Could WW1 Have Been Avoided?

Originally posted on History Republic:

A hundred years ago, the First World War was started after Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo by a group of Serbian nationalists. People ever since have wondered the question of whether the war could have been averted, or at least postponed. After all, if 20 million casualties would result from something as small as the assassination of just one man, then surely there must have been a way the war could have been avoided?

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Short Story: Perpetual Agony

Originally posted on Publish Your Mind:

“I believe the best service to the child is the service closest to the child, and children who are victims of neglect, abuse, or abandonment must not also be victims of bureaucracy. They deserve our devoted attention, not our divided attention.” -Kenny Guinn

This short story was used as a submission entry to the ASEAN Young Writer’s competition 2014.

SHORT STORY: PERPETUAL AGONY

Phuket, Thailand – 2048 A.D 

I played a final arpeggios to end the song, before standing up and bowing to the general. General Kriangsak’s guests clapped, and so did the general himself. “What a prodigy! He’s only sixteen, yet he plays the piano so well!” I heard someone saying. Such comments were made frequently when I played.

“With your permission, I shall return to my own residence.” I said.

“That permission is granted. Thanks for today.” The general stood up to pat my shoulder and as I…

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Is the US Blundering in Thailand?

Kristie Kenney has always been a well-known, high profile ambassador. Notorious for her ‘never-ending’ childish selfies and intensely disliked by the protesters- they perceived her as being pro-Yingluck- the ambassador once again came under fire for the US embassy’s Independence Day party.

Nothing about the party or the ambassador herself was particularly striking. Those that she chose to invite were, however. Not only were the main leaders of the NCPO (National Council for Peace and Order) not invited- the members of the Democrat Party were also all absent- but a lot of pro-Thaksin figures were invited, and indeed, did show up. Veerakarn Musikapong, a well known UDD leader was seen, along with Chaturong Chaisaeng, Kittirat Na-ranong, and Chadchart Sittipunt; all of them are former ministers under Yingluck who were ousted with the coup. An anti-monarchist band was even playing at the party.

Kenney, understandably, has immediately sought to downplay these invitations, claiming that thousands had been invited from across the country, and that there was no political message intended from the invitations. Few believe her. For diplomats and politicians, there is no such thing as a ‘time-off’ where gestures did not matter. The United States has also on so many occasions expressed support for the Yingluck government and been so vocal in condemning the coup,  and so it would be very easy for anyone to think that this is a clear declaration of the USA’s stance on the situation in Thailand: that they remain firm supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra. If Kenney thinks that the public will not interpret these invitations as a message, then she is very naïve indeed.

Of course the United States could try to argue that Kristie Kenney has been acting all in her own private capacity. But if that’s the case, then that’s akin to an ambassador creating her own foreign policy. It would be ridiculous of the United States allowed that much power to any one ambassador.

Kristie Kenney and Yingluck Shinawatra

The USA’s stance has been unchanging through the political turmoil. During the protests, the embassy repeatedly issued calls for the respect of democratic institutions- ignoring completely that the broken system of democracy in Thailand was the very reason protesters were on the streets. Once a coup overthrew Yingluck, John Kerry was one of its harshest critics, hypocritically condemning it without considering any of the benefits that it had brought. 

These two cases show an ignorance of realities on the ground. Unsurprising, considering that according to American writer Michael Yon, Kenney forbade her officials from ever visiting protest sites and thus learning more about the situation. This is further explained by Stephen B. Young, son of a successful former ambassador to Thailand who served during John F. Kennedy’s tenure as President of the United States. He wrote in an editorial in the Bangkok Post:

It is a worry but not a surprise that the current American government has failed to properly understand Thaksinism. Too many American officials, from the ambassador on down, work in a weird office environment literally walled off from Thailand…American officials in Bangkok — as with our embassies all over the world now — just don’t get out to get the true feel of a country and its people. Their ability to judge has been crippled by these self-imposed limitations…Our embassy is cutting itself off from learning the truth about Thailand.

This self-inflicted ignorance is distressing, indeed, considering that it has led the embassy and the US government into continuing to be firm supporters of the Thaksin regime without truly understanding what is going on. It is even more distressing, especially to the USA, when it is considered what implications a stressed tie to Thailand will bring. As the United States’s first ally in Asia (and currently a major non-NATO ally), Thailand has been extremely valuable to the United States in the past. Now, however, there is a real and oft-expressed rising anti-American sentiment especially among users of Thai social media. While this may not be indicative of the government’s stance, it cannot be denied that the United States government has been hostile towards the junta. The Independence Day party in which no key NCPO members were invited only make this very public.

If the United States continues to ignorantly pursue a policy of coldness towards the NCPO, then it must consider the possible implications.

It’s simple geopolitics. With the conflict in Eastern Ukraine (which Obama, hilariously, called an example of ‘American strength’), turmoil in the Middle East and hostility in the South China Sea, the United States is under pressure in all corners of the globe. Facing resurgent and assertive nations like China and Russia, this is not a time in which it can afford to lose any of its allies. China, on the other hand, is on a hunt for new allies. Although Thailand has historically been a major ally of the United States, it could lose Thailand to its opponent if they are not careful with foreign policy. With the US so hostile and unreceptive to the NCPO, China may very well attempt to fill in the gap.

The American Interest writes:

Is it possible that China would seek to take advantage of this opening? The two countries have no history of conflict. They have no territorial disputes…As Bower [of CSIS] put it, “You could lose an alliance and if you don’t lose an alliance, you could in effect lose the primacy of a friendship with one of ASEAN’s anchor countries.”

General Prayuth and Chinese officials

Indeed, China has been trying to fill in the gap. In early June, a delegation of Thai military commanders were invited to China for talks on regional security and joint training; this came not long after the coup and amid Western condemnation. Also in early June, General Prayuth assured the public that Thailand remained committed to its strategic partnership ‘at all levels’ with China’. It also must be remembered that ever since the opening up of China, Thailand and China have remained close; Thailand often acts as an unofficial ASEAN ‘envoy’ to China due to having no territorial and ethnic conflicts which allow talks to go smooth and unhindered.

A drift away from the United States towards China would be a loss for the former country. Barack Obama’s much hyped ‘pivot to Asia’ has, on the whole, not been very successful; everyone knows that its motive was to contain the rise of China, but now China is still as assertive as ever about its claims in the South China Sea, and the United States continues to risk being seen as simply a paper tiger. Thailand was the country that supported the US throughout the Cold War and today still remains very important to US strategy. Covert operations are often conducted in Thailand- an interrogation of al-Qaeda terrorist was conducted in Utaphao airport. It hosts military war games between various nations. And last but not least, it is still the stepping stone in Asia that the US needs; where else can the US base itself in its mission to rebalance power in Southeast Asia?  Coupled with growing problems in maintaining the US’s influence in eastern Asia, can the United States really afford to lose a strategic country in the heart of mainland Southeast Asia to the very country it is seeking to contain?

Yet this is exactly what the government of the United States is doing. It has harshly condemned the coup. It has cut off some military assistance. It has threatened to move Cobra Gold to another country. (A rather strange threat, as if Cobra Gold, a multi-country military joint-training event, is moved out, it would make it even easier for Thailand to continue with negotiations on joint-training with China, which was a topic of discussion during the visit). And most recently, it is publicly shunning the NCPO’s leaders from a party, while inviting major figures all associated with Thaksin and even anti-monarchist movements.

Clearly this is a diplomatic blunder. The friendship between the US and Thailand are old, historic and deep, but Thailand’s military leaders only have so much patience, and greater friendship with China is not an uninviting prospect. Not only is the United States refusing to withdraw support to leaders who never acted democratically while in office, but they are openly being hostile to the government that now runs the country and seems to be willing to let the country drift from its embrace while the US needs it most. The United States is blundering its way into alienating an ally it needs, and it’s doing this because it had failed to investigate and properly understand Thailand’s own political troubles.

It is suspicious, indeed, what secret motives the US may hold which makes them so supportive of Thaksin and Yingluck. Were any secret deals made, perhaps involving natural resources? It is unlikely that we can find out, although it is worth speculating and looking into. If there are any, however, the United States should consider that for now, the days of Thaksin and Yingluck are past. In the long term it could possibly receive far more benefits from continuing to support Thailand than to stick to blindly giving support to the Shinawatras.

If the United States truly supports Thailand and wants it to develop into a mature, sustainable democracy, it should end anti-coup rhetoric that ignores realities it does not want to hear, and should have a more inclusive attitude towards the NCPO. Kristie Kenney should strive to gain a better understanding of Thailand’s political situation, and refrain from committing any more diplomatic blunders. In the long term, it will be more beneficial towards both the United States and Thailand that reform of the country be completed successfully.

-Ken

Short Story: Descending Higher

Ken:

Today, June 28th 2014, is the centenary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, which would trigger what was back then the most destructive war in history. Here’s a short story about the First World War. This short story was used as a submission entry to the ASEAN Young Writer’s competition 2014.

Originally posted on Publish Your Mind:

Screen Shot 2014-06-27 at 10.07.09 AM

A short story on World War 1, on the centenary of the outbreak of the war that would change the world forever. This short story was used as a submission entry to the ASEAN Young Writer’s competition 2014.

Short Story: Descending Higher 

“Sir, what we’re considering right now…it’s illegal, sir.” 

“Please, sir, reconsider. It’s a violation of the terms of the Hague Convention.”

The general sat at the head of the conference table without speaking. The words of dissent and warning kept coming; they would not stop lecturing him.

“We cannot allow for the disgrace of the Kaiser and his nation! This blatant violation of international law will give the enemy the chance to portray us even more negatively in their propaganda, sir…” 

He allowed the man to continue droning on about the need to preserve the honor of the Kaiser, but after a minute he had enough. The general…

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Is Democracy Universally Adoptable?

Originally posted on Publish Your Mind:

Publish Your Mind was created with the idea that every opinion and work of writing deserved praise and an audience. On June 27th, the site turns one year old. To celebrate our “birthweek”, we’ll post a topic similar to this each day until we hit the milestone. Today’s Blog Birthweek is written by Ken, a Thai political blogger and writer. Thanks to anyone who happens to be a loyal viewer, and encouraging us to continue posting. Comments are appreciated. 

After the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communism all over the world, leading to and triggered by the fall of the Soviet Union, our most recent decades has seen what can be called the triumph of democracy everywhere. Various nations have formally adopted democratic systems as their form of government. Surely, the global adoption of democracy should now ensure prosperity and good governance for all those…

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Aside

11/06/14

Every once in a while I just write about what I’m thinking on this blog, and I guess this is one of those times. I just like to use this opportunity just to think and reflect about my writing thus far and also about where I want to go next.

Most of the time, life never allows for you to do anything according to a ‘perfect’ plan, and so often you fall short of your goals. Just a month back, I’d written that I’d get started on writing a novel. I was so sure that I’d be back into the realm of fiction, after so long away for it.

A little more than a month later, I find that instead of starting a novel I’ve published three more political opinion pieces.

I was so busy this past few weeks. I coordinated the hosting of a class concert, ‘#RESONANCE’. Then a massive tidal wave of assignments came, along with final exams. The next few days were then spent simply wrapping up the school year.

I ended up writing no fiction at all.

It’s exactly why I say life never goes as you plan.

To be fair to myself, Thai politics has simply been a little too interesting lately. I guess the escalating situation did warrant for a little over a combined total of five thousand words to be written about it, and it’s not like I haven’t found any success with being an amateur political commentator either. The last three pieces I’ve written are my most-viewed posts ever. I’m happy to see such support for what is probably, in comparison to real newspaper articles, amateurish writing and analysis.

But I’ve always wanted to write more fiction. In a way, the lack of publicity about my fiction can be attributed to the fact that I simply don’t write enough of it. I very rarely publish new short stories, and I scrapped my last novel since late last year. In fact, I haven’t written any fiction at all since April 4. That’s a long enough hiatus for fiction writing. I’ll be back soon. I already have an idea floating in my head; after all, the fact that this year is the centenary of the start of the First World War means that the ‘war to end all wars’ probably deserves at least a short story here.

The hardest part about writing fiction may be just how hard it is to plan, and how hard it is to motivate yourself to write. Writing fiction is a tasking, difficult thing to do. To me, it just feels like it takes so much more brainpower and willpower just to write a couple of sentences than to write a non-fiction text.

But the fact that I’ll also be having term breaks in a few days also really helps. I’m really excited to having so much more of my time freed up from school. I’ll have much more time to write, even if given how lazy I am. We’ll see what results from that…

-Ken

 

Inconvenient Truths About Thailand’s Coup

The coup of the Pheu Thai government has drawn condemnation from the international community. However, many people are failing to realize many inconvenient truths about the Thai coup that show why it is more justified than what someone like John Kerry may say. 

“This coup has no justification,” said John Kerry in the aftermath of Thailand’s coup that ousted a Thaksin-backed government. “We call for an immediate return to civil rule and early elections.” This came after months of insistence from the USA that Thailand stick to ‘democratic principles’ and hold elections that ‘represent the will of the Thai people’.

I believe John Kerry may have forgotten that it was he himself who spoke very passionately about how elections do not necessarily lead to democracy. It comes as a sharp contrast with what the Western media has been saying about Thailand for the past six months, but the following passage was indeed said by Kerry:

A democracy is not defined solely by an election. You can have a democratically elected government, but you don’t have democratically-instituted reforms that actually give you a democracy, a full, practicing, functioning democracy. And what you have in many places is a general election, a popular election, absent reform, present with great corruption, great cronyism and a huge distortion of democratic process.

Viktor Yanukovych

At first glance, most observers of Thailand who did not know the context of this speech may have guessed that he was talking about the failure of electoral democracy in Thailand to form a democratic government dedicated to good governance. This is not the case. This speech was given in the aftermath of the ousting of Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian President who became the target of protests after he backed out of an EU trade deal and instead went into the embrace of Vladimir Putin. Kerry was saying that the ousting of Yanukovych was perfectly justifiable because Ukraine was a flawed democracy where elections could truly represent the will of the people.

It is an inconvenient truth, then, that in Thailand there are also popular elections, ‘absent reform, present with great corruption, great cronyism and a huge distortion of the democratic process.’ The government of the Thaksin-handpicked Prime Ministers Yingluck Shinawatra and Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan was, similarly to Yanukovych’s, ousted after months of massive, record-breaking protests from ordinary people who were simply fed up with the insane levels of corruption and undemocratic behavior of the Thaksin-backed governments.

Yingluck Shinawatra

Like Yanukovych, Yingluck won a democratic election at the ballot box- and then miserably failed to act in office in accordance with democratic principles. I have dealt with the innumerable failings of the Yingluck government in previous posts; major examples of undemocratic behavior that comes to mind include the usage of populist policies (ones that will break the country’s budget, particularly) to buy votes from voters, rejection of checks and balances like the judiciary, or completely ignoring any voices of dissent in Parliament and ramming through unwanted legislature, like the Amnesty Bill, at 3 AM at night. As Kerry said, a democratically elected government doesn’t always give you democracy.

The US Secretary of State suggested himself in his speech of ‘reforms’. Thailand’s military coup will allow exactly for reforms to take place, so that repeated failures of electoral democracy will not have to hinder Thailand’s development. It is impressively hypocritical for Kerry to agree with the ousting of one democratically-elected leader because ‘elections don’t always lead to democracy’, and then condemn another one as having ‘no justification’ despite the fact that the behavior of the two governments were not dissimilar.

Mohammed Morsi

Here’s another quote from Kerry, this time from when he was commenting on the Egyptian military coup which ousted the country’s first democratically elected leader, Mohammed Morsi:

The military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people, all of whom were afraid of a descendance into chaos, into violence. And the military did not take over, to the best of our judgement – so far. To run the country, there’s a civilian government. In effect, they were restoring democracy.

Here he absolutely refuses to call the Egyptian coup a coup; it had to happen because the country was descending into chaos and violence. Never mind that Mohammed Morsi was democratically elected; the military’s act was effectively a ‘restoration of democracy’.

The brazen hypocrisy of John Kerry is only illustrated further when we consider what has been Thailand’s own descent into chaos and violence in the past few months. In the duration of the protests by the PDRC, which lasted from November to May, 28 people were killed and hundreds more wounded. Grenades were thrown into PDRC marches. Drive-by shootings happened around rally sites. Allied groups like NSPRT and a group led by the monk Buddha Issara experienced almost nightly bombings.  Add this with the prospect of a civil war that could possibly have tore apart the country. The increasingly belligerent behavior of the pro-Thaksin UDD red shirts meant that Thailand was verging on a bloody confrontation between pro-government and anti-government protesters. Meanwhile, the biased police force failed to keep order and dealt selectively, almost exclusively targeting anti-government protesters.  Thailand was on a downward spiral towards complete disorder.

To say there is no justification for Thailand’s coup is, indeed, completely untrue.

Picture of Surin Taratin, an anti-govt leader who was fatally shot during the protests

And so it is another inconvenient truth that ever since the military-installed National Council for Peace and Order took power, all attacks have ceased. There were no more nightly bombings. The two protest groups were immediately ordered to return home, and so bloody confrontation was avoided. Peace returned to the country. In addition, the military has managed to make major arrests all across the country, detaining militants who have been stockpiling arms. Plots for a ‘Khon

Weapon stockpiles captured after martial law

Kaen model’ were discovered and averted, where major acts of terrorism would have been conducted in Khon Kaen and then repeated throughout the provinces.

The junta itself is showing itself to be governing competently- perhaps much more so than Yingluck ever was in the two years of her premiership. Her rice pledging scheme, which caused an estimated loss of $15 billion (which is why many say Thailand will not even notice the United States’s suspension of a mere $10 million worth of military assistance), left many of the farmers in heavy debt due to the government being unable to pay the farmers. The junta has now paid most of the farmers.

Some of the policies of Yingluck’s government can be said to possibly being beneficial towards the country. However, it is the way that Yingluck wanted them to be implemented that was corrupted. For example, plans for a dual-track train should have been completed long ago. A two page plan was presented for an insane 5 trillion baht infrastructure bill. The junta is now reviewing these plans and finding more transparent, efficient and affordable ways of implementing the infrastructure plans. Projects that had absolutely no use, like the unsuccessful One Tablet PC Per Child project which was solely a populist policy aimed at securing votes, not for any long term educational benefit, are now being scrapped.

Pragmatic supporters of the coup

Finally, it is often said that a ‘climate of fear’ has swept through Thailand after the coup. Yes, it cannot be denied that freedom of expression is being curbed, and that the military is allowed to detain anyone without a warrant. There has been small anti-coup protests that have sprang up periodically in Bangkok to protest against this perceived oppression. But to say there is ‘a climate of fear’ is an exaggeration. The majority of the Thai population have not noticed any change in lifestyle after the coup, apart from a late-night curfew. Many, in fact, are in open support of the coup.

And so it must be said that for all the publicity that John Kerry’s statements regarding Thailand and the coup has received, his statements can be shown as nothing more than hollow, hypocritical words. Ukraine and Egypt ousted their democratically elected leaders, but in both cases this would restore true democracy and preserve order. In Thailand, a coup must be immediately condemned. The USA easily ignores any appropriate justification of the coup.

It shows that either the United States has a severe lack of understanding of Thailand, or the USA has hidden, vested interests with the Thaksin regime that makes it feel so inclined to come to its defense. Both may be the case. Perhaps this is what makes the facts so ‘inconvenient’ for them. The point I will state again is this: for all the condemnation and negative statements about the coup from abroad, several ‘inconvenient truths’ exist, many of which foreign governments seem so happy to ignore. 

General Prayuth Chan-ocha, chief of the NCPO, has proposed that Thailand go through reconciliation and reform before holding a general election. The process may take a year before a return to democracy, but Thailand’s political woes have existed for over a decade. A few weeks will not solve the problems, and an election right now will only return us to the ‘great corruption, great cronyism and great distortion of the democratic process’. Let’s hope that the junta will be able to lead the country through the difficult months that lie ahead.

-Ken