Having nothing better to do, Royal Thai Army commander Gen. Apirat Kongsompong elevated a troubling political discourse to a more dangerous level on Wednesday.
That was when Apirat told a cadet of the elite military school that a spreading Thai political ‘disease’ called “nation hating” (chang chart) is unlike coronavirus. It’s incurable.
“With COVID-19, first you protect yourself. Then you protect others. And it can be cured. But the disease that’s incurable is nation hating disease. Right?” Apirat spoke to the cadet who said yes in reply. “This disease of hating one’s own nation is incurable. They lampoon about their motherland.”
For those unfamiliar with the ‘disease’, ‘nation hating’ is rather widespread in Thailand, at least according to people like Apirat – supporters of military rule and ultra-royalists who feel that the institution is under threat from the outside.
These people are fed up by fellow Thais who keep complaining about the lack of genuine democracy, freedom of speech, equality and more and want change. Those believing in the existence of such political disease feel that those infected are never happy or grateful about the state of Thai society, politics, the monarchy.
They feel even more agitated when the Thais infected by the disease exposed their pessimistic views about their own society to the foreign press, particularly Western media. It must be because they hate their own nation, or so they believe.
Beyond the belief, the reality that many Thais do disagree on the current state of Thailand and which direction she ought to take into the future.
Instead of recognizing the deep disagreement and working for a common, agreeable solution, one side is now branded as ‘nation haters’.
Political disagreement, which is the most normal thing in any free and democratic society, has turned into an incurable disease by the Thai army chief who doesn’t really know his duty.
Now that ‘nation hating’ has been declared incurable by Dr. Apirat, what does this mean for Thailand?
It means the junta-appointed army chief doesn’t believe in a cure, and those regarded as infected and sick must be contained. Further spread of the disease, which is likely communicable, must also be controlled.
In case of coronavirus, you are placed in state-imposed quarantine if you pose a risk. Here, you can draw the analogy further and it won’t be too hard to imagine that the ‘solution’ in dealing with those infected with ‘nation hating’ virus, which is declared incurable by the army chief, also requires some sort of a political quarantine.
In short, in order to prevent more young people from joining the ongoing anti-government rallies, something must be done. But what will people like Apirat do to contain the spread of an incurable political disease? How far will they go?
Back during the Cold War, when many right-wing movements in Thailand felt threatened by Communism, they declared Communism was like a disease, too.
Then in 1976, a famous Buddhist monk by the name of Kittwutto Bhiku went even further and announced that killing Communists is not a sin.
“Thais, although professed to Buddhism should do so,” he said in a now-infamous interview. “This won’t be considered as killing humans because anyone who destroys the nation, religion and monarchy are not fully human.”
The interview was printed in June. Three months later, the October 6, 1976, massacre took place. Dozens of leftists and university students branded as communist sympathizers were shot dead or lynched in the heart of Old Bangkok, some of their bodies mutilated and displayed to a mocking crowd.
That was over four decades ago. Are we any better now?
Some people insist there’s only two sides that everyone has to pick between – and only one of them is the “good” side. In the same way, believing in ‘nation haters’ may help people like Apirat to put themselves above any accountability of what is wrong with Thai society. By repeating the narrative of ‘nation hating disease’, they put the blame on the other.
And by describing these people as infected with an incurable political sickness, Gen. Apirat is essentially hinting that they are a threat to the Thai autocrats.