THAILAND: Flight of the Thunderbird

For nearly 20 years the most agile, deft and eely politician in Southeast Asia's luxuriant political quagmire had been Thailand's steel-willed, soft-voiced Dictator Pibulsonggram. Pibul's favorite color is green, and he found it attractive in everything from U.S. dollars to neckties and the flashy Ford Thunderbird and Mercedes-Benz sports cars in which he liked to hot-rod it along Thailand's highways and byways. In the tinseled and temple-dotted capital of Bangkok, Westerners liked to dismiss Pibul as just another crooked politician. But he was much more than that.

In many ways it was Pibul more than any other Thai leader who...

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