Michael's Dispatches

Some Thoughts About The Kingdom of Thailand


img025-1000No journalists were afraid of the RTA. Soldiers were not committing atrocities. The RTA had nothing to hide. The Soldiers seemed to think that journalists were insane for walking around the battlefield like it was a park.

Some journalists were afraid of the Red Shirts, but not afraid of government personnel under Abhisit, because they knew that while Red Shirts might kill them, Abhisit would not.

The RTA would not shoot me, but I wondered about the Red Shirts.  The Men in Black surely would kill anyone that they perceived as a threat.  They were not as disciplined or as discriminating as the RTA.

img026-1000The press was on the job observing the RTA, but they often gave a pass to the Red Shirts. This is not to imply that the journalist in this image did so. I do not know him.

Journalists captured video of rioters using grenade launchers.

In one fight, someone put a laser on a RTA officer and someone else used it to kill him.

I saw Red Shirts with lasers.   I told journalists that if you see a laser illuminate you or the Soldiers around you, to run, as a 40mm grenade might be inbound.

A 40mm grenade will take perhaps five seconds to get to you (depending on how quickly the shooter can aim, and the range), and the kill radius of a 40mm grenade is small.  A few seconds of running can save you.  I carried an M79 Grenade Launcher when I was in the Army and I know it well.

img027-1000Journalists who ignored Red Shirt looting should be ashamed. Most Red Shirts were not looters and were embarrassed by it. But it happened. It should not be deliberately forgotten.

Most eyewitnesses to the incident say that the Men in Black did the killing.  Best friends make worst enemies.  They must be veterans.  That is my suspicion.  They were too good with their techniques and tactics to be untrained young men.

img028-1000The arson was grievous and shameful.

img029-1000Bangkok fighting

I did not see the Thai Army with grenade launchers.  Grenades came from the Red Shirts.  They fired them on civilians and the RTA.  This is a fact.

But to speak this fact aloud is sacrilegious.  It is a professional affront to hundreds of journalists who did not get the award-winning imagery of the RTA committing atrocities.

How can journalists, who accuse Mr. Abhisit and the RTA of murder, reconcile that hundreds of camera-toting journalists, and thousands of civilians, were completely free in the battle zone, yet nobody witnessed RTA atrocities?

World-class photographers were combing the field and nobody caught the fish.  Why?  Because it did not happen.

img030-1000It was dangerous to huddle with the RTA. Red Shirts fired at them.

Prime Minister Abhisit lost reelection, so he is now the leader of the opposition in Parliament.  Recently he was charged with murder.

This is wrong.

I said and wrote that this is wrong.   Today, critics accuse me of being buddies with Mr. Abhisit.

Photos of former Prime Minister Abhisit and me talking on an airplane from Bangkok to Hat Yai have appeared on the Internet.  That was the only day that I communicated with Mr. Abhisit.

We do not email each other.  I do not know his email address.  I have never been to his home.  We have never shared a coffee together.  We never talk on the phone.  We do not communicate directly or indirectly.  Mr. Abhisit and I are not friends.  I would be honored to know him, but the fact is that we are not buddies.

img031-1000Molotov cocktails in the Red Shirt camp. Think about the implications of this photograph. Who made them? For what purpose? How were they used? Those who were at the protest site know. We witnessed it.

I did not even write a dispatch about this trip.  Few people knew that I took it.  This upset some of my friends who thought that I should have written something, but Mr. Abhisit’s staff never said a foul word for the great access they afforded that day and on others, and they never criticized me for failing to write about my interview with the Prime Minister.

I did the same with US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates on a couple of trips, many American and British generals, and other officials at the highest levels of the government of the United States.

Down in the dirt, I went on countless combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan with units that I never mentioned.  No slight was meant.

I thank everyone who entertained me at their expense for the education that has helped inform my views.  I cannot write the truth if I do not smell it.

It upsets some folks that I enjoy access and I do not exploit it and write a major dispatch every time that I have a coffee with a General, but for me it is often background.  I intend no arrogance with that statement.  In my line of work, I talk to many people.

And so, regarding the fighting in 2010, this circles back to criticism from detractors who claim that they belong to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.

I contacted the Club for clarification after this criticism but I was not graced with a response.

I was invited to the Club.  I was very busy, and regretted that I could not attend.  Then the criticism began.

No slight or insult was intended.  But any member of the Club who did not write about the children in the Red Shirt camp, or the firebombs, does not have a professional stature. Cherry-picking facts is dishonest.  Ignoring that children were brought to the camp is complicity.

As for Mr. Abhisit, I have no interest in defending a murderer.  I do not believe that Mr. Abhisit is a murderer.  Based on my observations, my estimate of Mr. Abhisit is that he is a man of rules.

If I thought that there was truth to the allegations of murder, I would remain silent, unless I had evidence, in which case I would speak and lay out any evidence in my possession.

img032-1000Bangkok burns. Arson was dishonorable. Red Shirts did this.

Ironically, Mr. Abhisit was criticized for showing too much restraint.  His personal courage was widely demonstrated in his openness to the public.  The day that I accompanied Mr. Abhisit, he allowed normal citizens to walk up to him.  I asked his staff if this was normal.  They said yes, and that it worried them.  Mr. Abhisit is physically and morally courageous.

I have no evidence of RTA atrocities.

The Royal Thai Army conducted itself with honor during the Red Shirt protests.  Thai people should be proud to field such an Army.

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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)
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    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.
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    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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