Day and night speeches echoed through loudspeakers spread up and down the streets of the protest area. I do not speak Thai and so the specific messages were mostly lost on me though I used translators at times. None of the western journalists I spoke with could speak Thai. The violence and heavy emotions coming from the speakers at night was as unmistakable as thunder. There were other unmistakable parts that seemed to fall through the cracks.
Inside Red camp a man shows a shotshell of the type used by the Army.
It is widely accepted, and I believe to be true, that billionaire and ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was funding the protests—or at least was majorly contributing to the funding—which from simple observation must have cost tens of millions of dollars. Though I have read thick stacks of articles and talked with seemingly endless numbers of people, ranging from farmers to political elite, to foreigners who have lived here for years or even decades, the political intrigues provide endless speculative fancy, though nobody in any camp: yellow, red, government, “neutral,” doubts that Thaksin is in the middle of these troubles.
Missing from analysis but jumping out to me on Day 1 (actually several years ago in Thailand) were echoes of communism among the Reds. Having spent some years in communist or formerly communist countries, the signs are clear, such as when you walk into an old house and smell rats, cats, or bats. Once your nose is tuned to the smell, it will leap out despite that someone else might say you are imagining things. Some journalists sensed the communist smell, while others missed it or would not entertain the thought.
There also seems to be a clear desire to overthrow the Monarchy, despite that the King has done a great deal for Thailand and is a man of peace. From an outsider’s perspective, it would seem that the loss of the King of Thailand would be a huge loss for Thailand, and would also be a significant loss of a friend of the United States. The King has been a major cause for social progress, such as in promulgating religious tolerance. In Washington, I spoke at length with General (ret.) Barry McCaffrey—a former American “Drug Czar”—about the opium problem in Afghanistan. General (ret.) McCaffrey lamented that one of the problems the international community faces in Afghanistan is that it does not have someone like King Bhumibol of Thailand, who, according to General McCaffrey, said that growing opium is not Thai. It’s immoral. That, and tangible government action along with eradication and alternative crops, essentially vanquished the issue. There is no such moral authority in Afghanistan (or nearly anywhere), matching that.
Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, tribes and religion are not factors, nor are Warlords, though some will say “mafias” or patronage networks play a major part. Unlike in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Philippines where ethnicities are factors leading to serious killing, ethnicity and racism are crucial factors in Thailand but have not led to the recent bone-crushing seen elsewhere. Racism is a deep and seriously exacerbating problem in Thailand and plays into the scheme of the Thai platypus. A retired U.S. Special Forces soldier living in Thailand said to me, “Race is a monstrous factor here.”
Slingshots against guns comprised much of the skewed narrative. A photographer could easily caption this photo, “Courageous resistance uses slingshots to take on heavily armed Thai Army.” There is truth because that is exactly what he was doing—respect for his courage—and this makes for a heroic narrative that places the journalist in a romantic position. In reality, some of these guys had heavy weapons and would commit massive arson against even small shop owners who had no more money or power than a hardworking farmer.
The scene was great for dramatic photography, and the more we trump up the danger, the more heroic correspondents become. Which wasn’t hard to do this time; it was no-kidding dangerous.
Helicopters seldom flew.