Friday, October 6, 2006

6th October

A day many choose to forget. The recent military coup certainly helped refresh its memories. Here are some links about the anniversary of a very black day in Thai history.

Added Oct. 12, Chaiwat Satha-Anand's "Hurting, haunting, hoping", a deep articulation on how violence freezes time.
Former activists mark Oct 6 bloodbath
Democratic stance torn apart by coup
TRT figures fail to attend ceremony
Charoen honoured as an 'October 6 martyr'
Army 'never back in barracks'

And a page from "The Balancing Act: A History of Modern Thailand" by Joseph J. Wright Jr.
...and so a round-the-clock vigil began on the Thammasat campus. Though the university had been closed down earlier, 4,000 determined students broke through the gates and took over the Bo Tree Courtyard and the football field. There were reports later that some of these students had smuggled in firearms which, if it were true, would seem a precaution, wisely taken or not, against the kind of violence used by Red Gaurs against defenseless marchers in the anti-American demonstrations six months earlier.

While the four thousand sat cross-legged in clusters around the campus grounds, singing their protest songs and making speeches, the capital braced itself for a reprise of Fourteen October, the anniversary of which was now just 10 days off. Counter-demonstrations began right away. A group of 400 rightists protested outside the prime minister's office, on the fourth, demanding he take a definitive stand. They stayed through the night, and their angry shouts intensified the following day, 5 October, when he announced his cabinet changes. Seni had dismissed the conservative Samak from his post as a deputy in the interior ministry, and had placed the apparently neutral Admiral Sa-ngad Chaloryu at the head of Defense.

Meanwhile, at Thammasat, a troupe of students actors staged a pivotal drama, a reenactment of the lynching two weeks before of the union men who had protested Thanom's return. On a make-shift stage in the campus courtyard, a young actor was strung up on a harness to stimulate the hanging, while others portrayed those responsible for the deed. One of the performers-the one dangling from the rope- was said by some to have borne a certain resemblance to the crown prince, an unpopular figure then among the members of the left. Soon, somehow, word got out that the play had been an act of lese majeste, an insult to the crown, in which radical leftists had hanged the king's heir apparent in effigy.

By evening a photo story about the skit had made Bangkok's front pages. Dao Sayam-a "rabid, right-wing newspaper," says Anderson -printed apparently retouched pictures of the performers, exaggerating the features of the one in question to make him look more like the prince. Then, in what seems to have been a coordinated effort, the armed forces radio network broadcast a similar version of the story and urged the citizenry to buy Dao Sayam and see for themselves.

Considering the theme of the student's skit-the murder of innocent citizen by corrupt authorities- it does not seem logical that the dramatists would have planned to make the victim, who was a sympathetic figure, look like the crown prince. In another photograph of the skit, one sees a young man in the guise of a monk - apparently Thanom- seated half-lotus style beneath the dangling "corpse". In the monk's lap is a human skull; standing guard beside him is a soldier with a Nazi arm band. Several students lay about, face-down, nearby, obviously mimicking more dead bodies, those who had fallen on fourteen October. A placard beside the tableau reads "Students, don't worry. I only want a few more corpses."

Plainly, then, the hanging figure would not have intentionally resembled the prince. It simply would not have fit in with the rest of the scene if it had.

Yet, even if this was an act of mockery against the sacred institution of the throne, it would not have justified what followed. Heeding the call of the army broadcast for "all true Thai patriots" to quash the supposed anti-monarchist demonstrations, thousands of militants, led by the Red Gaurs and other neo-fascist groups, flowed into the Thammasat area and surrounded the campus.

It was now the morning of Six October, another date which requires no mention of the year to distinguish its place in Thai history.

Perhaps sensing what was to come, the NSCT (National Student Center of Thailand) leadership left the campus, not in flight but to surrender themselves to the prime minister and try to explain the true meaning of the play before the misguided mob could carry out its intentions. The NSCT leaders left behind some two-thousand of their fellow demonstrations who had spent the night on campus as promised. By the time the students leaders arrived at Seni's office, however, it was too late.

Claiming they had been fired upon from inside the campus, police who had been shepherded the mob outside called for reinforcements. By 7:30 am the streets outside the university compound were lined by special units of the police and military, armed with machine guns, recoilless rifles, grenade and rocket launchers. The mob had by now swollen to ten thousand, and as if the police needed more help, had armed themselves with swords, clubs, and guns of their own. Suddenly police and soldiers opened fire, pouring as many as 1,000 rounds per minute in sporadic intervals into the compound. They used no tear gas. By comparison, shooting a fly with an elephant gun seemed reasonable.

They smashed through the campus gates with a dump truck and charged the cowering demonstrators inside. There must have been snipers within firing upon the invaders, as photographs do show armed soldiers and policemen hiding behind trees and walls as the civilian mob carelessly blundered through the compound. But whatever armament the students possessed could not have been enough to make a difference, for soon the demonstrators were overcome by the rabble, some trying to flee, leaping into the Chao phraya River, others trying to give themselves up. Reporter Richard Nations was there.

"I saw one university student emerge from the auditorium unarmed only to be swamped by the mob and kicked and beaten to death with bottles, mangled chairs and jagged bits of metal torn from the main gates. Other students who tried to escape were hanged from the trees outside the campus. Later, their bodies were doused in petrol and burned. At least one girl was reported to have drowned among the many who tried to swim across the river to safety."

The rampage went on for hours, as police went from building to building to flush out the students. Once outside, the demonstrators were rounded up and herded into the football field where onlookers cheered from the bleachers, waving flags, and laughing as boys and girls alike were made to strip to the waist and lie facedown on the playing field; any show of reluctance earned a rifle butt in the head. Among the sprawling mass of half-clad students, prone and paralyzed with fear, strolled policemen, kicking and beating the quivering forms as they went. At least one officer went about stripping students of any Buddha images, violently ripping chains from around their necks; he said he did so "because communists are not Buddhists," but he did not mention the amulet's gold content.

By midday, police arrested 1,700 students and carted them away to detention facilities, driving them along the way, past the mutilated corpses of their friends, strung from the trees around Sanam Luang. Their job at Thammasat done, the victorious patriots marched to government house to confront the premier.

"I did my best," a tearful Seni Pramoj told the crowd. "I tried to keep law and order in this kingdom, but if you wish, I will go."

Somehow the honor and prestige of governing the people of Thailand did not seem worth fighting over now. A dark and ugly side of a normally pleasant people had just been revealed, and the Thai elite seemed revolted by it. That evening it was announced that the military had taken over the government. No one else seemed to want it anymore.

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