What can we say about the situation in our country that hasn’t already been said? What ideology do we possess that hasn’t already made its way across the pages of our history books? There is a very popular video making its way around youtube and facebook speaking of our need to understand our history. (The video’s laughable use of euphemisms over regicide, genocide, and executions is so vulgar it verges on pornography.) The video tells the story of the sacking of Ayudhya in an attempt to say that the divisions we have today are similar to the rifts that occurred back then, divisions which ultimately led to the early Kingdom’s downfall.
While there is nothing inherently wrong with such arguments, there is another caveat when studying history in Thailand that we must not forget. For those who study past an important realisation crops up, the realisation that ours is a country that is unfortunately unimportant and decidedly inept at being relevant. When our country did possess some clout on the world stage at the height of the Vietnam Conflict, we threw it away for the personal privilege of a select few of our leaders. What does this mean? It means that our historiography is laughably thin; it means that there is a scarcity in historical revisionism that will engender debate and foster understanding and relevance.
Thus one must ask is our history important considering where we stand today, at the beginning of the 21st century? Are we better off than the superstitious rice farmers of 17th century Ayudhya in our understanding of what came before and how it might affect what comes after? One of the biggest problems that exist in Thailand today is our tendency to ignore our true history in lieu of something less marvellous and more made up. Those three important pillars of our society, the same ones that were so heavily emphasised and constructed during the tenure of Sarit Thanarat’s autocracy, exists to this very day. In short, Thais and especially their governments have a bad habit of making up history to serve a purpose.
But surely this is not true; surely the country more associated with beautiful beaches and binge drinking has nothing to hide in the pages of its history books. One could make such an argument, but one would be wrong. Too often romanticism, a word not generally associated with the greater Thai public, clouds the truth behind the lies. For example many of the older Thai generations look back if not fondly then with a certain degree of respect towards the rule of the aforementioned Sarit Thanarat. Even though the Thai history books do mention his autocratic tendencies, this is often a sweeping mention too often lost in the gratitude of the verisimilar ‘stability’ he brought to the country. Here was a man who righted the ship goes the argument, a man who instilled in us the concepts of ‘nation, religion and monarchy.’ So what if his police commander presided over an institutionalised program of suppression and extra judicial killings that would make Thaksin Shinawatra blush, so what if his corruption was so widespread that his bank account rivalled the state at the time of his death. Here is a man who made Thailand the country it is today. With some irony, I would agree with such statements.
But despite the ‘real’ narrative of history, we find ourselves accepting the arguments of the ‘older’ generations due to a combination of filial profligacy and intellectual decadence. There is no need to question, for why question the teaching of your elders. No one does more to counter such arguments of filial stupidity than Sulak Sivaraksa, himself a wizened sage, who went on to title his autobiography Loyalty Demands Dissent. Loyalty certainly demands dissent and if one were to really appreciate and understand the lessons of history, then one would take great care and pain into learning and finding out the real historical narrative instead of those made up by self serving antecedents. Loyalty demands dissent, history demands scrutiny.