By Sunday the amount of small arm fire on Rama IV had increased from the day before. The scene was similar to Saturday. Groups of people who had gathered inside shophouse doorways, along the road for about one kilometer, and the hardcore group of Red shirted protesters who manned the barricades and kept the tyres rolling toward the front line.
Bangkok Rama IV Road Saturday 16 May 2010
With each new crack of bullet, the people in the street ducked behind whatever protection was available: a motorcycle, a street sign, doorway, taxi, or knelt down on the street. On Sunday I heard members of the crowd talking about snipers. Crowds have a way of passing along information. Though there is no reliable way of knowing the accuracy of such information. When there is a great amount of fear, and the sound of gunfire, there is a ready-made audience waiting for a coherent explanation. In this case, the story spread about snipers.
Rumours circle like helicopters above the crowd. No one quite knows where or how they are started, but the rumours on the street become a kind of atmosphere that surrounds crowds who breathe them in. People are so hungry for information, anything that sounds supportive of their side, and gives at least a plausible explanation, is embraced. Emotions run high on both sides. Positions and attitudes have hardened. People look to confirm their bias, and discount anything that doesn’t. But that is a universal aspect of human nature. You don’t need to speak or understand Thai to understand what is playing out at the street level is the results of highly charged emotions. People are on fire with hatred and fear. It isn’t just Bangkok that is burning; it’s Bangkok’s people on both sides are burning inside. People on the street aren’t thinking through such intellectual prism, weighing and analyzing, what they hear, they grab it like a drowning man grabs a life jacket.
I have a number of video clips where you can hear the crack of gunfire and explosions. I am having technical problems in getting them put up. I’m trying to sort them out and will post the footage as soon as I can.
Bangkok Rama IV Road Saturday 16 May 2010
The war zone is also a rite of passage for many young Thai men. On motorcycles, they race back from the expressway to the barricades near Bon Kai. In the distance you can see the crowd standing under the Expressway overpass. The closer to the front line, the closer to the area where the most committed among the demonstrators—mainly young men—clumped together against the tyres on the barricade. Too young to understand the risks they are facing. That is one definition of youth—putting yourself in the line of fire because you believe that your cause is just and you are immortal.
I am not certain what psychological scars all of this is going to leave on youths who have been involved in the violence. People react differently in war zones. But no one is unaffected by the scenes of violence, the sounds of gunfire and explosions, the smoke, the fear and danger, and the image of people who are just like them who have been shot. They will likely need counseling to cope with what they’ve witnessed. Or they could simply be left to tough it out on their own. However this conflict ends, and it will end as all conflicts do, the authorities will need to find ways to heal the wounds of the living. And the wounds of the heart are the most difficult ones to manage. It will take wisdom and understanding—and empathy—for anything like trust can be reestablished.
UPDATE: Wednesday morning 19 May 2010
Last night after midnight, the sound of small arms fired intensified in the Klong Toey/Rama IV area. I didn’t hear machine gun or automatic firing. The rounds were spaced as if the shooter was concentrating on a specific target and squeezing off two, three, four rounds. Then there was a lull, a wonderful couple of minutes of silence, punctured by more firing. The shooting continued for a couple of hours. What is amazing is how much gunfire there has been and how relatively speaking how few people killed. This is apparently true in most wars. Thousands of rounds are shot for every person who is on the receiving end of a bullet. This isn’t to discount the horror of someone who has been hit. I’ve seen someone who was shot and it is sickening.
This morning, from my balcony there appeared to be many more fires than on previous days. Plumes of smoke rise from Rama IV/Expressway area and small arms firing continues off and on. Also smoke coming from fires in several other locations in the city. I am on the 11th floor of a building that commands a view of areas that include Sukhumvit, Rama IV, Silom, and Ratchadaprasong Road, and from local as well as CNN and BBC reports, an escalation of fighting had happened overnight. I can see with my own eyes a horizon of smoke casting a pail over the battlefield that is Bangkok.