One of the junta's main tools at present is not using guns and tanks, but relying on the power of language.
The power seizure on May 22 was not a coup, but a “military intervention”, or so the junta’s spokesman Colonel Werachon Sukhondapatipak reminded us last month in a speech at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT). In fact, he said, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) was “strengthening democracy”, not weakening or destroying it by such acts as tearing up the constitution.
The NCPO is “Returning Happiness to the People”, or so proclaims one of the songs written by NCPO leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha. The song, in its different versions, is played several times a day through various broadcast media to drive the message home.
Also the junta has been clear that those held for up to a week under martial law had not been detained but sent to “military accommodation”. They were also not “summoned” but merely “invited” by the junta to “adjust their attitude”. Also, it has said that the media are not being censored, but merely “monitored”.
The NCPO is not alone in using language to shape the world.
The US Central Intelligence Agency often uses euphemisms like “liquidation” to explain disappearances, while the United States’ armed forces use words like “friendly fire” to hide the ugly fact of killings on the battlefield.
Then there’s the world of advertising. The sellers of meat and seafood often portray fish, shrimp, pigs and chickens as being all too “happy” to land on your dinner plate, when in reality these creatures would probably say otherwise if they could speak.
However, since humans can speak, read and write, it must be pointed out that the 300 or so who were summoned by the junta, including this writer, to “vacation” at a military camp and made to sign an “agreement” didn’t have much of a choice either.
After all, those who decline the junta’s “invitation” might end up facing criminal charges under martial law.
General Prayuth has insisted that his sole goal is to “return happiness to the people” – never mind that those who are “unhappy” with the state of things may face arrest and charges – the general keeps insisting that what’s happening in Thailand is making people happy.
At least 10 university students were briefly detained for staging protests and though they were released without any charges, they still had to sign an “agreement”, which stipulates that they will not join, aid or lead any new anti-coup movements.
The tricks of language can do little to hide the actual truth.
This is possibly why the junta is working really hard to turn down the volume of opposing voices and is amplifying the sounds of approval. Failing that, it resorts to inundating the media with songs about “returning happiness”, until the complex reality is obfuscated.