Facing the army's shame

Facing the army's shame

It was a shocking revelation that the commander of today's Royal Thai Army had to publicly order his officers not to murder or torture fellow soldiers. Yet that was the order issued last week by army commander Gen Teerachai Nakwanich, and shown to the public. After 142 years of serving the nation, the army has officers and men capable of killing their own service members. Clearly, the army must clean house on this despicable matter.

This public confession of treachery in the ranks by the army commander comes as the result of an appalling incident on April 2. That day, Pvt Songtham Mudmad and Pvt Chatpisut Chumpha who were based at Payak Camp in Yala's Bannang Sata district fell into a dispute with a senior rank over allegedly stolen money. The dispute ended in a fight and the two were punished by six soldiers who set upon them with fists, feet and more. Songtham succumbed to his injuries, and Chatpisut was treated in the ICU.

There are two important points about this killing. First, the army by its traditions treats such premeditated murders gently. Perpetrators accused of mistreating lower-rank troops face, at most, 30 days of confinement to their living quarters or barracks. That is the "sentence" the six now are under. They also were taken to apologise to Songtham's family in Nakhon Si Thammarat. Of course, nothing can replace a patriotic, 23-year-old son in a Thai family.

Second, Gen Teerachai and his superior, Defence Minister Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, appear in denial about a key fact. The Royal Thai Army suffers and perhaps condones such vicious attacks on its men and women -- and especially its recruits. "Incidents like this are rare," said Gen Prawit, who is clearly at the top of the current military hierarchy. But this hardly fits the known facts.

Credit social media once again with quickly assembling a number of actual and recent videos of soldiers beating conscripts. Recruits often are forced to strip, and are beaten and kicked. The compilation is difficult to watch. The last video shows the beating death of Pvt Wichian Phuaksom, also in the South, in 2011.

The videos confirm such incidents are not rare, as Gen Prawit says. It is even worse, knowing that this is the filmed tip of this violent iceberg. One must guess how many beatings were not taped and completely covered up.

We now live in an age where this type of so-called "discipline" is completely out of place. Of course there must be special rules of conduct for the military. The army, navy and air force must train men and women to a much higher standard than civilian schools and businesses. Nevertheless, brutal violence is as unnecessary as it is uncivilised. Any military officer who thinks otherwise needs, to use the regime's favourite phrase, some attitude adjustment.

The murder and beating were premeditated acts. They deserve courts martial, just as if they had occurred outside the army camp by civilians. The military is a unique institution, but it cannot harbour men who believe they have the right to kill and maim fellow soldiers. No such licence can exist anywhere in Thai society.

In their high positions, Gen Prawit and Gen Teerachai represent the entire nation. They are commanding officers, men and women responsible for defending the nation against all enemies, including gross indecencies against their own fellow service members. Army discipline obviously needs full-scale reform. Pvt Songtham must be the last Thai soldier killed by his fellow men in uniform.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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