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Suthichai Yoon Interviews Stephen Young

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National divide mystifies an old friend of Thailand

Published on September 9, 2009

In an exclusive interview with Nation editor-in-chief Suthichai Yoon, Professor Stephen Young - credited among those who discovered the bronze-age site of Ban Chiang in northeastern Thailand in 1966 (now a Unesco world-heritage site) - deplores the "ridiculous" national division he insists has resulted from Thaksin Shinawatra's "imperial" ambition.

This is the first of a two-part series. See the full version of the interview on the Nation Channel at 2pm this Friday.

Suthichai Yoon: Professor Young, you've been watching Thai politics closely, the red shirts, the yellow shirts, and of course you are part of Thailand as well. You grew up here, you went to the international school here. Looking from afar now, what do you think of Thailand; does it still have a future?

Professor Young: Well, I think that's the right question to ask. If you look at Thailand from afar, most foreigners don't know much about what's going on. The Western idea, the Western press coverage is very superficial.

SY: Even the New York Times?

PY: Yes, the New York Times especially. The Washington Post. The Economist. Foreigners don't know the way the Thais think. I'm more worried now about Thailand than ever before. When I first came here in 1961, that was 48 years ago, and my father was the American ambassador, we had a wonderful family relationship with Thailand. Maybe different from many foreigners. I don't speak Thai so well anymore, but I have a feeling that there's something special to us, to our family, my father, my mother, or myself, my brother, my sister about Thailand. We care about Thailand. My dad was close to His Majesty, close to [ex-PM Field Marshal] Sarit [Thanarat], and in 1961 there was this [big] gap between the Bangkok elite and the rural poor, a real gap. So, today, 2009, when I hear the red shirts say there's a gap between Bangkok and ban nok [upcountry], I think it's ridiculous. Today, there's a gap, but in 1961 it was much bigger.

I just went back to Ban Chiang. When I went there 43 years ago, there was no electricity, no flush toilet, and if you needed hot water, you had to boil it. Chicken was too expensive. You had to eat little fish from the pond. Today there's electricity, flush toilets, hot water and ATM machines. Most of the houses have Internet.

SY: At that time, there wasn't even a telephone.

PY: No telephone. Radios. I remember we had radios with batteries. The strongest station was communist Chinese, broadcasting Chinese propaganda, so I remembered sitting in Ban Chiang listening to Chinese communist propaganda, and in Thai.

SY: From Beijing?

PY: From Beijing. Radio Beijing. Today it's television, international television. The people are watching soccer games in Europe. The people have cell phones. A lady who was with me was calling another lady to tell the car to pick me up at the airport. This is modern Thailand. So many changes. In 1961 it was my dad, with the passion of His Majesty and Field Marshal Sarit. He was a dictator, a military dictator, he was a tough guy, but he cared about the people, especially Isaan [the Northeast], and His Majesty also cared about Isaan. So the government began all these programmes. The roads in Ban Chiang are all cement. Before, it was dirt road. Thailand has done so much and I think in particular, the people in Bangkok, the Bangkok elite. In particular His Majesty deserves appreciation for what he's done for Thailand. So when I hear all these strange things about Thailand not having this and that, the need to change, some intellectuals want to run a revolution or something, I think this is crazy. It makes no sense to me.

SY: Why do you think they have this rumbling about change?

PY: My feeling, quite frankly, is that this goes back to the ambition of one man.

SY: Thaksin?

PY: Thaksin. And I ask myself why is he such a threat to Thailand?

SY: You knew him before?

PY: No. Only by reputation. When I first heard of him, when he started the Shin Corporation, what I heard was: he's a police major who got a contract from the government for telephones after one of the coups. Now I ask myself, back then, 1993, something like that, how do you get a contract from the government? What do you have to do to get a contract? And I noticed Khun Thaksin made more money, became more wealthy, all because he has a government licence.

SY: A monopoly.

PY: A monopoly, not because he was out there working like other people. He had a monopoly that the government gave him. The Thai people represented by the government gave him an exclusive, elitist, monopolistic special privilege. This is aristocracy. This is elitism. This is not a man who started poor in a village and worked his way up. He has special connections and I've seen him use many special connections. But I've never seen Thai society so divided. Even the divisions over the West during the time of King Rama 4 and 5 were not this serious, neither was the division over the communists. The communists failed in Thailand. They could not divide the Thai people.

Thaksin has divided the Thai people and this is sad. The Thai people should not be so divided and angry. Even my family friends, the family is divided. Some of the brothers and sisters are yellow, and some are red. And around the dinner table, they argue and get angry. So I think ... sabai ... where did it go?

SY: But Thaksin claimed that he changed the face of Thai politics. He made the masses, the rural people, speak up for the first time. It's the first time they benefited from politics. They can touch, consume and eat politics.

PY: I think that's ridiculous. Rural people in their communities have always had their patrons. They can always have some influence in this group and that group. I have my view, my patron. I look up to you, you take care of me. You are at the provincial level and you reach the Bangkok level, so I can get it to the Bangkok level only through you. This has been true for a long time.

Thaksin is in exile. He wants a pardon, he wants his money back, he doesn't want the conviction. Other Thai political leaders have not acted like that, if you look back.

SY: All the way back to Pridi Panomyong?

PY: Before that. We had the coup of 1932 and Prince Nakornsawan, the powerful Chakri prince, was asked to leave. He did, and he died in exile and never came back. His Majesty King Prachatipok felt there was a new situation and he abdicated. He went to England. He died in England. At his cremation, in 1941 I think, there were his queen and several relatives. No complaints. Pridi: He felt the situation changed. He left. General Pao, the powerful police general, left when Sarit took over and did not come back. Sarit, after he died, there was an argument how much money he made and the government took the money back. The family did not argue. Khun Thanom lost his money and went into exile. So I ask myself why is Thaksin different? Why doesn't he think like a Thai?

SY: Why?

PY: I think it's because he's not really a Thai Thai. He has other ideas in his head. He does not say kreng jai. He does not think about merit and sin. He thinks about how he can be a powerful man. He wants to be the leader of everybody, the big boss of everybody. This kind of thinking to me reflects not Thai Buddhism, but Chinese imperial thinking. The imperial thinking of the Chinese emperor. The Chinese theory. If you read about this, and I've studied a lot about it, we see this thinking.

So everything that Thaksin does, how he ran his government, how he put his money here and there, it's just like 2,000 years ago. Same thinking. This idea was that, above the earth is heaven, or tian, and there's one man- and underneath is everybody else. And when Thaksin wants to control the government, police, army, judges, businesses, TV, newspapers - that's bringing everything under him. No Thai leader in history has ever tried to do this. King Naresuen never tried to do this. King Rama I didn't try to do this. This is something new and different. Therefore, the Thai people are divided over this. Something new was added by Thaksin.

Professor Stephen B Young is the global executive director of the Caux Round Table and an editorial commentator for Twin Cities Daily Planet newswire. He was educated at the International School Bangkok, Harvard College (graduating Magna Cum Laude) and Harvard Law School (graduating Cum Laude). He was a former assistant dean at Harvard Law School and former dean of Hamline University School of Law. He is widely recognised for his knowledge of Asian history and politics, and has taught at various prestigious institutes. His articles have been published in well-known newspapers including the New York Times.

TV interview in full:

http://hiptv.mcot.net/listProgramCat.php?catId=92

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why close the old thread and start a new one?..... couldn't you just have tagged this onto the other?..... think people will have lost interest now.....or perhaps you're just trying to appeal to goldfish with 7 second memory spans or those of us with Altzeheimers...if so great job!

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Oddly this interview came up on my Facebook page,

so I came by it backwards.

Mr. Young is spot on on so many things.

It's wonderful to see someone with 48 years here

validate much of my observations of a much shorter time frame.

And trolls be damned this article hit's the target perfectly,

while they in their pathos and obtuseness, are only preaching to

their own reddened choir of uncivil acolytes.

--------------------------------------------------

If Young is a tool he is a high precision one,

well oiled and stored in his case each night,

because there is no rust on him at all.

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Praising the Thai elite - for what exactly?

Suggesting that the Issan people have always had a voice in government so therefore are making a fuss over nothing now - really.

He's part of the old elite himself. Self-serving and out of touch.

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If you ignore his ridiculous argument regarding development in Isaan, his comments regarding Chinese and his over apologetic stance/praise for the old elite and what they did for the rural poor, he does make some very good points and arguments regarding Thaksin and the current situation as a result of him.

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If you ignore his ridiculous argument regarding development in Isaan, his comments regarding Chinese and his over apologetic stance/praise for the old elite and what they did for the rural poor, he does make some very good points and arguments regarding Thaksin and the current situation as a result of him.

I agree. Most of his comments were utter rubbish.

He did make a few obvious and points about Taksin that might seem insightful to people who have never heard Taksin being more Chinese that Thai etc etc.

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Actually, I thought most of his comments regarding Thaksin, while nothing new, gave a good overall picture of the current crisis. Although I don't think he really touched on the underlying issues, as they would not be favourable to the old elite who he obviously wants to keep sweet.

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He sounds like a bit of a tool to me.

Sounds like a man with vast knowledge of Thailands political history to me.

With regards to the current situation and Thaksin I think he has summed it up pretty well.

What seems to be lacking is any aknowledgment of the political views of Thaksins supporters. He seems to speak of a Thai way and Thai Thai's in the way that avoids obvious, uncomfortable questions or political confrontation. I understand there is only a small amount of representation of his views in the article but it would be nice to hear how the views of a large majority or rural Thais should be heard if not democraticaly. The social divide has improved greatly over the past decades but that is not unique to Thailand. Critisisms of politicians puting money here and money there are of course valid but reverting to a Monarchy/military elitist run state would be more fitting with the discription of politics 2000 years ago.

It was great to read the article. Imformitive and a pleasure to hear his views, but it felt a little Patriotic, Maybe Thai Thai? And failed to address a bigger and maybe inevitable question. Thaksins menacing, detremental effects on the country are summed up very well. However, the feelings and views of a large percentage of the population are not.

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why close the old thread and start a new one?..... couldn't you just have tagged this onto the other?..... think people will have lost interest now.....or perhaps you're just trying to appeal to goldfish with 7 second memory spans or those of us with Altzeheimers...if so great job!

the old thread, now closed, is here: http://www.thaivisa.com/forum/National-Div...nd-t296650.html

the discussion was interesting over there, participants wrote some longer quality entries, critically analyzing the interview. i am afraid that flow is now interrupted, halted.

for the interview itself- i am at a loss for words. unbelievable.

i recommend to watch the video version, it has few highlights more, that are not in the transcription (e.g. Young use the word Farang, it becomes foreigner in the transcription) the camera work, cuts between the cameras at differents positions,the edit of those shots. the interaction between Suthichai and Young, the way how Young act when he explains to Suthichai American loyalty, chinese hocus-pocus and what 'real thai' is. look at his body language when he delivers his first lines "most farang don't know much about what's going on" the sign language Young use to explain the difference beween a gap and a BIG gap, helping the native Asian interviewer to understand what his American friend talks about. Suthichai just let him talk, response with ooh, ahh, i see, mmhm uh-hu and smiles all the time.

PY: Today there's electricity,

PY: flush toilets,

PY: hot water

PY: aaaannnnddd

PY: ATM machines.

SY: Wow!

PY:ATM machines in Ban Chiang! Most of the houses have...

at 2:40 on this

entertaining. he talks so much nonsense and that is in print and on TV. unbelievable.

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Please look at the round table that he belongs to. Then look at the where the financial support for that round table is drawn.

I have not attacked the character of Mr Young, and I am sure he is a fine gentleman. However, he is from what is known as the Beacon Hill crowd. If you know Boston, you will understand what I mean. They have a different perspective on things. Let me put it this way, no one of the demographics associated with an impoverished Thai ever went through the front door on Beacon Hill. The rear entrance was for them. Even lace curtain Irish had their problems on Beacon Hill.

I do not doubt that Mr. Young is a friend of Thailand. The question though is which Thailand? Mr. Young is indeed a credible voice in respect for those that grew up wealthy in Thailand. As a credible voice for those that suffered during the CIA backed commie hunts or that grew up poor in Thailand, I think not. US foreign policy of that era has since been shown to have been flawed and predicated on false assumptions, but it was a product of the fears and concerns of that era. Mr. Young reminds me of the character Charles Emerson Winchester on the old MASH TV series. He wasn't bad, or evil, just in his own world.

There is no argument that Mr. Thaksin had and still has his faults. However, the continuing use of him as the scapegoat for all of Thailand's current problems is ridiculous. The problems we see today were a long time in the making. There is blame for everyone.

This also provides an opportunity for me to clarify a term that I had used in my original post. A moderator was kind enough to amend it to read "servant". I apologize and regret any offense that may have been given to some as it was not my intent to use the term in a racist manner or disparage the people of Issan. (The penalty for that would be a smack across my head from one of my friends, so, no, I definitely was not trying to do that.)

Young was instrumental in getting the ball rolling in the Baan Chiang studies, but apart from his youthful days at the International School, he has not been a regular visitor and is no more a old friend of Thailand than any other kid from the ex-pat elite of yore who studied at the International School in Bangkok. (Note: there were also missionary kids at that school whose families are not part of the elite) He is not considered a major academic and certainly not a noted Thai scholar as in his era it was Cornell and not Harvard that was the center of Thai studies in the US.

Young is better known for promoting a politically conservative global pro-business agenda and as such should have embraced Thaksin. But Thaksin made only one key mistake and it had little to do with being more Chinese than Thai (note the articles by the truly noted Thai scholar Prof. Keyes on the subject of Thaksin using traditional Thai imagery), Thaksin was relatively new to the table and did not sufficiently share in the fruits of his administration with the older more established Bangkok players. If you want old school dictatorial intent then perhaps Young should spend more time musing on his family's friendship with Sarit.

I wonder why the Nation considered this particular 'old friend of Thailand' for an exclusive? The chap made some salient points but for the most part, his reasoning is flawed and hide-bound by the fuedal patronage system that his forebears enjoyed when he was growing up here. He considers his family was on the 'inside' and through that tenuous claim, bedded with this 'fabled' involvement with Baan Chiang, someone at the Nation considers this the perfect 'learned and revered' farang opinion on the current political debate. I guess they are too close-minded to consider that there's possibly some other, well-educated, younger farangs with deeper, more recent personal and commercial ties to Thailand with something more credible and relevant to say.

I am with geriatrickid and Johpa on this one. A farang 'elitist' speaks; take it or leave it. For what it's worth, I choose the latter. Thaksin did have the biggest nose in the trough and between feeds, chose to thumb it at (most of) the people that helped fatten his wallet and leveraged his fast-track entry to the elitist club. The elitists only have themselves to blame for clinging to the system that gave Thaksin the key to Pandora's Box.

There will be tears.

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National divide mystifies an old friend of Thailand

Published on September 9, 2009

In an exclusive interview with Nation editor-in-chief Suthichai Yoon, Professor Stephen Young - credited among those who discovered the bronze-age site of Ban Chiang in northeastern Thailand in 1966 (now a Unesco world-heritage site) - deplores the "ridiculous" national division he insists has resulted from Thaksin Shinawatra's "imperial" ambition.

This is the first of a two-part series. See the full version of the interview on the Nation Channel at 2pm this Friday.

* Edited for brevity by marshbags

TV interview in full:

http://hiptv.mcot.net/listProgramCat.php?catId=92

Do you think it would be a good idea to tag the closed thread with 50 posts in it onto this one for continuity please ?

It also contains a url for the second part of this important interview along with other observations that are relevant to it.

marshbags

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If Young is a tool he is a high precision one,

well oiled and stored in his case each night,

because there is no rust on him at all.

A "useful tool", maybe?

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Oddly this interview came up on my Facebook page,

so I came by it backwards.

Mr. Young is spot on on so many things.

It's wonderful to see someone with 48 years here

validate much of my observations of a much shorter time frame.

And trolls be damned this article hit's the target perfectly,

while they in their pathos and obtuseness, are only preaching to

their own reddened choir of uncivil acolytes.

He hasn't been here 48 years. He first came here 48 years ago.

It's wonderful to see somebody with a different opinion to yourself being labeled as a troll rather than a person with an opposing view point. Hardly a cutting edge weapon of debate. Why don't you try defending the fact that the points made by the professor against Thaksin concerning controlling the government, tv, newspapers etc and putting his money here and there were vastly overshadowed by the very same actions comitted by the Field Marshal the professor admired so much.

It seems on here a lot of posters (justified in many cases) hatred of Thaksin completely blinkers them to the minutest possibility that maybe the anti-Thaksin group might not have the best interests of Thai people at heart themselves.

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