‘Strategic Siam changes its name to Thai’

'Strategic Siam changes its name to Thai' - LIFE, July 31, 1939

Right: King Ananda Mahidol, 13, in whose favor King Prajadhipok abdicated in 1935, presents flag to youth organizations. After his summer vacation, he returns to school in Switzerland.


(Photo: Life Magazine, 1939)
'Strategic Siam changes its name to Thai' - LIFE, July 31, 1939

On June 24 the Government of Siam, only entirely free nation in Southeast Asia, changes its name to Thai, which means "Free," in the ceremonies shown on these pages. Last week the U.S. State Department rendered all American maps of the Orient obsolete by writing out Siam and writing in Thailand.

Sayam, from which Siam comes, was an old name given by the Chinese. The race of Thai came from Szechuan Province in China, near where the harried Chinese Government now has its capital. Only the canny rule of King Chulalongkorn in the late 19th Century saved Siam from being swallowed by Britain and France like the rest of the peninsula. But Chulalongkorn's 42 wives cursed his country with scores of ambitious, expensive princes.

In 1932 a cabal of brain-trusters and soldiers put over one of the quietest revolutions in history and got a Constitution from King Prajadhipok. The princes tried an abortive counter-revolt next year. In 1935 the annoyed reformers let Prajadhipok abdicate with nearly $3,000,000 for which they were last week suing him. New Government is idealistic and semi-Fascist, with youth organizations, army monopolies and a dictator, Premier Bipul (pronounced pee-bul). Enemies say Thai is now "of the Bipul, by the Bipul and for the Bipul."

Thailand, however, is so placed on the map as to be a natural steppingstone for Japan in a drive against the great British base of Singapore at the end of the Malay peninsula. It has professed to be completely neutral, meanwhile buying Japanese munitions and toying with the idea of a canal through its peninsula to cut off Singapore.

Two days before Siam became Thai, British and French admirals meeting at Singapore decided that that little monarchy could not be neutral, that Britain and France would "guarantee" her. Moaned the Bangkok newspaper Thai Mai: " What can small nations situated in the battle zone do? If Siam takes the side of Japan and the predicted troubles in the British and French colonial empires do not come off, then Siam would be in an unpleasant position."



(Photo: Life Magazine, 1939)

Above: The new name, THAI, appears for the first time on a ship float in the June 24 parade in Bangkok celebrating the 7th anniversary of Siam's coup d'etat and the first Constitution.

Right: Young women of Thailand, recently organized by the Yuvanari, swing briskly along the line of march. Only the rich still practice polygamy and women in Thai have many rights.

(Photo: Life Magazine, 1939)


(Photo: Life Magazine, 1939)

Above: Chief Prince regent Aditya Dirabha affixes the Royal Seal to the decree making Siam the Kingdom of Thai. Left: Coregent General Bijayendra Yodhin


(Photo: Life Magazine, 1939)
Left: Places (28 of 400) fly over great King Chulalongkorn's statue. These pictures were brought to LIFE by Norman Lee, the first round-the-world paying passenger on commercial planes.


(Photo: Life Magazine, 1939)

Above: Tanks, made in England by Vickers, roll in the parade. Latest Thai armaments are Japanese. Notice the Thai flags, red white and blue stripes. Navy flag adds a white elephant.
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