Thailand in the 1930’s and 1940’s

By | December 17, 2021

The Siamese nationalist government, firmly established in power in 1933, had set itself a specific purpose: to give the country a new power that would allow it to assume a non-secondary role in the community of Asian peoples. The People’s Party had begun by carrying out a vast program of internal reforms; in the economic field a notable impulse was given to the development of agriculture and industry; the navy was considerably strengthened which, with 2 heavy cruisers, 4 large coastguards, 10 torpedo boats, 4 submarines, had become the most powerful – after the Japanese one – of the Far Eastern countries; a plan drawn up in 1937 foresaw the construction, within five years, of 3000 km. of new roads.

Starting from 1938, all powers were concentrated in the hands of the successor of gen. Phya Bahol, gen. Luang Pibul Songgram, who added to his functions as president of the council of state those of foreign minister and national defense. He was, in fact, the inspiration and soul of the new direction of Siamese politics. On June 24, 1939, the council of ministers established that, to abolish a name adopted by foreigners, the country would take back the ancient name of Thailand (Maung Thai “land of the free”). The denomination of Siam was returned immediately after the end of the Second World War. For Thailand society, please check

On June 12, 1940, France and Thailand signed a non-aggression pact, by virtue of which the contracting parties undertook to guarantee mutual territorial integrity; the agreement was, moreover, ratified only by France, which became compliant following the defeat suffered at that time in Europe. On September 12, the Thai government declared in a memorandum that it would resume negotiations on a new basis. Siam’s requests were as follows: the French cession of all the territories of Laos delimited by the right bank of the Mekong, as well as the recognition of any rights of Siam over Cambodia and Laos, “in the event that French sovereignty should be transmitted to a third power “. These demands were supported on hand by Japan, eager to create a reason for intervention in the Indochinese peninsula to disguise, then, the invasion with the task of mediator between the two sides in contention. A sharp refusal from France to the desired Thai was followed by a friendship pact signed in December 1940 between Japan and Siam, while the press and radio in Bangkok unleashed a very violent anti-French campaign. Meanwhile, Siamese troops had crossed the border with Indochina (23 November), penetrating the kingdom of Luang-prabang and, therefore, in the province of Sisophon, bombing various places in Cambodia and Laos: the retaliatory actions were weak and ineffective. by the small French garrisons stationed in Indochina. At this point the Japanese government – whose troops had meanwhile set foot in Indochina, occupying part of Tonkin with the forced consent of France – he offered the Vichy government his good offices for the settlement of the Franco-Thai dispute (December 3, 1940). The Pétain government ended up accepting the mediation and on January 31, 1941 France and Thailand concluded an armistice in the presence of a Japanese delegation. On 9 May 1941 – at the conclusion of long and laborious negotiations – the two parties signed a treaty which provided for the transfer to Thailand of approximately 70,000 sq km. of Indochinese territory (see above). With a separate protocol, the Japanese government guaranteed the definitive and irrevocable nature of the treaty in question (v.Indochina, in this App.).

Meanwhile, the friendship agreement concluded with Japan in December 1940 was replaced on December 21, 1941 by an alliance treaty, a prelude to the declaration of war on Great Britain and the United States (January 25, 1942). Thailand thus entered the orbit of Japan, accepting, by the will of its Prime Minister Pibul Songgram, the doctrine of the “New Order” in “Greater East Asia”. The Thai army, about 60,000 strong, supported by over 250 aircraft, actively participated alongside the Japanese troops in the military campaign in Burma, receiving from Tōkyō, as compensation, 4 Malaysian provinces as well as the Shan States (Burma). On 29 July 1944, Luang Pibul Songgram, placed in the minority in the Assembly, resigned,

One month after the capitulation of Japan, the state of war between Thailand and the United Nations was brought to an end by a convention signed in Kandy, in September 1945, by representatives of “Free Siam” and Great Britain, by virtue of the which Siam undertook to return the Malaysian and Shan states to the British crown. On November 17, 1946, France and Siam signed in Washington – with the patronage of the UN – an agreement that canceled the Tōkyō Convention of May 9, 1941: the Indochinese territories covered by the convention would be returned to the French under the conditions provided for by the protocol (art. ). Having resolved this question, on December 15, 1947, Siam was admitted as the first former enemy state among the UN.

The mysterious murder of the young sovereign Ananda Mahidol – who had returned home from Switzerland to reign – resulted in the fall of the corrupt cabinet headed by Luang Pridi Banomyhong, head of the People’s Party, who was replaced by Admiral Thawan Thamrong Nawasawata (21 June 1947). On the night of November 7, 1947, departments of the army, under the leadership of the maresc. Pibul Songgram – reappeared on the political limelight – overthrew the ministry, whose tendencies to attribute ever greater importance to the elements of the People’s Party and to patronize the adoption of the single-chamber system, had ended up alienating him the sympathy of the nationalist elements and of the army. Prime Minister Songgram justified his action with the need to create a stable and honest government, composed of men of proven experience and ability; has flatly denied that he wants to aspire to a new dictatorship and the only change of a constitutional nature to which he has so far made has been to replace the regency council with a deliberative commission, charged with assisting the nineteen-year-old sovereign Pumipol – brother of the deceased Ananda Mahidol – who, residing in Switzerland, has not yet been able to reign in your country. On 20 July 1948 the Siamese Constituent Assembly decided to change the name of the state from Siam to Thailand again, starting with the entry into force of the new constitution.

Thailand in the 1930's