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That Dare Not Speak Its Name

Anybody remember the Maginot Line? 

After the carnage of the World War I trenches, the French correctly anticipated another war with Germany but incorrectly assumed it would be fought in the same way.  So they built a series of massive fortifications along the border with Germany (and Italy, Switzerland and Luxembourg).  But not with Belgium because they were allies. 

(And to be fair, the Germans were equally misguided – they built the Siegfried Line on much the same logic.)

The Germans, however, had invented the Panzer and the Junkers 88 and the Blitzkrieg and could read a map, so they poured into northern France via the Netherlands and Belgium. Within a month and a half, France had surrendered.

That’s it with generals, isn’t it?  Always ready to fight the last war, not the next.

This is one of the many, many take-aways from the retro rant delivered molto patetico by Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Apirat Kongsompong last week.  So much to unpack from this.

40-year-old images of anti-communist fighting (cue royal righteousness).  Stories of Dad being shot at by the same filthy commies (cue tears of filial piety).  Pseudo-technical terminology like ‘hybrid warfare’, which seems to mean throwing as many ideas as possible onto the one PowerPoint slide, confusing everyone including yourself, and calling it strategy. 

(For more on this line of thinking, you might want to look at the Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy thesis by a Prime Minister near you.)

But let me to pick out just one of the many lunacies on display.  The Facebook picture of Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong and an unnamed ‘Thai politician’ whose image was blacked out and whose identity Gen Apirat deliberately kept completely secret.

Secret?  I know that another Thai military genius believes that Thais don’t know how to use Google, but a secret?  On Facebook?  Well, if you think the Communist Party of Thailand is about to make a comeback, you may really be that far behind the times.

Those who didn’t already know or guess could quickly establish that this publicly available picture was of Future Forward party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.  No secret.  Anyone with an internet connection and half a brain can find it and look.

So why black out his picture?  Why refuse even to say his name?

Maybe the mere sight of TJ, as swooning Future Fowardistas call him, causes some sort of psychotic reaction among the Thai top brass.  Gen Apirat certainly seemed to be walking an emotional tightrope during his talk.  Maybe they can’t say his name because it’s hard to talk coherently when you are grinding your teeth.

But I think there is a more likely, and sinister, reason.

Remember the problem in the Harry Potter books about even mentioning the chief villain’s name?  As soon as you said ‘Voldemort’, he was on to you.  So you didn’t.  That made him far more scary.  How can you counter evil when you can’t even talk about it?

And the military do want to scare us.  They want us to think that there are many more dangers in this world than we ordinary mortals know about.  Really nasty types, like, er, communists, for instance. 

(Minor hiatus for a touch of military logic. Who is Joshua Wong protesting against?  Communist China.  And what does his association with Thanathorn prove?  That Thanathorn is a communist. Duh?)

So the problem with the Wong-Thanathorn pic is that because it’s out in the open on Facebook, it’s not scary enough.  How can the military terrify us with fairy stories about reds under the bed if the purported reds are out there where you can see them? 

Blacking out Thanathorn’s image and remaining silent about his name is the military’s best attempt to shove the reds back under the bed where they can be properly scary. 

So the argument is:

You are not aware of it, but there are lord knows how many dangers out there.

But we army types are superior beings who do know about these dangers.

So you must trust us and give us lots of moolah to protect you from these dangers that you can’t see but we can.

Because if you can see them, you might not think they’re really that dangerous.

So we will hide them from you, so you will believe in Voldemort and the tooth fairy and continue to finance our fantasies.

And I don’t think I’d be that bothered by a military intent on sticking society’s head in the sand, if it were not for the real threats that the military don’t seem to see.

Ex-National Human Rights Commissioner and winner of the Magsaysay Award for no longer being a National Human Rights Commissioner Angkhana Neelaphaijit hit one of these nails on the head a day or two ago. 

Violations of human rights are an affront to the humanity of us all and are excellent means of breeding resentment and antipathy against whatever regime is perpetrating them.  They are far too prevalent in Thailand and it is the military in many cases that is the guilty party.  But Gen Apirat doesn’t figure this as a threat to his version of the nation.

And while he sits in his specially reserved front row seat in the Senate, Gen Apirat might wonder at the wisdom of sticking a new parliament building right next to a river that in 30-50 years will be the northern part of the Gulf of Thailand.