Field Marshal Luang Plaek Pibulsonggram (Thai: แปลก พิบูลสงคราม or ป. พิบูลสงคราม, commonly called Por, often known during his lifetime as Field Marshal Pibun Songkhram or simply Marshal Pibun; born Plaek Khittasangkha) (July 14, 1897 – June 11, 1964) was Prime Minister and military dictator of Thailand from 1938 to 1944 and 1948 to 1957.
Pibulsonggram began to increase the pace of modernisation in Thailand. By manipulating the mass media, Pibulsonggram supported fascism and nationalism. Together with Luang Wichitwathakan, the Minister of Propaganda, he built a leadership cult in 1938 and thereafter. Photographs of Pibulsonggram were to be found everywhere and those of the abdicated King Prajadhipok were banned. His quotes appeared in newspapers, were plastered on billboards and repeated over the radio.
"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. These mandates encouraged that all Thais were to salute the flag in public places, know the new national anthem (written by Wichitwathakarn), and use the Thai language, not regional dialects. People were encouraged to adopt western attire, as opposed to the traditional dress of Thai men and women. In Pibulsonggram's perspective, these policies were necessary for Thailand to change the minds of foreigners that Thailand was an undeveloped and barbaric country. In the interest in progressivism, Thailand needed to be recognised by foreigners as a civilized and modernized country.
In 1939, Pibulsonggram changed the country's name from Siam to Thailand. In 1941, in the midst of World War II, he decreed January 1 the official start of the new year instead of the traditional April 13. On 5 August 1941, Thailand joined a group of nations that recognized the puppet state of Manchukuo.
His administration also encouraged economic nationalism, in which the Thai people were to purchase as many Thai products as possible and therefore destroy the Chinese proportion in markets. Anti-Chinese policies were imposed. In a speech in 1938, Luang Wichitwathakan compared the Chinese in Siam to the Jews in Germany.
While ardently pro-Japanese at the beginning, Pibulsonggram and his administration soon considerably, but cordially, distanced itself from Japan following the aftermath of the French-Thai War, which lasted from October 1940 to May 1941, when Japanese territorial ambitions were skilfully realized during the peace talks. The Japanese gained the right to occupy French Indo-China. Being threatened by the war, Pibulsonggram stated that the Japanese would be the transgressors. The administration also realized that Thailand would fend for itself when the Japanese invasion came, considering the deteriorating relationships with the major Western powers in the area.
As Japan neared its defeat, Pibulsonggram was forced to resign by the pro-Seri Thai National Assembly, thus ending his six-year reign as the military commander in chief. Pibulsonggram went to reside at the army headquarters in Lopburi. Meanwhile, Khuang Abhaiwongse was made prime minister ostensibly to continue relations with the Japanese, while at the same time secretly assisting the Seri Thai underground.
At the war's end, Pibulsonggram was put on trial by the Allies on charges of having committed war crimes, mainly that of collaborating with the Axis powers. However, he was acquitted amidst intense public pressure. Public opinion was favourable to Pibulsonggram, since he was thought to have done his best to protect Thai interests.
Instead of fascism that characterized his first premiership, Pibulsonggram and his regime promoted a façade of democracy. American aid was received in large quantities following Thailand's entry into the Korean War as part of the UN's multi-national allied force in the Cold War against the communists.
Pibulsonggram'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 Pibulsonggram arranged to send to China two of the children of Sang Phathanothai, his closest advisor, with the intention of establishing a backdoor channel for dialogue between China and Thailand. The girl, aged eight, and her brother, aged twelve, were sent to be brought up under the assistants of Premier Zhou Enlai as his wards.
On June 29 1951, Pibulsonggram was attending a ceremony aboard the USS Manhattan when he was taken hostage by a group of naval officers, who were quick to confine him on board the battleship 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 air force. Pibulsonggram was able to swim back ashore when the Sri Ayutthaya was bombed by the air force; with their hostage gone, the sailors and marines were forced to lay down their arms. On 13 November 1956, the field marshall co-signed with His Majesty the king Thailand's Criminal Code BE 2499.