13 April 2010

The Moment of Truth in Bangkok

Ladies and gentlemen, you can call the Red Shirt/Yellow Shirt battle in Bangkok right now. The moment of truth arrived and the Yellows were found wanting.

In any struggle, cultural, economic or military, there is a critical point when all the talking is set aside and you either can or cannot back the talk with action.

In the arena of strong man governments versus street protesters, there is one eternal moment of truth: if the government unleashes the troops and can’t clear the streets immediately, its power is broken.

This rule has been proved time and again for at least the last 60 years.

It was true in the Philippines in 1986 when CIA pinup boy and all round tough guy Ferdinand Marcos told the marines to step to with protestors led by hilariously named Cardinal Sin who was calling for peace, love and a bit less political assassination.

As soon as you saw a bunch of nuns send the marines scurrying back to base with extra homework and promises to say ten Hail Mary’s before bed time, you could tell old Ferdie would be “the former President” before you could say “Bloodless coup”.

What was true in Manilla in ’86 was true in Russia in '91. Few even remember the pathetic coup d’etat the old hardliners tried to pull in the dying days of the Soviet Union. Long story short, the head of the KGB,Vladimir Kryuchkov, and seven other supposed soviet heavy hitters managed to seize power from Mikhail Gorbachev.

However, when push came to shove on the streets of Moscow, their armour columns were stared down by Boris Yelsin (presumably in a rare moment of sobriety) and his unarmed crowd.

Wasn’t long before the plotters were in gaol and the Soviet Union was an historical footnote. Uncle Joseph must have turned in his grave that day.

You can fast forward through the Orange, Rose and every other colour revolution of the 90s for more proof.

Interestingly, the contra rule is also largely true: if the government tells the army to fire on civilians and the troops comply, it’s the end of the protest.

The Czechs and Slovaks were allowed to mess around for most of Spring and Summer of 1968, thumbing their noses at the Soviets. But when the hammer came down on 21 August, the 200,000 Russian troops executed their orders and cleared Prague in a single night.

Same same 20 years later in Tian'anmen Square. The Chinese Communist Party didn’t flinch in June 1989 and neither did the soldiers of the 27th Army. 21 years later, the CCP still rules the roost in Beijing.

And so it went in Iran last year. Turned out live fire and mass arrests trump Twitter and Facebook.

It's the last act of a desperate government to order troops to blast their opposition into submission. You fail to do that, and its all over red rover.

By sending in the troops, the government of Thailand's Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva rolled for the whole game. Tonight the troops are back at base and the Red shirts are still on the streets.

The Yellow shirts just came up craps.


  1. The Chinese also failed in their first attempt to restore order in 1989. The local army would not fire on their own people. It took about two weeks after martial law before the troops actually retook the square.

    There is still time for something dramatic to occur.

  2. Yet again I can't help myself with a full two cent's worth of commentary...

    I'd like to take the discussion to how it applies to the USA. My reason for doing this is two-fold. Firstly, I find it hilarious how the people of the USA respond to their government's actions with a hyprocritical vigour hard to find elsewhere, and secondly because of the tragic circumstance that Australia is likely to follow closely behind - hence bringing the hypothetical situation closer to my home.

    So, I wonder what it would take to drive the people of the USA to hit the streets in the spirit of revolution. I ask for the non-US citizen's opinion on whether people of the USA are equally likely (as the nations/examples mentioned in the blog) to try and overthrow their governing powers. My personal opinion is that the population of the USA has been desensitized to government control and influence, and is therefore unlikely to drive a revolution through people power. The boiling a frog in a pot effect.

    Readers, what is your opinion?

  3. Matt, Marcin,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Matt: I agree with your comment, but from my reading and recollection, the situation was different. The first push by the government in May 1989 was more a crowd control measure. They thought the police with some riot gear could dispel the crowds. When they went in on June 4 they brought tanks, APC and live ammo.

    On Saturday, the Thai gov sent in combat troops to take back the centre of town. Failure to do it now has the army saying maybe elections are needed...it looks like the situation is coming apart for the incumbents.

    Marcin: The US is interesting. They are the most heavily armed population in the world. Militias and anti gov groups seems to grow like mushrooms over there. So I agree its odd that one or more events haven't gotten out of control.

    I would love to hear from someone in the US for their views of whether the whole country is a tinderbox.

  4. Worth a read:


  5. Thank you Thai watch for this link. Its interesting to see there are wheels within wheels within wheels.