Inoculating Thailand against Communism


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The 1950s was a period of great uncertainty for Thailand. With its neighbours caught up in communist insurrections, the kingdom needed a strong ally to protect it against a possible Red invasion. Meanwhile, the United States needed a friendly base to launch their anti-communist plans in Southeast Asia. Their interests converged and they hooked up. This paper studies US attempts to bolster Thailand against communism with the use of psychological warfare. During this period, neither country was involved in large-scale physical fighting in Southeast Asia at that time, taking the fight to the psychological level. Individual governments were making decisions and responding based on impressions and perceptions founded on what they thought the opposing side was doing.

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Inoculating Thailand against Communism

  1. 1. Inoculating Thailand against Communism Please contact xingledout[at] if you’d like to use any information from this paper. 1
  2. 2. CHRONOLOGY OF KEY EVENTS1949: Communist victory in China1950February: Phibun recognised Bao Dai government.July: Korean War. Thailand sent 4,000 soldiers and 40,000 tons of rice to Korea.July: Educational exchange agreement (Fulbright)September: Economic and Technical Cooperation Agreement.October: First loan from World Bank to a Southeast Asian nationOctober: Agreement Respecting Military Assistance. (This provided authorization forthe US to give and Thailand to receive, military assistance.)1951June: Manhattan RebellionNovember: Silent Coup1952: Stringent anti-communist law passed1953January: Dwight Eisenhower became President of the United StatesJanuary: Formation of “Thai Autonomous People’s Government” at Yunnan provinceApril: Vietminh launched an invasion into LaosMay: U.N. appeal on LaosJuly: PSB-D23 reportAugust: Arrival of Donovan as US Ambassador1954April: US makes plans for direct military intervention in VietnamMay: French defeat at Dien Bien PhuJuly 1954: Partition of Vietnam at the Geneva conferenceSept 1954: Formation of Southeast Asia Treaty OrganisationABBREVIATIONSBPP Border Patrol PoliceCIA Central Intelligence AgencyMAAG U.S. Military Assistance Advisory GroupNATO North Atlantic Treaty OrganizationNSC National Security CouncilOSS Office of Strategic ServicesPARU Police Aerial Reconnaissance (Resupply) UnitPSB Psychological Strategy BoardSEATO Southeast Asian Treaty OrganizationUSIS United States Information Service 2
  3. 3. CONTENTSINTRODUCTION ................................................................................................................................... 1SETTING THE STAGE ......................................................................................................................... 2 AMERICA THE PATRON, THAILAND THE CLIENT .................................................................................... 2 CHANGES IN THE US ADMINISTRATION ................................................................................................. 6PROCESS OF INOCULATION ............................................................................................................ 7 IN SEARCH OF A SOUTHEAST ASIAN BASE ............................................................................................. 7 PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE STRATEGY .............................................................................................. 10 IMPLEMENTING PSB D-23 ................................................................................................................... 14 Donovan and guerrilla warfare ..................................................................................................... 14 Military and economic aid ............................................................................................................. 15 Anti-communist propaganda .......................................................................................................... 17 Education and training .................................................................................................................. 18 Geneva and Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) .......................................................... 19FRUIT OF INOCULATION ................................................................................................................ 21 ANTI-COMMUNIST PROPAGANDA......................................................................................................... 21 AID ...................................................................................................................................................... 22 EDUCATION ......................................................................................................................................... 25CONCLUSION ...................................................................................................................................... 27REFERENCES ...................................................................................................................................... 30 3
  4. 4. INTRODUCTION The 1950s was a period of great uncertainty for Thailand. With its neighbourscaught up in communist insurrections, the kingdom needed a strong ally to protect itagainst a possible Red invasion. Meanwhile, the United States needed a friendly baseto launch their anti-communist plans in Southeast Asia. Their interests converged andthey hooked up. Much has been written about the alliance between Thailand and the US (seeDarling, 1965; Surachart, 1985; Randolph, 1986; Fineman, 1997). While this paperwill still sketch out the mechanics of friendship between the two countries from thelate 1940s to the late 1950s, the objective of this paper is to study US attempts tobolster Thailand against communism with the use of psychological warfare. Duringthis period, the ‘wars’ for Thailand and the US were fought more on the psychologicallevel. In fact, neither country was involved in large-scale physical fighting inSoutheast Asia at that time. Hence, that was why psychological warfare was all themore important then because individual governments were making decisions andresponding based on impressions and perceptions founded on what they thought theopposing side was doing. The psychological warfare comprised anti-communist propaganda, military andeconomic aid, educational programmes, and collective defence treaties. I wouldexamine these various aspects in turn and assess their effects (both intended andunintended) on Thailand. 1
  5. 5. SETTING THE STAGE By April 1948, the world situation had drastically changed – the communistspulled off a successful coup in Czechoslovakia; the US was rushing large-scaleeconomic and military assistance under the Marshall Plan to Western Europe toprevent further communist aggression; much of China had fallen under the control ofMao Zedong’s communists and communist revolts began spreading to the newlyindependent nations in the Southeast Asia. At the same time, US President HarryTruman’s momentous decision to provide assistance to the Greek and Turkishgovernments in their struggle against communist guerrillas marked the beginning of anew US foreign policy – containment of communism. Within the increasingly turbulent region of Southeast Asia, Thailand was the onlycountry which did not have a communist insurrection within its borders and was theonly area which remained relatively stable and calm. The US began to be interestedin the nation. On February 10, 1949, US ambassador Edwin Stanton wrote to theSecretary of State, proposing more attention to be paid to Thailand: I do not need to emphasize the advisability and timeliness of establishing and implementing an affirmative policy regarding Siam in view of developments in China and the certainty that communist activities and pressure will be greatly intensified throughout Southeast Asia and this country. It is not argued that this area is equally as important as Europe, but communism being a global problem, it appears to us here to be both wise statesmanship and good strategy to take steps now before this area is completely dominated by communism, to contain this threat and give support and encouragement to such countries as Siam which are not yet seriously infected. (Randolph 1986:11)America the patron, Thailand the client Concerned with the developments in its Indochinese neighbours and with its ownmilitary security, Thailand followed the lead of the US by recognising the French- 2
  6. 6. supported Bao Dai government in February 1950. Prior to that, Ambassador-at-largePhillip Jessup, while in Bangkok for a conference of American ambassadors in the FarEast, had met with Phibun and urged him to recognise Bao Dai. Jessup had hinted atthe prospect of aid and of getting a chunk of the money that had been earmarked forChina. But this aroused serious dispute within the Phibun cabinet. Foreign MinisterPote Sarasin counselled against such a move, arguing that it was a mistake forThailand to commit itself so openly in a struggle whose outcome was still uncertain.Seriously split, the cabinet left the decision to Phibun, who opted in favour ofrecognition. Pote resigned in protest. Thailand recognised the Bao Dai governmentand was duly rewarded with US$10 million from the US. (Baker and Pasuk 2005:144) In June 1950, when the Soviet-supplied North Korean People’s Army invadedSouth Korea, Thailand supported the US-sponsored “Uniting for Peace Resolution” inthe United Nations, which encouraged collective action wherever aggression arose.(Wiwat 1982:133) And in July, Thailand went one step further – Phibun sent 4,000soldiers and 40,000 tons of rice to Korea – and became the first Asian nation to offertroops and supplies for the US campaign. The Americans seized upon its PR-potential to counter accusations that the Korean War smacks of Western/USimperialism and hailed Thailand’s involvement as an Asian country. Phibun knew hewas playing his cards right. He even told the parliament that, “by sending just a smallnumber of troops as a token of our friendship, we will get various things in return”.(Fineman 1997:117) In September, the US agreed to provide Thailand with economic and technicalassistance, and the United States Operations Mission (USOM) was set up. A newlycreated Special Technical and Economic Assistance Mission (STEM) was given 3
  7. 7. US$8 million to set up an American-supervised language centre to teach English toThais, as well as to improve the nation’s agriculture and infrastructure. In October,the World Bank gave a US$25 million loan – the first loan made by the World Bankto a nation in Southeast Asia – for further development projects. (United Nations 1950)In the same month, the US signed an agreement to provide equipment and training forthe Thai army under the Military Assistance Group. By January, the arms startedarriving. During the following year, the US sent 28 shipments of military equipmentto equip 10 army battalions, fighter plans and modern naval vessels. (Nongnuth1982:140) The Thais were impressed with the speed of the US response and Phibun becameincreasingly good at espousing anti-communist rhetoric. For example in July 1949,he confidently told parliament that “there is now no communist unrest in Thailand”.(Fineman 1997:87) But a month later, he blatantly announced to the West thatcommunist pressure on Thailand had become “alarming” and internal communistactivity had “vigorously increased”. (Darling 1961:214) Phibun clearly saw how hecould kill two birds with one stone – use the communist threat as an instrument toremove his political opponents and make the US happy at the same time. The reunification of China in 1949 prompted another wave of nationalist feelingamong Thailand’s Chinese. Chinese names became fashionable, enrolment in Chineseschools shot up and remittances to China increased. At the same time, conflictbetween the Kuomintang and communists intermittently erupted in battles onBangkok streets. From late 1950, the government began to harass the press, deportChinese involved in political activity, smash labour organisations and use the militaryand Sangha for anti-communist propaganda. 4
  8. 8. The “communist” label became the latest tool to smear the reputations of politicalopponents. During the Manhattan rebellion in June 1951 when Phibun was kidnappedby the navy while officiating a ceremony aboard the dredger “Manhattan”, both thenavy rebels and government accused each other as “communist”. Although Phibunfinally claimed that communists were the cause of the three-day coup, linking thenavy rebels to Pridi and his Free Thai followers, observers concluded that it hadactually been caused by the increasing rivalry among the military services. Thesuppression of this coup also marked and confirmed the rise to power of Phibun’s twochief rivals in the 1947 Coup Group – police chief Phao Siyanon and army chief SaritThanarat. The triumvirate quickly moved in to remove the 1949 constitution and thepower it gave to the monarchy before King Bhumibol Adulyadej returned to assumehis royal duties. While the king was at sea, en route from Singapore to Bangkok, onNovember 29, the military simply announced on the state radio that: because of the present world situation and because of communist aggression and widespread corruption, members of the armed forces, the police and leaders of the 1932 and 1947 coups d’état had decided to put the 1932 Constitution in force in the kingdom. (Wyatt 2003:260)The main justification for this Silent Coup was that communists were infiltrating theparliament and Cabinet. This was the first time that the threat of communism wasused as the rationale for a coup. Hence the local battle over the control of the Thaistate was now being cloaked in the vestiges of a worldwide ideological struggle. With the 1947 Coup Group taking more power, they were more determined thanever to hush the internal political opposition. They put into place a slew of laws andadministrative changes to enhance the internal security powers of the governmenteven further. The most powerful tool was a stringent anti-communist law, which was 5
  9. 9. worded widely enough to target any dissent. The police began arresting suspectsunder this law within 48 hours after it was passed on November 10, 1952. More than1,000 were arrested; mostly Chinese who were deported but also sundry enemies ofthe regime including Thammasat student activists. Thirty-seven Thais, includingleftist writers like Kulap Saipradit, were jailed. Three newspapers were also closeddown. (Darling 1961:290) The police continued to seize “communist” suspects, whowere accused of plotting against the government, and occasionally newspaper editorsat regular intervals. Dissent was not tolerated at all. A junior civil servant’s commentto an American observer summed it up well: “Only half of our members of parliament are elected. The others are appointed. And the elections – such strange things happen that nobody believes in them anymore. I love Thailand. Yet if I say freely what I say to you, they will say I am communist.” (Darling 1961:307).Within a short time, the stress on nationalism, the fear of communism and Americanarms discouraged all but a few people from opposing the policies of the government.Hence after 1952, the Phibun government gradually eliminated all remnants ofdemocratic or representative government in the country.Changes in the US administration By 1953, there was a Republican regime in Washington that had won thepresidential election partly on the accusation that the Democrats had been “soft oncommunism”. Dwight Eisenhower’s administration promised to give a new look tothe American defence posture and attempts would be made to bolster the nation’santi-communist allies. It indicated a desire to increase the reliance on military powerand regional collective security in deterring communist aggression. At the same time,Eisenhower recognised the need to economise on the government’s expenditures so 6
  10. 10. he called for an increase in the ground forces maintained by the countries in Asia anda corresponding reduction of America troops. Local military forces could bemaintained at a smaller cost and would be supported by the mobile striking forces ofAmerican air and naval power. The real architect of American foreign policy was notEisenhower but the secretary of state, John Foster Dulles. Dulles, whose father was aPresbyterian minister, was almost rabid in his condemnation against atheisticcommunism. Practising brinkmanship – the ability to get to the verge without gettinginto war – with the Soviet Union, he often threatened massive retaliation if the USSRlaunched a first strike.PROCESS OF INOCULATIONIn search of a Southeast Asian base In early 1953, the situation in Southeast Asia looked increasingly bad for theWestern powers. The Vietminh had overrun vast areas of the Vietnamese countrysideand in April, it even launched an invasion into Laos which brought them to within afew miles of the Thai border, spelling the death knell of French military and politicalstrategy in Indochina. The offensive convinced the US that France needed to grantVietnam genuine independence as well as change its military strategy to guerrillatactics in order to hold Indochina. The Americans also wanted a greater say in Frenchmilitary planning, but the French said no on all counts. At the same time, Red China was emerging as a regional power. Since theChinese intervention in the Korean War, China had in the eyes of Washingtonpolicymakers replaced the Soviet Union as the chief adversary of the West in Asia.This perception was shared by the Thais too. China continued its sabre-rattling with 7
  11. 11. strident and bombastic declarations blaring from Radio Peking and Washington wasnot discounting the possibility of a Chinese Korea-style invasion, most probablyknifing through Northern Thailand. So both Thailand and the US must have been spooked when China announced inJanuary 1953 the formation of a Thai Autonomous People’s Government atSipsongpanna in southern Yunnan province. That area had been the originalhomeland of the Thai people and was still inhabited by some 200,000 Thai tribesmen.The announcement stated: At the inaugural ceremony the Chairman [a Thai] and the council members pledged that they would … guide the Thai people to… make concerted efforts to smash the sabotage activities of the American imperialists and special agents of Chiang Kai-shek’s bandit gang… under the leadership of the Chinese communist Party, Chairman Mao Tse-tung, and the Central People’s Government. (Stanton 1954:79)Further concern was sparked when Pridi Phanomyong suddenly appeared in Peking inJuly 1954. He was referred to as the “Public Leader of Thailand” by Radio Peking,leading the Thai government to believe that Pridi would be used as a puppet for thesubversive purposes of China. Although Pridi had little following left in Thailand bythen, and that he was unlikely able to lead the largely backward tribesmen who hadlittle prestige or support among the more advanced Thai population in Thailand in asubversive crusade, it was still regarded as a potential communist threat by both theEisenhower and Phibun governments. On top of that, the Vietminh incursions into Laos in April and again in December1953 added to Thailand’s discomfort although they did not pose a serious threat to thekingdom. Meanwhile, the Korean War was drawing to a close. It ended with aceasefire agreement between the two sides due to fierce opposition from the North 8
  12. 12. Koreans and the Chinese, as well as escalating domestic pressure in the US to end thewar. This made the Thai elite realise that the US was not as invincible as they hadearlier thought it to be. Consequently, Thailand started to pursue a two-prongedpolicy of being overtly anti-communist while seeking covert rapprochement withChina. (Kullada 2003:55) It was while the US was looking for a Southeast ally and Thailand was looking fora protector when both became fitting bed partners. The US picked Thailand for avariety of reasons: Geographically, Thailand occupied a strategic area in the centre of mainlandSoutheast Asia and was the best friend that the US had there – Burma was neutralist,Malaya was under the British thumb and France was touché over its Indochinesecolonies. While the surrounding countries were embroiled in bitter military conflicts,Thailand was an oasis of stability under Phibun’s authoritarian military regime.Having never fallen under European domination completely, Thailand did not sufferfrom xenophobia or the rabid nationalism surging through its neighbours.Demographically, Thailand’s population of 20 million was the largest in the regionand literacy rate was estimated at between 30 and 40 per cent, a relatively high figurefor Asia. The traditional Thai antipathy towards the Chinese, who controlled much ofthe private commercial sector, could be harnessed in the fight against communism.Economically, Thailand was the world’s leading rice exporter and was rich inresources (resources that the US would like to keep from falling into hostile hands).The peasants were not likely to turn to communism because there was a surplus ofrice and they owned the land. Moreover, US aid and technical assistance programmeshad further increased agricultural production (especially in rice-growing), built up the 9
  13. 13. transportation system, increased productivity in mining industries and rapidlyimproved public health, especially with regards to malaria control. (Norland 1999:91) But the most important factor was Thailand’s obedient compliance to US requests– despite intense opposition from European powers and despite the ensuingembarrassment when they were left holding the buck. This was first tested inOperation Paper1 in early 1951 and then in spring 1953 when the US asked the Thaigovernment to make an UN appeal on behalf of the Laos over Vietminh’s invasion.Not wanting to internationalise the issue, the French protested strongly. The Britishalso urged caution. But Thailand stuck firm to the American lead. Although theappeal fell through in the end, it showed Thailand’s potential for pressuring theFrench and the communists and the kingdom was beginning to function as an anti-communist, anti-French US bastion in Southeast Asia.Psychological Warfare Strategy On May 6, 1953, during the discussion on the Laotian crisis at the NationalSecurity Council (NSC) meeting, C. D. Jackson, acting as special assistant to thepresident for international affairs, suggested that the NSC “look into what could bedone by way of psychological warfare with Thailand as a base”. A deputy chief ofthe Psychological Warfare Division during World War II, Jackson was a firm believerin the efficacy of psychological warfare. (Fineman 1997:171) Eisenhower, who alsohad a longstanding interest in this area, approved the idea. The PsychologicalStrategy Board (PSB), an inter-agency body operating since 1951, was tasked withdrafting detailed plans. It presented its report – “U.S. Psychological Strategy with1 Under Operation Paper, the Phibun government provided diplomatic cover and logistical support tothe CIA which was attempting a large-scale invasion of southern China with the help of Nationalisttroops in Burma. 10
  14. 14. Respect to the Thai Peoples of Southeast Asia” – on July 2. Designated as PSB D-23,the report served as the blueprint for American Thai policy for the next year and a half.The plan for Thailand was part of a larger psychological strategy for Southeast Asia,whose objective was “preventing the countries of Southeast Asia from passing intothe communist orbit, and to assist them to develop the will and ability to resistcommunism from within and without and to contribute to the strengthening of the freeworld”. 2 (PSB D-23, 21) The importance of a psychological strategy at this particular point in historycannot be overstated. One has to bear in mind that this was pre-1960s – before the USstarted fighting the Vietnam War and before communist insurrections flared up inThailand. In fact, neither Thailand nor the US was involved in any large-scalefighting in Southeast Asia at that time. Sure, there were threats of imminent war butthe war was fought more on the psychological level than on the physical level.Governments were making decisions based on impressions and intuition founded onwhat they thought the opposing side was doing. For example, the establishment of theThai Autonomous State in Yunnan province and the reports that Pridi is in China andcollaborating with Free Thai leaders were in all probability part of a psychologicalwarfare operation launched by the Chinese communists to discourage the Phibungovernment from cooperating too closely with the Western powers. (Darling1961:255)2 The concept of drawing a perimeter crops up again. On January 12, 1950, Secretary of State DeanAcheson, in a speech, drew an American defence perimeter encompassing Japan, the Ryuku Islands,and the Philippines. Asian nations falling outside the line would have to fend for themselves. Korea’sexclusion from the perimeter was seen by some as an invitation for communist aggression that led tothe Korean War. 11
  15. 15. The PSB believed that the secret of Vietminh success lay in Ho Chih Minh’sability to win the war at the psychological level. The Vietminh were seen asdefenders of Vietnamese nationhood against the French oppressors and thus won widesupport among the locals. Despite the numerical and technological superiority ofFrench forces, the Vietminh’s ability to maintain the military initiative created animpression of invincibility. Ho’s constant harassment of the French troops with hissmall guerrilla units also contributed to the psychological discouragement of theFrench. Because “the French have demonstrated their inability to formulate andimplement a [counter-strategy]”, the US was convinced that it needed to takeleadership throughout the whole area so that it could force the French to adopt anoffensive, guerrilla-warfare strategy as well as to grant Vietnam genuineindependence. (PSB D-23, 4) This would then create “an atmosphere of victory” andthe “impression that the US is determined not to abandon Southeast Asia to thecommunists”. It would also hopefully “raise the morale of non-communistindigenous nationalist elements in Indochina – particularly in Laos and Cambodia –because it will suggest the possibility of greater US pressure on the French toaccelerate reform.” (PSB D-23, 6) But since impressions count, the US was alsoconscious that its moves might generate “British and French suspicions that USleadership in Southeast Asia is a cloak for US ‘ambitions’ detrimental to theirinterests” or stir up “similar suspicions of US ‘imperialism’ on the part of extremeAsian nationalists”. (PSB D-23, 8) Moreover, the PSB was quick to trump up Thailand’s ethnic make-up as an idealfactor in psychological warfare against the Vietminh.3 Thais living in the northern3 The PSB had wrongly presumed that there was an affinity between the Thai-related groups of Laos. 12
  16. 16. and northeastern part of the country shared the same language as those in Laos andThailand actually has several times more ethnic Lao than lightly-populated Laos. Thereport made certain sweeping generalizations of Thai ethnography, beginning with theassertion that since the present Thai regime was too corrupt to “satisfy the idealisticside of the complex Thai character, there is an urgent need for American moralleadership to fill this psychological vacuum before the communists do”. Continuingin the same vein, the report claimed that although the Thais are “courageous andintelligent” they are also “gentle and frivolous”; they are “incorrigible individualists”but also “amazingly ingenious improvisers”. On top of these, the Thais supposedlylack foresight and dislike systematic planning. Based on these traits, the PSB advisedthat the Thais are “peculiarly unsuited to military institutions of the Western type”and “any attempt to develop rapidly a large-scale efficient modern army in Thailand isprobably foredoomed to failure”. However, the organisation of Thai manpower intosmall guerrilla-type units “would minimise their military defects and give maximumscore to their virtues”. (PSB D-23, 14) Yet one wonders if this American version of Thai ethnology is simply a case oftailoring the description to meet the need. The US did not need an army with Germanor Swiss efficiency in Thailand; it needed guerrilla-type units. So the US needed theThais to be courageous and “ingenious improvisers” instead of, say, efficient andclear thinkers. With that, the US concluded that “Thailand is the logical – in fact theonly possible – focus of the integrated, offensively-defensive strategy needed todefeat the communists in Southeast Asia”. (PSB D-23, 5) 13
  17. 17. Implementing PSB D-23 Eisenhower once described psychological warfare as “anything from the singingof a beautiful hymn to the most extraordinary kind of physical sabotage”.(Presidential papers, No. 481) This just about describes the two-stage plan in PSB D-23. Phase one involves psychological warfare operations to strengthen Thailand –increased propaganda activities, appointment of diplomats sensitive to Thai culture,stepped up efforts to convince the Thai people of America’s commitment to thecountry sans imperialist ambitions, and aiding development. However, the key to theprogramme lay in its military goals to “develop, expand and accelerate to the greatestextent sound programmes for the creation and employment of guerrilla andparamilitary forces” in Thailand. (PSB D-23, 22) This would then facilitate phase two,where the US hoped to send the guerrilla units into Indochina to defeat the Vietminh.Donovan and guerrilla warfare The man tasked with implementing PSB D-23 was William “Wild Bill” Donovan– former Office of Strategic Services (OSS) chief, cofounder of the CIA, Wall Streetlawyer and lobbyist for foreign governments4. As the new US ambassador toThailand, he was told to coordinate the efforts among the Foreign OperationsAdministration (FOA), United States Information Service (USIS) and the CIA inThailand to go hand in hand with PSB D-23. Donovan felt that he understood theVietminh because the OSS had worked with Ho Chih Minh. Like the PSB, hebelieved that only a guerrilla strategy shaped after Ho’s could defeat the communists.4 Donovan continued to be a highly paid lobbyist for Phao in the US after he finished his stint asambassador in Thailand. 14
  18. 18. Since Donovan considered the police to be the most flexible and effective fightingforce in the country, he centred PSC D-23’s guerrilla-warfare programme on Phao’sdepartment5. In late 1953, the CIA helped the Thais to establish a new intelligenceorganisation which followed communist (and non-communist) dissident activities inthe kingdom and its neighbours. The Border Patrol Police (BPP), consisting of 5,000policemen trained for military-style patrol of the border with Laos and Cambodia, wasformed under Donovan’s tenure. The unit implemented most of the guerrilla-warfareaspects of PSB D-23. Donovan also helped Phao to set up the elite of the policeparamilitary units, the Police Aerial Reconnaissance (Resupply) Unit (PARU). Therecruits, high-school graduates proficient in the languages of neighbouring countries –were trained in parachuting, sabotage, jungle warfare and survival. The CIA paid thesalaries of PARU and BPP troops. (Fineman 1997:182) Tapping into the local peasants, the US gave the BPP US$4 million to distributelight weapons to villagers and train them to fight communist guerrillas andpropaganda agents. Another civilian-based guerrilla-warfare programme focussed onthe 200,000 non-Thai hill tribesmen in Thailand’s northern mountains. The BPP,with CIA funding and equipment, started to secretly arm and train them in guerrillawarfare, with the eventual hope of deploying into Laos6. (Fineman 1997:183)Military and economic aid Armed with the objective to “prepare the country for an eventual communistassault”, Donovan pushed Dulles to give more military aid to Thailand to boost itsmilitary defence. (Darling 1961:260) Washington gave the green light and in 1953,5 This was the beginning of a close friendship between Phao and Donovan.6 In the mid-1960s, the US fought, through an anti-communist army of Hmong hill tribesmen,America’s so-called Secret War in Laos. 15
  19. 19. the US$56 million of military aid actually exceeded the Thai military budget by 250per cent. (Nongnuth 1982:145) Donovan was also largely responsible for theenlargement of the MAAG mission from 300 to 400 men in 19547. By then, theEisenhower administration had reduced the technical cooperation programme to abouthalf its former size while the defence support programme increased by more than sixtimes. (Nongnuth, 141) Although US economic aid lagged far behind the astronomical sums of militaryaid, American non-military aid to Thailand did increase from less than US$10 millionper year before 1953 to about $25 million per year by the late 1950s, peaking atUS$46 million in 1955. (Muscat 1990:295) It should be noted that the peak came theyear after the fall of Dien Bien Phu and Thailand’s entering SEATO. The US poureda sizeable portion of this money into the northeastern region. In 1954, although thearea contained only about a third of the country’s population, 40 per cent of allAmerican economic aid for Thailand went there. (Fineman 1997:180) Being dry andimpoverished, the Isan region was the most susceptible to communist attack andsubversion8. In fact, by the 1950s, leftist politician Thep Chotinuchit found hispolitical base there. Responding to the threat, the US sped up rural developmentprojects there and established Thai public relations offices in Udon Thani and UbonRatchathani. The most important project that the US initiated in Isan after PSB D-23was probably the construction of the Friendship Highway from Saraburi to NakhornRatchasima, which linked the central region with the northeast by paved road for thefirst time. Since the World Bank was not interested in supporting it, the US forked7 This is also related to a later discussion on SEATO in this paper.8 Thailand’s first communist insurgency was birthed there in 1965. 16
  20. 20. out US$13 million of the US$20 million price tag because it considered the highwaycrucial to possible military operations in the area. (Randolph 1986:22)Anti-communist propaganda One of the first things Donovan did when he arrived in Bangkok was to intensifythe anti-communist propaganda, leveraging on the substantial USIS substantialpresence in Bangkok. In December 1953, he convinced Phibun to establish a high-level US-Thai psychological warfare committee whose target was to “disclose [the]aims and techniques of communism through press, church [sic], universities, youthgroups, radio, military indoctrination and cultural groups”. (Fineman 1997:180) WithUSIS aid, the Thai public relations offices opened libraries, broadcast radioprogrammes, exhibited photographs and showed movies, all with an anti-communistmessage. Local writers who wrote anything against communism were given widesupport. For example, USIS saw to it that Kukrit Pramoj’s anti-communist book“Red Bamboo” was translated into 18 languages although it was at best, a mediocrenovel, and at worst, an outright plagiarised version of Giovanni Guareschi’s DonCamillo stories. Mobile units were also sent to villages to preach the anti-communistmessage. There were singers and dancers, comedians, soldiers who fought in theKorean War and Chinese who lived under the communist regime in those caravans.With parades, lectures, bawdy songs, movies and drama, they instructed the people inthe evils of communism. (New York Times Magazine, July 1956) Some people saw communism as a new form of religion and sought ways to tapon traditional religions to combat it. Wichit Wathanakan, Phibun’s ideologue, wrote:“If we can build nationalism in people’s hearts in the same way that communists 17
  21. 21. make people believe in communism like a religion, we don’t need to worry that thecountry will fall to communism.” (Baker and Pasuk 2005:147) Buddhist scholarsurged young intellectuals to form study groups to seriously study Buddhism,reminding them that “communist practices are against Buddhist ethics” and that “aBuddhist does not start off solving his problems by first blaming others… so remediesfor social ills are far more complicated than the readymade formulae offered bycommunism”. (Bhavilai 1967:88) Christian preachers also took a strong line againstcommunism and this was boosted by the influx of American missionaries intoThailand after China fell to the communists and expelled all the missionaries. Abouthalf of the 700 missionaries in Thailand then were Americans. (Wells 1966:3) Donovan then extended the propaganda campaign, originally targeted at thepeasants, to the Thai bureaucracy and involved the “indoctrination of the Thaigovernment officials at national, provincial, and local levels”. The USIS sponsoredthe first of a series of anti-communist lectures to government officials in May 1954.(Fineman 1997:180) Seni Pramoj spoke at one such lecture where he told horrorstories about communism, compared this “new faith” against Buddhism andChristianity and found it wanting because: “Man is a spiritual animal. Communism,seeking to satisfy only man’s material need, will fail because it fails to provide such aspiritual answer.” (Seni 1958:25)Education and training “If not the educational exchanges, then what better means is there to change the attitudes of men – what better way is there to break the pattern of recurrent violence and destruction?” – William Fulbright. (Indorf 1982:96) 18
  22. 22. One of the key ways of “indoctrination” takes place when the Thais are sentabroad for education or training. It could be long-term, usually for graduate education,or short-term, for special courses, on-the-job training and observation tours. The aidprogramme began sending participants to the US right from the start, with an initial14 in 1951 and 77 in 1952. The numbers rose rapidly and reached a cumulative totalof 8,000 by 1970. Typically about a quarter to a third of the participants go to the USfor graduate education. The Fulbright Educational Foundation contributed greatly tothe process. Started in 1950, it promotes two-way exchange – first by providingscholarships for Thais to study in US universities then making it possible forAmerican professors and scholars to teach and study in Thailand. By the end of thefirst year, 48 Thai students were attending graduate or professional schools in the USwhile nine Americans were teaching and studying in Thailand. (Thai-U.S.Educational Foundation, 1986:67) The Fulbright grants encouraged Thai-Americaneducational exchanges and the number of Thais leaving for studies in the US had beenon a steady climb since then. In 1951, there were 234 Thai students in US universities.The number more than doubled to 586 in 1955. (Muscat 1990:60) Before embarkingfor the US, many Thais polished their English skills at American University Alumni(AUA), the aforementioned language centre set up by the American government in1952.Geneva and Southeast Asia Treaty Organisation (SEATO) By April 1954, a month before the fall of Dien Bien Phu, the French looked likethey were about to cave in to the Vietminh. A worried US started planning directAmerican military intervention. Dulles tried to cobble together a coalition of Western 19
  23. 23. and Asian nations to justify the possibility of bombing Vietnam. But no one wasinterested except for an enthusiastic Thailand, which was then rewarded with atentative US promise to help expand the size of its army from 60,000 to 90,000 men.(Fineman 1997:191) The US continued to make a show of preparing for air strikesagainst the Vietminh by helping Thailand build air bases at Nakorn Ratchasima andTakli in the north, while publicising Phibun’s willingness for the bases. The gambitworked and scored psychological points against China, which feared the US wouldstation troops in Thailand or Indochina. At the truce talks between the French andVietminh in Geneva, Zhou Enlai pressured Ho to settle for less than the Vietminhposition on the ground justified9. Ho agreed and accepted a “temporary” partition ofVietnam into northern and southern halves. With the domino theory10 being the dominant thinking at that time, the success ofthe Vietminh had prompted fears of communist expansion in Asia. So in September1954, representatives from the US, Britain, France, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan,the Philippines and Thailand met in Manila to discuss and sign an anti-communistpact – Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) – with the main objective ofcontaining communism in Southeast Asia11. Thailand had hoped for a stronger UScommitment especially after China’s recent sabre-rattling strategies. On July 30,Pridi had criticised the “US imperialists” and “the Thai reactionary government” inthe People’s Daily and urged the Thai people to “wage a struggle against the rulers[of Thailand] – American imperialism and its puppets, the government of Thailand”.9 It should be noted that this conclusion came about not because there had been any physical movementof US troops to Southeast Asia but because of the manipulation of impressions given to the Chinese.10 The theory speculated if one key nation in a region came under the control of communists, otherswould follow one after the other.11 In August, Dulles told Eisenhower of his reluctance to form SEATO because it “involvedcommitting the prestige of the US in an area where we had little control and where the situation was byno means promising”. (Dulles papers, Aug 17, 1954) 20
  24. 24. (Fineman 1997:196) Phibun wanted SEATO to be more NATO-like but it turned outto be rather toothless. Nevertheless, the Thais remained keen on the pact because anincrease in US aid was expected and that the pact put on paper the US commitment tofight for Thailand.FRUIT OF INOCULATION Obviously the objective of the above inoculation process was to make the Thaisimmune to the lure of communism. In this section I look at how effective theinoculation was as well as examine the side effects that have arisen from it.Anti-communist propaganda The USIS conducts regular research to evaluate the effectiveness of its anti-communist programmes. The first one was completed in June 1956 and looked intothe communication behaviour of the Thai elite. In that survey, only a quarter of therespondents perceived the movies that were screened as being outright propaganda.The majority were very open to the films and saw them as sources of information tolife in America. (USIS 1956:15) In 1959, another similar study was completed. The respondents were asked whatthey had heard about American foreign policy and almost 40 per cent mentioned thatthe US helps other countries. More than 90 per cent have heard or read that “Americais interested in the welfare of Thailand and is cooperating with Thailand in improvingThai living standard”. Most of them could identify accurately the prominentexamples of American aid to Thailand, such as construction of roads, military help,educational help and medical help. While 82 per cent felt that more aid was needed,they wanted more economic and educational, instead of military aid. And when the 21
  25. 25. respondents were asked what they thought was America’s reason for giving aid toThailand, most either said it was to help Thailand fight communism or it was to helpdevelop Thailand. Only seven per cent voiced that such a move was in US economicfavour. The results showed that the Thai people looked upon the US as a big brotherand not as a country that was helping out of an ulterior motive. (USIS 1959:30) In 1960, an interesting study using pictures to elicit views was completed. Forexample, to get their views on Thailand’s enemy, respondents were shown a pictureof a family running away from their rural house in terror. In the background, therewere planes dropping bombs. Responding to this picture, about 80 per cent of thoseinterviewed saw either China or Russia as Thailand’s enemy and being the majorthreat to the country. The kingdom was also seen as endangered by its strategicposition in Southeast Asia. In another picture, the opinions elicited of the communistregime in China were uncompromisingly hostile and respondents expressed the ideathat life under the communists was intolerable. (USIS 1960:45) Hence, it can be seen from these studies that the anti-communist propaganda hadbeen successful in shaping how people thought about and reacted towards thecommunist bloc.Aid American aid has largely dominated the dynamics of the relationship betweenThailand and the US. Economic aid improved the nation’s infrastructure and sped uprural development, with the Isan region reaping the most benefit. The FriendshipHighway opened up vast inaccessible jungle land for new and diversified crops, 22
  26. 26. including maize, kenaf, tapioca, castor and soya beans. This also opened up tradingopportunities for the Isan farmers. It had been suggested that the US economic aid was an attempt to open up theThai economy (Surachart, 1985; Kullada, 2003) Hence, the US tried to help the Thaieconomy by encouraging exports while Phibun put in place the Promotion ofIndustrial Act in 1954, eager to promote US business in order to balance the economicpower of the Phao and Sarit cliques. Moreover, the US was also hoping that the Thaieconomy would be integrated into the elements of a world economic system based onUS policy. Therefore, in 1950, the Thai government joined in the GATT negotiations,in IMF meetings and in UN regional meetings of ECAFE and FAO. While I agreethat the economic aid would later pave the way to open up Thai economy, especiallyduring Sarit’s regime, I posit that the economic aid given in the early 1950s had moreof a political role rather than economic. The economic programmes were designed toreinforce the alignment of the Thai government with the US. Any attempt at openingup the Thai economy by the US was thwarted by the military cliques while foreigninvestors got frustrated with the bureaucracy. While economic aid had helped to improve the lives of Thai people, the militaryaid had resulted in a much bleaker picture. It had been used as a tool to influenceboth domestic and foreign policies. Because an authoritarian regime was in place, thesupplies of arms to a military regime enhanced its ability to suppress politicalopposition. It also sustained domination by the military class, which benefited fromthe American aid, and in turn, limited the possibility of civilian rule in the country.American military equipment that was supposed to protect the country fromcommunist aggression was being used to make the internal clashes among the 23
  27. 27. contending military and political forces more destructive than before. In the past,Thailand had been famous for the non-violence of the political changes. But since theManhattan Rebellion where there were 603 civilian casualties and 3,000 militarycasualties, the coups had got progressively bloodier. “American guns killed ourpeople” became a rumour that was voiced around Bangkok for many days after that.(Darling 1961:240) By 1955, a few Americans started to question publicly the role of the US inThailand’s internal affairs. One senator declared that the American militaryprogramme in Thailand was much larger than the situation warranted while anothertestified that Thailand’s government was keeping itself in power with American armsand making “windfall profits” from American aid. (Darling 1961:274) This was notsurprising given that by the 1950s, military leaders were firmly entrenched in theboards of state enterprises and amassing private fortunes from director’s fees andpatronage contracts. They also squeezed private profit out of governmentalexpenditure flows by taking a cut from contracts, concessions, and supply agreements.Both Phao and Sarit grew very rich when their construction companies handled thecontracts for three provincial airports, several highways and buildings for stateenterprises. (Baker and Pasuk 1995:279) In fact, the US aid exacerbated the powerstruggle between Phao and Sarit. Their manpower became roughly equal: 48,000police and 45,000 in the army. They both visited the US in 1954 and returned withaid commitments of US$25 million (Sarit) and US$37 million (Phao). (Baker andPasuk 2005:146) In 1955, Phao asked the US to back him in a coup against Phibunbut was turned down. Phibun survived by mediating these conflicts. 24
  28. 28. Education The Thai-American educational exchanges began to bear fruit very shortly afterthey were put in place. The exchange acted as a conduit to disseminate Westernvalues, which the US had hoped would inoculate the Thais against communism. Iteven served to put a human face on US foreign policy. Eunice Brake, one of the firstteachers to come to Thailand to teach in 1951 under the Fulbright scheme said: “Tothe Thai students, the US will never be that huge impersonal nation across the sea, forit will be the home of the American teacher who was sympathetic towards their effortsto speak English.” The education programme heightened the political consciousness of the Thaistudents returning from the US. Many of them became competent experts andassumed responsible positions in the administration. Having imbibed the Westernvalues of equality, freedom, and progress, they sought to improve their own personalstatus as well as the welfare of the country. None of these Western-educatedreturnees, however, took an active role in politics, and many of them becameincreasingly frustrated as military officers with little education or experience ran thegovernment in an inept and autocratic manner. A returned Fulbright scholarcommented: “I came back from America full of ideas and enthusiasm to help my country. But every day I see that nothing is done here except by personal influence and favouritism. Every bit of policy is controlled by people put into their jobs by political friends, regardless of their ability.” (Darling 1961:307)Many Western-educated Thai joined the rising criticism of the military-dominatedgovernment. The US seemed to have been aware of this because the PSB D-23 25
  29. 29. mentioned care in not “associating too closely with the ruling clique” so as not toalienate this group of pro-democracy Thais. (PSB D-23, 13) In the long run, many of those who returned from the US in the late 50s actuallyended up as the movers and shakers in the 1980s. The prestige from having a higherdegree from the US almost always assured future elite status. Hence Udom Bausri(1982) wrote: “It has become almost proverbial that those Thais found in elevated government positions, in commerce or in banking, at universities, and even in the military, have received at least part of their education in the US. For a Thai to have attended an American university, or to have been trained at an American institution for a short term, is of immense practical value.”At least 70 per cent of the 1,210 persons in an early 1980s Who’s Who in Thailandhad studied or trained overseas. Sixty-one per cent of the overseas study had been inthe US. About a quarter of those who studied in the US had attended six universities– Indiana, Pennsylvania, Harvard, Radcliffe, Michigan, Illinois and Cornell. (Muscat1990:64) This would also imply that the Thai elite would have been rubbingshoulders among themselves and also with future US leaders during their varsity days.This would certainly have an impact on policies when the Thai returnees becomedecision makers in the government. A 1986 study showed that nearly 40 per cent of the 411 senior governmentpositions12 were held by those who were educated in the US. The majority were therefor degree training. Several had gone back to the States for short-term trainingopportunities. These returnees were concentrated in the core agencies of the PrimeMinister’s Office and the Ministry of Finance, as well as in the powerful Ministry of12 Senior position have been defined as all permanent secretaries, directors-general, secretaries-general,governor, and their deputies, plus the governors of the country’s 73 provinces. 26
  30. 30. Interior. (Muscat 1990:55) Other than these top-layer jobs across the ministries, manyUS-educated Thais could be found in the medical and academic fields, where theFulbright programme had traditionally put its priority on. Those who went intoteaching would then continue to disseminate the Western values to their students. Asa result, it is little wonder why the Thais see the US-sponsored training as the mostpervasive long-run contribution the US had made to Thai development.CONCLUSION Traditionally Thailand was famous for its “bend with the wind” diplomacy.However there was a shift in Thai foreign policy in the late 1940s and early 1950swhen it openly aligned itself with he United States and the “Free World” againstgrowing communist forces in the region. That alliance, at first informal, but laterformalised in the Manila Pact, had since then constituted the core of Thai-Americanrelations. And the US became increasingly reliant on Thailand as a base in SoutheastAsia against communism in the 1950s. By embarking on a massive programme to strengthen Thailand against thecommunist threat, the US unwittingly accelerated two antithetical forces in theevolving Thai political system. On one hand American military aid which wassupposed to have been used to protect Thailand against external aggressors ended upbeing used in the suppression of the regime’s political opponents. On the other handlarger numbers of Thai people were becoming politically conscious through theAmerican economic and educational programmes. As higher education and economicstandards were achieved, a stronger individualism arose and more articulate pressure 27
  31. 31. groups were formed. As these two forces came into increasing conflict the generaltendency of most Americans was to claim that it was purely an internal affair. While the schism between the two forces would erupt into the bloody military-student clashes in later years, the beginnings of that tension could be seen in 1955when Phibun, inspired by his world tour, decided to experiment with democracy. Helifted censorship laws, allowed the formation of political parties, permitted criticismof the government, held press conferences and even set up a “Hyde Park” debatingcentre. Threatened by his increasingly powerful subordinates – Phao and Sarit – hehad hoped that the political reforms would gain him a wider base of popular support. But he probably did not foresee that the outpouring of anti-government sentimentwould increasingly target the US. Leftists, opportunists and many long-standingpolitical opponents of the military regime began to criticise American military aid andthe SEATO alliance. The US was also blamed for competing in the rice trade, the lowprices for rubber and tin, and the failure to increase economic aid. (Darling 1961:270)The new US ambassador, Max Bishop, tried to justify the high levels of military aid,claiming that it was needed for the protection of Thailand and her neighbours. Hesaid: “I look at Thailand as the cork in the ink bottle, and if you were to pull this corkthe red ink would flow to Australia immediately.” (Muscat 1990:93) In October,when many appeals were made for the release of political prisoners, the Thaigovernment explained that it would first have to consider “foreign views” sinceThailand was a member of SEATO (Bangkok Post, 1955) This appearance ofAmerican interference in Thai political affairs led to opposition charges that the USwas controlling the government. The US was seen as a strong supporter of the Phibungovernment – which people disliked for its widespread corruption and Phao’s cold- 28
  32. 32. blooded tactics. As the Thai military leaders sought to suppress the growingopposition, public hostility toward the Americans increased. The Bangkok pressprinted numerous articles critical of America. A bewildered US in turn assumed thatThailand was rapidly being infiltrated by the Reds. The honeymoon years of close cooperation between Thailand and the US werebeginning to wear thin. The United States, once seen as the good friend that helpedThailand after the war, was now perceived as a meddler in local affairs. GeorgeKennan, known as the “father of containment”, lamented in his memoirs that USforeign policy had been “bedevilled” by those wedded to the belief “that all anothercountry had to do, in order to qualify for American aid, was to demonstrate theexistence of a communist threat”. (1972:322) Thailand certainly exploited that andthe US was a willing partner. There was a communist threat to Thailand during thattime. But both Thailand and the US exaggerated the dangers to satisfy theirindividual agendas – the military leaders in Thailand needed an excuse to strengthentheir grip on the country while those in the US needed a bulwark against the Vietminhin Vietnam. In all probability, the stability and progress of the kingdom could havebeen maintained with a fraction of the expenditures and effort which went into thisvast anti-communist program. 29
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