Thailand History

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Tanks in the streets of Bangkok following 1932 coup
Courtesy New York Times Paris Collection, National Archives

As a result of Pridi’s fall from grace and the manner in which the civilian government that succeeded him handled the investigation of the king’s death, Phibun’s military faction regained some of the stature that it had lost through its wartime association with the Japanese. Reviving the nationalistic theme of its years in power, Phibun’s group played on intense public resentment of the war reparations Thailand had to pay and the economic dislocation the payments were believed to have caused. Army officers also blamed the civilian government for a humiliation the military suffered in 1946 when their units, facing expatriated Chinese Guomindang (Kuomintang--KMT) forces in the north, were ordered to disband in the field and were left without supplies or transport. They also criticized the civilian government’s conciliatory policy toward minorities--Chinese, Muslims, and hill tribes.

Phibun had been arrested as a war criminal in 1945 but was released by the courts soon afterward. Always an efficient leader and known as a staunch anticommunist, Phibun had retained his constituency of supporters in the officer corps. Even the civilian elite, dismayed at the economic disorder and frightened at the rise of communist insurgencies in neighboring countries, regarded him as an attractive candidate for office. Some observers contended that his rehabilitation had been due to United States influence.

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