Why Thailand Takes Pride in the Vietnam War


Thai soldiers in South Vietnam.
“Fifty years ago last month, the first Thai volunteer soldiers, a regiment-size unit called the Queen’s Cobras, were sent off to Bien Hoa in South Vietnam to fight alongside the Americans as part of the so-called Free World Forces. Eventually some 40,000 Thai soldiers and sailors would serve. While the Vietnam War is remembered rightly as a tragedy in both the United States and Vietnam, the same cannot be said for Thailand. There the war is described by participants, military histories and official monuments in largely upbeat terms. In the early 2000s, I interviewed more than 60 Thai Vietnam War veterans from that original group and its successor, a division-size unit known as the Black Panthers. They repeatedly stressed the experiential and material gains the war had given them. They talked about how their service had successfully blocked the spread of communism to Thailand. They marveled at how much Thailand had changed during the war years. And while they acknowledged the war’s terrible toll on people throughout Southeast Asia, including some of their fellow soldiers, they mostly talked about how the war had helped them and their nation. What really struck me, though, was the pride they took in their self-image as Buddhist soldiers. ‘Thai Buddha, No. 1!’ I heard that phrase, originally blurted out in pidgin by American servicemen upon meeting Thai soldiers, time after time in my interviews. …”
NY Times

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