By William Thomas
A coup, or more accurately a coup d’etat, is a sudden and usually violent overthrow of a country’s existing government by forces within the state itself.
Coups are rarely “bloodless.” The 1973 Chilean coup d’etat, in which General Augusto Pinochet overthrew President Salvador Allende and set up a 17-year dictatorship, was described as “political genocide where thousands of leftists disappeared.” At the outset of Argentina’s 1955 uprising to depose Juan Peron, the military bombed Buenos Aires’ main square, killing thousands of civilians.
So the purpose behind a traditional, violent military coup is to first secure control of the country, and in doing so, show its citizens that you mean business. Protesters must know that they could be next.
Last week, the Thailand military staged a military coup d’etat. They mounted a massive show of force with heavily-armed troops in Jeeps and tanks swarming the capital of Bangkok, as loud speakers declared the establishment of martial law. They were loaded for bear, determined to bury democracy and prepared to kill their own people in order to bring down the government. They were not, however, prepared for the “selfie.”
My morning paper carried five photographs taken on the streets of Bangkok, just as Thailand’s army was setting up barricades and positioning their gun-mounted vehicles in front of key government and media buildings. The centerpiece photo shows two well dressed women in front of a Jeep, with three army officers wielding automatic weapons. The woman on the left is smiling. The woman on the right is holding her smartphone at arm’s length in front of her. They are taking a “selfie” of themselves using the military coup as a backdrop. Instead of fleeing for their lives or racing home to warn their families of an impending civil war, these two women in summer dresses are posing in front of three soldiers who look terminally confused by their sudden celebrity status.
The other photos show two teenage girls with their arms around a young and embarrassed marine, a woman examining her screen to see if a second “selfie” is necessary, yet three more women taking pictures of themselves with automatic weapons and a goofy looking guy who has borrowed a helmet and is sitting behind the wheel of soldier’s Jeep. The young man is smiling with both hands on the wheel like he’s just crossed the finish line first at the Soapbox Derby.
Thitinan Pongsudhirak, an authority on Thai politics, is quoted in the article as saying: “It’s technically martial law but it doesn’t feel like it.” He’s right. The coup looked a lot like a “Take Your Family To Work Day” at Royal Thai Army Headquarters.
As a bit of a history buff and someone who never ceases to be amazed by how history keeps repeating itself in the form of colossal blunders, I wanted to scream.
“Hey! Those guys in uniform you’re cuddling up next to, they’re here to kill your freedom and imprison your brothers and put you under house arrest!”
“No, don’t ask that marine to remove his sunglasses because you’re getting a reflection on your camera, tell him to drop his weapon in the name of democracy!”
“Don’t put your arm around that soldier like you’re old friends. He’s the enemy. Get behind him, grab the chain that holds his dog tags and garrote him while you have the chance!”
“Pretty soon your food will be rationed, your father will disappear and you’ll be travelling through manhole covers to attend secret meetings.”
On the other hand, this could be a good thing. I mean, if the shameless, self-importance of our younger generations can blunt the force of a military coup, it might also do away with war. Front line soldiers cannot be firing off weapons and tossing grenades while they’re waving for the camera and offering to take photos of tourists sitting in their military vehicles. Leaders once believed that the ungodly consequences of nuclear weapons might be the answer to world peace. Now it looks like it’s social media. Finally a real, practical purpose has evolved from all that inane nothingness of texting and twittering and exchanging billions of photos nobody cares about.
Winston Churchill once began a speech against martial law by saying: “You see these dictators on their pedestals surrounded by the bayonets of their soldiers and the truncheons of their police …” Today he would have to add: “and the “selfies” of the oppressed and the smiling photos of their captives posted on Facebook and getting autographs from autocrats and sharing ice cream cones with girls in silk dresses.”
Has it really come to this? So powerful is the fame game that it can bring a halt to the war game. Is the Kardashian factor so strong in today’s society that narcissism could really end fascism?! The meek might very well inherit the earth as long as they keep snapping “selfies” and smiling for the camera as democracy disappears into thin air.
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