Army chief draws on ultra-nationalist rhetoric of modern Thailand’s darkest era
Army chief Apirat Kongsompong has faced calls for a cut in defence spending before, but never has he responded with such fury. The anger is easily explained by the fact that Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan’s proposal also represented a serious threat to the military’s role in politics.
Other parties, most notably Future Forward, also have policies targeting military spending, but Suradat’s words are more powerful since her Pheu Thai Party has the potential to win the coming election and has a record of delivering on its policy pledges.
The Army chief’s reaction was both swift and ominous.
Backed by his boss Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha and Deputy PM Prawit Wongsuwan, he ordered Suradarat and other politicians to listen to the ultra-rightist song “Nak Phaendin”, which was played to spread hate nationwide against leftists and student activists in the 1970s.
Apirat reportedly ordered military radio networks to play the song and anthems such as “The Army March” three times a day to rally his troops and the Thai people against what he deemed a security threat.
Hours later the order was terminated – though the songs continue to be played within military barracks to express the top brass’ attitude against the population of this country.
The words of “Nak Phaendin”, or “Burden to the Country” dictate that the “worthless” and the “enemies of the nation” should be eliminated. This song of hate was composed in 1975 by an Army officer and became part of the propaganda push against the communist movement in Thailand during the Cold War.
The song, and a movie of the same name, branded as enemies of the country those whose ideas differed from the state-promoted ultra-rightist nationalism. Such persons are not legitimately Thai and don’t deserve to live in a “kingdom of loyal subjects”, the lyrics imply.
This state-sponsored hate speech was broadcast many times a day, leading to a rise in opposition against the student movement, leftists and communists during the 1970s. The hate eventually spilled over into the massacre of students at Thammasat University on October 6, 1976, a dark stain on Thai history that refuses to fade. No answer has ever been found for why innocent youth were killed merely for calling for social justice and equality in the country.
As a schoolboy growing up in a military family at the time, Apirat would have been ignorant of the link between the hate speech and the crime against humanity committed at Thammasat. But as the 59-year-old Army chief, he has no excuse for dredging up that hate to foster further tension in an already dangerously divided country.
In a nation where communist ideology has now been practically defeated, Apirat resorted to portraying opposing politicians as state enemies who are worthless and even lacking humanity. They are burdens that should be eliminated, he suggests, in order to cleanse the land. The echo of the words used to demonise Thammasat students more than 40 years ago is as direct as it is chilling.
Apirat has chosen the path of division, hatred and power, when in truth reconciliation is the only way forward to national development and peace. Thailand’s political divide is deepening, fed by a cynical and calculating strategy being rolled out by the elites and powers-that-be. The military claims two coups in less than a decade were staged to bring reconciliation; the Army chief should ask himself how his discourse of hatred can bring people together.
The true reconciliation that our country so desperately needs cannot be forged by dictat, hatred and fear.