Sunday, October 25, 2009
STORMBRINGER presents the story of Jim Thompson, Thailand's most famous farang and one of America's many unknown Secret Warriors.
From The Secret Agent by Francine Matthews, CIA (retired):
"I called my contact on the CIA's Publications Review Board a few months before I left for Thailand. As a former employee, I'm required to vet my manuscripts with the Agency, to ensure I don't publish anything classified. When I once casually referred to this process as censorship, my contact chided me gently. He had, after all, required me to delete only one word from my previous spy novel, The Cutout.
"I'm writing about Jim Thompson," I told him. "Is that likely to set off alarms?"
I was curious how the Agency would react. In some circles there is a firm belief that Thompson was killed by the CIA, for dark and inexplicable reasons embedded in espionage's culture of betrayal. Jim Thompson: the man who knew too much. Would they ask me to give the topic a wide berth? Would they slap some sort of legal injunction on me?
"Cool," my contact replied. "Let me know when you find out who killed him."
Click HERE for the rest of Mathew's fascinating story.
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Jim Thompson was recruited by Brigadier General William Joseph Donovan and served during World War II as a commissioned US Army officer in the Office of Strategic Services (the OSS was disbanded in 1947 then later re-established as the Central Intelligence Agency and US Army Special Forces). A fluent French speaker, Thompson participated in missions behind enemy lines in German-occupied France.
After the surrender of Nazi Germany in May of 1945, Thompson was transferred to Ceylon. He was about to be deployed in Thailand when Japan's surrender in September 1945 officially ended World War II. Thompson arrived in Thailand several weeks after Victory in Japan Day to take charge of the Bangkok office of the OSS.
Thompson left the US Army in 1946 and returned home to New York, with intent to bring his wife back to Thailand. She did not agree to this and divorced him. Thompson returned to Bangkok and embarking on a renovation of the Oriental Hotel with a number of partners. From here he worked with a number of Thai investors to found the Thai Silk Company in 1947.
Although he officially abandoned intelligence activities, many have suspected he was still a non-official cover. During the Vietnam War, his closest friend, General Edwin Black, was in charge of United States Air Force operations Special Operations activities over Laos and Thailand.
Returning to private enterprise, Thompson devoted himself to revitalizing a cottage industry of hand-woven silk, which had for centuries been a household craft in Thailand but was dying out. Thompson located a group of Muslim (Cham) weavers in the Bangkok neighborhood of Bankrua and provided hitherto unavailable color-fast dyes, standardized looms, and technical assistance to those interested in weaving on a piece-work basis.
Jim Thompson invented the bright jewel tones and dramatic color combinations nowadays associated with Thai silk. His endeavour showed a profit from its first year of operation, raising thousands of Thais out of poverty. Thompson made millionaires out of his core group of weavers by giving them shares of the Thai Silk Company. Thompson's determination to keep his company cottage-based was significant for the women who made up the bulk of his work force. By allowing them to work at home, choosing their hours and looking after their children while weaving, they retained their position in the household while becoming breadwinners.
It was only after Thompson's disappearance that the Thai Silk Company relocated its weaving operations to Khorat, a city co-located to a major Royal Thai Army base. Although the Company abandoned home-based weaving in favor of factories in the early 1970s, the Thai Silk Company's Khorat facility looked more like a beautifully landscaped college campus than a factory.
As Thompson was building his company, he also became a major collector of Southeast Asian art, which at the time was not well-known internationally. He built a superb collection of Buddhist and secular art not only from Thailand but from Burma, Cambodia and Laos, frequently traveling to those countries on buying trips.
In 1958 he began what was to be the pinnacle of his architectural achievement, a new home to showcase his art collection. Formed from parts of six antique Thai houses, his home (completed in 1959) sits on a klong (canal) across from Bangkrua, where his weavers were then located. Most of the 19th century houses were dismantled and moved from Ayutthaya, but the largest - a weaver's house (now the living room) - came from Bangkrua.
The Jim Thompson House, now a museum, is the second most popular tourist attraction in Bangkok, surpassed only by the Grand Palace in visitor attendance.
In 1967 Jim Thompson disappeared under extremely mysterious circumstances in the Cameron Highlands region of Malaysia.
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This posting is a continuation of a theme I am developing - events in Mainland Asia at the end of World War II, and the direct connections of that great conflict to the wars in Korea and Vietnam.
Several readers were distressed that I chose to present yesterdays' post about Japanese soldier and notorious war criminal Tsuji Masanobu. It was not my intent to honor or pay tribute this monster, but rather to explore Tsuji's possible participation in the Vietnam conflict.
I wish to report on the presence of hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers in Vietnam and China at the end of World War II, their re-arming by Allied occupiers in order to maintain order and fight Communist forces in those countries, and their subsequent participation as combatants and advisors in Viet Minh (Communist) units against the French.
There is tons of material about this out there on the web - I first learned of these activities first hand from a retired Marine who participated in actions against the Communist Chinese in the late 40's. Imagery is more difficult to come across - I'd like to request to any readers who can share links to pictures or photos of the post-World War era in China and Vietnam, so I can develop some postings on this little known era of relatively recent world history.