At the end of my novel, A Wife in Bangkok, rumors are swirling about an impending coup d’état by the military against the democratic government. There was indeed a coup in the fall of 1976 that ended Thailand’s less-than-three-year old experiment in democracy, which itself was the first democratically-elected government in 40 years. My family and I were living in Bangkok at that time. The streets were full of soldiers, police, and military equipment.
Students at the premier Thammasat University in Bangkok, along with others, protested vociferously against the re-imposition of military rule, much as young people in Thailand today are protesting military rule and, to some extent, the role of the monarchy. On October 6, 1976, the military moved to break up the protests at the university and a large number of students, perhaps as many as 100, were killed and many more were wounded. One student was lynched on the university gates and left hanging for a period of time as a warning to others. Thai friends who had positions in the democratic government or were otherwise involved with it became very upset and nervous, and some left the country. It was a long time until the Thai population learned what had happened because there was strict censorship. For example, people who subscribed to Time magazine or other Western news sources received their copies with the stories about Thailand literally cut out. And Thai news sources were not allowed to cover what had happened. Only those Westerners whose mail had diplomatic status could receive the truth and share it.
Today, with massive pro-democracy demonstrations continuing in Bangkok and worries in the U.S. about the status of our democracy if election results are not accepted, I think back to what it was like to live in a place where freedom of expression and democracy were not the accepted norm.