Bangkok, The Red Shirts, The Military, The Agenda, No- it isn’t safe, Ranting on April 11

I write this without desire, the last thing I want to write about is the red shirt protest. Please read this, and read all the tweets: http://twitter.com/Journotopia

One can only wonder if the people that died last night came here with that level of commitment or with the understanding they could die. How many people would sign up for a protest to overthrow the government if they knew death as a possibility? Did the military troops that descended upon the red shirts expect a war zone? A Japanese journalist was killed, foreigners were hurt, dead bodies were removed from hospitals and displayed, a man was beaten in front of a crowd, the events of last night are no longer part of a protest or changing Parliament.

This is not for the betterment of Thailand. The continued struggles in government have done damage that will take years to repair- airport closures, ASEAN conferences broken up and Bangkok as a war zone are not easily forgotten and will cost the country billions of dollars in foreign investment and travel. America and much of the world have an image of Thailand as a place of beautiful beaches, spicy food, Buddhism, lady boys and beer bars. That image has certainly been altered by the events of the past four years and last night.

And for what?

As with any people on the front lines, I don’t think those fighting last night understood why they were fighting and what they were fighting for. Last night was not about overthrowing the government, if force were the appropriate means it would have been used long ago with the red shirts simply descending on Bangkok in massive numbers and overthrowing the government.

That is not a possibility as Thailand remains split, almost equally, between the UDD (red) and PAD (yellow), any attempt at a violent overthrow of government would be resisted by close to half of the country.

Last night was about the military showing where they stand and which group they back in the struggle between the government and the red shirts. The military is- and always has been- the key in the entire struggle. The military is the force that keeps the government in power, the government cannot impose the laws and their will without the military. The entire struggle in politics in Thailand began with the former PM, Thaksin, becoming to powerful for the military’s liking; he, and his red shirt supporters, lost control of the government in a bloodless coup 5 years ago.

Yes, the entire protest by the red shirts and government response has been about determining military support. The military supports the government, as they supported the yellow shirts two years ago when the airport was taken over by the yellow shirts, eventually leading to the current PM coming into power.

The past week saw the red shirts gaining momentum, taking over streets and giving the impression they had more power than the government. I believe the military was standing on the sidelines, waiting for the deal they wanted with the government before they stepped in and to ensure the government understood their power. With deal in place and the red shirts beginning to show up the military and even attempting to break into military compounds, the military came out in force last night.

I now wonder how the red shirt leaders can continue to stay at the protest sites, knowing the military will be back. I wonder how the government can offer a victory for the red shirts without caving in.  The government has offered to dissolve Parliament in 9 months- the red shirts want 2 weeks. What if the government offered 3 months for dissolving Parliament in exchange for the red shirts moving from the center of commence in Bangkok and limiting demonstrations?

No chance.

This morning the red shirts called for the immediate dissolution of Parliament and the PM to leave the country. 20 people are dead, 800 injured and the government, red shirts, Bangkok and Thailand are in exactly the same place we were 24 hours ago. But, tensions are running much higher, violence will break out significantly faster due to fear and the combination of heat and fatigue.

There is no more happy music coming from the red shirts, no more dancing in intersections and parading around Bangkok. The gravity of the situation and danger is evident on their faces. I wish I spoke better Thai and could understand what they are thinking; of course I am powerless to help, but feel for them. Many red shirts come from poverty stricken places in Thailand and were paid to come to the protest- did they know they might die?

It has been eerily quiet today. Many people have left Bangkok to return to their hometowns for Songkran (New Years), which takes place all week next week. The red shirts have blocked the intersections surrounding the commercial center with large trucks, but there are only 4-5 people present where there were 60-70 at these same intersections over the past few days.

I stumbled into the protest sights 6 different times- the first after a night of drinking and being swept up by the enthusiasm of the red shirts arriving in town. Seeing the sunrise, the friendly red shirt people and the belief in what they are doing touched me. I could only think how ashamed I am that we didn’t have these kinds of protests in America during the wars over the past eight years and how I respected the red shirts for banding together and making their voice heard. Now all I can think about his how many women and children I saw in that crowd of 40,000 that morning a month ago, and what happened to them last night.

I stood on Sukhumvit as 15,000 red shirts streamed down the street blaring music, honking car horns and waving; they were on their way to throw blood on the PM’s house.

The third time I encountered the protest was a week ago Saturday when the red shirts took over the commercial district. I praised the move as it gave the red shirts the bargaining position they needed and changed the momentum of their protest- they put the government on the defensive without violence.

Last Wednesday was the fourth time- the red shirts disobeyed the government order and sent streams of protestors to 10 sights around Bangkok. The move snarled traffic, showed defiance of the government and continued the red shirts momentum. The intersection by my apartment was taken over- I stood and watched for 90 minutes as the red shirts danced, sang and showed the power of their masses. I had a long conversation with a red shirt, he continued to say “see, no fighting, we good people. See happy!”.  I continued to agree with him.

Yesterday I felt the fear, both my own and the red shirts, as I walked home through their protest sight in the commercial district. They knew the military was coming, but very few were leaving. The party had stopped, no more music and dancing. I was scared, caught in a group of people that were running out of Siam Paragon shopping mall as it was being evacuated. I knew the government had given the word they were coming- shops were being shuttered, mass transit was suspended and the streets were dead quite. Yet, there were still many women and children among the red shirt supporters.

There is no clear way out of the current situation as there is no negotiating room. The red shirts are upping their demands on the government and the government still wants to disband the protest. Emotions have made this situation what it is- and this infuriates me. I lived through the Bush years where my country invaded other countries based on emotions and desires, not fact.

Fact was fiction and TV reality, finding WMD’s was forgotten when US troops marched to Bagdad, the origin of the terror attacks was ignored once statues of hateful rules began to fall. There is no difference, the troops on the frontline were pawns in a game they didn’t sign up to play. America was too proud not “to finish the job”, emotion changed the goal and agenda.

I am ashamed at American television news. Wasn’t CNN found on coverage for the first Gulf War? Isn’t American still at war in two countries, making noise about another war and putting out fires over strained relations with both friend and foe? As the world is dealing with two countries with violent uprisings and the death of the leader of Poland, American news is stuffed with groups of unqualified experts shouting at each other about the new Tiger Woods advert. Consumerism is more powerful than war, the return of a sex addict much better than showing dead people in Afghanistan, Bangkok or Kyrgyzstan.

I read a quote “why is it more of a tragedy when it happens 100 miles away than 1,000 or 10,000?”

Last night and the events that lead up to it are a tragedy, one that could impact Thailand in the same way the W Bush wars impacted ‘merica. American didn’t know how to win the peace, the red shirts and military didn’t expect last night. It is terribly sad that people continue to die fighting for agendas and goals that are not their own and that negatively impact the world view of their country.

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About faranginbangkok

Additional pictures: http://www.tumblr.com/blog/faranginbangkok For more updates about Bangkok, Thailand and other thoughts: www.twitter.com/lilrichardb I began working in Bangkok during 2008- a time that featured a great deal of political unrest in Thailand and particularly Bangkok. I had lived in San Francisco for 15 years and was working on a project in Thailand. Generally I spent 2 weeks in Bangkok and then 3-4 weeks in San Francisco. Did Bangkok begin to feel like home? Yes, and No. Bangkok and the Thai culture forced me to feel many things, the change in culture and environment was so dramatic it forced the decision- embrace or ignore. I embraced and made Bangkok my home and base in 2009. I have enjoyed living in Bangkok, experiencing Thailand and the entire ASEAN region.
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One Response to Bangkok, The Red Shirts, The Military, The Agenda, No- it isn’t safe, Ranting on April 11

  1. Julia Koepf says:

    Super-Duper site! I am loving it!! Will come back again – taking your feeds too now, Thanks.

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