Puzzling that it may seem when Thai authority chose the day king Naresuan reputedly fought with Hongsawadee's viceroy on the elephants as the Army Day.This is because, on that glorious day ,the Thai Army in the western style wasn't engendered yet,let alone the existence of Thailand as a Nation -State (Don't you believe the subjects of the Lanna Kingdom participated with the Burmese army to conquer Ayutthaya).Perhaps the roles of the Thai Army since its official establishment in King Chulalongkorn's era can tell us why.
First of all,it is about the original mission since King Rama 5 ,the army had been used as an instrument to consolidate the political realm's transition from the kingdom to the Nation-State.The army with the modern weapons were sent on the trains to quell the uprising from the local communities furious with the Bangkok's usurpation of their money (aka.tax) and natural resources.A lot of prisoners of war were brutally executed or imprisoned in the places with conditions harsher than the Soviet's Gulags.Many of these scenes were written in the historical textbooks ,but not glorious enough to praise them aloud.Even since the localism has been fostered ,and some local scholars with a nostalgic mind have called for their ancester rehabilitation posthumously.
From then ,Thai Army has also heroically engaged in the numerous armed conflicts.But the manners and outcomes from those are far from the triumphal march.in World War 1, the troop was sent by the King Rama 6 to join the alliance,but their heroic actions in the battle seemed quite faint,comparing with their counterparts.Also the war with the German occupied france's Cochinchina government in 1940 was proclaimed by the regime itself as the victory ,but the Prime Minister Plaek Phibulsongkhram ,seen as the anti-Monarchist, would never receive the accolade as a hero in the Thai mainstream history.That's why his evidence 'Victory Monument' means nothing for Thais more than the large transit for transportation.In World War 2, the Thai Army was seen helpless in defending the country from the Japanese Army's invasion, and even worse, they had to collaborate with the erstwhile enemy to invade the neighbors.At the end of the war , the pundits for the brave missions went straight to the Free Thai Movement ,not the military whose troops had to walk back from the Burmese border to Bangkok.
During the cold war ,the Thai Army was frequently seen as under the wings of the US, and collaborated with the latter to fight against North Korea during the Korean War in 50s.The mission of Prime Minister Phibul (again) aroused the strong disapproval from the public for being the lackey of the Imperialist.The history was repeated during the Vietnam War as the Thai Army was seen by many liberal critics and the fervent university students as having the shameless connivance with the US to prey upon the poor neighbor like North Vietnam.However, the Thai Army was perceived by the Consevative as the pillar of the war against the Communist insurgence during 60s and 80s.AlthoughThai society had been awashed with the propanganda from the Thai Army of its self- glorification and self-sacrifice in those decades, the inevitable downfall of the Thai Communist Party was facilitated by the policy of 'Putting the Politics ahead of the Warfare' of General Prem Tinlasulanon ,thanks to a point of view of local folks that the Thai Army was a part of the state's oppression.
The fierce armed conflicts with Laos in 1988 with the heavy bloodshed from both sides led to the negotiation and the stunning truce. As a teenager,I was bemused by seeing then Commander-in-Chief General Chavalit Yongjaiyut embracing with the Laotian leaders like the loving comrades -in- arms.The vicious rumors swirled around the cause of this war ,while the public was mourning with the fallen rank and file soldiers whose death probably led to nothing ,but serving the elite's interest.This was unable to lead the Thai Army to walk on the path to glory.The inutile conflicts with cambodia mainly about the boundary and the historical place like Preah Vihear for many decades also drove the Thai Army to face the same fate.Its image was further tarnished by the domestic political struggle.The hawks (the Yellow shirt) always emotionally urged the army to invade Cambodia, as a snub to the military leaders under the control of the civilian administration which had the concillatory gesture with the Hun Sen's government.
Additionally ,Thai Army itself has been the source of frustration from both the Conservative and Liberal 's views alternately.During the era of King Vajiravuth or Rama 6, the new generations of military cadre developed the idea of Patriotism elevated by the military's interference.They surmised the king's government had been ineffective and only the coup would change the country's fate.Their rise and fall in 1910 inadvertently inspired another successful coup in 1932 which has been perceived as a depravity from the Conservative and the Royalists.The People's Party led by the military cadres had been blamed by them for the intragroup conflict caused by their corruption ,thus giving the lip's service to the country.
After that ,there have been the numerous coups.The power struggle within the army for decades along with these coups clearly stipulated that the solidarity in the Thai Army was far from reality even now. Without a sense of decency ,the successful coups' leaders always appointed themselves as the Prime Ministers.They later faced the backlashes from the Liberals for being corrupt and megalomaniac such as many Field Marshals like Plaek Phibulsongkarm ,Sarit Thanarat,Thanom Kittikachon and his sidekick ,Prapat Charusathian.The people's bloody uprisings against some of their regimes in 1973 and 1991 have been gradually hailed in the schools' textbooks because of some liberal minds in the civilian governments.But most of those textbooks intentionally avoid critizing the military because of the motto 'Gun speaks loudest'.Quite the contrary ,the social media, never tamed by the authority , vindicate that the Thai Army will never be fully glorified, especially after the coup that ousted Thaksin Shinawat from Premiership in 2006.It also becomes more hostile during the Prayut's era ,as a result of this ex-General whose character might be the worst among the despots mentioned above.
From the reasons above,the legend of King Naresuan has been reproduced over and over again via the media throughout the 20th and 21st century of Thailand 's tumultuous politics involving with the military's fortune.The mystic king who lived around 400 years ago represents the ideal type of leadership like brave,decisive ,decent and sacrificing for the Thai Army which never has the top brass with such a quality.Nearly beheading the enemy on elephant, the king also provided the army the dramatic portait of the magnificent victory that it has never achieved.Moreover ,the ceremony scene of him charismatically pouring the holy water to declare the independence of Ayutthaya ,though misinterpreted,is a part of the military's hegemony in the guise of Thai nationalism to revitalize their influence which waxes and wanes admidst the forceful clash between Prayut's authoritarian rule and people's Democracy and Liberalism.