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Charney, Michael W. (2022) 'Military Reform in Siam in the Imperial Age.' In: Motadel, David and Chehabi, Houchang, (eds.), Struggles for Sovereignty: Non-European Powers in the Age of Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Forthcoming)

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This chapter will examine how the approach of the royal court of Siam (modern Thailand) to developing a modern military contributed to its success in preventing the imposition of colonial rule. Some attention will be paid to the longer term evolution of standing armies, from embryonic royal bodyguard contingents of the early modern era, and how Siam’s success in developing a military would have seen parallels in Vietnam and Burma had they not fallen to European arms by the end of the century. Siam almost experienced a similar fate and admittedly geopolitical factors (being stuck between French Indochina and British India) weighed in to contribute to its survival, but the Thais proved a more formidable adversary than the French had expected in the 1890s. Much of the discussion will focus on late stage military reforms that allowed Siam to continue beyond what it and its neighbours had achieved before the 1880s. These included the evolution of secular military institutions that drew closely upon what were identified as the best models in the West, heavy investments in officer training (including sending Thais abroad for officer training) and technical training among the lesser ranks, the emergence of limited upward mobility for peasant soldiers, minor nobility, and the emerging middle class, and the introduction of a national identity that increasingly depicted the military as a leading element of modernity in the kingdom. Ultimately, the military partnered with civil bureaucrats to end absolute kingship in 1932 in order to preserve its achievements in the aftermath of the world trade depression, and then took power directly from 1933, Siam seeing a series of military governments broken only by very brief episodes of Democratic rule. The chapter will argue that it was the emergence of a strong military that could take over direct management of national affairs that proved the decisive element in preserving Siamese (and later Thai) independence, paralleling the cases of Japan, China, and Turkey and providing a contrast to examples of failure where traditional courts undermined military autonomy, such as Abyssinia and Hawaii, and kept in place conditions that made them vulnerable to colonial conquest.

Item Type: Book Chapters
Keywords: Siam, Military Reform, Empire, Burma, Chulalongkorn
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > School of History, Religions & Philosophies > Department of History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DS Asia
D History General and Old World
Date Deposited: 05 Nov 2021 18:49

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