Rolling out the big guns for the kids
Dear children, today you'll get to sit on the prime minister's chair. It's Children's Day and you're the boss, a fake boss of course, because the real boss will hold on to that chair with all his might. Anyway, it's your day, so sit, pick your nose and enjoy.
When I was a child I never got to warm my behind on any prime ministerial furniture. It was a black hole in my childhood that left me in a trauma for years. It was 1980 when I was old enough to remember the name of our then-PM: Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, poised and taciturn, a fine soldier who was invited to sit on that chair without breaking a sweat (like our incumbent PM). I remember the minor panic at my school in 1981 when the maths teacher said something about a coup. What is a coup, my innocent civilian mind wondered? It turned out to be the "Young Turk" coup, a botched attempt by a group of dissenting generals that failed to oust Gen Prem. Seven years later I was no longer a child, and Gen Prem would remain my prime minister, still poised and taciturn, until one day in 1988 he turned down the invitation to return to the chair and we had Chatichai Choonhavan instead (he didn't last very long).
I hope you children will enjoy the same luck as I did. You must remember the panic in your schools in 2014 when the coup took place. That one was successful though, and you had another general taking the chair without breaking a sweat. In seven or maybe 12 or 25 years, who knows, you'll still probably have the same prime minister as you have today, the smiling uncle who'll welcome you (or maybe your child, if you marry fast!) to sit on his upholstered chair and make you feel like a boss. Nothing has changed from my time to yours. Stability -- a euphemism for immobility -- is great for our future.
Dear children, today you'll get to tour Government House. This week the handsome Venetian Gothic building and its manicured lawns have new décor items to welcome young visitors: Dinosaurs. It's not some kind of black comedy, is it? Dinosaurs in Government House, as if we haven't had enough? A Jurassic superimposition on the Jurassic, the exhibition featuring 20 prehistoric reptile species unearthed in Thailand is called "An Adventure with the Dinosaurs", which sounds like the daily adventure we've had every day anyway. Some of the dinosaurs can move (naturally). The paleontological irony is endless, and so is the unintended analogy.
Next, dear children, today you'll get to play with guns and tanks. I missed the opportunity to develop my militaristic instinct as a child in the 1980s, because I was brought to the rooftop Pata Zoo instead to see the gorilla, which, amazingly, is another creature besides the dinosaurs that remains where it has always been. In fact, it's strange that to bring your child to see the caged gorilla today is more un-PC, more socially irresponsible, than bringing them to play with guns (the standard prop on Children's Day and coup days). You never see any ads prodding parents to bring their kids to watch the locked-up ape -- that would be outrageous -- but adults are officially encouraged to take children to climb tanks and touch RPGs.
What that says about society isn't hard to fathom: Dear children, the gorilla is a sign of human cruelty while machine guns and military gear are a sign of human civilisation. Develop your instinct now if you want to have a shot at being invited to sit on that chair in the future.
Finally, heed the Children's Day motto even if it doesn't mean anything. This year PM Prayut Chan-o-cha has given you one of the blandest aphorisms in years: "Thai children, pay attention to your study, for national stability" (the last word can also be translated as "secure" or "strong", all military terms). Last year the motto that no one remembers was "Good children, work hard, study, head towards the future." Hello platitude! In 2015, the mind-dazzling maxim was "Knowledge and virtue lead to the future".
Dear children, after the chair, the dinosaurs, the tanks, the guns and the motto, it's not easy to imagine a future that's different from the past, to build an exit ramp from the merry-go-round that has turned us into a quasi-military state since the 1950s. It was hard in my time, and it will be harder in yours. So sit and enjoy the warmth of that chair. And if you're a boy, remember that the military draft will come to you in a few years.
Kong Rithdee is Life Editor, Bangkok Post.
Bangkok Post columnist
Kong Rithdee is a Bangkok Post columnist. He has written about films for 18 years with the Bangkok Post and other publications, and is one of the most prominent writers on cinema in the region.