By John Draper
Special to The Nation
Perhaps inspired by an earlier programme praised by the Secretary-General of the Basic Education Commission whereby kindergarteners in military uniforms were trained to perform Nazi salutes and march in formation in a Khon Kaen province community school, the Prayut administration is taking the next step towards a police state: a national programme of military indoctrination at boot camps for kindergarteners.
The children, who are four to five years old, are clad in uniforms and then trained in military exercises, including push-ups, crawling under netting, throwing grenades, and saluting, as part of the “land defender battalion” programme run by the 1st Infantry Battalion of the 29th Army Regiment in Kanchanaburi province. The indoctrination programme, now in the second wave, includes an emphasis on the 12 Core Values of Thai People and on King Rama IX’s philosophy of sufficiency economy, both of which embody advanced Buddhist concepts.
The militarisation of Thai children on Children’s Day, a practice which dates back to the fascist rule of Field Marshall Phibul Songkram, has unfortunately long been taken for granted. However, the extreme level of state support for indoctrinating children in the present programme is unusual.
One country that does indoctrinate children in this way is totalitarian North Korea. Through set-piece displays at venues like the Children’s Palace, very young uniformed children are drilled and regimented and displayed to the world as the country’s defining product. Behind the scenes, children are conditioned to obey by routinely being made to witness executions of dissidents by a pistol shot to the back of the head.
We must not forget how fast the militarisation of children, who were encouraged to inform on their peers and family, contributed to the rise of the Nazi state. The brainwashing of children was also crucial to the rise of the East German Stasi, whose techniques in areas such as psychological warfare and intercepting communication are being openly copied in Thailand in order to develop a highly advanced police state.
Both the 12 Core Values, a Buddhist charter personally written by General Prayut and implemented as a state diktat in 2014, and the philosophy of sufficiency economy may have their place in Thai society. The first can serve as a guiding framework for well-implemented holistic curricula which teach a moral education, and they could be a guiding principle for a national economy as an example of Buddhist economics, especially in the field of energy, in managing climate change, and in downsizing military budgets spend on tanks and submarines. However, Prayut’s administration does not itself appear to support the 12 Core Values.
This is evident in how the military is developing sophisticated amoral techniques to monitor and control the physical and mental aspects of schoolchildren. For example, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination as well as the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand last year condemned as racist the arbitrary collection of DNA samples of more than 40,000 people in the deep South, including from high school students.
Another aspect of the police state is the turning of children into informants using techniques which do not distinguish between children and adults. The 2014 US Thailand Human Rights Report notes that on June 22, 2014, the military government initiated a campaign for Thai citizens to inform on others, especially by taking photographs of anti-coup protests and the individuals involved, then mailing them to officials together with their bank account details, to receive a reward of Bt500.
An electronic police state targeting children is also emerging. In 2014, the Thai Netizen Network, a Bangkok-based digital rights group, reported a fake Facebook application that gave users the impression of logging into a website via Facebook. The application was traced to the Royal Thai Police’s Technology Crime Suppression Division. The Division has justified its use as necessary for creating a source of more witnesses, therefore more prosecutions, and thus a “clean” online society.
Also in 2014, the Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology announced memoranda of understanding with 200 schools for creation of a “cyberscout” programme to encourage students to monitor Internet sites – including their friends’ social media – for “unlawful and immoral” activities. These schools dictate how students should dress and behave both inside and outside school. The results are strict rules together with a demerit system, policed by a student-activity division which involves informants and volunteer student inspectors monitoring both school premises and the social media.
Another characteristic of the emerging police state is unexplained disappearances. By one measure, there are now 81 cases of such disappearances since the mid-1990s. The traumatising effect on the children of the disappeared is highlighted by organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Furthermore, the conditions in Thailand’s prison and detention centres for children are generally horrific, with especially squalid conditions for migrants and their children noted by the US 2014 Human Rights Report. Forced labour, extortion, the lack of a nutritional diet and few opportunities for physical exercise are all problems affecting the physical and mental health of children.
While history will surely judge the Prayut administration for initiating a programme to systematically indoctrinate our children and transform Thailand into a militarised society, it is increasingly likely that this history will not be available to read in the country. Civil society, the UN High Commission for Human Rights, and the embassies of those countries which know the military indoctrination of kindergarteners to be morally abhorrent will be judged by their actions over the coming days and weeks.