They say history is written by the winner. That’s about the only thing we can say with conviction when it comes to tales of the past. Every side of an event experiences a different reality and every witness walks away with a different story. However, the victorious are anything but quiet and the losers tend to push the memory out of the collective conscience as quickly, and quietly, as possible.
The War of 1812—where the United States of America attempted to invade a fledgling Canada—for example, puts forward a rather fascinating and curious series of perspectives.
Some Americans call it a tie based on the Treaty of Ghent, which maintained that each side would neither gain nor lose territory.
Some call it a victory for the United States of America because “no matter the particulars the US had once again stood toe-to-toe with Britain, and survived”.
This comes from a website called Sparknotes, which is designed to help American students when their teachers and textbooks aren’t making sense.
I’ve even seen some Americans argue that Canada wasn’t a unified country at the time so it was in fact a British victory.
For the most part though the war is a bit of an obscurity in the soup that is American history. When a prominent American historian, named Eliot Cohen, stated in his new book that, “ultimately, Canada and Canadians won the War of 1812,” it was labeled a rare event.
In fact, he acknowledged that too as he wrote, “Americans at the time, and by and large, since, did not see matters that way”.
When it comes down to the Canadian perspective… Of course we won!
We weren’t successfully invaded and annexed, so I’d call that an evident success.
And we invaded America and burned the WHITE HOUSE DOWN!!!
Cue some Americans shouting, “it was the British not you”!!!
Meanwhile in Ayutthaya, Thailand
“Who’s this guy?”
My Burmese friends slowed to stop in front of a glass case encapsulating a statue of a seated man glaring down from his perch.
I was a bit surprised they didn’t know, but since my research for a previous blog post had centered on the individual before us I was able to answer heartily.
“Oh, that’s Naresuan the Great, a Thai monarch known for freeing the Siamese people from the clutches of the Burmese invaders.”
“Ohhhh,” two of the Burmese replied as the three of them peered at the display.
“So what are all the rooster statues for?” the same friend murmured as we strolled along a lane lined with red, yellow and white statues.
“The rooster represents Naresuan because of a famous cock fight with a Burmese prince. Naresuan’s cockerel won the fight, but the Burmese prince claimed he’d won anyway because Naresuan was his slave. It was at that point, according to legend, that Naresuan decided to free his people.”
“So all these rooster statues are the finger to the Burmese.”
“I suppose you could say that,” I responded chuckling.
Since my time-machine is not yet finished I’m going to intermittently provide you with some soothing images of various temples in Ayutthaya while we discuss the ferocious war abilities of King Naresuan. Thank you for reading and enjoy.
When Naresuan was alive, the Burmese Taungoo Dynasty had struck a winning blow and taken the Siamese Kingdom of Sukhothai as a tributary state.
With his victory King Bayinnaung demanded the two princes of Phitsanulok come live in Pegu as hostages. As the princes grew up, they were schooled in Burmese military tactics. Yep, basically their enemy taught the Black Prince and White Prince the skills they needed to free their people (this seems to happen a lot in history despite, well, smoothing out rebellions).
Eventually Naret (childhood name of Naresuan) and his brother were traded for their sister Suphankanlaya, who was carted to Pegu to become a secondary wife to the Burmese king.
Upon Naret’s return to Siamese territory in 1569, his father made him King of Phitsanulok and changed his name to Naresuan at age fourteen/sixteen.
In Burma, 1581, the old Burmese king died and was succeeded by his son Nanda Bayin. Two years later the new king would be fighting a rebelling uncle.
Nanda Bayin requested help from Naresuan, but the Siamese king was slow to respond. Fearing faltering loyalty, Nanda ordered his son Minchit Sra to kill Naresuan.
Receiving a warning in time, Naresuan formed an army and marched to take Pegu while Nanda was still fighting his uncle. Unfortunately for Naresuan, Nanda had won and was already heading back. Naresuan chose to retreat, but Minchit Sra gave chase with the army of Pegu.
According to legend, Minchit turned back when Naresuan shot a Burmese general from across the Sittoung River. This event would henceforth be known by the creative title Royal Shot Across the Sittoung River.
With that, Naresuan had denounced the rule of the Burmese and began a great military campaign against them. He moved the capital further south to Ayutthaya to make room for the war zone and soon had the Burmese on the defensive.
This is the setting as we come to the tale that continues to capture the imagination of the Thai population, and yet easy eludes the memories of the Burmese.
Naresuan was preparing to conquer Cambodia when Minchit Sra set out for a second attempt at killing the Siamese king. Hearing of Minchit Sra’s invasion, Naresuan entrenched his armies at Nong Sarai and waited for him.
The two sides clashed and, if the tales are to be believed, Naresuan’s war elephant went mad—taking him deep into the Burmese forces.
With everything at stake the King of Ayutthaya called out the Prince of Burma. Chiding his foe into the open the two fought ferociously. The Elephant Battle was so epic—they say—the surrounding soldiers stood still as they beheld the remarkable fight.
As the fight drew on Minchit Sra cut at Naresuan, narrowly missing and instead slashing his hat. Naresuan in return has a chance to lash out.
His cut bit deep into the Burmese prince, slicing him from shoulder to waist.
Naresuan had won.
And, as is the tradition, he built a nice, big pagoda on the site to commemorate the battle.
He went on to attack Pegu, but after a three-month siege he retreated. The Burmese empire shook as its tributary states began to rebel.
In 1599 Naresuan attacked again. He took Pegu and sought Nanda Bayin but the king was already on his way to Toungoo with Minye Thihathu. Naresuan asked for Nanda Bayin, but Minye Thihathu refused to hand the king over. So Naresuan captured Toungoo.
However, he had to retreat before he caught Minye Thihathu because he fell ill. Instead Naresuan sent his brother to fight the Burmese.
As the Siamese-Burmese war waged on Naresuan the Great would not die in battle as he turned fifty.
A disease, some believe smallpox, would instead ultimately lead to the great Siamese king’s death.
On an additional interesting note, you may have heard that the military is currently in charge of running Thailand after they staged a coup to end the extensive protests against the former government.
The event drew tens of thousands of people as they rushed to get the limited number of free spots.
Over 400 years ago Naresuan began to stitch together a powerful kingdom in Siam. Today will he be able to bring the people together once more?