Thammasat University massacre

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6 October 1976 Massacre
Sculpture of 6 October 1976 Memorial.jpg
6 October 1976 Massacre Memorial in Thammasat University, Bangkok
Location Thammasat University and at Sanam Luang in Bangkok, Thailand
Date 6 October 1976 (UTC +8)
Target Demonstration
Attack type
Shooting, bludgeoning, hanging,[1] burning alive,[2] rape[1]
Weapon(s) M-16 rifles, carbines, pistols, grenade launchers,
recoilless rifles[3]
Deaths 46 (official); more than 100 (Puey Ungpakorn/Chinese Benevolent Foundation)[4]
Non-fatal injuries
167 (official);
Perpetrators Border Patrol Police, commanded by Pol. Lt. Gen. Chumphon Lohachala;
Village Scouts
Red Gaur paramilitary
Bangkok local police[3]

The Thammasat University Massacre, or Massacre of 6 October 1976 (เหตุการณ์ 6 ตุลา), was an attack on students and protesters that occurred on the campus of Thammasat University and at Sanam Luang in Bangkok. Students from various universities were demonstrating against the return to Thailand of former military dictator Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn. By the official count, forty-six people died in the attack, during which protesters were shot, beaten and their bodies mutilated.[1] According to Puey Ungpakorn: "sources at the Chinese Benevolent Foundation, which transported and cremated the dead ... revealed that they had handled “over a hundred corpses.”[4]

After Thanom was replaced by a civilian prime minister in October 1973, an army faction headed by Major-General Pramarn Adireksarn began plotting a return to military rule. Right-wing paramilitary groups were armed and trained and a crackdown on left-wing activists was prepared. The Communist takeover of Indochina in 1975 at the end of the Vietnam War convinced many that Thailand could be the next communist target and that the nation's unruly left-wing students were "aiding the enemy".

The day before the massacre, a photo of a mock hanging by Thammasat demonstrators was published in the Bangkok press. To many, the students in the photo appeared to be hanging the Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn in effigy. In response, outraged paramilitary forces gathered outside the university that evening.

Lieutenant-General Chumphon Lohachala, deputy director of the national police, ordered an attack in the morning and authorized free fire on the campus. A junta headed by the defense minister, Admiral Sa-ngad Chaloryu, seized power immediately after the massacre. The membership of the junta was more moderate than that of Pramarn's faction and the relationship between the factions remains poorly understood.[1] The junta installed Tanin Kraivixien, a hard-line anti-communist and a royal favorite, as prime minister.

Background[edit]

People power establishes a democracy[edit]

Prior to 1973, Thailand for several decades had had a military dominated government with King Bhumibol Adulyadej serving as a ceremonial head of state. Student demonstrations on 14 October 1973 demanding a new constitution led to the "Three Tyrants" — Field Marshal Thanom Kittikachorn, Field Marshal Praphat Charusathien, and Col. Narong Kittikachorn — fleeing the country and leaving it leaderless. The prestige of the king was greatly enhanced when he appeared to side with the demonstrators by appointing Sanya Dharmasakti, the highly regarded chancellor of Thammasat University, as prime minister.[5] The student leftists, meanwhile, grew critical of the army's counterinsurgency campaign and even accused it of committing atrocities and blaming them on the communists.[6] In December 1974, coup plotters brought Thanom back to Thailand, but he left almost immediately as public opinion was solidly opposed to a return of military rule at this time.[7]

An elected, parliamentary government under Prime Minister M.R. Seni Pramoj, leader of the center-right Democrat Party, was established in February 1975. As there was no clear majority in parliament, the government was politically unstable, with Seni replaced in April by his more liberal brother M.R. Kukrit Pramoj, who led the center-left Social Action Party. An international economic downturn and the rise of student activism led to more strikes and farmer protests.

Anti-Communists prepare a crackdown[edit]

The communist takeover of South Vietnam following the Fall of Saigon in April 1975, and in particular the seizure of power in Laos by the communist Pathēt Lao in June, had a great effect on Thai public opinion. Many feared Thailand would be the next target of the Communists, and felt that left-wing activists were aiding the enemy.[8] In August, Bangkok police went on a rampage through the Thammasat campus, a rehearsal for the later massacre.[9] A military coup was impossible as long as Kukrit was backed by army chief General Boonchai Bamroongpong, a protégé of General Krit Srivara, a popular hero because of his role in the events of October 1973.

January 1976 was a month of upheaval, strikes and gigantic rallies that left the prime minister without a parliamentary majority, This convinced many formerly constitutionalist army officers that a coup might be necessary to restore stability. An increase in the price of rice provoked a general strike. Kukrit capitulated to the demands of the unions, and the right wing was outraged. A rally of 15,000 organized by the paramilitary group Nawaphon and Defense Minister Pramarn demanded Kukrit turn power over to the military.[10] The rally was led by the controversial Buddhist monk Kittivudho Bhikkhu, who bizarrely had stated that killing Communists was not a sin. A group of liberal MPs from the Democrat Party broke with the ruling coalition and joined with the left-wing opposition. Boonchai vetoed the idea of a left-leaning ruling coalition,[11] forcing Kukrit to dissolve parliament and schedule an election for April 4.[11] This was too close a call even for moderate army officers. The Laotian example of a left-leaning coalition government being taken over by communist was still fresh. Admiral Sa-ngad, the supreme commander of the armed forces, submitted plans for a coup.[12] (The supreme commander outranks the army chief, but the position is less influential.)[citation needed]

In contrast to the Krit/Sa-ngad clique, Pramarn's group included plotters who had never completely accepted parliamentary government or the ouster of Field Marshal Thanom: right-wing Democrats, Chart Thai Party members, and officers of the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC). The two coup plots would advance separately over the next few months, a re-emergence of the Krit vs Thanom army factionalism of 1973.

Pramarn's Chart Thai Party used the slogan "Right kill left" to contest the April election.[13] There were 30 murders associated with this election.[9] The Democrat Party, backed by both Krit and the U.S. Embassy, won over 40 percent of the seats, allowing party leader Seni to return as prime minister.[14] Kukrit's Social Action Party went into opposition, while the left-wing parties faced almost total rejection.[15] Krit died unexpectedly of a heart attack on April 28, 1976, just one week after being named defense minister for the Seni government.[16] He was succeeded by General Tawich Senivansa, a member of Pramarn's clique. Since the defense minister would select the new army commander when Boonchai retired in five more months, the position was critical. In August, Tawich arranged for Field Marshal Praphat to make a brief trip to Thailand to test public opinion.[17] Based on the reaction, Pramarn decided to bring back Thanom in hopes of provoking demonstrations that could be used as a pretext for a coup.[17] Seni attempted to head off further plotting by removing Tawich as defense minister. Samak Sundaravej, the sharp-tongued, coup-plotting deputy interior minister, harshly criticized Seni for this move in an unparliamentary outburst.[18][19] Samak's own dismissal followed on September 23.[18]

Order of battle[edit]

Several right-wing militia groups played major roles as perpetrators of the Thammasat student massacre. These groups were armed and trained by the army and by the Border Patrol Police beginning in late 1974 in preparation for a crackdown. Paul Handley, author of The King Never Smiles, a controversial biography of the king, describes the situation as "royal vigilantism".[20] Thai Marxist writer Giles Ji Ungpakorn compared these groups to the fascist paramilitary groups of 1930s Europe.[17]

Nawaphon (Thai: นว พล, power of nine)[21] was founded in 1974 by Wattana Kiewvimol and used the slogan "Nation-Religion-Monarchy".[22] The name also refers to King Bhumibol, the ninth king of the Chakri Dynasty.[21] This secretive group had about 50,000 members in mid-1975.[9] The group received covert military assistance from ISOC and conducted advanced military training for its members at Jittiphawan College, a Buddhist seminary in Chonburi Province founded by the rightwing monk Kittivudho.[21] This was said to include training in assassination, and the killing of a number of left-wing activists was attributed to Nawaphon.[23] Tanin, the post-coup prime minister, was a senior member of this group.[12]

The Red Gaur (กระทิงแดง, Krating Daeng) was founded in 1974 by Special Colonel Sudsai Hasadin, an ISOC officer.[nb 1][24] In mid-1975, it numbered 25,000 members, mainly vocational students, a group which had played a major part in the demonstrations against Field Marshal Thanom, but had now broken with the leftist students over their apparent embrace of communism.[9] The Red Gaur was Nawaphon's youth division.[25] Red is the colour of the former Thai national flag and is considered to represent a patriotism on the present banner. A gaur is a kind of wild buffalo. The group's slogan proclaimed it to be the "Anti-Communist Imperialism United Front".[25] Like the SA in Germany in the 1930s, Red Gaur members provoked fights with left-wing activists and trade unionists.[7] In February 1976, Red Gaurs threw bombs at a leftist protest, killing four students.[16] At a highly publicized event, the king test-fired Red Gaur weapons.[26]

The Volunteer Defense Corps or VDC (the Or Sor, also called the Village Scouts ลูกเสือชาวบ้าน,) formed in 1954 to provide law and order and emergency or natural disaster response, was expanded in 1974 when ISOC gained control,.[27] It was extended to urban areas to counter left-wing political activism.[28] A member of the royal family (often the queen) would present the identifying VDC kerchief to each village scout.[28] At one point, 1 in every 5 Thai adults was a member of the Village Scouts.[17]

When the leftist demonstrators took over the Thammasat University campus, the main organizations coordinating the activities were the National Student Centre and the Federation of Trade Unions.[25]

Crisis in October[edit]

Thanom returns[edit]

Samak, a confidant of the queen, flew to Singapore and told former military ruler Thanom that the palace had approved his return to Thailand.[5] When Thanom returned on September 19, he denied political motive and stated that he came to Thailand only to do penance at his father's deathbed.[29] He was ordained as a monk at Wat Bovornives, a temple closely associated with the royal family.[5] The ceremony was illegally closed to avoid challenges to the ordination and the temple was ringed by the Red Gaur.[5] When the king made a public visit to see Thanom, Prime Minister Seni responded by offering his resignation. This was rejected by parliament. Students protested Thanom's return at Sanam Luang in Bangkok on 30 September, but protests soon moved to the nearby campus of Thammasat University. Hoping to avoid a repetition of the police rampage that occurred the previous year, the university had canceled examinations and closed the campus. However, demonstrators broke down the gates to occupy the campus and stage a sit in.[29] Forty-three labor unions demanded that the government expel Thanom or face a general strike.[29]

Mock hanging provokes outrage[edit]

A photo of a mock hanging performed by the demonstrators at Thammasat was published on October 5 in two Bangkok newspapers, the English-language Bangkok Post and the vernacular Dao Sayam. Because the student actor who played the victim bore a certain resemblance to the crown prince, the demonstrators were accused of hanging in effigy a member of the royal family. It is sometimes claimed the photo was doctored to make the student resemble the crown prince, but all known surviving copies are identical.[17][nb 2] In reality, the mock hanging protested the murder of two trade unionists by police in Nakhon Pathom on September 25.[3] On the army's Tank Corps Radio, Utharn Sanitwongs and other announcers accused the students of lèse majesté and chanted "kill them" and "kill the communists."[3] Although the mock hanging has been the object of much attention, the organizers of the massacre would have found an alternative pretext had it not occurred.[17] By the evening of 5 October, there were 4,000 royalist paramilitaries at the gates of Thammasat,[3] where about 2,000 students were holding a sit in.[9]

Police attack campus[edit]

At a cabinet meeting held early on October 6, Pramarn Adireksarn, leader of the Chart Thai Party and deputy prime minister, stated that the time had come to end the student movement once and for all.[17] At about 5am the paramilitaries began to fire into the campus using military weapons. The Border Patrol Police shut all exits at about 7am. A dump truck smashed through the main gate and police rushed in at about 11am. Several students who were armed opened fire, but they were quickly overcome. Although the students pleaded for a ceasefire, Chumphon, the police commander, authorized free fire on the campus.[30] Students who tried to surrender were forced to lie on the ground. Several were beaten to death and then hanged.[29] Those who attempted to escape by jumping into the Chaophraya River were shot at from naval vessels.[30] Wimolwan, a nursing student, was shot dead while trying to swim to safety.[17] The attack lasted for several hours. Time described the event as a "A nightmare of lynching and burning":[29]

Suddenly the nightmare that Bangkok had dreaded was happening: a wild outbreak of kicking, clubbing, shooting, lynching. Youths hurled themselves into the river to keep from being shot. Then the blazing finale as a heap of gasoline-soaked bodies was set afire.[29]

About a thousand demonstrators were taken prisoner and humiliated by being stripped to the waist (though females were allowed to keep their bras on), made to crawl, or kicked.[29] Female students allegedly were raped, alive and dead, by police and Red Gaurs. Officially, there were 46 dead and 167 wounded.[1] The unofficial estimate of over 100 dead, by anonymous sources at the Chinese Benevolent Association (which disposed of the bodies),[4] was later accepted by the Washington Post (in 2001).[31] The massacre continued until noon, when it was halted by a rainstorm.[1] It was "brutality of the utmost barbarity against workers, students and peasant activists," according to Giles.[17] The Border Patrol Police, Red Gaur, Nawaphon, and the Village Scouts rallied at the Royal Turf Club at about 4pm and proceeded to Government House, where they demanded and received Seni's resignation.[29]

At 6:30pm, the National Administrative Reform Council (NARC), a 24-member military junta headed by Sa-ngad, seized power. Sa-ngad had been appointed defense minister by Seni on September 25. NARC was a group of moderate officers who acted to prevent Pramarn's extreme right-wing faction from seizing power.[17] The fact that Chumphon was willing to go on record authorizing the shootings suggests he knew that a coup was imminent, as a civilian government would have prosecuted him.[30]

Aftermath[edit]

Rise and fall of ultraroyalism[edit]

The coup was greeted with widespread relief because the crisis sparked by Thanom's return had created enormous anxiety.[29] "It was the pattern of several previous coups...initiating violence, leaving the police to show they could not establish order, then allowing the military to step in," wrote Handley.[32] This time the manipulation of public fear was particularly brazen since the king had introduced the catalyst for the violence by allowing Thanom to return, claims Handley.[32] The outrage triggered by the photo of the mock hanging introduced a spontaneous element, but the pattern of training and recruiting paramilitary forces during the previous year showed that violence against leftists was planned well in advance.[32] Four days after the massacre, says Handley, the crown prince distributed awards to paramilitary personnel involved.[32]

On October 8, NARC installed royal favorite Tanin Kraivixien as prime minister. Disregarding the junta's "shortlist", Thanin picked a cabinet of his own confidants, including Samak as interior minister.[33] Sa-ngad remained as defense minister and recently retired army chief Boonchai was appointed deputy prime minister. Three thousand suspected leftists were rounded up, all media was put under censorship, and membership in a communist organization was made punishable by death.[29] There were sweeping purges of the universities, media, and civil service.[9] Democracy would be restored gradually under a 12-year plan.[34] This was the most fiercely royalist and anti-leftist government in Thai history, but it also cracked down hard on corruption. About 800 urban leftists fled to the Communist-controlled border areas after the coup.[35] A wave of guerilla attacks followed, but these peaked in early 1977.[35]

Thanin's ultranationlism quickly alienated almost every segment of Thai society.[36] NARC staged another coup in October 1977 and replaced Thanin with one of its own members, Gen. Kriangsak Chomanan, who promised to speed up Thailand's return to democracy.[nb 3] The Communist Party of Thailand declined after Moscow-backed Vietnam invaded Beijing-allied Cambodia in 1979. This led to closer Sino-Thai relations and to a cutoff of Chinese aid for the Thai insurgents.

Massacre as history[edit]

None of the perpetrators of the 1976 massacre have been brought to justice and the issue is extremely sensitive in Thailand. The members of the junta have been amnestied, but there is no legal bar to prosecuting the other people who were involved.[37] Many modern history textbooks in Thailand completely skip this event or include one-sided police reports from the time that claim student protesters had turned violent. Some play down the massacre as a 'misunderstanding' between the two sides, while even the most accurate are watered down versions of the event.

Thammasat University holds an annual event to display newspapers showing the atrocity, along with eyewitness accounts and historical records. A memorial was built on campus in 1996.[38]

Samak was elected prime minister in 2008. When questioned about his role, he stated, "Only one died," and that one by accident.[39] In an interview with CNN aired 9 and 10 February, the prime minister responded to questions about the massacre by saying he had been "an outsider by that time". He referred to, "One unlucky guy being beaten and burned in Sanam Luang".[39] (This is a reference to artist Manas Siensingh, whose body was pulled from a pile of corpses and mutilated before cheering onlookers.)[39][40]

An instance of a corpse being beaten with a chair is shown on the single cover, "Holiday in Cambodia", by the Dead Kennedys. The victim was a second-year student from Chulalongkorn University.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Sudsai was minister to the office of the prime minister in 1981-1983.[1]
  2. ^ The disputed image may be viewed here.
  3. ^ Tanin's 12-year plan was revived by Prime Minister Prem Tinsulanonda, Kriangsak's successor and a royal favorite. Thailand did not get an elected prime minister again until 1988.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Handley, Paul M. The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej. Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-10682-3, p. 236.
  2. ^ Michael Leifer: Dictionary of the Modern Politics of South-East Asia, article "Thammasat University Massacre 1976", Taylor & Francis, 1995, p. 163
  3. ^ a b c d e Handley, p. 235.
  4. ^ a b c Puey Ungpakorn, 1977, "Violence and the Military Coup in Thailand" Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, vol. 9, no. 3 (July–September), p8.
  5. ^ a b c d Handley, p. 234.
  6. ^ Handley, p. 218.
  7. ^ a b Handley, p. 226.
  8. ^ "he said that this is a domino theory....Thailand will be number four domino." Interview with Samak Sundaravej (recovered 8:06 PM 2/22/2008)
  9. ^ a b c d e f "October 1976 Coup", GlobalSecurity.org.
  10. ^ Handley, p. 229.
  11. ^ a b Neher, Clark D., Modern Thai politics: from village to nation (1979), p. 376.
  12. ^ a b Handley, p. 230.
  13. ^ Handley, p. 219.
  14. ^ Neher, p. 395.
  15. ^ Neher, p. 382.
  16. ^ a b Handley, p. 231.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Ungpakorn, Ji Giles, "From the city, via the jungle, to defeat: the 6th Oct 1976 bloodbath and the C.P.T.", Radicalising Thailand: New Political Perspectives. (2003) Institute of Asian Studies, Chulalongkorn University.
  18. ^ a b "Samakography : Part 1," Bangkok Pundit.
  19. ^ Walker, Andrew, "Samak Sundaravej", New Mandala
  20. ^ Handley, p. 214.
  21. ^ a b c Handley, p. 225.
  22. ^ Leifer, Michael, Dictionary of the modern politics of South-East Asia (2001), p. 199.
  23. ^ Handley, pp. 225-226.
  24. ^ Glassman, Jim, Thailand at the Margins: Internationalization of the State and the Transformation of Labour (2004), p. 68.
  25. ^ a b c Harris, Nigel "Thailand: The Army Resumes Command" Notes of the Month, International Socialism (1st series), No.93, November/December 1976, pp.8-9.
  26. ^ Handley, p. 232.
  27. ^ Handley, p. 223.
  28. ^ a b Handley, p. 224.
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "THAILAND: A Nightmare of Lynching and Burning, Time, October 18, 1976.
  30. ^ a b c Handley, p. 255.
  31. ^ "Deaths" [Obituary for Sudsai Hasadin], Washington Post, August 18, 2001).
  32. ^ a b c d Handley, p. 237.
  33. ^ Handley, p. 259.
  34. ^ Handley, p. 267.
  35. ^ a b Franklin B. Weinstein, "The Meaning of National Security in Southeast Asia,". Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, November 1978, pp. 20-28.
  36. ^ Handley, p. 246
  37. ^ Handley, p. 266.
  38. ^ "6 October 1976 and the real cover-up", Jotman.com.
  39. ^ a b c Interview with Samak Sundaravej (recovered 8:06 PM 2/22/2008)
  40. ^ Bryce Beemer, Forgetting and Remembering "Hok Tulaa", the October 6 Massacre

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]