Thai nationalism – a final rejoinder

Thai nationalism – a final rejoinder

I'd like to thank David for his response to my letter concerning Thai nationalism ('Thai Nationalism' Ajarn Postbox 18th October)
His efforts to refute the contents of that letter are commendable. They are also remarkably unconvincing:

“Can you name another country on this planet where people are not nationalistic?”

In my letter, I never asserted or implied that there were any countries on Earth that weren’t nationalistic to one degree or another. Your question is therefore irrelevant.

“Isnt pride in where you are from an inate feeling that probably has some social bonding mechanism that aids survival at a more primevial level?”

Yes, nationalism can be conceptualized as an outgrowth of tribalism and other phenomena existing at a ‘primevial’ [sic] level of social organization.

“I would also argue that nationalism is a negative phrase implying some kind of desire for dominiation of non-nationals, which is unlikely to be the case here.”

What are you basing your argument on? If you’ve read anything about nationalism, you’d know that it doesn’t necessitate a desire for or policy of domination over groups outside the nation-state. Even if it did, you still betray your ignorance of Thai history in your statement. Forgive me for quoting at length:

“Nominalistic policy raised the spectre of irredentism by suggesting that Thai people subject to colonial authorities in Burma and Indochina should become Thai citizens – and thus, implicitly, ‘free’. The patent inspiration behind the vision of a ‘greater Thai empire’ (maha anachak thai) that should ideally incorporate the Shan territories, Laos and western Cambodia was Deutschland as the homeland of peoples of Germanic stock living in Germany as well as Austria and Poland. To promote irredentism, the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Survey Department printed and distributed to schools and barracks historical maps that highlighted the territorial losses suffered at the hands of the British and the French, while the pseudo-scientific racial categories were manipulated to demonstrate the ethnic commonality of the Thais with the Lao and the Shans.

[…] Luang Wichit, acting as the government’s spokesman, asserted: ‘This territory [the Shan territories, Laos and western Cambodia] really belongs to us. It is not a colony, it is not a foreign territory; it is a living place for Thai people of Thai blood’. In January 1941 rhetoric was turned into action when the Thai army seized the western Cambodian provinces…In May 1942, after declaring war on the Allies, Thailand also annexed allegedly lost territory in the Shan States across the border with British Burma. All territories were returned at the end of the war.” – Peleggi, Maurizio. (2007). Thailand: The worldly kingdom, p. 123.

It’s simply not the case that Thailand has never invaded its neighbors and attempted to subjugate them. If you choose to believe the Thai propaganda of the time claiming that these invasions were carried out in the name of ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’, that’s your choice. In any case, your statement is invalid.

“I find it ironic that an American is writing this attempt to discredit Thai pride with something more sinister, when America is supposed to be the beacon of freedom and Americans are urged to believe in themselves, which they certainly do.”

I addressed the issue of American nationalism and the attempts by educators and others in that country to cultivate so-called ‘patriotic values’ in my first letter. Perhaps you could try reading it again to help clarify things for you.

“Second question, do you really understand Thai culture well enough to be able to state quite categorically that what you perceive is nationalism and the belief of Thais in the perfection of their people?”

Maybe not - I must thank you, though. A part of me really does miss the "do you really understand Thai culture?" and other such mantras I used to hear on a daily basis in Thailand.

Do you understand Thai well enough to really know the subtleties of the language to truly know how the speaker feels?

No, but I don’t understand German, Italian, or Spanish all that well either.

Maybe what you percieve is a desperation not to lose face, after all isn’t that what Thais are infuriatingly famous for?

Yes, I suppose it is.

“Remember what you see on the surface does not necessarily reflect what is felt inside.”

If you’re referring to a sizable segment of the Thai populous, then yes, I concur.

“Maybe you are confusing preserving self pride with facist tendancies”

I never used the word ‘fascist’ in my letter - you did in yours.

“You claim you have never had a satisfactory answer to your question about what objective facts give Thais the right to feel so proud? Well what are you criteria for assessment”

That doesn’t answer my original question.

“…all the things you Americans have to thank us Europeans for”

And we are very thankful. As I recall, there a quite a few things ‘you Europeans’ have to thank ‘us Americans’ for as well, but in order for you to ‘save face’, I’ll refrain from mentioning them.

“As for having no substance, what about the price of a McDonald’s hamburger, there is somethiing that truly has no right to it’s belief in it’s value of over a dollar, when it is worth 4 cents at best.”

I’m sorry, but I neither eat McDonald’s nor do I understand the point of this sentence.

Phil / - thank you for the contribution. Could we now consider this particular Postbox topic closed.

Andrew Woodward

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