1Murdoch University, Perth, Australia
Amid a confused and unstable post-war political scene, Thai state actors used violence and intimidation to bolster their power and silence critics. In the 1940s and 1950s Thai police murdered several regional assemblymen and journalists, prominent activists who criticized the government’s alliance with the US in the Cold War and also the state’s neglect of rural welfare. This paper describes the context of the murders and argues that the state actors ignored the rights guaranteed to these men under the law since they had transgressed a customary notion of obedience to the powerful. The paper also argues that the murdered challenged not only the authority of the elite, but also the culture of “Thai-ness” – founded among other things on a staunch anti-communism — that was evolving as a hegemonic weapon against domestic enemies during the Cold War. As a result, activists lost their constitutional right to speak on politics and on behalf of less-well educated and poorer people. Indeed, they lost their right to live. The culture of impunity that developed from this time still today haunts Thai society and intimidates people into silence.
Dr Arjun Subrahmanyan lectures in Southeast Asian history at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia. He has a book forthcoming on the 1932 revolution in Siam that deposed the absolute monarchy, and has published widely on modern Thai political and social history.