Democracy Under Attack

The Return of Military Rule to Thailand

By Reed Szymanski

Anti government protestors celebrate after Thailand’s army chief announced that the armed forces were seizing power. Source: National Journal

If you have read the book 1984 by George Orwell, I doubt many things scare you more than the curfews and restrictions on journalism, freedom of expression, and personal liberty that come with martial law illustrated in the book. Unfortunately, Thailand was put under martial law last Thursday when the military staged a coup d’état and took over the country.

Liberty in Thailand has virtually disappeared since the military seized power. Mass gatherings and political demonstrations are banned, curfews are in place, and people with anti-government sentiments are being unjustly detained. One of the first courses of action the military decided to take was ordering 35 individuals, many of whom were academics and journalists, to report for military detention. The military’s representative said the people on the list needed, “time to think.”

Recent events in Thailand may be astonishing, but they are not unique to the nation’s history. Thailand was ruled by the military from 1947-1973. Since 1973, Thailand’s government has experienced a multitude of coup attempts by the military, and corruption scandals in the legislature. The nation has a long history of political instability and unrest, as well as frequent military coups d’état. However, despite these factors, the United States has remained a steady ally and supporter of Thailand since before the Vietnam War. But should its support continue, or have been given in the first place?

The recent actions of Thailand’s military have provoked the U.S. to reduce its military aid by 3.5 million dollars; however that is a mild response considering it is only 35 percent of the 10 million dollars in military aid that the U.S. has promised to give Thailand. Also, despite recent events, the United States military is still conducting joint exercises with Thailand’s military. Why is this the case? The U.S. is clearly weary of losing an ally in Asia, especially when countries like Russia and China continue to expand their power. Nevertheless, is that enough of a reason to justify turning a nearly blind eye to oppressive military rule?

The United States has long supported the right to expression and association. We, as a nation, have long had strong ideological opposition to any form of State tyranny. If we sacrifice the political beliefs that are the literal foundation of our society for national security and policy interests, are we still Americans? We cannot uphold our own constitution and praise the ideological foundation of our political beliefs, and then ignore another country’s violations of those beliefs by conducting joint military exercises with them and giving them military funding. If we are willing to abandon our domestic political beliefs for the betterment of relations with countries like Thailand, we are no longer upholding our political heritage as a nation; rather, we are destroying it.

Regardless of our national security interests in Asia, the United States must freeze military funding and joint operations with Thailand. We cannot conduct joint military exercises or provide funding to a military that tramples on a people’s democratic rights, imprisons academic freethinkers, and forbids political demonstrations. The actions of military leaders in Thailand directly contradict the principles of freedom and liberty that this nation has always stood for. In response, the United States should be cutting all military aid to Thailand and freezing all joint military exercises.

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