Thais Love Peace

Written by Andrew Marshall

Posted on 23 April 2010

One person was killed and scores injured in the latest violence in Bangkok last night. The M-79 grenades which caused the carnage were, said the government, fired from the direction of Lumphini Park, where thousands of red-shirt protesters remain encamped. The reds deny firing them.

The fact remains: someone lobbed high explosives into rush-hour crowds, then into protesters armed (when armed at all) with rocks and bottles. It feels like a scary escalation in the violence, and a taste of things to come. The editorial in today’s Bangkok Post warns of civil war.

A month ago I might have laughed off that idea. But as the chaos last night showed, Thailand is now so volatile that the security situation can change rapidly and dramatically. Silom Road, the busy office and shopping district where the Patpong night market is located, was almost unrecognizable to me. A thousand or more heavily armed troops occupied the shuttered road and its ill-lit side-streets. Ambulances raced in and out, sirens screaming, past coils of razor wire. Drunken protesters combed the garbage-strewn pavements for bottles to hurl at the reds.

I was struck by the sight of some women crossing the road in that stoop-and-run style you associate with sniper alleys, not shopping areas. Silom: twinned with Sarajevo.

Just before the grenade attacks, the Civil Court in Bangkok issued an injunction against the use of heavy weapons to disperse the red shirts. I’m not sure that this decision will make any difference to what happens next, but it was gratifying to discover that someone in Thailand still believed that violence wasn’t inevitable or necessary.

They are in the minority. “Thais love peace,” says a billboard which hangs beneath the skytrain station where the grenades struck. It’s a phrase from the Thai national anthem. Here’s the full line: “Thais love peace, but aren’t afraid to fight.”


  1. Andrew Marshall says:

    For powerful images of last night’s violence, please see the slideshow by my colleague Agnes Dherbeys in today’s New York Times:

  2. Good, excellent work both of you. Where I was up filming in the different towns in Isaan, the victory of the reds looks like it has already happened. The police, army trucks, people; every little cat and soi dog, is red.
    Pure celebration. But hard to take away from them, at a later stage. I also wonder if, as in Indonesia and so many other places, it will come to the Thai national pride to blame us eventually, us foreigners, in some form, when Thai against Thai finally ebbs? What do you think?

  3. Andrew Marshall says:

    Thanks, Thomas. You raise a very interesting point. One reason why living in Thailand is so pleasant (the current troubles notwithstanding) is because Thais tend to treat foreigners with great respect – a respect we often don’t deserve. In the past, the state has orchestrated campaigns urging Thais to be even nicer to us, for the sake of tourism and investment. I have sometimes wondered if this propaganda might result in a backlash against foreigners. (Imagine the British government ordering bolshy Brits to treat foreigners with more courtesy!) But I have no evidence of that, none at all. Two nights ago, as an injured foreigner was put into an ambulance on Silom, a Thai woman came up and apologized to me.

  4. Wow, that is touching, about the woman apologizing. Fantastic. Well, I guess where some of my worries start is precisely there – that many of the foreigners do not deserve to be treated as well as they are. European tourists for instance, even on the way TO Thailand, ordering the Thai airways hostesses around for drinks half an hour before landing, yelling insults and shouting. So naturally it is hard from them to smile, even to me, after a flight of abuse. In my country, as well as in yours, every young, or even not so young, Thai woman is a hooker, or at least completely open to be fucked anytime. Where does that lead us here in this country?

  5. Jenny Lynn Walker says:

    Thomas: That is quite obviously an outrageous statement – your last but one line – and, quite simply not the truth. My cousin is married to a Thai woman who worked in the advertising/promotions industry here in Bangkok, married my cousin and they are now based in the UK. She, and all of her friends, are well-educated, kind and respectful people and I think your statement may be more indicative of your own personal experiences and the people you associate with.

    There is clearly a large sex tourism industry in Thailand but, to someone NOT looking for it, you can live here as I have for more than 2 months and see little evidence of it at all. You have to look for it or go to those parts of town. I am told, but do not know for sure, that the sex industry here dates back to a time when US military were stationed here as it certainly does in Manila in the Philippines. It is a disgustingly clear reflection of the total disrespect that men from the West have for women from developing countries and the exploitation that results from vile male attitudes.

    Andrew: You state “The fact remains: someone lobbed high explosives into rush-hour crowds, then into protesters armed (when armed at all) with rocks and bottles.” Yes, this is a fact. But what has not been established by anybody is who is lobbing the bombs. The lack of facts or clarity behind who is stirring up the trouble and who exactly is armed, is exactly what is helping to lead this situation towards civil war. And it is not helped by images that are distributed with people who look like terrorists when we do not know exactly which side they are on NOR by showing labels such as you have, on their own on your comment page. I spent a month watching and documenting the protest in the area of Democracy Monument and although I have many images of Red Shirt ‘accessories’ and marketing materials, I did not come across one that had a gun printed on it as the one above.

    I can see such a label does exist as well as the ‘label’ that the protestors were paid to come from the provinces but, this is simply not the whole truth and is divisive and inflamatory. Having said that, I do enjoy the way you write and, your commentaries. Many thanks.

  6. Jenny Lynn Walker says:

    Andrew: It could be there ARE different factions with the Red Shirt party but identifying them exclusively with such a label in this way is an injustice to the tens of thousands of peaceful party members, and inflamatory. People have been attracted over recent weeks by orators including Taksin who I’m told speak to the heart and the throng of thousands over by Democracy Monument were not waving guns but ‘plastic red feet’ and ‘plastic red hearts’! What excellent marketing materials.

  7. Jotman says:

    You managed to say a lot in a few words here. Stay safe.

  8. Andrew Marshall says:

    Jenny, Many thanks for your comments. Where did the grenades come from? Today, I watched a forensic team trace the path of one grenade from its impact point on a Silom shopfront towards the Red barricade blocking Rajadamri Road – but also, of course, towards the Thai-Japanese Friendship Bridge, which I believe was open to traffic at the time the explosions went off. Frankly, I despair of ever knowing the truth. Also, I have spoken with enough Red Shirts, both from rural and urban Thailand, to understand their grievances, which are real and must be addressed. But we would both be naive to deny that there are not extremist elements within their ranks. As for the “label,” do you mean the image above? It is a badge, bought by a colleague at the Rajaprasong protest site. In a previous blog entry, I illustrated the Reds with an apple. How wholesome is that?

  9. Jenny Lynn Walker says:

    I vote for a return to the apple at this stage in the game.

  10. nita roshita says:

    andrew, i never thought bangkok would be that scary. i was staying at the hotel on silom road, hanging out with friends in lumphini park.. things are changed now. please take care of you and your family my friend.

  11. Andrew Marshall says:

    Thanks, Nita. One or two journalists have compared Bangkok today to your home town, Jakarta, back in 1998. Although nobody has burned down any department stores. Yet.

  12. Ian Fuchs says:

    Jenny said:

    “That is quite obviously an outrageous statement – your last but one line – and, quite simply not the truth.”

    Thomas is obviously not a native English speaker (his English is generally excellent, but there are grammatical and vocabulary errors in his writing here that are not characteristic of a native speaker’s English), but still I think it would be clear to anyone with half-decent comprehension skills (or at least not reading through distorting misandrist lenses) that when Thomas said that in (some) European countries, “every… Thai woman is a hooker, or at least completely open to be fucked anytime”, the meaning intended was that unfortunately many ignorant Europeans look down on Thai women as easily available for sex and lack respect for them as people. I think the fact that he spent the rest of his comment lamenting the behaviour of such Europeans makes this blindingly obvious, yet you chose to ignore this and instead insult him by lumping him in with those he was criticising.

    Jenny said:

    “I am told, but do not know for sure, that the sex industry here dates back to a time when US military were stationed here as it certainly does in Manila in the Philippines. It is a disgustingly clear reflection of the total disrespect that men from the West have for women from developing countries and the exploitation that results from vile male attitudes.”

    The sex industry in Thailand dates back centuries, of course, and mostly exists to serve local ‘needs’ – the presence of US servicemen caused an expansion in the industry and increased international knowledge of it, but did not create it. For cultural and historical reasons, prostitution is deemed more socially acceptable here and in Asia generally than in most Western countries; for example, in Beijing, where I used to live, there are brothels, often thinly disguised as hairdressers, all over the city, almost exclusively catering to local clientele. A little bit of research, rather than assuming the veracity of what you have been ‘told’, would have revealed this, but then I suppose it’s not unusual for someone to take as truth any old rubbish they’ve heard that backs up their preconceptions (note the leap from ‘not sure’ to ‘disgustingly clear’) . If you’re interested in expanding your knowledge about this, you may find the following links illuminating:

    but I rather suspect that you may be too attached to your racist and sexist prejudices about ‘Western men’ to do so. It is true that many Western men who come to this part of the world do fit your profile (as Thomas pointed out), but I, and the majority of the Western male friends I have in Asia, certainly do not.

    Andrew: Apologies for going off topic at such length, but I was rather disappointed that you failed to in any way challenge Jenny for her gratuitously insulting comments, and felt obliged to step into the void.

    Back on topic, I agree that the situation at the moment is hugely worrying. The relatively stand-offish approach of the security forces so far (in comparison to that to challenges to the status quo in previous decades) is pretty much the only straw of hope we can cling to. I think this reluctance to launch a decisive crackdown is perhaps due to recognition within the forces that their members are themselves hugely divided politically, and that any action which would incur large casualty figures is likely to either fail for this reason, or if successful, lead to outright revolution in the North. We can only hope that things do not change in this respect, and the Abhisit government eventually crumbles as a result.

    The current administration has, in my view, only themselves (and their backers) to blame for this situation. If, on attaining power, they had prosecuted and handed out heavy custodial sentences to those who led the PAD occupations of Government House and the airports, they would have achieved the dual purpose of greatly enhancing their legitimacy in the eyes of the majority of Thai people and dissuading the UDD from carrying out similar actions in the future. The fact that they not only did not prosecute these individuals, but in fact gave some of them positions of power within the new administration, made the current situation inevitable. The only way out of this is for them to fall on their swords, call free elections, and respect the outcome. Otherwise, I can’t see anything but civil war being the result. Unfortunately, systemic transitions of power (for that is what the opposition are in effect seeking) have historically rarely been achieved without bloodshed, and Thailand at the moment does not look like being an exceptional case.

  13. Natta Davis says:

    I grew up in a small village in the Northeast. The village was probably about 200 houses, and children from only four houses went to middle school. Only me and my siblings went on to finish college. My family managed to send four kids to finish bachelor’s degrees with only an annual salary equal to $1000 US dollars. My parents valued education and saw for the long-term, not just the short term. When my parents could have bought food or clothes, they spent it on education for their children. When the children could have been laboring in the field every day starting at an early age, we were going to school instead.

    You cannot live better by fighting to get money, or fighting with force, but to fight with your brain. To fight with your real ability is much better, because a person that fights this way knows that they are not a beggar or a brute. They know that they can make their own way instead of taking it from someone else. When you value education you are valuing your own ability.

    Somehow, Thai people need to learn what value education has starting from the small villages, because the corruption starts from there, where people the value education less. It spreads more to the whole society. Somehow, the little kids have to be educated and the head of the village has to be honest, and not susceptible to corruption. He has to be someone who will not take what he hasn’t earned.

    The people who come from the rural Northeast or poor countryside of Thailand are being used by politicians that give them money because they know this way they will get elected. This is a way of putting poor people down, because they never learn to stand on their own and take care of themselves.

    You want the government to take care of you, and to be fair, but by taking money it is perpetuating the system, whatever type of corruption it is: buying votes, or paying Red Shirt groups to go protesting in Bangkok. Jenny said, “this is simply not the whole truth and is divisive and inflamatory.”

    I heard about corruption when I was a kid and experienced it later. It never stopped, it is not ending. At this time I want to show this video where you can see some people really were bribed. The video is in Thai, but the guy has a handful of 1000 baht bills he is giving away.

    I want to thank Jenny for defending her sister-in-law and Thai women. Foreigner men should treat the women with respect. Not everybody has similar backgrounds. A lot of Thai woman are well-educated and well-mannered, so it is a poor and hurtful generalization to treat all of them as if they are dancers or prostitutes from Pattaya or some tourist places on the beach, especially not women working in honest jobs that serve you.

  14. Jenny Lynn Walker says:

    I have just stumbled on this post again and wish to thank Natta for her words and to say that I am in full agreement. Thank you.

    Ian Fuchs, you critique appears not to be based on the very words written by Thomas:

    “In my country, as well as in yours, every young, or even not so young, Thai woman is a hooker, or at least completely open to be fucked anytime.”

    I maintain that this IS an outrageous statement that reconfirms stereotypes that is not only erroneous but, immensely unhelpful.

  15. Ian Fuchs says:

    Jenny – I too have just stumbled on this post again. You appear to have completely ignored the first paragraph of my post where I addressed this point. Maybe it is after all your reading comprehension skills that are the problem, and not simply your misandry?

    By the way Andrew, in retrospect your last comment on this post was very prescient. Am very much looking forward to reading through your ‘Thailand’s Moment of Truth’, not had time to look at the first 2 sections yet.

  16. Ian Fuchs says:

    Ooops, just realised that’s a different Andrew Marshall. Sorry.

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