Giles Ji Ungpakorn
The tragic deaths of 30 people in the mass shooting by a crazed sergeant major in Korat reflects a sick militarised society.
Apart from the psychological state of the soldier, which is obviously important, there a number of other significant factors that contributed to this event.
The fact that the military is still in power after staging a number of coups and fixing the recent elections, means that society is dominated by a military culture. This culture normalises the use of state violence in politics. Soldiers not only control the levers of power, but they intervene in the day to day running of society, acting like the police. Armed soldiers visit opposition activists in their homes in order to intimidate them. They act to ban freedom of expression on a regular basis. Merely being in military uniform and holding a weapon is enough to justify these actions.
The Thai military has repeatedly shot unarmed pro-democracy demonstrators in Bangkok with total impunity. Not only did they do this during the red shirt protests, but this obnoxious history goes back to the military induced bloodbaths in 1973 and 1976. The present Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-Ocha, was one of those responsible for the deaths of nearly a hundred unarmed Red Shirt protesters in 2010.
The military also act with impunity in Patani, carrying out extra-judicial killings of Malay Muslims. In neighboring Lao. military death squads have killed exiled dissidents.
Within the military there is a culture of brutalising young recruits and this has often resulted in a number of deaths.
Because none of this military violence is ever punished; no military personnel have ever been prosecuted for killing unarmed protesters, it has become normal behaviour for armed soldiers to act as though they are above the law. Soldiers swagger around like gangsters, intimidating citizens and aping their bosses who are in government. In the 1970s it was common to see military vehicles driving the wrong way down one-way streets with their lights on.
On National Children’s Day the military bring out all their hardware to “entertain” kids. Some of the real weapons available for the kids to use as “toys” are probably the same as the gun used by the sergeant major in Korat. This socialising of children leads to a tendency among many boys to want to become soldiers so that they can feel important, macho and tough. This has little to do with heroics. The Thai military is not heroic, it is more like a massive mafia, engaged in business deals and bullying. It is probable that the angry soldier in Korat was being swindled by his commanding officer in such a deal.
Finally there is a total lack of justice and security for the majority of people who are poor. When people have no faith in the justice system and they have no life security, there is a feeling that you need to take things into your own hands or act like a gangster. This is also partly the reason why Thailand has one of the highest levels of gun ownership.
The finger of blame for the tragedy in Korat has to be pointed firmly at those military officers in charge of the country, starting with Generalissimo Prayut.