|Part I - Background
& A night on the bridge
Part II - Crossing the lines
Part III - A hot afternoon
Part IV - The shooting starts
Part V - Ian Neumegen, a foreigner killed in the disturbances
Part VI - Soldiers advance through Banglampoo
Part VII - Aftermath
Comments on the Black May 1992 story
(Posted on 2Bangkok.com on June 5, 2004)
After HM The King intervened with the famous public admonishing of the parties involved, the tension went out of the situation. Suchinda resigned and people started milling around the streets looking at bullet holes in the buildings.
A crowd looks at messages posted on trees along Ratchadamneorn Road.
Clearly, the 'bloody trees' along Ratchadamneorn were staged. Four-day old blood is not bright red and the soldiers, who were so meticulous in clearing away the remains of bodies, would not have missed a dozen bright red trees.
People seemed shaken and quietly disappointed at what had happened.
Among everyday people there was much talk and rationalization about what happened. People I knew wanted me to assure them that the Los Angeles rioting was much more serious than what happened in Bangkok and that this kind of thing happens everywhere.
They also pointed out that shooting protesters is not the Thai way, but compromise is (although shooting has been used repeatedly during the preceding 20 years). For the mostly older people I knew that did not sympathize with the protesters, the same rationalization applied--since the protesters would not comprise, there were dire consequences.
Back at work, a lady whose father was known to be 'highly
placed,' gave a speech to the junior staff explaining that the soldiers were
protecting Thai institutions from communists and that no one was shot. The other staff members were highly critical of her and, in an unusual move for Thais, openly challenged her views.
Later she confided to me that the younger staff were brainwashed by communists. When I told her I was an eyewitness to the shooting she fell into a surprised silence. I tried to show her the photos, but she did not want to see them.
Above and left: Crowds swarm around Democracy Monument
Ratchadamneorn was littered with a few burned out vehicles, but the street quickly got back to normal. The Royal Hotel by Sanam Luang had been trashed by soldiers who reportedly broke down every door in the hotel looking for protesters to arrest. I have always wanted to meet some foreigner who was staying there at the time to ask what it was like to have a soldier kick down your hotel room door.
It is likely that as the years pass more information will leak out about those who were killed and those who disappeared. The army has admitted there were some of each, but has never allowed access to information on where the dead were disposed of.
Before and after the event I witnessed several bizarre incidents that I do not intend to divulge now. Some are too sensitive to write about and others I do not quite understand. I would assume that the many factions involved in the disturbances were trying start rumors and cause incidents that would make their opponents look bad.
It is often noted that there is very little enduring public interest in the Black May 1992 events. What little that is written about it (in either English or Thai) is along the lines of "I did the right thing, but am very disappointed in everyone else." 2Bangkok.com gets plenty of feedback on practically every subject we mention, but there has been not a single response to the Black May pages (the first ones were posted earlier in the month) and few people have clicked through them all.
One of the results of the events was the drafting of a new 'people's constitution' which in part was designed to change Thai politics by eliminating the small regional, personality-based political parties. The intent was to eventually have a party or small coalition of powerful parties with a solid majority that could act decisively. The result of this reform was the Thai Rak Thai coalition government, which, ironically, has resulted in blunting many of the checks and balances in the 'people's constitution' and has been accused of acting dictatorially at times.
I felt honored to have witnessed the historic events of May 1992 and as a U.S. taxpayer was intrigued by the spectacle of U.S.-funded weaponry being turned on me. It was an interesting lesson--even if a country superficially looks like your country, one cannot be lulled into thinking it is anything like your country. Any day soldiers can shoot people and just walk away. I always point this out to my Los Angeles friends who contend police should have 'just shot' the rioters who looted L.A. earlier in May 1992. You cannot lose if you err on the side of mercy.
I took only five rolls of film during the disturbances. At the time there was no internet and I never dreamed that there would be any use for snapshots--other than to take them out of a box and relive the events in the future. Today the original developed prints look aged and yellow, as if they are many decades old...