In case you haven’t noticed, that resplendent locus of calm, the land of the King and I and the world destination for millions of tourists seeking cheap sex and drugs – the Land of Smiles, is fast becoming the land of billowing smoke . Those who once visited Thailand would have a hard time envisioning what is happening there today.
Bangkok is under siege – an apparent war zone where thousands of poorer citizens – many of them farmers and itinerant workers – have staged a rebellion ( it is far too early to call it a civil war) against the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, claiming that his ouster of the corrupt former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra years ago, was illegal. Not exactly without precedent, these rebels have adopted red as their color of protest. There are many demands about the redistribution of wealth and the eights of the poor. Hence, we are seeing a new “red ” insurgency taking on again a governing power.
Where have we seen this before?
Try the French Revolution and the uprising of the Sans Culottes and their participation in the September Massacre of 1792. Or the murderous Paris Commune of 1871; the rampages of the Bolsheviks through the streets of Moscow of 1917 or the attack of the Khmer Rouge on Phnom Phen in 1975. To some extent they were all Red Shirts with much the same agenda- to remove by force a governing regime and install a “people’s” government, which would strip away the privilege of rule from the country’s upper classes.
We also know where it all leads. Not only will shirts be red, but the streets will run red with the blood of thousands who are regarded as enemies of the state. The movement to unseat a governing power, that owes its origins to rural discontent, never ends peacefully and in fact guarantees a level insecurity and instability for years into the future.
The crack down by the Thai military – even if , as at least reports, it has resulted in the death of eight protesters, and much as it might be reminiscent of the crackdown in Beijing’s Tianamen Square in 1989, should not be regarded as the reflex of an oppressive dictatorial regime. It should be seen for what it really is -the necessary measures of a democracy to restore order before unrest spreads to the entire country and anarchy sets in.
Let us then be spared then the unhappy editorials in the New York Times and the Washington Post, bewailing the frightful loss of life. The Red Shirts of history have demonstrated that they can wreak far greater destruction of life and property if appeased. Returning the smile to the Land of Smiles may not involve the most felicitous of measures. But at least it will bring a semblance of stability back to a once famously stable nation.