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Thailand Runs Red


An anecdote will perhaps illume the depth of anxiety in the psyche of Thais who fear for the monarchy. In the late '80s, I watched the film "The Last Emperor" in a Bangkok theater. The movie depicts the compelling personal tragedy of Pu Yi, the last emperor of China, who was overthrown in 1911 and wound up as a Japanese puppet-prince in the doomed creation called Manchukuo. The story had a real meaning for Thais, who are well aware of the horrors that befell their Chinese cousins as the delusion-ridden Imperial court gave way to an unremitting sequence of disasters - war, economic collapse, famine, plagues, tyranny, and vicious repression of a scale and duration inconceivable to Western sensibilities. Thais know that their kings responded realistically, even proactively, to the rise of Western and Japanese power, and their system persisted without any serious disruption.The moviegoers knew about Ne Win's lunatic "Burmese Way to Socialism" next door and the Cambodian holocaust on the other side. The people of Laos and Vietnam, trapped in tyranny and living in the rubble of devastating war, seemed to be the best off of the neighbors. Thais I spoke with left that movie feeling good about themselves and even better about their beloved Rama IX. It's been an impressive run. But Rama IX is 82 and ill. His successor, the crown prince, is clearly a problem, and opportunists like [Thaksin Shinawatra] abound.In thrall to delusional ambition, Thaksin disrespects everything that has made Thailand work so well for so long. Given his methods, it's hard to buy into any of the supposed virtues of his program, as many Western observers do. There are undoubtedly severe social and economic inequities in Thailand, but anyone who thinks this is really about that is not paying very close attention to Thaksin and knows nothing of the history of peasant violence in this part of the world. It's as patronizingly clueless as a parent fussing over bad table manners while junior sits there smoki

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