The Domino that Didn’t Fall

Atlantic Monthly, November 1984.


This is the story of an insurgency that disappeared. It begins in the mid-1960s, when the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) initiated an active and violent rebellion in Thailand’s poorest and most isolated region–the Northeast. By the late 1960s the hill tribesmen of North Thailand had taken up the fight. In the South insurgents from the CPT joined forces with bandits, Moslem separatists, and some Malaysian Communists, all of whom had created security problems for many years.

Thailand was swarming with Americans in those days: 45,000 members of the Air Force were manning the air bases, as many as 5,000 soldiers were arriving in Bangkok every five days for R&R, and a small army of people were working for the United States diplomatic missionnobody was saying how many. The accoutrements of counterinsurgency, financed largely by the United States, were being put in place: a “Communist Suppression Operations Command,” special ranger units to patrol the jungles, and psychological-operations teams to promote the government’s popularity. There were also many social and economic programs to keep the people loyal, and for six years I was part of that effort. From 1965 to 1967 I served as a Peace Corps volunteer. I spent the better part of the next six years studying the effects of rural-development efforts for two private American research groups, one under contract to the U.S. Agency for International Development and the other under contract to the U.S. Department of Defense.

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