The cables begin in late , when Thaksin was at the height of his political ascendancy, and end in early when Thaksin was in exile, current Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva was in power, and Thailand was about to enter the most tragic phase of its crisis so far.
John, ambassador from until One reason above all makes the leaked U. Explaining Thai politics without reference to the role of the palace is like trying to tell the story of the Titanic without making any mention of the ship. These expressions are used as a substitute for an alleged unspeakable and unconstitutional force in Thai politics, to make the otherwise incomplete stories about politics and its manipulation slightly more comprehensible.
The leaked U. They were written by American diplomats doing their best to explain events in Thailand to the State Department in Washington. They were intended to be secret, made public only when the events they described were distant history and the people involved were long dead. Those who wrote them did not have to fear the threat of social ostracism or lengthy jail sentences if they simply tried to give a clear explanation of the most important issues facing the people of Thailand at a momentous time in their history at the start of the 21st century.
The account they give of Thailand's ongoing political crisis may not always be correct: like everybody else struggling to unravel the truth, senior U. We offer this "royal primer" mindful of the opaque nature of the institution, the difficulty in establishing absolute truths about public yet very remote royal figures, and the inherent biases of inside players, even those we have known for years several of whom recently repeated a Thai aphorism about the institution: "those who know aren't talking, and those who are talking aren't in the know".
John seems to have only realized rather late that Abhisit's instincts may not have been as progressive as they appeared, and that while he may say the right things, that does not mean that he does them. No other country has been so inextricably involved with Thailand over the past century as the United States, and this adds even more value to what the cables have to say.
Thailand's relationship with the United States is complex, heavily disguised and, in many instances, actively denied by the leaders of both countries In many cases, it is difficult if not impossible to determine the extent of American influence in Thailand. Thailand is a nation of secrets: of secret bombings and air bases during the Vietnam War, of secret military pacts and aid agreements, of secret business transactions and secret ownership of businesses and joint venture corporations.
This is precisely the point; the American presence has taken on powerful cosmological, religious and even mythic overtones. The American influence on the Thai economy and polity has become a symbol of uncertainty, of men's inability to know the truth. In multiple cables written for visiting high-level officials, John wrote that "Thailand's strategic importance to the U. The leaked cables provide a coherent and insightful account of the complexities of Thailand's crisis by respected senior U.
As such, they revolutionize the study of 21st century Thailand. But their importance goes further. The cables do not merely illuminate Thailand's history - they are also likely to have a profound impact on its future.
Yasiel Puig's Moment of Truth
The official culture of secrecy that has criminalized public acknowledgement of truth among Thais and prevented academic and journalistic study of fundamental issues affecting the country has been irretrievably breached. The genie cannot now be put back into the bottle. Some underwhelmed critics of the leaking of Cablegate documents have dismissed them as containing few genuine revelations - in general, they have largely tended to confirm what everybody suspected all along.
And this is to some extent true of the cables on Thailand. There are no bombshells that will stun Thais or foreign experts on Thailand who are already aware - at least privately - of the story that the cables tell. But this is missing the point. This is the paradox of public space: even if everyone knows an unpleasant fact, saying it in public changes everything.
Even if most people privately suspect the truth, putting it in the public domain makes it impossible to sustain official narratives that depend on a refusal to acknowledge the reality. For that reason, the cables may, finally, force Thailand to confront some uncomfortable facts about its past, its present, and its future. Amid scenes of an emotional Woody prostrating himself on the ground, eagerly sharing a cupcake fed to the princess's pet dog, and frequently bursting into tears, Chulabhorn told him: HM goes to sleep very late.
Sometimes he cannot sleep. Sometimes he sleeps a little. Sometimes when there are problems, he would follow them up, like floods, for example, concerned about the hardship of the people. He would order [officials] to send bags of emergency supplies to the people. When he sees on TV where are floods, where it is hot, or where people have been injured, he will give help without telling anyone. He does good without being seen indeed. His continued hospitalization since September , even when his health had seemed to be on the mend, has troubled Thais and baffled foreign observers.
As Eric John wrote in February last year: The real question at this stage remains: why does he continue to be hospitalized? The stated rationale - to build up his physical strength and endurance - could be accomplished in a palace, either in Bangkok or his preferred seaside residence in Hua Hin. Some will suspect other motives, but what those might be remain unclear. In March , many thousands of Red Shirt protesters began congregating in Bangkok for a series of mass rallies against the government of Prime Minister Abhisit. Over two tragic months in April and May, as the military moved in to try to crush the protest, 91 people were killed and more than 1, wounded in a series of violent clashes between Thai troops, Red Shirts and shadowy groups of armed men known as "Black Shirts" or "Ronin warriors" with unclear affiliation to Thaksin and the protest leaders.
For weeks the Red Shirts occupied an area of five star hotels and luxury malls in the centre of the capital, a few miles east of Bhumibol's riverside hospital. When soldiers finally stormed the barricades around the Red encampment, on May 19, dozens of buildings in Bangkok were set ablaze in an apparently well-planned wave of arson attacks. The months that followed saw a determined crackdown by Thailand's resurgent military and the Abhisit administration.
A state of emergency was imposed in several areas,. Most Red Shirt leaders were imprisoned. Community radio stations in rural areas where Red support is strong were shut down.
The millions of rural and urban poor who form the main support base for the Red Shirt movement were left seething with anger and a bitter sense of injustice. Respected journalists and academics have been among those targeted. Among his alleged offences was providing a link on his website to a digital version of The King Never Smiles.
In such a climate, it became clear that the article I was writing on Thailand, based on the full set of more than 3, leaked U. Even though U. Reuters has hundreds of staff in Thailand, and there were concerns they could be put at risk. Like all major foreign media organizations, the company has had to self-censor its reporting from Thailand for years, to protect its staff and the revenues it earns in Thailand. It was an understandable decision. But for me, there could be no turning back. From the day I first arrived in Bangkok 11 years ago as deputy bureau chief for Reuters, I was - like most visitors before me over the centuries - beguiled by the luminous beauty and vibrancy of Thai culture, and moved and inspired by the graciousness, charm and warmth of most Thai people.
No other place in the world means more to me, and nowhere else has broken my heart more often. It just became impossible to ignore all the everyday horror and human misery that are allowed to flourish in Thailand alongside so much to cherish and admire. Thailand needs to escape the wretched cycle of corruption, conspiracies and coups that has blighted its modern history. A first step is to clearly acknowledge what is happening in Thailand today. Thailand's people deserve to know the truth, and they deserve to be allowed to express what they believe, instead of facing jail or exile for simply saying things that cannot be denied.
It also apparently does not believe the majority of voters should be able to elect their own representatives and determine the future course of Thai society. Politics in Thailand has become more and more like a badly acted television drama series. The actors all know that the lines they are speaking and the roles they are playing while the cameras are rolling are not real: the reality is quite different.
The audience knows it too. We allow ourselves to imagine it is real, to enjoy the show. Thailand needs to start dealing with reality. Especially now, when the whole country is convulsed by anger and pain and anxiety, and when so many dark clouds are gathering on the horizon. Everybody knows that a storm is coming.
The only question is how much time is left before it hits. What happens then will fundamentally define what kind of country Thailand becomes in the 21st century. When I realized I would not be able to say what needs to be said about Thailand as a Reuters journalist, I began making copies of all the U. Technology has made the theft of secret information much easier than it used to be: an eccentric Thai writer and publisher called K. He saw his chance when the library was under renovation and the manuscripts taken out of the palace and entrusted to the care of Prince Bodinphaisansophon, head of the Department of Royal Scribes.
Craig Reynolds tells the story in Seditious Histories: Contesting Thai and Southeast Asian Pasts: The accessibility of these manuscripts to Kulap sparked his curiosity, and out of his love for old writings, he paid daily visits to admire the most ancient books in the kingdom. Naturally, he desired copies for himself, his passion for old books guiding him around any obstruction. With a manuscript in his possession, Kulap then rowed across the river to the Thonburi bank to the famous monastery, Wat Arun or Wat Claeng.
There, in the portico of the monastery, Kulap spread out the accordion-pleated text its entire length, and members of the Royal Pages Bodyguard Regiment, hired by Kulap to assist in this venture, were then each assigned a section of the manuscript. In assembly-line fashion, they managed to complete the transcription within the allotted time. Kulap then rowed back across the river to return the original, with the prince apparently none the wiser. On June 3, , I resigned from Reuters after a year career so that I could make this article freely available to all those who wish to read it.
Reuters was explicitly opposed to my actions and sought to prevent me writing it while I was employed there. They have also informed me several times of the potential consequences of making unauthorized use of material that came into my possession through my work as a Reuters journalist. I have chosen to disregard those warnings, but it is important to make clear that Reuters made every reasonable effort to stop me publishing this story, and some frankly rather unreasonable efforts too. Responsibility for the content and the consequences of my article is mine, and mine alone.
Besides having to leave a job I loved with a company I had believed in, it also seems likely that I can never visit Thailand again. That feels unbearably sad. But it would have been infinitely sadder to have just accepted defeat and given up trying to write something honest about Thailand. My duty as a journalist, and as a human being, is to at least try to do better than that. What follows is a rough first draft of the truth.
One inescapable and traumatizing fact haunts 21st century Thailand, and not even the country's most potent myths have the power to tame it: Bhumibol Adulyadej, the beloved Rama IX, is approaching the end of his life. Frail and hospitalized, he is already just a shadow of his former self. Whether or not the prince becomes Rama X, the royal succession will be a time of profound national anxiety and uncertainty far more shattering and painful even than the tragic events of the past five years of worsening social and political conflict.
The looming change in monarch and the prolonged political crisis gripping Thailand are - of course inextricably intertwined. A large number of parallel conflicts are being fought at all levels of Thai society, in the knowledge that Bhumibol's death will be a game-changing event that will fundamentally alter longstanding power relationships among key individuals and institutions, and may also totally rewrite the rules of the game. Ahead of the succession, the leading players are fighting to position themselves for of the inevitable paradigm shift.
In this twilight struggle are locked opposing webs of partisans and vested interests both for and against what Thaksin has done to Thailand. The old establishment confronts the popular demands and expectations that the age of globalization has wrought, and strains to find ways to render the new voices irrelevant. In July , it was the task of Eric G. John, the American ambassador in Bangkok and a former deputy assistant secretary of state for Southeast Asia, to write a scenesetter for a particularly important visitor: his boss, U.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the woman in charge of the foreign policy of the most powerful nation in the world. The past year has been a turbulent one in Thailand. Court decisions forced two Prime Ministers from office, and twice the normal patterns of political life took a back seat to disruptive protests in the streets.
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The red-shirted United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship UDD , followers of Thaksin, disrupted a regional Asian Summit and sparked riots in Bangkok in mid-April after Thaksin, now a fugitive abroad in the wake of an abuse of power conviction, called for a revolution to bring him home. While both yellow and red try to lay exclusive claim to the mantle of democracy, neither is truly democratic in intent or tactics.
The current PM, Abhisit Vejjajiva While Thailand in has been more stable than in , mid-April red riots aside, it is the calm in the eye of a storm. Few observers believe that the deep political and social divides can be bridged until after King Bhumibol passes and Thailand's tectonic plates shift. Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn neither commands the respect nor displays the charisma of his beloved father, who greatly expanded the prestige and influence of the monarchy during his 62 year reign.
Some question whether Vajiralongkorn will be crowned King, as Bhumibol desires. Nearly everyone expects the monarchy to shrink and change in function after succession. How much will change is open to question, with many institutions, figures, and political forces positioning for influence, not only over redefining the institution of monarchy but, equally fundamentally, what it means to be Thai. It is a heady time for observers of the Thai scene, a frightening one for normal Thai. The political crisis that has riven Thailand since the start of Thaksin's struggle with the establishment can only be understood in this context, as John explains in cable 09BANGKOK Bhumibol's eventual passing will be a watershed event in Thai history.
It likely will unleash changes in institutional arrangements in Thailand, affecting the size and role of the monarchy, its relationship to the elected government and the military, and the roles of both of the latter, unmatched since the transition from absolute to constitutional monarchy, which nevertheless retained the monarchy at the core of Thai national identity. Over the past year, nearly every politician and analyst, when speaking privately and candidly, regardless of political affiliation or colored perspective, has identified succession as the principal political challenge facing Thailand today, much more important than normal political issues of coalition management or competition for power, which clearly do factor into the mix of political dynamics It is entirely possible King Bhumibol will return to his Hua Hin seaside palace several hours south of Bangkok in the coming days and live quietly for many years - postponing the day of reckoning and change that will inevitably come.
In the meantime, the bustle of normal politics and changing societal attitudes will continue apace, while Thais keep a wary eye on the health of their ailing King. Duncan McCargo, professor of Southeast Asian politics at the University of Leeds, begins his study Thailand: State of Anxiety in Southeast Asian Affairs in with a reference to an obsession that swept the nation for magical amulets originally created by policeman in the southern town of Nakhon Si Thammarat. They became so wildly popular that in April a woman was killed in a stampede at the temple where they were made, and a crime wave spread worsening havoc through the town as Thais unable or unwilling to buy the amulets decided to try stealing them instead.
She was writing about the national anxiety epitomized by the extraordinary cult of Jatukham Ramathep amulets which seized Thailand in late and the first half of Deeply uneasy about the economy, politics, and the royal succession, Thais bought tens of millions of these much-hyped amulets to protect them from adversity The fevered collective enthusiasm for monarchy seen during and had a darker downside, testifying to growing national anxiety about the royal succession The inability of the palace to address public anxiety about the succession threatened to undermine the glory of the Ninth Reign.
The Yellow Shirts were initially a broad-based and relatively good-humoured alliance from across the ideological and political spectrum that drew together royalists and liberals, radical students and middle-class aunties, progressive activists and patrician establishment patriarchs, united in opposition to the increasingly baleful influence of Thaksin Shinawatra; over the years they morphed into a proto-fascist mob of hateful extremists addicted to the bloodcurdling rhetoric of rabble- rousing demagogues.
The Yellow Shirts proclaim their undying love for the king, but it is the flipside of that love that has transformed them into a baying apocalyptic death cult: they are utterly petrified about what will happen once Rama IX is gone. As time went on, the PAD became captives of their own rhetoric, unable to converse with others, let alone back down or make compromises. Rather than seek to build broad support for their ideas, core leaders made vitriolic speeches This self-presentation had distinctly cultic overtones The market jitters and selling frenzy on the trading floor demonstrates just how sensitive investor confidence in Thailand is to news about the King's health.
This volatility creates a wealth of opportunities for mischief in the market, particularly for profit-seekers and bargain-hunters. The veracity of rumors is very difficult to track down, but their impact on the market, true or not, is clear. The extent of the fear and turmoil roiling Thailand in the final years of Bhumibol's reign can be baffling for foreign observers. In Britain, Queen Elizabeth II is fairly widely respected even among those who are indifferent or opposed to the monarchy, and few people are greatly enthused about the prospect of Prince Charles becoming king, but the country is hardly convulsed by frantic worry about the succession.
Quite clearly, Bhumibol is no ordinary constitutional monarch. Bhumibol's ascent to the throne of Thailand was so improbable that it would strain credibility in a work of fiction. His mother Sangwal was born in to impoverished parents, a Thai-Chinese father and a Thai mother, in Nonthaburi near Bangkok. By the time she was 10 both her parents and an elder sister and brother had all died, leaving her an orphan with one younger brother. Through some fortunate family connections she moved into the outer orbit of the royal court, and after an accident with a sewing needle she was sent to stay in the home of the palace surgeon who encouraged her to become a nurse.
She met Bhumibol's father, Mahidol Adulyadej - 69th of the 77 children of Rama V, King Chulalongkorn - in Boston in after winning a scholarship to further her nursing studies in the United States. If anybody had expected Mahidol to get anywhere near the pinnacle of the royal line of succession, his marriage to a ThaiChinese commoner would never have been approved. But he was far down the list. Bhumibol was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in , the couple's third child after a daughter, Galyani Vadhana, and a son, Ananda Mahidol.
His name means "Strength of the Land, Incomparable Power". By the time Bhumibol was born, his father had been catapulted into contention for the throne, after several other claimants died young and childless. But Mahidol was studying medicine and wanted to be a doctor; he had no interest in becoming king. In December , the family returned to Siam. Mahidol hoped to practise as a doctor in Bangkok, but palace law decreed that his royal status meant he could not touch any part of a patient's body apart from the head.
Trying to escape restrictions he considered ridiculous, he went to work at the American Presbyterian Hospital in the northern town of Chiang Mai. Shortly afterwards the chronic kidney problems he had suffered all his adult life flared up again. He died in September in Bangkok, aged This put the young Ananda first in line for the throne, with Bhumibol next.
Even then, it seemed very unlikely that Bhumibol would ever rule Thailand. King Prajadhipok, Rama VII, was still a young man, and there were doubts about how long long the monarchy would last in a modernising Thailand and a changing world in which many royal dynasties were being swept from power. Sure enough, in , a group of military officers and bureaucrats overthrew the absolute monarchy in Siam. In the political ferment, Sangwal took her sons to Europe, where they set up home in Switzerland. After trying and failing to claw back some of the royal powers stripped from him, Prajadhipok abdicated the throne in , declining to name a successor.
After the end of World War II, during which Siam had been occupied by the Japanese, they visited again, arriving on December 5, , in a country they barely knew. It was Bhumibol's 18th birthday; Ananda was 20, and according to many contemporary accounts, gauche, painfully shy and ambivalent about being king: Louis Mountbatten, the British commander in Southeast Asia, described him as "a frightened, short-sighted boy, his sloping shoulders and thin chest behung with gorgeous diamond-studded decorations, altogether a pathetic and lonely figure".
There is no shortage of sources on Bhumibol's life, but finding accurate accounts is difficult. Most of what has been written is hagiographic and of limited reliability; a small proportion is vitriolic and even more unreliable. Two full-length book biographies by foreign authors have been published. Paul Handley's The King Never Smiles is a pioneering academic work, meticulously researched and infused with its author's deep understanding of Thailand after years working as a journalist in the country.
It is banned in Thailand. William Stevenson's The Revolutionary King is riddled with factual errors and its claim to be a serious work of history has been met with derision its subtitle - The True-Life Sequel to The King and I - hardly helps but the book is nevertheless extremely valuable for one key reason: Bhumibol gave Stevenson unprecedented access, personally meeting with and talking to him several times over a period of six years.
Leading Thai officials went to extraordinary lengths to try to prevent the publication of Handley's biography, and the book is frequently denounced in tones of horror and outrage by Thai officials. Stevenson's book is a highly sympathetic romanticised portrait of Bhumibol that only caused outrage among historians; it is not sold in Thailand mainly because it depicts Bhumibol in a way that a Western audience would find reasonable but that would startle and baffle many Thais. Handley notes in the preface to The King Never Smiles that his book: is in no way meant to be the definitive version of [Bhumibol's] story.
Such a version awaits the day internal palace and government records regarding the monarchy are open to public scrutiny. Even then, some of the most pivotal moments of Bhumibol's life are likely to remain forever shrouded in mystery. None more so than the tragic incident that propelled him onto the throne. On June 9, , at in the morning, King Ananda was found dead in his bed in the Grand Palace, lying flat on his back with a pistol beside his left hand and a bullet hole above his left eye. The mystery of his death has never been solved.
Even the simple question of whether Rama VIII killed himself - either in a deliberate suicide or by accident - or whether somebody shot him remains unresolved. The Devil's Discus, a book-length investigation by South African writer and historian Rayne Kruger, concluded that the most likely explanation was that Ananda, depressed, overwhelmed, and lovelorn over Marylene Ferrari, the Swiss girl he had left behind in Lausanne, committed suicide.
However, British pathologist Keith Simpson, asked to give his opinion by Thai officials who came to see him in London and set out all the available evidence, concluded it was extremely unlikely that Ananda had shot himself. If Ananda was killed, it remains unknown who pulled the trigger.
Royalists accused Pridi of being behind Ananda's assassination and he was eventually driven into exile; after a tortuous legal process in which several defence lawyers and defence witnesses were murdered, three men - Ananda's secretary and two pages - were executed in February for conspiring to murder the king. Yet there is no credible evidence linking any of them to his death. But it offers no genuine evidence in support of the theory, and in fact plentiful documentary sources suggest Tsuji was nowhere near Bangkok when Ananda was shot.
The bizarre final chapter in the book appears to imply that even Stevenson - and Bhumibol - are doubtful about the theory. The possibility that Bhumibol shot his brother - probably by accident - was regarded as the most likely scenario by many senior Thai officials and foreign diplomats at the time. The common view was that the truth had then been suppressed to prevent Thailand sinking deeper into turmoil. But if there was ever any genuine evidence that Bhumibol was responsible, it has never emerged.
In August , amid widespread concerns that Bhumibol's life was also in danger, the young king left Thailand to return to Lausanne. He was away from his homeland for almost four years. During his absence, the generals running the country tried to strip the throne of even more of its influence and establish themselves as Thailand's unquestioned rulers, while a coterie of princes fought to preserve the powers of the palace. Bhumibol went back to his studies in Switzerland. The axle around which this whole cosmic wheel spun, meanwhile, was ensconced in Lausanne, Switzerland, maybe pondering his schizophrenic life.
One persona was a European university student caught up in the postwar reconstruction zeitgeist. The other, less familiar identity was the sacral dhammaraja king of Thailand, turgid, conservative, confined by an entourage of elderly men who emphasized only the old His personalized studies left him much free time to travel, play his music, and socialize. He frequently drove himself to Paris to go shopping and pass nights in smoky jazz clubs.
He helped his car-racing uncle Prince Birabongs in the pits at the Grand Prix des Nations in Geneva, and in August , during a motor tour of northern Europe, he watched Birabongs take first place at Zandvoort. Bhumibol put even more time into his photography and music, fancying a second career as a jazzman. He was encouraged to meet several blueblooded young Thai women, and one of them charmed him above all others - Sirikit Kitiyakatra, daughter of Prince Nakkhat, Thai ambassador to Paris. He arrived at 7 o'clock, kept me standing there, practicing curtsey, and curtsey.
But in October , Bhumibol crashed his car into the back of a truck outside Lausanne. Sirikit helped care for him during his recovery in Switzerland. She told the BBC: It was love I didn't know that he loved me, because at that time I was only 15 years old and planned to be a concert pianist. He was gravely ill in the hospital He produced my picture out of his pocket, I didn't know he had one, and he said: "Send for her, I love her.
Not of the duty, and the burden of becoming queen. Bhumibol and Sirikit were engaged on July 19, And in , the two set off to at last return to Thailand. Three times something a Siamese coup, an automobile accident or a mere change of plans had interfered. Meanwhile, as the King spent his days going to school, organizing a swing band, tinkering with his cameras and driving his cars from Switzerland to Paris, royal duties piled up in Bangkok. In Bangkok's downtown dance halls, where Siam's hepcats curve their fingers backward and dance the rumwong, the hit of the week was a song composed by the royal jitterbug Phumiphon himself: The little bird in a lonely flight Thinks of itself and feels sad.
The overwhelming majority of the people of Thailand did not share the magazine's scepticism. Bhumibol received a rapturous welcome. On March King Ananda was cremated. A month later, Bhumibol and Sirikit were married. And on May 4 and 5, Rama IX formally crowned himself king: The coronation on May involved mostly inner-palace Hindu-based rituals evoking the devaraja cult: a ritual bath of the king in waters collected from auspicious sites, followed by the anointment of the king by Prince Rangsit representing the royal family, and an anointment by the sangharaja. The king then donned the royal robes and climbed atop an elevated octagonal throne, the faces of which represented the eight cardinal points of the compass, the expanse of his realm.
He received homage at each side, a Brahman priest pouring holy water from 18 spiritually significant stupas. Bhumibol then moved to another throne, shielded by a nine-tier umbrella. Kneeling, the priests recited Sanskrit incantations summoning the Hindu gods to descend and take up residence in his person. Bhumibol poured some holy water from a small ewer and, finally imbued with the correct spirit and tools to take the ultimate step, he crowned himself. Making a pledge to rule with justice, he scattered silver and gold flowers on the floor, symbolically spreading goodness over his kingdom.
Other holy acts, like formal horoscope reading and two hours of lying on the royal bed in the ceremonial residence of the king, sealed his deity. After two days, Bhumibol finally emerged in front of his subjects, accompanied by a trumpet fanfare and a cannon salute. The now fully crowned Rama IX declared that he was deeply attached to the Siamese people and would reign with righteousness, for their benefit and happiness. He considers it ''irking. Bhumibol was, of course, being disingenuous. He has always downplayed the ritualistic and spiritual aspects of the Thai monarchy when talking to a Western audience, but within Thailand he does exactly the opposite.
People around the globe may not be so very different, but there is often an enormous gulf between the cultural and spiritual universes they inhabit that can profoundly impact the way they interact: South and Southeast Asian cultural systems share a common cosmological framework, terminology, and emphasis on asceticism whereas Western and Thai-Buddhist cultural systems do not. The antimony theory was developed from the observation that the cosmology and symbolic systems of Western and Theravada Buddhist societies are so disharmonic as to be mutually negating.
For a Thai-Buddhist king or Thai political leaders to advance or otherwise embody Western ideals or adopt Western speech styles is, in most cases, to automatically transgress indigenous ideals. The reverse situation also hold true: in many cases, for Thai elite to advocate or embody indigenous ideals in ruling the modern polity or in their interactions with Westerners is to automatically delegitimate themselves with that audience. It is an extraordinary and explicitly political document. Quaritch Wales believed that reverence for the monarchy was utterly essential for Siam to prevent its people falling for the lure of dangerous ideologies of social equality.
In the opening chapter he quotes - in horror - an item in the Bangkok Daily Mail from October 21, Owing to the failure of the public in general to give proper attention and due respect to His Majesty the King when the Siamese National Anthem is being played after performances in the local entertainment halls, H.
It has been noticed that when the band strikes up the National Anthem some persons seem to pay little attention it it, while others walk out of the hall, quite oblivious to the patriotic custom. But had there been one, or had the people found themselves in the presence of a Royal Letter or any other symbol of royalty, they would have known quite well what to do. They would have immediately thrown themselves flat on their faces. That custom was abolished long ago in accordance with the needs of a new age.
But what was left in its place? The young British scholar goes on to explain why, in his view, the monarchy is essential for social order in Siam. Otherwise they were of no importance whatever The absolutism of the monarch was accompanied and indeed maintained by the utmost severity, kings of Ayudhya practising cruelties on their subjects for no other purpose than that of imbuing them with humility and meekness. Indeed, more gentle methods would have been looked upon as signs of weakness, since fear was the only attitude towards the throne which was understood, and tyranny the only means by which the government could be maintained Despite the fact that all were equally of no account in the presence of the king, a many-graded social organization had evolved, and the ingrained habit of fear and obedience produced a deep reverence for all forms of authority.
Near the top of the hierarchical pyramid - though still far below the lofty realm of royalty - were minor nobles and bureaucrats, and below them the rest of the people, branded to make clear their status as the property of the state: All these officials were continually occupied in showing the necessary amount of deference to those above them, and to the king at the top, while mercilessly grinding down those below them in the social scale The great mass of the people were divided into a number of departments for public service The luckier ordinary citizens could escape compulsory obligations to the state in return for paying tax.
As for the rest: The vast majority of the people One of the most far-reaching of these was the abolition of slavery; another was the abolition of bodily prostration of inferiors in the presence of their superiors. Siamese servants often crouch in the presence of their masters, officials lie almost full length when they are offering anything to the King on his throne and I have seen ladies of the older generation crawling on their hands and knees when in the presence of a prince of high rank with whom they held conversation, with their faces parallel to the ground, while the prince was seated in a chair.
While the old instincts thus lurk so closely below the surface there can be no doubt but that the monarchy still remains the most important factor in the Siamese social organization. The religious architecture that supports the Thai monarchy is largely derived from ancient Hindu Brahmanical tradition, overlaid and modified by the Theravada Buddhism that forms the basis of the spiritual beliefs of most Thais today.
Siamese State Ceremonies explains in extensive and arcane detail how religious ceremony and symbolism are used to bolster the inviolable spiritual status of the monarchy, derived from Brahmanic-inspired cults of the devaraja king as a living god, and Buddhist-based ideology of the dhammaraja monarch whose status is a product of his unmatched virtue. With an education still almost confined to the religious sphere He has no wish for a share in the government, he does not trouble about politics, and he is as yet unfitted for any other regime than the present.
It is certain, therefore, that any conception of the kingship that strengthens his belief in the ruling power is of the highest sociological value. That his belief and loyalty are in the main supported by the pomp and glamour of Royal Ceremonial will be shown in the course of this book. On the day of the cremation, the urn containing the corpse of the king is opened, and the crown, gold ornaments and lavish clothing removed. It strikes right at the roots of the whole conception, and instils doubt into the minds of a people who, until recently, had not dared even to contemplate the possibility of a king suffering from any mortal infliction; and now, with the spread of western education, modern scepticism, and the shadow of communism, the Royal Cremation plays an even bigger part than formerly in impressing on the people that the king is not dead, but has migrated to a higher plane, where he will work out his destiny as a Bodhisattva for the good of all beings.
The mixture of Brahmanism and Buddhism is fortunate: the former lends itself more to the exaltation of the kingship, while the latter emphasises the royal protection of the people's religion and enables them to enter into the spirit of the ceremonies In the cosmologies of monarchy adopted adopted by their rulers, the king is at the centre of concentric circles of power that radiate outwards from the palace, through the capital city and the wider realm.
The king is a microcosm of the country, and a monarch who is attuned to the natural order through his virtue will naturally bring order and prosperity to the realm, And in turn, that brings order to the wider macrocosmos: the turning of the seasons, the orbit of the planets and the stars, the harmony of the universe.
In the words of Robert Heine-Geldern in Conceptions of State and Kingship in Southeast Asia in The Far Eastern Quarterly in According to this belief humanity is constantly under the pressure of forces emanating from the directions of the compass and from stars and planets. These forces may produce welfare and prosperity or work havoc, according to whether or not individuals and social groups, above all the state, succeed in bringing their lives and activities in harmony with the universe Harmony between the empire and the universe is achieved by organizing the former as an image of the latter, as a universe on a smaller scale.
In such cosmologies. Heine-Geldern writes: "The king is identified with the axis of the universe. Bhumibol's coronation emphasized his position at the centre of the universe. In Southeast Asia, even more than in Europe, the capital stood for the whole country. It was more than the nation's political and cultural center: it was the magic center of the empire. The circumnambulation of the capital formed, and in Siam and Cambodia still forms, one of the most essential parts of the coronation ritual.
By this circumnambulation the king takes possession not only of the capital city but of the whole empire. In the grim weeks and months after the death of Ananda, Stevenson says, with the future of the monarchy in doubt and his movements monitored by agents of the generals who wanted to usurp the primacy of the palace, the year-old King Rama IX would often slip secretly out of the Grand Palace wearing a singlet, shorts and sandals.
Sometimes he sneaked out on foot, to listen to the talk of ordinary people while eating Thailand's incomparable street food. Such beliefs and practices, therefore, which put a halo of sanctity round tradition, will have a 'survival value' for the type of civilisation in which they have been evolved. They were bought at an extravagant price, and are to be maintained at any cost. Prince Dhani Nivas, one of the country's foremost celestial princes and a grandson of Rama IV, highlighted the same passage in a famous lecture on kingship in Bangkok in , with Bhumibol and Ananda sitting in the front row.
Thailand has undergone a fundamental transformation in the six decades since the coronation of Rama IX. In Transforming Thai Culture, William Klausner writes about life in Bangkok just 40 years ago: Patriarchal and hierarchical forms abounded in law and day-to-day behavior. Both verbal and body language were much more formalistic than they are today. Teenagers did not date without chaperones. Boys and girls could not be found holding hands though the practice of two young men with intertwined pinkies was much more prevalent then than it is today.
There was almost no divorce and minor wives were quite common. Two-income families were the rarity, not the norm. The heady wine of egalitarianism and individualism had yet to be tasted. Servants were abundant and most often crawled when serving elders. Many homes had Indian guards who were noted for their rope beds and sound sleeping. In Bangkok, most people adhered to the dictates of Brahminism and animism as well as to their Buddhist faith.
One may find it difficult to believe today, but barber shops were closed on Wednesdays not Sundays, as Wednesday, under Brahmanic restrictions, was deemed to be off limits for haircutting. Even today, in some Bangkok suburbs, one may still find a few barber shops closed on Wednesdays. In rural Thailand, the change has been even more profound. Villagers have left to work in the provincial centers, in Bangkok and further abroad in the Middle East, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan… In most villages today, off-farm income in greater than in-farm income.
And advances in communication technologies and rural electrification have resulted in villagers no longer being dependent on the rural focused bamboo radio or rice harp. But despite the rapid and often disorientating evolution of the country, Thai society remains deeply spiritual, at all levels. In Bangkok and in remote rural villages, in the corridors of power and among the dispossessed, most Thais still inhabit a cosmos in which there is a constant interplay between the material and supernatural realms, and in which the temple plays an essential role.
As Christine Gray has written, when Thais speak to foreigners, they often self-censor themselves, leaving out references to spirits, stars, omens, offerings and rituals that they feel will not be understood or will be regarded as irrational. But the spiritual dimension of life in Thailand is very real, and it is an essential source of reverence for the monarchy. Far from continuing a trend begun by previous Thai kings to deemphasize ancient ceremony and ritual, Bhumibol and the princes around him made a determined effort over succeeding decades to resacralize the monarchy.
The practice of prostration - officially abolished by King Chulalongkorn, Rama V, in - was encouraged: the behaviour of talkshow host Woody Milintachinda in his April interview with Princess Chulabhorn is just one example of how successful this effort has been. The arcane court language of rajasap, which emphasizes the immense moral superiority of the monarch in comparison with the ordinary mortals who address him, was reintroduced. And from their earliest years, Thais were taught to revere the king: To restore the strong monarchy, the princes seized tight administrative control over education, religion, and how history is recorded and interpreted, and they injected the idea of an indivisible trinity underpinning Thai society - known as chart, sasana, phra mahakasat, or nation, religion, and king - throughout everyday life.
Monarchy was the central pillar of this trinity. Meanwhile, in schools, in history lessons and books, and throughout the broadcast media, competitors to royal prestige were excised. There were no politicians, prime ministers, or statesmen to remember for their accomplishments, only Chakri kings and princes.
In society there were no selfless do-gooders, save the royals; all holidays were constructed to honor the monarchy, and social institutions, schools and hospitals especially were named calculatedly to commemorate royals. This was exceptionally effective in the Thai milieu. At the time Bhumibol acceded to the throne, the country was edging towards democracy. But some four-fifths of the 18 million Thais lived on meager farms or in forests, their lives centered on the village wat, or temple, and planned around seasonal Buddhist ritual and farm schedules.
With little education or sense of the modern state, the people readily accepted the idea that their well-being rested on the figure of the virtuous and inviolate Buddhist king. From him came all good, from seasonal rainfall to disaster relief to scientific innovation and above all justice, rather than from the bureaucratic government or elected representatives or constitutional laws. These were only sources of misery. Through disciplined training, astute image management, and above all dedication to an incessant regime of ritual, Bhumibol assumed this exalted role.
Ritual imagery conveyed to the people that he had unique sacrality, wisdom, and goodness. They saw proof in the way powerful generals, bankers, statesmen and even the most respected monks prostrated themselves before him - even though the law requiring prostration before the king had supposedly been abolished a century before. And they saw proof in his dour countenance, exuding at the same time serenity and suffering. Particularly after Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat seized power in a coup, Thailand's military became a crucial ally of the United States in fighting communism in Southeast Asia.
Central to their strategy was using and boosting Rama IX's image. Time reported on the strategy in a article: Seen on a soft spring night, the luminous spires of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha seem to float over Bangkok scarcely touched by the blare of traffic, the neon slashes of bars and the ragged hurly-burly of mainland Southeast Asia's largest city. So too does the Kingdom of Thailand, proud heir to virtually seven centuries of uninterrupted independence, seem to soar above the roiling troubles of the region all around it. Neighboring Laos is half in Communist hands, Cambodia hapless host to the Viet Cong, Burma a xenophobic military backwater.
Everywhere on the great peninsula, militant Communism, poverty, misery, illiteracy, misrule and a foundering sense of nationhood are the grim order of the Asian day. With one important exception: The lush and smiling realm of Their Majesties King Bhumibol pronounced Poom-ee-pone Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit, which spreads like a green meadow of stability, serenity and strength from Burma down to the Malaysian peninsula - the geopolitical heart of Southeast Asia.
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Once fabled Siam, rich in rice, elephants, teak and legend, Thailand literally, Land of the Free today crackles with a prosperity, a pride of purpose, and a commitment to the fight for freedom that is Peking's despair and Washington's delight. The meadow inevitably has its dark corners, notably the less fecund northeast, where Red insurgency is struggling for a foothold. But the military oligarchy that rules Thailand in the King's name is confident the Communists will not succeed. So is the U. For Thailand is that rarity in the postwar world: a nation avowedly antiCommunist, unashamedly willing to go partners with the U.
Rarer and more precious than rubies in Southeast Asia, however, is political stability and its sine qua non: a sense of belonging to a nation. The Thais have both. Though various ruling officers have come and gone since a coup gently displaced the King as absolute ruler, Kings and soldiers have combined, in a typical Thai equilibrium of accommodation, to provide a smooth chain linkage of government.
The Thai sense of nationhood is partly the result of never having felt the trauma of colonial conquest. Even more, it resides in the charisma of the throne, reinforced by the nation's pervasive Buddhism. In Buddhist theology, the King is one of the highest of reincarnations, rich in his person in past accumulated virtue. Even in remote parts where spirit-worshiping peasants may never have heard of Thailand, they are likely to know - and revere - the King. In an age when kings have gone out of style and the craft of kingship is all but forgotten, it is the good fortune of Thailand - and of the free world - that the present occupant of the nine-tiered umbrella throne, ninth monarch of the year-old Chakri dynasty, not only takes the business of being a king seriously but has taken it upon himself to mold his emerging nation's character.
Nearly every Thai household boasts a picture of the King. American information officials in Bangkok long ago concluded that USIS funds could not be better employed than in spreading the likeness of His Majesty. This effort could never have been such a success were it not for the personality of Bhumibol himself. In the eyes of most of his people, he acted in accordance with all the virtues of a great dhammaraja king: wise, selfless, uninterested in the trappings of wealth or power, dedicated to the good of the kingdom: Thais, who believe it is their land's fortune, their karma, to be blessed with such a king, saw a man who worked tirelessly for them, without reward or pleasure.
His sacrifice was readily visible: while Thais are known for their gracious smiles and bawdy humour, and what-will-be fatalism, King Bhumibol alone is serious, gray, and almost tormented by the weighty matters of his realm. Ever since the day his brother mysteriously died, he seemed never to be seen smiling, instead displaying an apparent penitential pleasurelessness in the trappings and burden of the throne. For Thais, this was a sign of his spiritual greatness. In Buddhist culture, either a smile or a frown would indicate attachment to world pleasures or desires.
Bhumibol's public visage was unfailingly one of kindly benevolence or impassivity. In his equanimity he resembled the greatest kings of the past, the dhammarajas of the 13th century Sukhothai kingdom, who were called Chao Phaendin, Lord of the Land, and Chao Cheevit, Lord of Life. Increasingly many Thais compared his noble sacrifice to the Buddha's own. But the huge industry of royal deification was elevated to an unprecedented level following the massacre, which was seen among the right-wing royalists as a decisive victory over the communism that threatened to end the monarchy.
Renua promised a fresh start. In contrast its public relations strategy was stale. It could be said it reflected the party itself looking to the future but stuck in the past. He was banished back to Tipperary where he could tell them all about the grief he's been getting from the "Dublin meeja". In the most useless piece of information we learned during the campaign, Alan Shatter revealed he wanted to go on a date with Sarah Palin "to find out what goes on in her head". Is it Enda Kenny or is it Micheal Martin? Photo: Tom Burke. Most awkward photocall This one came right at the end, when Enda Kenny and Joan Burton met for tea and scones on the last day of campaigning to show us all how united they were.
Made-up story award A lot of false claims were made but the best non-story goes to Mattie McGrath, who alleged that Alan Kelly had to hide from water protesters in his ice-cream van. Moment of the TV debates Two key moments stood out over the course of the three debates. Best poster vandalism There were plenty of entries for this one, not least the effort one punter went to, to make Labour's Derek Nolan look like David Bowie. Most overused phrase Fine Gael managed to wreck everybody's head with 'Keep the recovery going' before realising the slogan was doing more damage than good.
Best in-fighting The obvious one would be Lucinda Creighton and Kate O'Connell in Dublin Bay South - but we've decided that was predictable and therefore comes only third. Time travel award Kildare's Martin Heydon is in the running for this one as a result of his epic role as Marty McFly in a spoof Back to the Future video. It's understood he will be giving a first-hand account of the Rising on Easter Monday. Tea and little sympathy Fine Gael's Stephanie Regan claimed she was being "sent to make the tea" after a leaflet went around asking voters to give her their third preference after Richard Bruton and Naoise O'Muiri.
No time for 'tae' award One man who certainly wasn't making tea was Michael Healy Rae. Spin doctors' award Fine Gael spin doctors persisted in texting journalists during the TV debates to claim that Enda Kenny was exceeding expectations. Worst communications strategy Renua collapsed like no other party. Hide and seek award Alan Kelly was everywhere for the first week before being disappeared by the Labour Party.
Please never let it happen award In the most useless piece of information we learned during the campaign, Alan Shatter revealed he wanted to go on a date with Sarah Palin "to find out what goes on in her head".
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