Cornell University

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Across the Archives: Thai Anti-Communist Posters

Friday, April 26, 2024 at 3:00pm to 4:00pm

Virtual Event

A SEADL webinar featuring: Dr. Tamara Loos, Professor of History, Cornell University.

Hosted by Emily Zinger, Southeast Asia Digital Librarian, Cornell University.

How to be an Anti-Communist: Information, Expertise, and Culture in Cold War Thailand

To be anti-communist in Thailand during the Cold War meant more than simply rejecting participation in a political ideology called communism—an ideology with which so few Thais were familiar that Bill Donovan, former head of the OSS and ambassador to Thailand, had the Communist Manifesto translated into Thai in 1952. US officials repeatedly worried that Thai leaders were not sufficiently concerned about the dangers of communism, so they helped construct an image of the communist enemy that would resonate with Thais. How to be an anti-communist meant learning to recognize and love the monarchy, to worship Buddhism, to participate in the heteronormative family, to appreciate private property even if one could not afford it, and to celebrate selected (reinvented) Thai traditions. All these meanings were heightened above other cultural traditions to become “the” norm during the Cold War era. And it was created by particular Thai and American “experts.” Tracing the development of this expertise and its unpredictable impacts reveals the limits of US funding and knowledge, on the one hand, and the empowerment of paternalistic cultural authority among Thai leaders, on the other. Despite the asymmetrical power relationship between the US and Thailand and the massive economic, military and police funding provided to Thailand, elite Thais fully participated in and led the shaping knowledge production, unlike rural Thais who became objects of USIS surveys and American anthropological studies. The talk will focus on the anti-communist posters that led me to this project.

About the Speaker

Tamara Loos is Professor of Southeast Asian history at Cornell University, is currently Chair of the History Department, and has served as Director of the Southeast Asia Program. Her first book, Subject Siam: Family, Law, and Colonial Modernity in Thailand, explores the implications of Siam's position as both a colonized and colonizing power in Southeast Asia. It is the first study that integrates the Malay Muslim south and the gendered core of law into Thai history. Her most recent book, Bones Around My Neck offers a critical history of Siam during the era of high colonialism through the dramatic and tragic life of a pariah prince, Prisdang Chumsai (1852–1935). Her teaching and articles focus on an array of topics including sex and politics, subversion and foreign policy, sexology, transnational sexualities, comparative law, sodomy, and gender in Asia. She has been interviewed by the BBC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Financial Times, and other global media outlets about political protests in Thailand. In this talk she will discuss her current book project, tentatively titled How to be an Anti-Communist: Information, Expertise, and Culture in Cold War Thailand.

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Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Asian Studies, Southeast Asia Program

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Emily Zinger


Tamara Loos

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Cornell University

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