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Field Marshal
Sarit Thanarat
สฤษดิ์ ธนะรัชต์
Prime Minister of Thailand

In office
October 20, 1958 – December 8, 1963
Monarch Bhumibol Adulyadej
Preceded by Thanom Kittikachorn
Succeeded by Thanom Kittikachorn
Personal details
Born (1908-06-16)June 16, 1908
Bangkok, Thailand
Died December 8, 1963(1963-12-08) (aged 55)
Bangkok, Thailand
Nationality Thai
Spouse(s) Nuanchan Thanarat (two children), Chawee (two children), Praima (two children)Vichitra Thanarat (no children, but adopted nephew and gave the Thanarat last name)
Profession Soldier
Religion Buddhism
Military service
Allegiance  Thailand
Service/branch Royal Thai Army
Years of service 1928 - 1963
Rank Thai army O10.png Field Marshal
(Chom Phol)
Commands Commander-in-chief
Battles/wars World War II
Pacific War

Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat (Thai: สฤษดิ์ ธนะรัชต์, alternatively spelled Dhanarajata), (June 16, 1908 – December 8, 1963) was a Thai career soldier who staged a coup in 1957, thereafter serving as Thailand's Prime Minister until his death in 1963. He was born in Bangkok, but grew up in his mother's home town in Lao-speaking northeastern Thailand and considered himself an Isan. His father, Major Luang Ruangdetanan (birth name Thongdi Thanarat), was a career army officer best known for his translations into Thai of Cambodian literature.[1][2][3] During his years as prime minister Sarit was a patron of his cousin, the Lao strongman General Phoumi Nosavan, against the communist Pathet Lao guerrillas in the neighboring Kingdom of Laos.

Military career[edit | edit source]

Sarit Thanarat was educated at a monastery school, and entered the Royal Thai Military Academy in 1919, not completing his military studies until 1928, after which he was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, rising through the Officer Corps. During World War II he served as commander of an infantry battalion and took part in the invasion and occupation of the Shan States in Burma. Unlike many of his fellow officers, Sarit was not discharged at the end of the war. Instead, he was promoted to command the 1st Infantry Regiment of the Bangkok-based Guards Division.[4] As a colonel, he played a leading role in the 1947 military coup that overthrew the government of Prime Minister Thawal Thamrong Navaswadhi, a protege of Pridi Phanomyong, reinstalling the previously deposed Field Marshal Luang Pibunsongkram as premier. Sarit thereafter took a lasting interest in politics.[5] He became Commander of the Royal Thai Army in 1954.

Sarit's coups[edit | edit source]

During the early 1950s, Pibunsongkhram's government had become increasingly corrupt, and the parliamentary election of 1957 was blatantly rigged to keep Pibunsongkhram in power. Public outrage and student protests, accompanied by the known displeasure of Thailand's king, led Sarit to stage a coup in September 1957, but a serious deterioration of his health led Sarit to fly to the United States of America for treatment, leaving Deputy Prime Minister Thanom Kittikachorn in charge. However, economic troubles continued, and in October 1958 Sarit staged a second coup,[6] intended to thwart the undisciplined politicians by imposing Martial law. Sarit felt that democracy had failed in Thailand and intended to rule according to "Thai ideologies", not imported Western political theories, choosing as his model the supposedly benevolent despots of his country's past.[7]

Sarit's tenure[edit | edit source]

On October 19, 1958, Sarit informed his generals of his plans for a "revolution". To no one's surprise, the following day he declared Martial law, silencing the experiments in open politics that had begun in 1955, justifying his actions by arguing for a return to Thai traditions of social law and order.

As prime minister, Sarit accelerated his country's economic development under a plan designed by the United States and the World Bank that promoted both market competition and private investment. He also created the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB), which continues to play an important role in Thailand's economic development, exemplified in Sarit's favorite term; "patana" (development), and slogan; "Nation, Religion, Monarch", represented by red, white and blue colors respectively in the Thai flag.

Nevertheless, though generally popular for its achievements, Sarit's regime was the most repressive and authoritarian in modern Thai history, abrogating the constitution, dissolving parliament, and vesting all power in his newly formed Revolutionary Party. Although he pledged to appoint a constituent assembly to act as a legislature and draft a constitution, no one doubted the body would merely rubber-stamp his orders.[8] Eventually Sarit's constitution was promulgated but not until after his death.

Sarit banned all other political parties,[9] imposing very strict censorship[10] of the press after the coup, his Revolutionary Party banning eighteen leftist and neutralist publications, and forbidding starting up of new opposition newspapers. Sarit's "revolution" brought an intense crackdown on "leftists"; however, as genuine communists were rare in Thailand, it was the mildly socialist or neutralist professors, politicians and newspapers which bore the brunt of the suppression. Police arrested many dissidents and ethnic Chinese on the first day of the coup, followed by hundreds in the succeeding weeks. Among those arrested were Sang Phathanothai, Kulab Saipradit, Jit Phumisak, and Prasert Sapsunthorn.

The Monarchy[edit | edit source]

Relief of Sarit Thanarat's life in Khon Kaen, show the story of his coup d'état in 1957.

Under Sarit, the public role of the Thai monarchy, which had been restricted by Phibun, was allowed to resume. Sarit arranged for King Bhumibol Adulyadej to attend public ceremonies, visit the provinces, patronise development projects and personally present diplomas to Thailand's government university graduates, helping to bring the monarchy closer to the people and raising the stature of the king to that of high reverence. The practice of prostrating with the head touching the ground before royal audiences, banned decades earlier by King Chulalongkorn, was reinstated in some circumstances.

Sarit introduced a new generation of economically liberal technocrats to governing, encouraged private and foreign direct investment, launched major rural development projects, and rapidly expanded educational facilities, which, despite his despotic rule, made Sarit generally popular with the Thai public.

Sarit's demise and aftermath[edit | edit source]

Sarit died unexpectedly in late 1963 from liver failure, just as his economic measures were proving successful. Power transferred peacefully to his deputy generals, Thanom Kittikachorn, who became Prime Minister, and Praphas Charusathian, who became Deputy Prime Minister. Thanom and Praphas maintained Sarit's authoritarian style of government, his anti-communism and pro-American policies.

Sarit's relationship with King Bhumibol was evident when the King ordered 21 days of official mourning in the palace after his death, with Sarit's body lying in state under royal patronage for 100 days and their Majesties the King and Queen attending his cremation on March 17, 1964.

Posthumous revelations[edit | edit source]

After Sarit's death, his reputation took a heavy blow when a bitter inheritance battle between his son, Major Setha Thanarat, and his young wife, Thanpuying Vichitra Thanarat, revealed the massive extent of Sarit's wealth (US$140 million). He was discovered to have owned a trust company, a brewery, 51 cars and some 30 plots of land, most of which he gave to the dozens of mistresses he was found to have had. Thai language newspapers published the names of 100 women who claimed to have shared his bed, shocking the public when it was learnt how corrupt he had actually been.[11]

Royal decorations[edit | edit source]

As usual with senior Thai military officers and politicians, Sarit received many royal decorations in the Honours System. This include:[12]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. http://www.bookrags.com/biography/sarit-thanarat/
  2. Smith Nieminen Win. Historical Dictionary of Thailand. Praeger Publishers. pp. 225. ISBN 0-8108-5396-5. 
  3. Richard Jensen, Jon Davidann, Sugita (2003). Trans-Pacific Relations: America, Europe, and Asia in the Twentieth Century. Praeger Publishers. pp. 222. ISBN 0-275-97714-5. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0275977145. 
  4. Thak Chaloemtiarana. Thailand: The Politics of Despotic Paternalism. Thammasat University Press (1979). 
  5. http://www.bookrags.com/biography/sarit-thanarat/
  6. http://www.bookrags.com/biography/sarit-thanarat/
  7. Thak Chaloemtiarana. Thailand: The Politics of Despotic Paternalism. Thammasat University Press (1979). 
  8. Thak Chaloemtiarana. Thailand: The Politics of Despotic Paternalism. Thammasat University Press (1979). 
  9. The Royal Gazette, Revolutionary Council Announcement No. 8, Vol 75, No. 83, 21 October 1958.
  10. Albert G. Pickerell. The Press of Thailand: Conditions and Trends. Journalism Quarterly (Winter 1960). 
  11. Time, "Sarit's Legacy", 27 March 1964
  12. Bio of Sarit Thanarat at the Royal Thai Army website (in Thai). Retrieved November 19, 2008.
  13. The Royal Gazette, Vol. 58, Page 2966. September 18, B.E. 2484 (C.E. 1941). Retrieved on November 20, 2008.
  14. The Royal Gazette, Vol. 65 No. 71, Page 3979. December 7, B.E. 2491 (C.E. 1948). Retrieved on November 20, 2008.
  15. The Royal Gazette, Vol. 66 No. 66, Page 5425. December 6, B.E. 2492 (C.E. 1949). Retrieved on November 20, 2008.
  16. The Royal Gazette, Vol. 67 No. 67, Page 6346. December 12, B.E. 2493 (C.E. 1950). Retrieved on November 20, 2008.
  17. The Royal Gazette, Vol. 67 No. 39, Page 3039. July 18, B.E. 2493 (C.E. 1950). Retrieved on November 20, 2008.
  18. The Royal Gazette, Vol. 68 No. 74, Page 5646. December 11, B.E. 2494 (C.E. 1951). Retrieved on November 20, 2008.
  19. The Royal Gazette, Vol. 69 No. 29, Page 1287. May 13, B.E. 2495 (C.E. 1952). Retrieved on November 20, 2008.
  20. The Royal Gazette, Vol. 69 No. 72, Page 4647. December 9, B.E. 2495 (C.E. 1952). Retrieved on November 20, 2008.
  21. The Royal Gazette, Vol. 70 No. 29, Page 2053. May 12, B.E. 2496 (C.E. 1953). Retrieved on November 20, 2008.
  22. The Royal Gazette, Vol. 76 No. 53, Page 1400. May 19, B.E. 2502 (C.E. 1959). Retrieved on November 20, 2008.
  23. The Royal Gazette, Vol. 76 No. 115 (Special), Page 36. December 16, B.E. 2502 (C.E. 1959). Retrieved on November 20, 2008.
Preceded by
Thanom Kittikachorn
Prime Minister of Thailand
Succeeded by
Thanom Kittikachorn

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