Samak’s passing

What to make of it?

On one hand it’s a good time to forget his controversial side and focus on “RIP” but I don’t think it would serve any useful purpose.

There’s a lot to be learned from his life and death.

Politically speaking he was a very very unpleasant fellow with absolute disregard for freedoms and even human lives, not to mention the media. It was less than two years ago when he declared with a straight face that only one person died during 1976 massacre to which he personally contributed by rallying the mobs against the commies.

In a one dimensional world he’d be served nothing but condemnation for this, but I believe there’s more to this story.

Take the media. He made a career and a name for himself as a journalist and even once owned a newspaper. I believe he knew how media works a lot better than any of us, internet critics. We believe in unbiased reporting and some abstract “truth”, from Samak’s point of view none of that exists and media and journos are dirven by their own agendas, and I find it hard to disagree.

If he didn’t give them as much respect as we expect it was probably because he knew how much respect they deserved exactly. In my opinion CNN deserves to be lied and manipulated, for example. They accept it when it suits their editorial line, why protest when someone lies to them about something they don’t like?

When Samak was shouting at some female reporter from Al Jazeera we saw him attack the press, Samak probably saw a young and ignorant faceless upstart biting a lot more than she could chew just because she was sent there by an “important” news agency. Samak probably didn’t want to talk unless she was “properly introduced”, and I believe should would have behaved differently, too.

Samak lived in a world where everybody was connected and related to everybody else and no one was allowed to pretend any independence. In that sense I can easily trace my own connection to Samak, either via my family or my work. It would be just a few steps before he would say: “Ok, enough, now I know who you are.” My Internet persona is something different, though.

If I talked to Samak as StanG who writes this blog, he’d probably skip on that and asked for my real identity instead, and then tried to reconcile what I write here and what I would say in real life. I would have some real explaining to do, if he even paused to listen, and I think it’s fair and I wouldn’t blame him for that or for whatever unflattering words he’d chose for me.

Reconciling his involvement in 1976 is a lot more difficult, but I believe it deserves an attempt, too. Why? I never had any positive thoughts for those mobs and the police that let them on a mad rampage on that day, but one short blurb in The Nation’s report on Samak’s last moments made me puzzled about this:

“..Samak’s relatives had no idea the end was near until the patient deliriously remarked about angels surrounding his hospital bed..”

There’s no chance he was visited by angels if his 1976 exploits were not somehow forgiven. Of course you could simply refuse to talk about any angels at all and stop reading right here, but let’s assume that there were indeed angles and not demons surrounding his deathbed, and he wasn’t taken to one of the numerous buddhist hells but to some heavenly planet with lots of cats and heaps of noodles and unrivaled fresh produce.

That’s what forced be stop and think of possibilities. Maybe he was just doing his job, like an executioner who doesn’t go to hell for chopping people’s heads off. Or maybe he sincerely felt it was the right thing to do, and maybe he was somehow right.

Like with media example, we approach those events from a certain angle, in our universe October 1976 is universally condemned. For Samak, however, and the rest of the Thai society, it wasn’t a black and white affair as it is portrayed to us in popular history. There were real people involved in it, with real aspirations and feelings, sharing some and diverging in other areas.

Prapas-Thanom regime overthrown in student uprising in 1973 is viewed extremely negatively, too, but just a few years earlier it was perfectly acceptable and there was nothing major to complain about, judging by former British ambassador letter. On page 5 Thanom is described as “benevolent, accomodating, cautious, not spectacularly rich” and carries “general goodwill”. Compare this to how he is viewed now on wikipedia – it’s as if they are describing a different person.

Something happened in those three years between 1973 and 1976 that turned public opinion in a completely opposite direction. So far I’ve heard only the student side of the story, the “prosecution”. I’ve yet to see “defense” arguments. I think it’s quite plausible that Samak’s role in those event shouldn’t be demonized, as I myself have done in the past. It is unacceptable now, but in those days, over thirty years ago, it could have looked entirely different and, perhaps, the judgment should be reserved until more information is available.

And then there’s human side of Samak, and it was almost universally adored, there seems to be a consensus that he was everybody’s favorite uncle. I have no doubts that he was a devout Buddhist, exemplary in his behavior and thoughts. I’m pretty sure that it was this side of his life that earned him a visit from the angels, if it ever happened. Even his harsh speech was admired by many, if only for his skill and presentation. While some wanted to sensor his weekly radio program for inappropriate language, others were apparently glued to their radios, trying to learn: “His Sunday talks when he was prime minister, on the Thai language, history and culture, was a weekly enjoyment as I could close my ears to his political views.” – from a letter by Songdej Praditsmanont.

At the end of the day, many of his political enemies would pay him their last respects on his funeral. Newin, who blocked his return to PMship last year and later defected to join Democrats, went to Samak’s bathing rights already. He was duly booed by some reds, as were Democrats themselves, even though Newin cannot be really called Samak’s protagonist.

Samak started his political career in Democrat party, btw. Of course it was a different outfit than it is now but it’s an interesting factoid to reflect on.

I wish I could conclude by saying customary RIP, but, I think Samak wouldn’t have cared even a little about that. He never wanted any reconciliation with his “enemies”, he never felt the need to apologize for any of the things he is accused of, so I don’t think extending that unwarranted forgiveness is necessary, as in “Samak, we forgive you, RIP”. Crap.

I’d rather ask for his blessings instead, he doesn’t need any of mine.

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7 Responses

  1. Interesting.
    IMO the ‘bad’ guys are not all bad, and the ‘good’ guys are not all good – we should acknowledge both the good and the bad of each.

    • In a same way we don’t hold ALL reds directly responsible for Songkran, or for mob killings in Chiang Mai. If Samak’s overall agenda in 1976 had any “right thing to do” element to it he should be treated just like reds who believe they campaign for democracy – well short of agreeing to their agenda but also well short of “straight to hell” curses.

      At this point I’m interested in why so many people, not only Navapol and Krating Daeng volunteers, but also intelligent, educated people from all levels, turned completely against students in just three years. What have they done to provoke such mass hatred?

      It could be that in 1973 students were used in a power struggle between the elites, and students themselves hoped to get rid of those new masters once the old masters were thrown out, and it didn’t work. Or maybe it’s not just the elites but the whole society that was opposing their republican ideas. Just imagine how radical they would have been in those times. October 1976 then would have been just an ugly part of a much bigger picture, just like PAD guards or red violence.

      • Unfortunately intelligent, educated people are capable of doing barbaric acts in the name of …………..
        On my latest blog comment I pointed you in a direction that might give you some clues as to the psycholgy of such people.

        also, does Handley have anything to say on the topic in TKNS?
        (I dont have a copy, as I borrowed it from the local library – something you might not be able to do in Thailand:)

  2. Unfortunately intelligent, educated people are capable of doing barbaric acts in the name of …………..
    On my latest blog comment I pointed you in a direction that might give you some clues as to the psycholgy of such people.
    (see comment #10, or Google: Bangkok Pundit – Those Foreigners and Their Foreign Publications)
    Sorry but you blog does not seem to accept links – the posts just disappear (might be a WordPress settings issue)

    also, does Handley have anything to say on the topic in TKNS?
    (I dont have a copy, as I borrowed it from the local library – something you might not be able to do in Thailand:)

  3. An idea just struck me. Perhaps the reason why so many people adore Samak (despite all his deplorable past deeds) is just like why so many Americans love Sarah Palin?

    • Maybe, but, unlike Palin, Samak has had a long career in politics on the national level and he build himself a reputation. In 2000 governor elections his slogan was “If you want to use me, choose me”.

  4. Apparently Samak, Chuan, and Uthai Pimchaichon were on the same debating team at Thammasat. Who could have imagined, given how far they strayed from each other over the years. Or maybe it just shows that our left-right or any other taxonomy is inadequate when applied to Thai political landscape.

    Why did Samak leave Democrats? Back in those days they were branded as reactionary right wing. Were they not elitist enough for him?

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