The Lost Territories
Thailand's History of National Humiliation
University of Hawaii Press 2015
In The Lost Territories: Thailand’s History of National Humiliation(University of Hawaii Press, 2015), Shane Strate tracks the movements of two competing narratives of national identity in nineteenth and twentieth-century Siam, subsequently Thailand. Against the dominant narrative of royal nationalism, he shows how in moments of crisis another narrative of national humiliation functions to bond citizens to the state through the solidarity of victimhood. Both narratives rely heavily on the trope of territory lost to French imperialism. In the royal nationalist narrative, the lost territories are cleverly conceded: a finger sacrificed to save the hand. In the national humiliation narrative, duplicitous colonizers betray and embarrass Siam for their own ends, emasculating its geobody through the seizure of vassals on its periphery. National prestige is restored when the military embarks on new expansionist projects to reclaim the nation’s former preeminence. And when plans to regain an imagined lost empire on the Southeast Asian mainland fail, the narrative switches back to the royal nationalism: territories are again given up strategically, not needlessly, for the greater good and survival of the nation.
Shane Strate joins New Books in Southeast Asian Studies to discuss irredentism, anti-Catholicism in wartime Thailand, imperial Japan and pan-Asianism, the challenges of doing archival research on difficult topics, and how attention to history can inform our understanding of present-day politics in mainland Southeast Asia.