NPR logo Bangkok's Perils From An Eyewitness


Bangkok's Perils From An Eyewitness

Thomas Fuller, the New York Times reporter who was interviewing a renegade Thai general when the senior soldier was shot in the head apparently by a sniper, has a piece worth reading in which he describes that scene, as well as the contrast between Bangkok's ordered architectural modernity and disordered politics.

Fuller gives a strong sense of the level of peril felt by many of those in Bangkok as political violence has grown.

I'm lying as flat as I can on the 15th-floor sun deck of my fancy apartment building wearing a set of ill-fitting body armor and a ballistic helmet. Below me, over the ledge, is Bangkok, a twinkling city that I've always thought looked better in the dark.

But not tonight. The darkness on this Friday is terrifying. Explosions boom across Lumpini Park and bursts of gunfire carry through the small alleys across the street. There is some unexplained shouting and the tinny, amplified voice of a woman who seems to be warning people to stay indoors. Bangkok is a battlefield.

A few parts of the piece jump out.

Fuller's report that he lay on the floor of apartment 15-stories up wearing a flak jacket and helmet made me wonder if he was experiencing the justifiable post-traumatic shock of someone who has just been eyewitness to an act of extreme violence.

As Fuller asserts directly in the piece, Bangkok is a combat zone. His experience is a reminder of the personal courage many journalists still practice to fight off fears for their own safety in order to go out onto the streets of dangerous cities around the world to report.

Later, Fuller makes a striking comparison that seems aimed at hitting U.S. readers where they live. Or better yet, where they shop.

Describing the goals and actions of anti-government protesters known as the red shirts, Fuller writes:

The red shirts, who have demanded new elections, have built barricades around one of Bangkok's glitziest neighborhoods and have forced the closure of shopping malls with combined floor space several times the size of the Mall of America in Minneapolis. This is not quite the Paris Commune, but it is the closest Bangkok has come to a lawless zone patrolled and managed exclusively by protesters.

The Thai government is trying to take back this area — the commercial heart of Bangkok — in an ongoing military operation, block by block.

Whether Fuller and his editors meant or not to make it seem like the Thai government is moving against the red shirts to make Bangkok safe for retailing, it does arguably read like that's the case.

Still, Fuller provides a useful thumbnail summary of the conflict, helpful for those whose familiarity with Thailand is mostly limited to its cuisine:

The protesters battling security forces this week are known as red shirts and draw their strength from the urban and rural poor. Their arch-rivals are the yellow shirts, a group whose core support comes from the elite and middle class. The Reds and Yellows are hardly the only factions in Thailand's highly fissured society. But they share a legacy of radicalizing Thailand's democracy by bringing politics into the streets.

For those who want more on what's happening in Thailand now, here are a couple additional pieces.

NPR's Corey Flintoff had a good explainer on the Thai situation. Also, the Washington think tank, the Center for International and Strategic Studies recently posted an informative question and answer piece featuring the director of its Southeast Asia program, Ernest Bower.