Khaosod English just reported General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s lecture to a group of young Thais who were raised abroad on the importance of revering HM the King, who he described as like a "deity", presumably the sammuti devaraja concept or ‘quasi god king’, which derives from Hinduism but which has parallels, though not exact, in the pre-World War II Japanese concept of the ‘Emperor as God’, wherein the Japanese Emperor claimed direct lineage from the gods.
In the West, there is also the Holy Roman Emperor tradition, whereby the Emperor acted as the God-ordained ruler over lay affairs while the Papacy was responsible for the spiritual. And, in the classical world of the Greeks, there were both peoples and individuals who claimed direct lineage from gods or demi-gods, such as Hercules. The sammuti devaraja concept in its present form is, thus, a reasonably modern revival of an ancient concept broadly shared by both West and East.
General Prayuth’s position is not particularly surprising, and his attempt to explain the syncretism of Buddhism with Hinduism to schoolchildren may be seen according to the military government’s own internal logic as necessary to counter ‘foreign influence’ either on the 14 New Democracy Movement student activists currently being investigated by the state security apparatus or to counter the support from Thai students worldwide for the 14 students.
What is more disconcerting is how Thailand[i] is developing sophisticated techniques to monitor and control the physical and mental aspects of schoolchildren. For example, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination as well as the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand (NHRC) just condemned as racist the arbitrary collection of DNA samples of more than 40,000 people in the Deep South, including from high school students, as reported by Reuters.
Another aspect of the police state is turning citizens into informants, a system notoriously perfected by the Stasi of the German Democratic Republic. However, when children are used or targeted by such systems, the results are even more horrifying. The 2014 US Thailand Human Rights Report notes that on June 22, 2014, the military government initiated a campaign for Thai citizens to inform on others, especially by taking photographs of anti-coup protests and the individuals involved, then mailing them to officials together with their bank account details in order to receive a potential award of 500 baht. There is no distinction between children and adults taking photographs in this system.
An electronic police state targeting children is also emerging. On June 19, 2014, the US Report notes that the Thai Netizen Network, a Bangkok-based digital rights group, reported a fake Facebook application that gave users the impression of logging into a website via Facebook. The application was traced to the Royal Thai Police’s Technology Crime Suppression Division. The Division has justified its use as necessary for creating a chain of more witnesses, therefore more prosecutions, and thus a ‘clean’ online society. The application makes no distinction between children and adults.
More worryingly, on August 6, 2014, the Ministry of Information, Communications, and Technology announced a plan to sign memoranda of understanding with 200 schools in order to create a ‘cyberscout’ program to encourage students to monitor internet sites – including their friends’ social media – for ‘unlawful and immoral’ activities. The monitoring of the physical appearance of children in order to control their thought processes has now become normalized in Thailand, as discussed by Thai Woman Talks. For example, some Thai school systems dictate how students should dress and behave both inside and outside schools. Strict rules together with a demerit system, a student activity division (school-level informant division operated by students), and volunteer student inspectors to monitor both physical school sites and the social media result in disturbing implications when applied to controlling ‘political’ thoughts, as at present.[ii]
Another of the characteristics of a police state is unexplained disappearances, and according to the Committee of the ICESCR, there are now 81 cases of such disappearances since the mid-1990’s. The effect of these disappearances on the children of the Disappeared is acknowledged by organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Furthermore, the conditions in Thailand’s prison and detention centers for both adults and children are generally horrific. The US 2014 Human Rights Report notes that in detention centers for immigrants and refugees, there are especially squalid conditions for migrants and their children. Forced labor, extortion, the lack of a nutritional diet and few opportunities for physical exercise are all problems affecting the physical and mental health of children.
Thus, what may be occurring is the development of a Highly Advanced Police State (HAPS) with an electronic surveillance system designed to, and highly capable of, targeting children. Though the officers involved may not be aware, what has been happening breaches multiple international treaties to which Thailand is a signatory, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
That Thailand is largely oblivious to the risks of becoming a HAPS compounds the level of disquiet. HAPS are generally characterised as fundamentally authoritarian, and they are often dictatorships. George Orwell’s 1984 practically defines a HAPS, and, paradoxically, the military government has criminalised the reading of 1984 in public, thereby drawing attention to the issue. Moreover, General Prayut personally introduced to Thailand 12 Core Values, an extra-constitutional Buddhist charter which symbolically creates a holistic ideology of a unified Thailand. Importantly, three values specifically mention and reinforce the role of the monarchy. Unfortunately, these values have been turned into slogans on boards around schools to be chanted by schoolchildren, sung in an official song with mandatory compliance or a cut in official Thai subject grades, and formal testing as part of formal curriculum. The concern is that this state-mandated utopian vision will simply be reduced to a form of propaganda, and it should be pointed out that propaganda is most effective in childhood. The 12 Values, derived as they are from a combination of Thai nationalism and the Buddhist canon, would perhaps be better located in a Buddhist monastery context where they can legitimately be put on boards to be both chanted and lived. In a school context which should encourage both critical and lateral thinking, the best role for the 12 Values would be in a thought experiment in philosophy classes, not to serve as a rigid ideology.
The issue of Thai students not understanding the history of propaganda and of fascism and even engaging in Hitler worship, together with a lack of understanding about world history, have already been highlighted multiple times in recent years. However, this lack of perspective, when combined with an emerging state ideology of Quasi-Imperialism (QI) and a surveillance state increasingly targeting children, creates the conditions for Thailand to develop into an HAPS under a QI superstructure sourced from Hinduism and greatly influenced by British and Japanese Imperialism.[iii]
Many have called for Holocaust education to be taught in the Thai school system to counter the naiveté regarding global history built into the Thai education system. However, it is also quite possible that there may also be a need to educate Thai youth about how, exactly, the trappings of British and Japanese imperialism[iv] have influenced the development of Siam into a QI-like Thailand as well as how the HAPS under the Nazi or Stasi regimes developed. Crucially, Thailand needs to address the issue of how the HAPS operates regarding children before the notion of the country becoming a HAPS which targets children transcends alternative media and becomes mainstream opinion.
[i] A Sovereign Entity Culture according to Contact Theory.
[ii] See Kangwan Fongkaew. “Beware of the Giant Monster and its Minions: How Schoolgirls Negotiate Sexual Subjectivities in a Conservative School Climate in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand”. Journal of Population and Social Studies 22, no. 2 (2014): 114–127.
[iii] Particularly through major impacts on the Thai national psyche, or ‘Excession Events’.
[iv] Both ‘Outside Context Problems’.