Updated: The military and monarchy post-Korat

17 02 2020

The criticism of the military is missing  an essential point: the role of the monarchy. More realistically, it is being censored and suppressed. This is the parasitic relationship between monarchy and military. It is a relationship that has been mutually reinforcing for decades, and both monarchy and military have reached their current political and economic power through this relationship. Neither can do without the other.

The previous king built that relationship.

Bhumibol promoted the military as the monarchy’s military and the military promoted itself as the “protectors” of the monarchy and royal family. The relationship remained strong from the late 1950s, with the royal family militarizing itself.

As Bhumibol and his acolytes gained control over the promotion of the top military brass, he populated his Privy Council with retired generals, allowing the growing aura of the monarchy to envelop the military and protect its criminality and corruption, while in times of political crisis, Bhumibol intervened in ways that prevented the military being brought down. Promotion came to those military men who could best satisfy members of the royal family.

King Vajiralongkorn was trained as a soldier from his earliest days and being a soldier has been one of the few constants in his life. He appears to love discipline, bullying and uniforms. As a fellow student explained:

what marked him most was his enthusiasm for the Combined Cadet Force…. Here, he so excelled in the meticulous wearing of kit, the parade-ground drills, the shouting and saluting that he was promoted to some sort of officer status, allowing him to lord it over the rest of us….

Like others whose sense of superior status is toxically combined with insecurity and isolation, Mahidol could suddenly drop his pretence of amiable normality and become a vile bully: indeed, his behaviour might now be described as bipolar….

With few academic skills, his training as a soldier continued at the Royal Military College, Duntroon. The Bangkok Post has the officially approved story of Vajiralongkorn as soldier, described as a “fondness for military affairs.” It adds that he has:

served as a career officer in the Royal Thai Army (RTA) and attended the Command and General Staff College in 1977. He also served as a staff officer in the Directorate of Army Intelligence, and later became head of the King’s Bodyguard Battalion in 1978.

Part of that military service has been lauded by Gen Apirat Kongsompong. In one of his more deranged haranguings he pointedly connected military and monarchy, saying the king had:

helped soldiers fight against communist troops in … Loei province on Nov 5, 1976…. His Majesty was in the operation base, ate and slept like other soldiers. His Majesty visited local residents, gave moral support and fought shoulder by shoulder with brave soldiers.

He added:

The royal institution, the military and people are inseparable. In the past, kings were on elephants surrounded by soldiers. Those soldiers were the people who sacrificed themselves in battles beside kings….

The point he makes is obvious: the military and monarchy are bound together. That obvious relationship is currently being ignored/avoided/censored.

Yet everyone knows that Vajiralongkorn holds the ranks of general in the Royal Thai Army, admiral in the Royal Thai Navy, air chief marshal in the Royal Thai Air Force and is constitutionally he is “Head of the Thai Armed Forces.”

The silence is deafening.

And Princess Sirindhorn should not be let off this particular hook either. She’s also a general in the Army, admiral in the Navy, and air chief marshal in the Air Force. As a uniformed instructor at the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy she has been an enthusiastic supporter and shaper of the current military-monarchy relationship and of the sordid mentality that allows Gen Apirat to consider the Army as “sacred institution.”

Her most recent military boostering was reported in Indian newspapers as she enjoyed yet another taxpayer-funded tour right after the Korat massacre. With a 20-member delegation, she visited the Indian Military Academy “to strengthen engagement and defence cooperation between the two countries.” Sirindhorn reportedly “expressed keen desire to take defence cooperation with India to the next level,” (This might have her Chinese sponsors a bit concerned.)

Interestingly, all the royal family seem to have been too busy to do much about Korat. In what should be a PR disaster – except that in feudal Thailand no one can gripe – the king skipped the funerals and ceremonies, sending “representatives from the Privy Council.

The king’s message seems to be that he’s either not really interested in dozens of deaths and injuries and/or that he’s throwing his support (again) behind the current belly slitherers who pass for the military brass.

But he did send his 904 volunteers for the clean up at Terminal 21. More accurately, according to the t-shirts in the picture, the Army deployed them for him.

Clipped from Prachatai

That all seems rather too mechanical and uncaring. But, then, the royal family and the king in particular are never keen for the military to get too much criticism.

Update: Prachatai has a summary assessment of 2019’s politics. Among other things, it says this: “Put concisely, the most important theme of 2019 is how the power of the monarchy and military in Thai politics persists or changes…”.


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