerland at the time). Unfortunately the democratization process was slowed by several factors. One of them may have been the fact that the current prime minister, Phibun, admired Western ideas like modernization, national pride, and fascism.
As the forties began, the still fresh global-Armageddon-to-be WWII was taking off in Europe. Things were not going terribly well for France, Thailand’s old nemesis. Another “not quite democracy” in the neighborhood, Japan, was a source of inspiration to the junta of senior officials and generals ruling Thailand at the time. Seeing how another Asian country was gaining the status of a Great Power rather than another colony… And how the actual Great Power of France was steamrollered by Germany… The admirers of blitzkrieg, national pride and the art of manipulating national mass media decided that NOW, this great moment was the right time to GET BACK WHAT WAS THEIRS!
So they declared war on Vichy France. And then they invaded Cambodia and Laos. And damn if they didn’t win!
The thing with colonies you see, is that they are only as strong as their ruling masters. And as Vichy France at this poin was mainly a rump part of actual France (the rest was occupied by Nazi Germany who were busy vacuuming it for cash and resources) and the colonies who hadn’t decided they liked the Free French government in London more. And so, the forces that were sorta good enough to keep down peasant uprisings was not quite good enough to stop a mechanized army with modern aircraft (fascist sympathies, right? Did you think they spent all their tax revenues on public schools or hospitals?)
It went less well when the French navy in the region sank all the Thai warships they could find, and Japan stepped in to negotiate. As Japan was buddies with most all countries in the Axis camp as well as Thailand, they brokered a deal where Thailand only kept a quarter of the areas it took during the war, but for them, still… It was a victory. Thailand had taken on a Western great power and won. Things were looking pretty good, and prime minister Phibun was flavor of the week.
Then Japan invaded Thailand, who signed an armistice after a day. It turned out Japan was a lot stronger than some isolated colony. Thailand kept its independence formally, but needed to sign a “mutual offensive-defensive alliance pact” with Japan. In clear speak that translates into “the kind of pact where you do exactly what we say”.
Things were not ideal, and Thailand would need some diplomatic savvy to get out of an alliance of the original Axis of Evil without to much damage. But I think I’ll write more about that next time.