Plaek Phibunsongkhram

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Plaek Phibunsongkhram
แปลก พิบูลสงคราม
Phibunsongkhram c. 1940s
3rd Prime Minister of Thailand
In office
8 April 1948 – 16 September 1957
MonarchBhumibol Adulyadej
Preceded byKhuang Aphaiwong
Succeeded byPote Sarasin
In office
16 December 1938 – 1 August 1944
MonarchAnanda Mahidol
Preceded byPhraya Phahon
Succeeded byKhuang Aphaiwong
Minister of Defence
In office
28 June 1949 – 26 February 1957
Prime Ministerhimself
Preceded bySuk Chatnakrob
Succeeded bySarit Thanarat
In office
22 September 1934 – 15 November 1943
Prime Minister
  • Phraya Phahon
  • himself
Preceded byPhraya Phahon
Succeeded byPhichit Kriangsakphichit
Minister of Foreign Affairs
In office
15 December 1941 – 19 June 1942
Prime Ministerhimself
Preceded byDirek Jayanama
Succeeded byLuang Wichitwathakan
Minister of Agriculture and Cooperatives
In office
12 September 1957 – 16 September 1957
Prime Ministerhimself
Preceded bySiri Siriyothin
Succeeded byWiboon Thammaboot
Minister of Culture
In office
12 September 1957 – 16 September 1957
Prime Ministerhimself
Preceded byposition established
Succeeded byPisan Sunavinvivat
Minister of Commerce
In office
4 February 1954 – 23 March 1954
Prime Ministerhimself
Preceded byBoonkerd Sutantanon
Succeeded bySiri Siriyothin
Minister of Finance
In office
13 October 1949 – 18 July 1950
Prime Ministerhimself
Preceded byPrince Vivatchai Chaiyant
Succeeded byChom Jamornmarn
Minister of Interior
In office
13 October 1949 – 18 July 1950
Prime Ministerhimself
Preceded byThawan Thamrongnawasawat
Succeeded byChuang Kwancherd
Minister of Education
In office
Prime Ministerhimself
Preceded bySindhu Kamolnavin
Succeeded byPrayun Phamonmontri
Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces
In office
13 November 1940 – 24 November 1943
Preceded byposition established
Succeeded bySarit Thanarat
Commander in Chief of the Royal Thai Army
In office
4 January 1938 – 5 August 1944
Preceded byPhraya Phahon
Succeeded byPhichit Kriangsakphichit
Personal details
Plaek Khittasangkha

(1897-07-14)14 July 1897
Nonthaburi, Krung Thep, Siam (now Mueang Nonthaburi, Nonthaburi, Thailand)
Died11 June 1964(1964-06-11) (aged 66)
Sagamihara, Kanagawa, Japan
Political partySeri Manangkhasila Party (1955–57)
Other political
Khana Ratsadon (1927–54)
SpouseLa-iad Bhandhukravi (1903-1964)
Domestic partner(s)Phitsamai Wilaisak
Khamnuengnit Phibunsongkhram
Children6, including Nitya
Military service
Allegiance Thailand
Years of service1914–1957
CommandsSupreme Commander

Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram (Thai: แปลก พิบูลสงคราม [plɛ̀ːk pʰí.būːn.sǒŋ.kʰrāːm]; alternatively transcribed as Pibulsongkram or Pibulsonggram; 14 July 1897 – 11 June 1964), locally known as Marshal P. (Thai: จอมพล ป.;[tɕɔ̄ːm.pʰōn.pɔ̄ː]), and contemporarily known as Phibun (Pibul) in the West, was a Thai military officer and politician who served as Prime Minister of Thailand from 1938 to 1944 and 1948 to 1957.

Phibunsongkhram was a member of the Army wing of Khana Ratsadon, the first political party in Thailand, and a leader of the Siamese revolution of 1932, which replaced Thailand’s absolute monarchy with a constitutional monarchy. Phibun became the third Prime Minister of Thailand in 1938 while serving as Commander of the Royal Siamese Army. Inspired by the Italian fascism of Benito Mussolini, he established a de facto military dictatorship run along fascist lines, promoted Thai nationalism and Sinophobia, and allied Thailand with Imperial Japan in World War II. Phibun launched a modernization campaign known as the Thai Cultural Revolution that included a series of cultural mandates, which changed the country's name from "Siam" to "Thailand", and promoted the Thai language.

Phibun was ousted as prime minister by the National Assembly in 1944 and replaced by members of the Free Thai Movement, but returned to power after the Siamese coup d'état of 1947, led by the Coup Group. Phibun aligned Thailand with anti-communism in the Cold War, entered the Korean War under the United Nations Command, and abandoned fascism for a façade of democracy. Phibun's second term as prime minister was plagued by political instability and several attempts to launch a coup d'etat against him were made, including the Army General Staff plot in 1948, the Palace Rebellion in 1949, and the Manhattan Rebellion in 1951. Phibun attempted to transform Thailand into an electoral democracy from the mid-1950s onward, but was overthrown in 1957 and went into exile in Japan, where he died in 1964.

At fifteen years and one month, Phibun’s term as Prime Minister of Thailand was the longest to date.

Early years[edit]

Phibunsongkhram as a teenager

Phibun was born Plaek Khittasangkha (Thai: แปลก ขีตตะสังคะ [plɛ̀ːk kʰìːt.tà.sǎŋ.kʰá]) on 14 July 1897 in Mueang Nonthaburi, Nonthaburi Province, in the Kingdom of Siam, to Keed Khittasangkha and his wife.[1] Plaek's paternal grandfather was said to be a Cantonese-speaking Chinese immigrant. However, the family was completely assimilated, being considered Central Thai people and Plaek did not pass the criteria for being considered Chinese,[2] enabling him to successfully conceal and deny his Chinese roots.[3] Plaek's parents owned a durian orchard and he received his given name – meaning “strange” or “weird” in English – because of his unusual appearance as a child. He attended Buddhist temple schools, before being appointed to the Royal Military Academy; upon graduation in 1914, he was commissioned into the Royal Siamese Army as a second lieutenant in the artillery. Following World War I, he was sent to France to study artillery tactics at the École d’application d’artillerie. In 1928, as he rose in rank, he received the noble title Luang from King Prajadhipok, and became known as Luang Phibunsongkhram. He would later drop his Luang title, but permanently adopted Phibunsongkhram as his surname.

1932 revolution[edit]

In 1932, Phibun was one of the leaders of the Royal Siamese Army branch of the People’s Party (Khana Ratsadon), a political organization that staged a coup d'état which overthrew Siam’s absolute monarchy and replaced it with a constitutional monarchy. Phibun, at the time a lieutenant colonel, quickly rose to prominence in the military as a "man-on-horseback".[4] The 1932 coup was followed by the nationalization of several companies and increased state control of the economy.

The following year, Phibun and his military allies successfully crushed the Boworadet Rebellion, a royalist revolt led by Prince Boworadet. The new king, Ananda Mahidol, was still a child studying in Switzerland, and the Parliament appointed Colonel Prince Anuwatjaturong, Lieutenant Commander Prince Aditya Dibabha, and Chao Phraya Yommaraj (Pun Sukhum) as his regents.

Prime Minister of Thailand[edit]

Phibunsongkhram giving a nationalist speech to the crowds at the Ministry of Defence opposite Swasti Sopha gate of Grand Palace in 1940.

First premiership[edit]

On 16 December 1938, Phibun replaced Phraya Phahon as Prime Minister of Thailand and as the Commander of the Royal Siamese Army. Phibun became a de facto dictator, and established a military dictatorship, consolidating his position by rewarding several members of his own army clique with influential positions in his government.

After the revolution of 1932, the Thai government of Phraya Phahol was impressed by the success of the March on Rome of Benito Mussolini's Italian fascist movement. Phibun, also an admirer of Italian fascism, sought to replicate fascist-style propaganda tactics, valued in Italy as one of the most powerful propaganda instruments of political power. In Italy, its main purpose was to promote nationalism and militarism, strengthen the unity and harmony of the state, and glorify the policy of ruralisation in Italy and abroad. As a consequence of the fascist leanings of Thai political leaders, Italian propaganda films including newsreels, documentaries, short films, and full-length feature films, such as Istituto Luce Cinecittà, were shown in Thailand during the interwar period. Phibun adopted the fascist salute, modeled on the Roman salute, using it during speeches. The salute was not compulsory in Thailand, and it was opposed by Luang Wichitwathakan and many cabinet members as they believed it inappropriate for Thai culture. Together with Wichitwathakan, the Minister of Propaganda, he built a leadership cult in 1938 and thereafter. Photographs of Phibun were to be found everywhere, and those of the abdicated King Prajadhipok were banned. His quotes appeared in newspapers, were plastered on billboards, and were repeated over the radio.[citation needed]

Thai Cultural Revolution[edit]

Thai poster from the Phibunsongkhram era, showing prohibited "uncivilised" dress on the left and proper Western-style dress on the right.

Phibun immediately promoted Thai nationalism (to the point of ultranationalism), and to support this policy, he launched a series of major reforms, known as the Thai Cultural Revolution, to increase the pace of modernisation in Thailand. His goal aimed to uplift the national spirit and moral code of the nation and instilling progressive tendencies and a newness into Thai life. A series of cultural mandates were issued by the government, which encouraged all Thais to salute the flag in public places, learn the new national anthem and use the standardised Thai language (not regional dialects or languages). People were encouraged to adopt Western-style attire as opposed to traditional clothing styles, and eat with Western-style utensils, such as forks and spoons, rather than with their hands as was customary in Thai culture at the time. Phibun saw these policies as necessary, in the interest of progressivism, to change Thailand’s international image from that of an undeveloped country into a civilized and modern nation.[5]

Phibun's administration encouraged economic nationalism and espoused staunch anti-Teochew sentiment. Sinophobic policies were imposed by the government to reduce the economic power of Siam's Teochew-Hoklo population and encouraged the Central Thai people to purchase as many Thai products as possible. In a speech in 1938, Luang Wichitwathakan, himself of one-quarter Chinese ancestry, followed Rama VI's book Jews of the East in comparing the Teochew in Siam to the Jews in Germany, who at the time were harshly repressed.

On 24 June 1939, Phibun changed the country's official English name from "Siam" to "Thailand" at Wichitwathakan's urging. The name "Siam" was an exonym of unknown and probably foreign origin, which conflicted with Phibun's nationalist policies.

In 1941, in the midst of World War II, Phibun decreed 1 January as the official start of the new year instead of the traditional Songkran date on 13 April.

Franco-Thai War[edit]

Phibunsongkhram inspecting troops during the Franco-Thai War
Phibunsongkhram with Thai farmers in 1942 at Bang Khen

Phibun exploited the Fall of France in June 1940 and the Japanese invasion of French Indochina in September 1940 to advance Thai interests in French Indochina following a border dispute with France. Phibun believed Thailand could recover territories ceded to France by King Rama V because the French would avoid armed confrontation or offer serious resistance. Thailand fought against Vichy France over the disputed areas from October 1940 to May 1941. The technologically and numerically superior Thai force invaded French Indochina and attacked military targets in major cities. Despite Thai successes, the French tactical victory at the Battle of Ko Chang prompted intervention from the Japanese, who mediated an armistice where the French were forced to cede the disputed territories to Thailand.

Alliance with Japan[edit]

Phibun and the Thai public viewed the outcome of the Franco-Thai War as a victory, but it resulted in the rapidly expanding Japanese gaining the right to occupy French Indochina. Although Phibun was ardently pro-Japanese, he now shared a border with them and felt threatened with a potential Japanese invasion. Phibun's administration also realised that Thailand would have to fend for itself if a Japanese invasion came, considering its deteriorating relationships with Western powers in the area.[citation needed]

When the Japanese invaded Thailand on 8 December 1941, (because of the international date line this occurred an hour and a half before the attack on Pearl Harbor), Phibun was reluctantly forced to order a general ceasefire after just one day of resistance and allow the Japanese armies to use the country as a base for their invasions of the British colonies of Burma and Malaya.[6][7] Hesitancy, however, gave way to enthusiasm after the Japanese rolled through the Malayan Campaign in a "Bicycle Blitzkrieg" with surprisingly little resistance.[8][9] On 21 December Phibun signed a military alliance with Japan. The following month, on 25 January 1942, Phibun declared war on Britain and the United States. South Africa and New Zealand declared war on Thailand on the same day. Australia followed soon after.[10] Phibun purged all who opposed the Japanese alliance from his government. Pridi Banomyong was appointed acting regent for the absent King Ananda Mahidol, while Direk Jayanama, the prominent foreign minister who had advocated continued resistance against the Japanese, was later sent to Tokyo as an ambassador. The United States considered Thailand to be a puppet state of Japan and refused to declare war on it. When the Allies were victorious, the United States blocked British efforts to impose a punitive peace.[11]


In 1944, as the Japanese neared defeat and the underground anti-Japanese Free Thai Movement steadily grew in strength, the National Assembly ousted Phibun as prime minister and his six-year reign as the military commander-in-chief came to an end. Phibun's resignation was partly forced by two grandiose plans: one was to relocate the capital from Bangkok to a remote site in the jungle near Phetchabun in north central Thailand, and another was to build a "Buddhist city" in Saraburi. Announced at a time of severe economic difficulty, these ideas turned many government officers against him.[12] After his resignation, Phibun went to stay at the army headquarters in Lopburi.

Khuang Aphaiwong replaced Phibun as prime minister, ostensibly to continue relations with the Japanese, but, in reality, to secretly assist the Free Thai Movement. At the war's end, Phibun was put on trial at Allied insistence on charges of having committed war crimes, mainly that of collaborating with the Axis powers. However, he was acquitted amid intense pressure as public opinion was still favourable to him, as he was thought to have done his best to protect Thai interests. Phibun's alliance with Japan had Thailand take advantage of Japanese support to expand Thai territory into Malaya and Burma.[13]

Second premiership[edit]

Plaek Phibunsongkhram at Hyde Park, New York, 1955

In November 1947, Royal Thai Army units under the control of Phibun known as the Coup Group carried out the Siamese coup d'état of 1947 which forced then-Prime Minister Thawan Thamrongnawasawat to resign. The rebels installed Khuang Aphaiwong again as prime minister as the military coup risked international disapproval. Pridi Phanomyong was persecuted but was aided by British and US intelligence officers, and thus managed to escape the country. On 8 April 1948, Phibun assumed the position of Prime Minister after the military forced Khuang out of office.

Phibun's second premiership was notably different, abandoning the fascist styling and rhetoric that characterised his first premiership, and instead promoted a façade of democracy. The beginning of the Cold War saw Phibun align Thailand with the anti-communist camp, and received large quantities of US aid following Thailand's entry into the Korean War as part of the United Nations Command's multi-national allied force against the communist forces of North Korea and the People's Republic of China. Phibun's anti-Chinese campaign was resumed, with the government restricting Chinese immigration and undertaking various measures to restrict economic domination of the Thai market by those of Chinese descent. Chinese schools and associations were once again shut down. Despite open pro-Western and anti-Chinese policies, in the late-1950s Phibun arranged to send two of the children of Sang Phathanothai, his closest advisor, to China with the intention of establishing a backdoor channel for dialogue between China and Thailand. Sirin Phathanothai, aged eight, and her brother, aged twelve, were sent to be brought up under the assistants of Premier Zhou Enlai as his wards. Sirin later wrote The Dragon's Pearl, an autobiography telling her experiences growing up in the 1950s and 1960s among the leaders of China.

Phibun was reportedly thrilled by the democracy and freedom of speech he had witnessed during a long trip abroad to the United States and Europe in 1955. Following the example of Hyde Park in London, he set up a "Speakers' Corner" at the Sanam Luang in Bangkok. Phibun began to democratize Thailand by allowing the formation of new political parties, amnestied political opponents, and planned free elections. Phibun founded and became chairman of his own new political party, the Seri Manangkhasila Party, which was dominated by the most influential in the military and the government. The Employment Act of January 1957 legalized trade unions, limited weekly working hours, regulated holidays and overtime, and instituted health and safety regulations. The International Workers' Day became a public holiday.

Power play[edit]

Thai Triumvirate, 1947–1957
Field Marshal
Sarit Thanarat
Police Gen.
Phao Siyanon
The other is Phibunsongkhram.

Phibun's second premiership was longer but plagued with political instability, and there were numerous attempts to oppose his rule and remove him from power. Unlike his first premiership, Phibun faced noticeable opposition from people connected to the Free Thai Movement due to his alliance with the Japanese, including from within the military. Additionally, Phibun was indebted to the powerful Coup Group that had returned him to power.

On 1 October 1948, the unsuccessful Army General Staff Plot was launched by members of the army general staff to topple his government, but failed when discovered by the Coup Group. As a result, more than fifty army and reserve officers and several prominent supporters of Pridi Phanomyong were arrested.

On 26 February 1949, the Palace Rebellion was another failed coup attempt against Phibun to restore Pridi Phanomyong by occupying the Grand Palace in Bangkok and declaring a new government led by Direk Jayanama, a close associate of Pridi. The civilian rebels were quickly ousted from the palace, but fighting broke out between military rebels and loyalists which lasted for over a week.

On 29 June 1951, Phibun was attending a ceremony aboard the Manhattan, a US dredge boat, when he was taken hostage by a group of Royal Thai Navy officers, who then quickly confined him aboard the warship Sri Ayutthaya. Negotiations between the government and the coup organizers swiftly broke down, leading to violent street fighting in Bangkok between the navy and the army, which was supported by the Royal Thai Air Force. Phibun was able to escape and swim back to shore when the Sri Ayutthaya was bombed by the air force, and with their hostage gone, the navy were forced to lay down their arms.

"...tell your father [Pridi] that I want [him] to come back [and] help me work for the nation. I alone can no longer contest Sakdina."[14]

Plaek to one of Pridi's sons in June 1957.

On 29 November 1951, the Silent Coup was staged by the Coup Group and it consolidated the military's hold on the country. It reinstated the Constitution of 1932, which effectively eliminated the Senate, established a unicameral legislature composed equally of elected and government-appointed members, and allowed serving military officers to supplement their commands with important ministerial portfolios.

In 1956, it became clearer that Plaek, allied to Phao, was losing to another influential group led by Sarit which consisted of "Sakdina" (royalties and royalists). Both Plaek and Phao intended to bring home Pridi Banomyong to clear his name from mystery around death of King Rama VIII. However, the US government disapproved, and they canceled the plan.[14]

1957 coup and exile[edit]

Phibunsongkhram in 1957

In February 1957, public opinion turned against Phibun at the end of his second term when his party was suspected of fraudulent practices during an election, including the intimidation of the opposition, buying votes, and electoral fraud. In addition, critics of Phibun accused him of a lack of respect for the Thai monarchy, as the anti-aristocratic prime minister had always sought to limit the role of the monarchy to a constitutional minimum and had taken on religious functions that traditionally belonged to the monarch. For example, Phibun led the celebrations of the 2500th anniversary of Buddhism in 1956/57 instead of the King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who was openly critical of Phibun. On 16 September 1957, Phibun was eventually overthrown in a coup d'etat by members of the Royal Thai Army under the command of Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat, who had earlier sworn to be Phibun's most loyal subordinate. Sarit was supported by many royalists who wanted to regain a foothold, and there were rumors that the United States was "deeply involved" in the coup.[15]

Phibun was then forced into exile after the coup, first fleeing to Cambodia, but later settled in Japan after Sarit's new regime rejected his requests to allow him to return to Thailand. In 1960, Phibun briefly travelled to India to be a monk in the Buddhist temple in Bodhgaya.[citation needed]


Phibun died on 11 June 1964 from heart failure while in exile in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. After his death, Phibun's ashes were transferred to Thailand in an urn and decorated with military honors in Wat Phra Sri Mahathat (also called "The Temple of Democracy") he had founded in Bang Khen.


Noble titles[edit]

  • 7 May 1928: Luang Phibunsongkhram (หลวงพิบูลสงคราม)
  • 15 May 1942: Abolition of nobility

Military rank[edit]

Thai decorations[edit]

Plaek Phibunsongkhram received the following royal decorations in the Honours System of Thailand:[18]

Foreign honours[edit]

Academic rank[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ (in Thai)ผู้นำทางการเมืองไทยกับสงครามโลกครั้งที่ 2: จอมพล ป.พิบูลสงคราม และ ปรีดี พนมยงค์ Archived 27 June 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Batson, Benjamin Arthur; Shimizu, Hajime (1990). The Tragedy of Wanit: A Japanese Account of Wartime Thai Politics. University of Singapore Press. p. 64. ISBN 9971622467. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  3. ^ Ansil Ramsay (2001). Grant H. Cornwell; Eve Walsh Stoddard (eds.). The Chinese in Thailand: Ethnicity, Power and Cultural Opportunity Structures. p. 63. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  4. ^ "man on horseback". The Free Dictionary. Retrieved 30 June 2011. n. A man, usually a military leader, whose popular influence and power may afford him the position of dictator, as in a time of political crisis
  5. ^ Numnonda, Thamsook (September 1978). "Pibulsongkram's Thai Nation-Building Programme during the Japanese Military Presence, 1941-1945". Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. 9 (2): 234–247. doi:10.1017/S0022463400009760. JSTOR 20062726. S2CID 162373204.
  6. ^ Churchill, Winston S. The Second World War, Vol 3, The Grand Alliance, p.548 Cassell & Co. Ltd, 1950
  7. ^ "Pattaya Mail – Pattaya's First English Language Newspaper".
  8. ^ Ford, Daniel (June 2008). "Colonel Tsuji of Malaya (part 2)". Warbirds Forum. Retrieved 30 June 2011. Though outnumbered two-to-one, the Japanese never stopped to consolidate their gains, to rest or regroup or resupply; they came down the main roads on bicycles.
  9. ^ "The Swift Japanese Assault". National Archives of Singapore. 2002. Retrieved 30 June 2011. Even the long legged Englishmen could not escape our troops on bicycles.
  10. ^ "Columns".
  11. ^ I.C.B Dear, ed, The Oxford companion to World War II (1995) p 1107
  12. ^ Roeder, Eric (Fall 1999). "The Origin and Significance of the Emerald Buddha". Southeast Asian Studies. Southeast Asian Studies Student Association. 3. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 30 June 2011. Judith A. Stowe, Siam becomes Thailand (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1991), pp. 228-283
  13. ^ Aldrich, Richard J. The Key to the South: Britain, the United States, and Thailand during the Approach of the Pacific War, 1929-1942. Oxford University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-19-588612-7
  14. ^ a b "สมศักดิ์ เจียมธีรสกุล: พูนศุข พนมยงค์ ให้สัมภาษณ์กรณีสวรรคต พฤษภาคม 2500".
  15. ^ Darling, Frank C. (1962). "American Policy in Thailand". The Western Political Quarterly. 15 (1): 93–110. doi:10.2307/446100. JSTOR 446100 – via JSTOR.
  16. ^ "Data" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 November 2011. Retrieved 8 September 2020.
  17. ^ "Data" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 July 2018. Retrieved 15 February 2021.
  18. ^ Biography of Field Marshal P. Archived 26 August 2002 at the Wayback Machine, Royal Thai Army website. Retrieved on 4 December 2008.
  19. ^ Royal Thai Government Gazette. แจ้งความสำนักนายกรัฐมนตรี เรื่อง ให้ประดับเครื่องราชอิสสริยาภรณ์ต่างประเทศ Vol. 56 Page 3594 on 11 March 1939
  20. ^ a b ราชกิจจานุเบกษา, แจ้งความสำนักคณะรัฐมนตรี เรื่อง พระราชทานพระบรมราชานุญาตประดับเครื่องอิสริยาภรณ์ต่างประเทศ, เล่ม ๗๒ ตอนที่ ๖๓ ง หน้า ๒๐๘๕, ๙ สิงหาคม ๒๔๙๘
  21. ^ "Data" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 August 2018. Retrieved 15 February 2021.


External links[edit]