Tagged: Thai nationalism

Documents. Axis Power Thailand. The Strange Case of Wartime and Postwar Thailand.

The first acquaintance I have had with the present topic occurred when reading, many years ago, the novel by Yukio Mishima The Temple of Dawn (1970). The notion of a remote tropical, Buddhist country embracing the ideas and garments of Western fascism struck me at the time as so dumbfounding that it triggered a curiosity and then a life-long interest in Thailand. To be sure, it was not on the spot that I endeavored to satisfy my newly arisen curiosity, for I had other preoccupations in those days, but it remained at the back of my mind as a genuine oddity, which should and would deserve further enquiry sometime.

In The Temple of Dawn, whose settings are located partly in Thailand of the thirties, we read, for instance, the following:

En route vers le Palais Rosette, Honda aperçut, par la glace de la voiture, des garçons du Mouvement Yuwachon marchant au pas en uniforme kaki que l’on disait imité de celui des Jeunesses hitlériennes. Assis à ses côtés, Hishikawa se plaignit qu’en ville on entendît si rarement du jazz américain ces temps-ci et de ce que le nationalisme du premier ministre Phiboon semblât donner des résultats.

C’était le genre de transformation dont Honda avait déjà été le témoin au Japon. Tout comme le vin tourne lentement en vinaigre ou le lait en cailles, les choses qu’on a longtemps négligées changent lentement selon les diverses forces naturelles. Les gens ont longtemps vécu dans la crainte de trop de liberté, de désirs trop charnels. Fraîcheur du matin après une soirée où l’on s’est abstenu de vin. Fierté de se rendre compte que l’eau seule est essentielle. Ces plaisirs neufs, rafraîchissants, commençaient à séduire les gens. Honda comprenait vaguement où ces idées fanatiques allaient conduire. (Le Temple de l’aube, Folio Gallimard, p. 49)

Under the guidance of Marshall Phibun Songkhram, Thailand underwent a modernization process comparable to that followed by Turkey under Kemal Ataturk. The Westernization implied in this modernizing took more and more heed, as time went by, to European totalitarian regimes rather than to liberal democracies, developing parallel to a cultivation of nationalism (it was in these days, for example, that “Siam” became the “Land of Thai,” stressing the ethnicity of the nation).

During WWII, Thailand signed with Japan, not without some military pressure and demonstration from the latter, a treaty that aligned the country with the Axis Powers. In internal politics, Phibun Songkhram adapted his Thai nationalism to the Panasiatic propaganda of the Japanese and the building of a Co-Prosperity Sphere of Greater Asia. At the same time, Thailand, where a significant Indian minority lived, became a platform for the Indian movements that had chosen to join in the conflict taking side against the British.

With the defeat of Japan, Phibun Songkhram was ousted and a new government was constituted under Pridi Banomyong by those Thai who had supported the Allied war effort against Japan. Yet the experience was short-lived, for in 1947 the selfsame Phibun, however tainted by his collaboration with the Japanese, could find enough suppport to stage a coup and assume power again as head of the state (under the King), a charge he kept for another ten years. This makes the present post a sequel of that on Bolivia (The Strange Case of Postwar Bolivia): In both cases, persons and movements who had supported the belligerents that were to be defeated in the end, nevertheless played a leading role on the political stage of their respective countries during the postwar era. Indeed, in the case of Thailand, one can even say that it is the defeated belligerents themselves, Phibun Songkhram and his men, that remained in command, carrying on their political agenda, more or less as if nothing had happened.

Doc. 1. Picture of  Thai book Thailand during WWII (2005). The portrait on the cover is that of Phibun Songkhram. Please observe the jacket design. Waves radiate from Marshall Phibun’s body. This is a halo, this is mystical aura, associated in Buddhism with sainthood and Buddhahood.

Doc. 2. Motion picture with song Forward (My translation for เดิน. Lyrics by Luang Wichitwathakan) (Link to a Youtube video by Z. Pitakcharoen). The video is called The Thai Army of the Second World War. For the main part it shows a military parade in front of the Wat Phra Keow, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok. The lyrics of the lively song, sung by an apparently juvenile Thai girl accompanied by a chorus of no less juvenile boys and girls, were written by a prominent literary and intellectual figure of Thailand, who also turned out to be Phibun’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. I have added the original lyrics here, together with the English translation I made of it.

Doc. 1.

Cover of the Book Thailand in WWII With Portrait of Phibun Songkhram

Cover of Book Thailand in WWII
With Portrait of Phibun Songkhram

Doc. 2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cm9llQoMQow

1 เดิน เดิน เดิน อย่ายอมแพ้ใคร ชาติไทยต้องเดิน
2 เดิน เดิน เดิน ถ้าหวังก้าวหน้า เราต้องพากันเดิน
3 เดิน เดิน เดิน อย่าท้อทางไกล ขอให้ไทยเจริญ
4 มาเพื่อนไทย มาร่วมน้ำใจ สมานฉันท์
5 ไปตายดาบหน้า เพื่อนไทยจงมาให้พร้อมเพรียงกัน
6 พบหนามเราจะฝ่า พบป่าเราจะฟัน
7 พบแม่น้ำขวางกั้น เราจะว่ายข้ามไป
1 เดิน เดิน เดิน …
2 …
3 …
8 ไชโย ไชยะ ให้ไทยชะนะ ตลอดปลอดภัย
9 ไชโย !
8 …
10 ไชโย ! ไชโย !
11 ใครขวางทางเดิน เราจักต้องเชิญเขาหลีกทางไป
12 พบเสือเราจะสู้
13 พบศัตรู เราจะฆ่า
14 พบอะไรขวางหน้า เราจะฝ่าฟันไป

English Translation
1 Forward forward forward (dun dun dun), let no one beat us, the Thai nation must march forward.
2 Forward forward forward, if we hope for progress, we must all march forward.
3 Forward forward forward, be not disheartened by the long way, and may the Thai prosper!
4 Come, Thai brothers, come together in unanimous goodwill.
5 Let us take the risks, Thai brothers, all united together.
6 Should we encounter thorny bushes, we shall chop our way through. Should we encounter a flood, we shall pass around.
7 Should a river obstruct our way, we shall swim across.
1… 2… 3…
8 Hurrah! Hurrah! (chai-yo! chai-yo!) Make the Thai victory thorough and safe.
9 Hurrah! (chai-yo!)
10 Hurrah! Hurrah!
11 Should anyone stand on the way, we must ask them to move.
12 Should we meet the tiger, we shall fight.
13 Should we meet the enemy, we shall kill.
14 No matter what obstacle we find on our way, we shall march forward.

March 2014