by Nickii Wantakan Arcado
The United States and Britain, through supported by the Free Thai movement’s espionage throughout the war, had staunch differences and perspectives when it came to post-war negotiations. The United States took a more forgive-and-forget stance as the country and its underground, independence movements had been one of the main reasons the allies were able to wine back Southeast Asia from the Japanese. The U.S. did not wish to dissolve Thailand’s military as it did Japan, but rather, find ways to liberate all areas of the country from Japanese control. The British were more skeptical and called upon potential repercussions and punishments against the nation.
One of these advocates was Sir Josiah Crosby, the British Minister at Bangkok. In an article that he published on October 1943, a few years before the end of the war, Crosby suggested the United Nations diminish the role of Thailand’s military power and framing it as a part of a post-war settlement. This, he argued, would allow democracy to flourish freely without militant constraints. In another article he published a year later, Crosby, perhaps holding a nationalistic grudge against the nation that declared war on the British on January 25, 1942, argued that the country was “liable to punishment” and that there needed to be “some form of tutelage” after the end of the war. On top of his previous idea of diminishing the role of the Royal Thai Military, Crosby further went on to recommend that the country retire the country’s old system of advisers and instead adopt an adviser under one of the United Nations member countries as a form of a 'quasi-tutelary authority’.
But Crosby’s view on Thai politics did not define the entire British model. Unlike Crosby, British post-war policy suggestions to Thailand was not to adopt an anti-military sentiment. To Britain, a framework build on imperialism, or as they framed it, a tutelary power to assist with administrative and political functions, was the best way to ensure peace in Asia. What the British model did agree with Crosby on, was pushing for punishments, justifying that by the end of the day, the country did still side with Axis powers and provided the Japanese Empire with opportunities for the detainment and torture of Allied POWs.
Despite Crosby’s arguments, the U.S. policy prevailed. Such failure could be attributed to two, related reasons; the First was the U.S.’s growing influence on a global scale. Out of every party involved, the U.S. was the only country to emerge from the war both economically and militarily stronger than when it first joined. As such, this put the country in the position to shape peace terms to their terms. Wanting to avoid another Great Depression—which occurred post-WWI—the U.S. developed a global financial system called the Bretton Woods system, whose ultimate goal it was to coordinate the global economy. On the political end, the United States also led the initiative to jump-start the creation of the United Nations.
The second was Britain’s sociopolitical decline. While the British presented strong ideas their unclear objectives in their post-war plan and their continuous fixation on imperialism despite clearly growing nationalist movements across Asia, failed to persuade the U.S. to back up their proposals for post-war Thailand.
Thailand and its government were well aware of the growing predominance of U.S. policy and the decline of the British model and utilized such situation to their advantage, structuring their laws, policies, and governmental system in response. Overall, British and U.S. attitude towards post-war Thailand has shaped aspects of how the country is being run today. Whether or not Britain's failure to dissolve the power of the Thai military has caused a ripple effect over the nation’s current political climate is up for debate, but what we can say, in the words of Nicolas Tarling, was that the attitude of 'atonement' before absolution and a pride for Western imperialism, no longer had a place in post-war negotiations.
Tarling, Nicholas. "Atonement Before Absolution: British Policy Towards Thailand During World War II." Journal of the Siam Society 66 (1978): 22-65.
Zakaria, Fareed. From wealth to power: The unusual origins of America's world role. Vol. 82. Princeton University Press, 1999.
F.C. Darling, Thailand and the United States, Washington, 1965, p. 41-43.
J. Crosby, "The failure of constitutional government in Siam", Asiatic Review, XXXIX (October 1943), 420. 3 J. Crosby, "Observations on a postwar settlement in South-East Asia", International Affairs, XX, 3 (July 1944), 362.
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