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Thai-American Relations in World War II

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 March 2011

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World War II brought a degree of complexity and intensity to Thai-American relations that contrasted sharply with their quiet uneventfulness in the era preceding it. Before the war, Thai relations with the United States had been friendly, but not close since Thailand was within the British financial and commercial sphere of influence. The factors chiefly responsible for altering diese former relations were the emergence of Thai nationalism in association with Japanese imperialism and the eclipse of Western power in eastern Asia during World War II.

Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 1963

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2 A nonaggression treaty with the U. S. was not needed since Article 1 of the 1937 treaty provided for “constant peace and perpetual friendship.” [U.S.A.] Treaty Series No. 940, p. 1.Google Scholar

3 Thompson, Virginia, Thailand the New Siam (New York, 1941), p. xxivGoogle Scholar. The Thais gained the impression that the French had agreed in principle to restore the deepwater channel as the boundary in the Mekong River, though the Thai Minister in Washington acknowledged in an aide mémoire to the State Department on September 18 that the matter “awaited formal negotiation.” Department of State file no. (hereafter signified D.S.) 751G. 92/26.

4 To explain the Thai position to all concerned, the Thais also dispatched a mission to Japan August 30 (which stopped at Saigon on the way), another to Burma and India in mid-September, and a third to Europe September 23. (D.S. 892.00P.R./137) However, these missions did not play a vital role.

5 Pibul Songgram was Foreign Minister as well as Prime Minister.

6 Grant personally was favorably impressed with the legitimacy of the Thai claims. Bangkok telegram no. 54. D.S. 751G. 92/3.

7 State Department telegram no. 31, August 21, 1940 (D.S. 751G. 92/3), apparently communicated to the Thai government August 24.

8 Though the British Minister told Grant he had recommended a favorable reply. Bangkok telegram no. 51. D.S. 751G. 92/2.

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10 Minister Grant gained this impression in his discussion with the Japanese Chargé in Bangkok on August 31. Bangkok telegram no. 64. D.S. 751G. 92/6.

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25 The Lend-Lease Act was signed by President Roosevelt on March 11, 1941, the same day the Franco-Thai treaty was initialled in Tokyo.

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31 D.S. 892.248/56. For the ten planes seized at Manila, Thailand received $544,726.87 plus 4% interest between March 26 and October 14, 1941, and for the six planes seized in California $371,088.13 plus interest between March 10 and October 10.

32 Bangkok despatch no. 180, May 20, 1941. D.S. 892.00 P.R./143.

33 Bangkok despatch no. 80, December 13, 1940. D.S. 392.1163/25.

34 Bangkok telegram 294, June 2, 1941 (D.S. 892.248/38) and Bangkok despatch no. 152 (D.S. 892.00 P.R./141).

35 Reportedly 125 planes, of which 13 were delivered in November, according to A. T. Steele.

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52 Bangkok despatch no. 14, November 4, 1941. D.S. 740.0011/A/466.

53 There had been some brushes between Thais and Japanese in Bangkok bars. Bangkok telegram no. 455, September 21, 1941. D.S. 792.94/148.

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56 D.S. 751G. 94/401.

57 D.S. 124.92/70. Peck's despatches all refer to Nai Direck as Foreign Minister.

58 Japan's declaration of war upon Britain, the U. S., and the Netherlands was formally promulgated at the height of the attack upon Pearl Harbor. Noboru, Kimura, Gembaku-ki Tokyo e [Atom Bombers to Tokyo] (Tokyo, 1952), p. 29.Google Scholar

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61 D.S. 892.00/233 (At this stage the Thai government refused the Japanese offer to include restoration of all lost territory since it wished to make it clear that it had yielded unwillingly to force. Bangkok telegram no. 557, December 8, 1941. Foreign Relations, 1941, V, pp. 378379.)Google Scholar

62 Memorandum by Cordell Hull, December 8, 1941. D.S. 740.0011 P.W./1004.

63 Memorandum by Mr. Adams of FE. D.S. 840.51 Frozen credits/4786.

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68 D.S. 740.0011 EW/1–542. Pramoj suggested that this declaration not be made public until U. S. diplomats in Thailand were able to depart safely.

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67 It also disregarded declarations of war by Hungary, Rumania, and Bulgaria.

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69 Retroactive to January 25.

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72 Thailand was violating Article I of the Treaty of 1937 which provided for residence and protection of Americans on the same basis as Thai nationals.

73 The son was attending Purdue University, and a bill had been introduced in the Congress to admit him to West Point.

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82 D.S. Bulletin, XIII, 323, p. 338Google Scholar. It was through similar financing that the Thai Legation was maintained and the expenses of Thai students were met in the United States during the war. The frozen Thai credits at the end of January, 1942, were on the order of $11.6 million. (D.S. 841.51 Frozen credits/5069 4/8 PS/A1.)

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84 Four ministers of state and the overwhelming majority of the National Assembly, civil servants, military personnel, and businessmen were either active members of the Underground or sympathizers, according to the Underground's own estimate at the end of 1943. D.S. 892.01/48.

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86 Chungking despatch no. 1129, July 9, 1943. D.S. 792.93/37.

87 Memorandum of conversation, October 4, 1943. D.S. 792.93/49.

88 Memorandum, December 23, 1943 (D.S. 892.01/48) and Stettinius letter to Donovan, Director of OSS, November 1, 1943 (D.S. 792.93/50).

89 Stettinius to Donovan, November 1.

90 Chinese summary record of conversation, Foreign Relations, Conferences at Cairo and Tehran, 1943, p. 325.Google Scholar

91 Memorandum of conversation of State and OSS representatives, January 26, 1944. D.S. 892.01/46.

92 Memorandum of conversation, February 1, 1944. D.S. 892.01/46.

93 Memorandum of conversation, February 22, 1944. D.S. 892.01/50.

94 They were disappointed that the Hump operation could not be expanded to supply the proposed Sino-Thai army. Acting Secretary of War to Secretary of State, February 23, 1944. D.S. 892.01/49.

95 Lord Halifax was Ambassador.

96 The British War Office had favored a forthright statement along the lines of recent statements by Roosevelt and Chiang Kai-shek, but the Foreign Office had demurred.

97 D.S. 892.01/50 and D.S. 892.01/53.

98 U.S. unsigned, undated memorandum handed to Lord Halifax and Memorandum of conversation, March 20, 1944. D.S. 892.01/55.

99 D.S. 892.01/54.

100 These were the four Unfcderated Malay States of Trengganu, Perlis, Kedah, and Kelantan which Thailand had been virtually forced to cede to Britain in 1909, and the two Shan States of Mong Pan and Kengtung on Thailand's northern border. Newsweek 22:34, 07 19, 1943Google Scholar. Cf. Vandenbosch, Amry and Landon, Kenneth P., “Thailand: Social and Political Structure,” D.S. Bulletin, XI, 283 (11 26, 1944), p. 641.Google Scholar

101 D.S. 892.01/53.

102 Chiang's power had waned so badly in China by 1944 that he would not have been able to conduct operations in Thailand or Indochina even if he had had the authority. But if he had had sole authority, Mountbatten would have been debarred.

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104 Along the same line, it was the opinion of the OSS that the activities of the British SOE and SIS in Burma and Thailand were more political than military. Memorandum, January 26, 1944. D.S. 892.01/46.

105 The Japanese, on March 8, 1945, had seized direct control of the administration of Indochina, interning the French Forces.

106 About May 24; the war in Europe ended May 7, 1945.

107 The entire account of the Wedemeyer-Mountbatten misunderstanding comes from a memorandum by G. M. Elsey, Assistant to the President's Naval Aide, in preparation for the Potsdam Conference. Foreign Relations, Conference of Berlin (Potsdam) 1945, 1, pp. 915921.Google Scholar

108 July 26, 1945.

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110 Ibid., p. 82.

111 July 22. Ibid., p. 1319.

112 Ibid., p. 271 and p. 1465.

113 Ibid., p. 260.

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115 D.S. Bulletin, XIII, 321 and 323.Google Scholar

116 D.S. Bulletin, XIII, 321, p. 261.Google Scholar