The country’s military establishment was developed essentially to protect and defend an ethos that is still widely upheld: adherence to the monarchy, practice of Buddhism, and devotion to one’s country. Over the years, the armed forces have generally ensured a sufficient level of peace, order, and domestic security to maintain political stability. In this respect the Thai military’s place in national life has been like that of many other nations. However, military officers-- particularly in the army--were much more deeply involved in the country’s governmental and business operations than were their counterparts in most Western nations (see National and Urban Structures: Class and Status , ch. 2; Political Developments, 1980-87 , ch. 4).
Seizing power in 1951, ostensibly to protect the country and its traditional institutions from the threat of communist influences, military leaders firmly reinforced the traditional Thai values of peace, order, and security within the political fabric of society. Although military control of the country gave way in succeeding years to democratic periods of varying lengths, the population still regarded the armed forces as an institution that could be relied on when political stability was needed. One result of this attitude was the persistent involvement of senior military leaders in affairs in which the military in Western countries usually are not allowed to engage. It became commonplace for high-ranking officers to pursue military careers while taking an active role in lucrative business activities that in turn added to their influence in national affairs. The military service also became for many a career that provided as much opportunity for political achievement as did the civil service.
Liberal-minded observers deplored the inordinate influence the armed forces had on the country’s sociopolitical existence. Such criticism focused on allegations of repressive power tactics, greed, and corrupt practices. Defenders of the military, however, countered that in developing countries these abuses were minor in relation to the armed forces’ success in thwarting communist takeovers and ensuring stability. In the late 1980s, the military establishment remained an integral part of Thai society.