QUESTION: My friend is Chinese. He said you are very popular in Asia because you understand the Asian mindset. I believe when the military stepped-in in Thailand against the politicians, you were not concerned about a military-type coup and said it was different from the West’s experience. Would you care to explain that position? Really curious.
ANSWER: The Thai people are among the most polite in the world. Military coups d’eÌ tat occurred in Thailand in 2006 as well as back in 1947, 1991 and 2006. The Thai military acts as a political army which is very different from military coups in the West. The Thai military determines the combination of factors necessary for the military to step into the political system which stems from the kingdom’s ancient beginnings. The 1932 coup d’eÌ tat overthrew the absolute monarchy and defended the people. In the 1980s, they established the founding principles of the military and its historical role in politics, both of which contribute to the values and identity of Thailand’s military as an institution.
If you actually look closely and make a comparison of the precoup periods to the events that lead directly to the coup event, there is clearly a common set of factors necessary for the military to stage a successful coup. These factors include political stalemate, affronts to Thai values, and direct threats to the interests of the nation. Thailand’s military is compelled to act as a political army due to the birthright principle, civilian incompetence, and military competence.
The Thai people do not see such military intervention as the same thing as in the case of European history from Hitler to events in Spain and Italy for example. Ironically, they follow more along the lines of the principles of the Roman dictator Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus (519–430 BC). He was an aristocrat and statesman who served as consul in 460 BC and dictator in 458 BC and 439 BC, which made him a model of integrity and virtue. The Romans regarded Cincinnatus as a hero.
When Rome was invaded, Cincinnatus was called to serve Rome as a dictator, which was an office for one year. He defended the nation and then resigned two weeks later after defeating the rival tribes of the Aequians, Sabines, and Volscians. His immediate resignation of power demonstrated his integrity and lack of personal ambition.
George Washington would not accept the office of president until he had resigned as a military leader and returned to private life. The Founding Fathers were deeply impressed with the battle of Rome against its Tarquin king that gave birth to a republic. George Washington followed and created the Order of the Cincinnati and wanted to follow his integrity.
The Thai military in its coups has followed the same path. Their interventions and unlike those of various military dictatorships in European history. They step in, deal with corruption, and then surrender power back to the political state. They may not be expressly following the man Cincinnatus, but they have exercised the very same basic principle. The proof of that is the simple fact that they returned the power to the political system.