Michael's Dispatches

Some Thoughts About The Kingdom of Thailand


img017-1000Years of work and combat are required to develop the necessary skills to become a serious war correspondent. (Afghanistan, 2011.)

Many people may not like you, but you will be free to criticize Thailand and its government until your visa expires.  Then they will renew your visa and you can continue.

If you go to the United States and are observed photographing government buildings or infrastructure, you might be arrested, even if the law permits such activity.

I was arrested in America for not telling immigration officials how much money I make.  I was handcuffed.  I never answered.  I was willing to go to jail.

They came to their senses and they released me, and I endured a painful vacation in the land of the free, and later returned to Afghanistan, where American Soldiers were trying to free the Afghan people whether they liked it or not.  Americans like to set people free so that we can ignore that we are shackled.

In Thailand, you can travel into every tiny village and photograph and video until your cameras fall apart.

img018Journalist hit in Bangkok. (Source of image unknown.)

In the United States, when there is an incident, law enforcement cordons off a large area.  No press members are allowed to enter.

During the protests in Thailand, the press, and tourists, were free to roam the battlefields during the middle of the fighting.  Many did.

Hundreds of journalists were there, stacked up with the Royal Thai Army during the fighting.  Bullets were flying everywhere.

The RTA ignored journalists like they were gnats.  Soldiers often smiled and shared their water.

Before I got there, a courageous Japanese journalist was shot and killed.  Many blamed the government.  But again, how?  Who did it?  It could have been anyone.

Every time someone was shot . . . which happened many times . . . some blamed the government, though I saw nothing but discipline from the RTA.

There were zero restrictions on photography, on video, or access.  Any journalist who says otherwise was either not there, or is lying.

img019-1000Royal Thai Army Soldiers on standby.

If you wanted to cross between the lines you were free.  I did so many times.  That is a freedom that many Americans say that they want, but we seem eager to surrender.

In India, if you want to swim with crocodiles, the Indian Police might say, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” but then they will watch you go.  Later that day, Indian police will dutifully alert the US Embassy that you were eaten.  Indians do not protect you from yourself.  Thailand is similar.  I love it.

Personal responsibility is real here.  You are free.  All consequences are on you.

You are free to wade into a firefight or to pet crocodiles.  Do not whine when you get bitten or shot.

We say that we want freedom, but Americans do not live in freedom.  We Americans seem to spend every waking hour plotting how to shackle ourselves.  Freedom is becoming an empty word in America.

America does not want fewer laws.  Many Americans want more laws.  You could never cover fighting so freely in America.

img020-1000Minimal cover. Take it where you can get it.

Hundreds of journalists covered the months of fighting.  When it came to the showdown, all of the big players were here.  CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera, Reuters, AP, AFP, New York Times.

Reporters flew in from Korea to Japan, from South America to Canada.  I saw them every day.  Some were killed.

Their work was honorable, but some of us have no patience with those who blame others after getting shot in a firefight that they volunteered to attend.

The general theme of some reporting was that Mr. Abhisit and the Royal Thai Army were on a rampage.  This was false.

The allegation does not pass a sniff test.

img021-1000The RTA earned its honor.

It must be embarrassing for the hundreds of journalists, with thousands of cameras in the hands of civilians, that not a single one captured a photograph of the RTA committing an atrocity.  Yes, tense videos depicting bullets flying have been published.  That is combat.

img022-1000Sometimes the press seemed to outnumber the RTA.

Hundreds of second-rank journalists were there—great journalists but with no gold medal—and they had every interest in snapping that award-winning photograph.

img023-1000Bangkok was hot and humid. Bad time to be in body armor. The RTA was honorable and polite.

img024-1000Dangerous work.

Both sides were shooting.  Red Shirts and Men in Black among them were videotaped firing automatic weapons.

I photographed Men in Black using firebombs.

The Men in Black were serious.  The Men in Black were not angry college boys.  They were commandos.  Confident.  Ready.  Not to be trifled with.

It is my suspicion that that the Men in Black were RTA veterans or veterans of other government agencies.  They were too good to be home-grown amateurs.  Some people claim that MiB they were former Border Patrol personnel who were personally loyal to their commander. I do not know.

One General switched sides and went to the Red Shirt camp.  I wanted to talk with him but before that chance came, he was shot in the head and killed by a sniper.  I asked Prime Minister Abhisit if he knew who did this.  He said no.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    WF · 6 years ago
    Thank you Mr. Yon for covering the truth, many of us really appreciate your work on covering the truth. I myself really hate it now when the truth were twist for evil purpose and the false rumors were spend to destroying innocence people who do good deed.
    Still those who really need to face justice now become the one in power I don't know if us Thai people will really knows the real Peace. The situation is just like A group of Blind people believe they can see very clearly than before and refuse to accept the reality even we throw the truth at them they won't believe it.
    Thank you again for the details truth.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ralph Schatzki · 6 years ago
    Thank you so much for this very well-written and powerful piece. I lived as an ex-pat American in Bangkok for more than thirteen years, and I agree unreservedly with everything you have stated with regard to Thai hospitality and acceptance. Not long into my stay in the Kingdom- a wonderful and vastly different place than the USA- I realized that "freedom" can be construed very differently depending on one's expectations, background, culture, and experience. I underwent tremendous growth while living there, and I have no doubt that any American who desires to experience similar growth would benefit immeasurably by spending time there (or, for that matter, in any other culture significantly different from our own).

    I had written a short piece awhile back, the gist of which was that Americans celebrate diversity, and in an almost paradoxical way this is what defines us. Thais, on the other hand, are in so many ways a very unified people. The colors of the Thai flag represent the country, the religion, and the King, and to criticize the King is tantamount to a renunciation of one's "Thai-ness."

    I salute both your tenacity and your courage to speak the truth. This is the kind of reporting of which the world needs more.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Thomas Dikel · 6 years ago
    As always, a beautifully written dispatch. Too bad I'm not on the Pulitzer committee, otherwise you'd have my vote. Thank you. Stay safe brother.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Will Fireatte · 6 years ago
    Beautifully written. I was not there during that difficult time, but everything else you wrote agrees with my own experiences. Thailand is such a wonderful country in many ways. I wish it, and it's people, the best. Thank you for acting with courage and integrity. You represent your own countrymen better than some of our diplomats (or tourists) do! Stay safe. Swasdee Pee Mai krub (Happy New Year)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kurt Olney · 6 years ago
    Not sure what to make of this. You have definitely placed yourself in harms way. The journalism you describe in Thailand is non existent in Mexico. Crime scenes in the U.S. are definitely restricted to journalist. Of course visiting any country you are subject to their laws and customs. I will give what you have a written a lot of thought. In the meantime I hope they don't decide to shoot you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Heywood Jablomi · 6 years ago
    But it is also very simple.

    There are more Red Shirts than there are Yellow Shirts. So the Puea Thai party indisputably won the last election.

    Part of the problem is that the Red Shirts felt as though they were disenfranchised by the coup that deposed Mr. Thaksin in 2006, and there is no question that it was a national trauma inflicted on the Thai body politic.

    Because the Democrat party was able to form a governing coalition with the Bumjaithai party, Red Shirts felt that the Bangkok elites illegitimately took power. You must remember that the constitution and the judicial system disbanded both the PPP and the TRT parties, the predecessors of the currently ruling Puea Thai.

    This is the reason why the current government, and the Red Shirts (they are not synonymous), wish to amend the constitution. They want to delete the clauses that ban corrupt politicians who commit electoral fraud from participation in politics for five years, and most of all they want to delete the clauses that punish parties for the individual abuses of party members by disbanding the parties.

    Mr. Abhisit, as the opposition leader in Parliament, opposes these constitutional changes. He also opposes efforts by the government to pass "reconciliation" measures, which are really a mass pardon for all who committed violence in 2010. Such a pardon would magically make Mr. Thaksin's conviction for corruption vanish, as well as the plethora of criminal charges that are pending against him, including support for terrorism. Mr. Thaksin could, in the event of a pardon, finally return to Thailand.

    Mr. Thaksin and the Red Shirts believe that he was wrongly exiled. In truth, however, Mr. Thaksin has exiled himself. He was granted bail after his conviction on fraud charges, and he received permission from judicial authorities to attend the Olympic Games. Mr. Thaksin never returned to Thailand. He chose self-exile, rather than face the prospect of a jail term. In any case, Mr. Thaksin and the Red Shirts characterize his conviction as "political," and they insist that it was not legitimate.

    The primary obstacle to "reconciliation" and the changes to the constitution that the Red Shirts advocate is Mr. Abhisit. So they attack him. They attempted to have his military rank revoked, but only His Majesty can do that. So the Reds were stymied there. Now they are charging Mr. Abhisit with murder. There is no question that this is an abuse of police authority.

    When Thailand is a country that can prosecute former Prime Ministers for doing their job, (and Mr. Abhisit was very lenient, in my opinion, in his approach to the 2010 riots), it is on an evil path.

    The Reds are pursuing evil tactics in an effort to perpetrate evil goals.

    I grieve for Thailand.

    Long Live His Majesty.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Russki Top · 6 years ago
      Excellent synopsis. I wish you were just polemicizign, but form the bit I keep up with you've pretty well nailed it.
      Michael, outstanding piece. My limited time with Thai government employees, soldiers, and civilians gibes with what you've written and experienced here. They take their democracy and their royalty very seriously. They also take personal responsibility equally as seriously. I hope they can get through this crisis with a minimum of pain. Were Thaksin to return and face the music, much of this could be put to rest.
      Thank you again for your reporting and your willingness to call it from the ground view.
      Stay safe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Nazir · 6 years ago
    nicely written Michael, and i miss your Afghanistan photography
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Aranyabhuti · 6 years ago
    Thank you for sharing Truth.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Marybeauty · 6 years ago
    This considerate message might not change anything they did and will do with Abhisit but the intention was there. Really appreciated your honesty and courage.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    HP · 6 years ago
    I've lived in BKK for 4 years now lived through the red shirt protest living 500 meters from the battle zone ( if I may say it) and I saw exactly what you say, was in the center of things almost daily with my camera ( though I'm not a journalist) and have enough to show why this was never something the army created. Having a protest and what the red shirts did were very different, and shielding it behind innocent civilians and children were cowardly to say it mildly! I ain't no supporter of eithe party but I beleive the government acted like any government in power would and should! Maybe they should have acted earlier! Any death is sad but no group can be allowed to take over a city no matter what color they are! I wish only the best for this beautiful county and hope reds and yellows find a way to move forward and avoid such instances being repeated.
    Long Live the King!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Michael Yon author · 6 years ago
    Thank you for the thoughtful comments. My webmaster blocked one comment due to wild profanity. Otherwise, comments are only blocked when they are advertisements, pages of unrelated text, or simply vulgar or gratuitous ad hominem by any standard.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    leyla · 6 years ago
    Thank you for getting the truth out and God Bless you this coming New Year!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scotch7 · 6 years ago
    Delighted to recognize the Dusit Thani in your photo. Stayed there in the '80s. Many happy memories of architecture and staff. Sad to read it took fire, but I'm confident it will be repaired gracefully.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Skip · 6 years ago
    Very well written, nice to see a journalist with morals and honesty. There are so few left around the planet. Makes me want to visit Thailand for an extended stay.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Scott Dudley · 6 years ago
    I recall visiting the Dusit Thani in the '69-'70 timeframe in a brief respite from the gunline. Think the disco there was called the Panda room or the Boom Boom room. Latter might have been a different mission.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    F Thomas · 6 years ago
    Politics can turn ugly in places such as Thailand. Michael, your coverage I'm sure is factual and to the point.

    Happy New Year!
    Stay Safe - Keep your head down and rear end lower!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Chaik · 6 years ago
    Thank you and let the god-forsaken truth be told! We, the Thai people have to live with the twisted lies by the gov. controlled media day in and day out. Thank you again from all of the Thai people who want the world to know the real truth.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    DD · 6 years ago
    dude, you have balls of titanium.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    wolfemanjack · 6 years ago
    "In India, if you want to swim with crocodiles, the Indian Police might say, 'I wouldn’t do that if I were you,' but then they will watch you go. Later that day, Indian police will dutifully alert the US Embassy that you were eaten. Indians do not protect you from yourself. Thailand is similar. I love it. ***
    Personal responsibility is real here. You are free. All consequences are on you. *** You are free to wade into a firefight or to pet crocodiles. Do not whine when you get bitten or shot. *** We say that we want freedom, but Americans do not live in freedom. We Americans seem to spend every waking hour plotting how to shackle ourselves. Freedom is becoming an empty word in America. ***
    America does not want fewer laws. Many Americans want more laws."

    Sad but true (the part about America).

    I don't know much about Thai politics but thanks for the balanced reporting.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    RR · 6 years ago
    Thank you for your covering the truth. As a Thai, I wish Thai journalists are as honest and truthful as you are. We all need to hear the truth.
    Have a happy and safe year.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    por pae · 6 years ago
    can we use this in court? if summoned, will you testify?

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