I have been a massive fan of Stickman’s site for just over a year now, but I feel it’s time to make a submission that has nothing to do with mongering, lying women, gullible men, teaching in Thailand or tourist travelling.
Last month, the new Thai prime minister made certain comments while being interviewed by Dan Rivers on CNN regarding October 6, 1976, when at least 46, possibly hundreds of student demonstrators were massacred at Thammasat university. He told Mr. Rivers that only one “unlucky” guy was killed and that there was no massacre. Unfortunately Dan Rivers came across as being an intelligent, but rather naïve farang, a bit like an English schoolboy poking a stick (pardon the pun) at a steaming cowpat. For those of you familiar with the BBC, had Mr. Samak been interviewed by Steven Sacker of Hardtalk, he would have been tied in knots. If he had been interviewed by Jeremy Paxman of Newsnight fame, he would have been reduced to tears.
Please allow me to give you a brief history of events leading up to what Thais call “Hok Tulaa”:
From 1963 – 1973 Thailand was governed by a rather nasty military dictator called Thanon Kittikachorn. Along with his father-in-law and his son, they were known as the three tyrants. By the early 1970s the nation was fed up with a government who stayed far too long with a history of nepotism and human rights violations. So a large group of students , mainly from Thammasat university marched through Bangkok to the Democracy Monument. As most of the nation was behind their cause, other civilians joined them. Support was so strong that bus drivers refused to take people who WEREN’T going on the march.
Eventually the military were called in to disperse the crowds and of course, like all good governments they opened fire on them, killing dozens of students. To cut a long story short, after His Majesty calmed the situation down by asking students to go home peacefully and also asking the Three Tyrants to leave Thailand and go into exile, which they did.
The dean of Thammasat university became Prime Minister and elections were promised for early 1975. However the political climate in those days was one of Left versus Right. America had just lost the Vietnam war and South East Asian countries were predicted to be falling to communism. Basically if you were anti-establishment, you weren’t pro-democracy, you were a communist (thank you Uncle Sam!). Like today, where you have technical colleges fighting and killing each other. Back then it was right-wing goon squads regularly paying visits to Thammasat university trying to beat up students. It got so bad that the university employed armed security to protect the campus.
At its peak, one of these semi-fascist groups, the Village Scouts, apparently represented one fifth of the Thai population. There were other as well (the Red Guar, for example). These groups were basically rural civilians, very closely linked to the border police. They were trained by the military to repel communist threats, stripped of their individual identity as part of the initiation process and swore they would die for their country. They were basically uneducated thugs.
By 1976, after a succession of weak liberal governments playing political pass-the-parcel, the build up to the October 6 massacre was almost complete. That year 2 student activists were hanged from trees by the police and 2 days before “Hok Tulaa”, students staged a sit-in at Thammasat to protest the return of Thanon Kittikachorn, who had ended his exile in Singapore and come back to Thailand to be ordained as a monk (he however never returned to politics). This incensed the students who also performed a mock hanging as a protest to the 2 hanged students. The Bangkok Post published the picture of the effigy hanging from the tree. However the effigy had been doctored to look like the Crown Prince. In the eyes of the military the students had gone too far. In the eyes of the nation they had committed lese majeste. This is where Mr. Samak comes in. At the time he was deputy interior minister and a staunch pro-royal anti-communist. He was responsible for stoking up national hatred against the students through radio and TV announcements. The military and the police called in help from the Village Scouts and the Red Guar (just to make it even more one-sided) and stormed the university. They were given orders to open fire. The students begged for a ceasefire – nobody listened. What was to follow was horrific and brutal.
Students were shot. Some were hung from trees. Dead or unconscious students were piled in small heaps and set ablaze with tyres thrown on top for good measure. Girls were ordered to strip and some were reportedly raped. Students who surrendered were ordered to remove their shirts and lie face down on the football field while soldiers fired shots above them so that red-hot shells from their rifles fell on bare backed students. Over 3,000 students were arrested, some fled to the north and temporarily stayed in the jungle. Their democracy movement was brutally crushed. The military seized power, ransacked, censored and in some cases closed down newspapers. The incident had been hushed up and nobody was held accountable. Some parents had no confirmation they had lost their children until they saw pictures years later. This was possibly the darkest day in Thai history.
The fact of the matter is that military force teamed up with right-wing thugs and opened fire on unarmed students. These were young people just demonstrating for democracy, angered at the return of a former dictator. Committing lese majeste (if it was committed at all) does not warrant a brutal crackdown like the one that occurred on October 6 1976.
Although many of you would say, “what does this have to do with me” or “it’s so far back in time, it no longer matters” or “I’m a foreigner, who cares?”, it is still very much food for thought. I don’t wish to be unnecessarily gloomy, but there is more to Thailand’s history than bars, hotels, gems, silk and beaches. Yes, we are foreigners, but we are living in a country governed by a man who played a big part in this massacre. Looking into this event has changed the way I look at Thailand and Thai people. I still love this country, but I feel a sense of loss for all those brave young men and women who lost their lives fighting for what we take for granted.
The current prime minister has the subtlety of a sledge hammer. The interviews I have seen with him, particularly those in English, have painted him (and his government) in a less than positive light. I truly think they have no idea how they will be perceived abroad. That style of interviewing might work in Thailand, but in the West….