MY BELOVED BROTHER, THAMNU...
Two years ago, when I left our beloved Thai Charoen village, now so many miles away, you, Brother Thamnu, as the village chief, had undertaken to do two things which meant much to our village, in my eyes and everyone else’s. Moreover, they meant much to the future of our village. You set up the new village rules as the supreme authority.
This meant that the Thai Charoen villagers would be able to hold onto and respect those rules as fundamental principles of everyday life. Their lives would be better and our village would become more developed than in the days when we had only a few authoritarian rulers. Along with implementing the new rules, you made possible peaceful change in the structure of village authority. And you, Brother Thamnu, arranged to have villagers select among themselves those persons who would speak for them.
Those men who were selected got together and called themselves the village assembly. They had the power and responsibility to make rules for our village, based on the principle of popular sovereignty. The principle which you followed was “right makes might, not might makes right, and right derives from the people.” This really meant that the supreme power came from the collective moral spirit of all citizens of Thai Charoen village.
I was not sure then that I liked all the rules, and was not sure that all the assemblymen were good men. But I admired you, the honourable village chief, Phuyaibun Thamnu Kiatkong, for having the patience to create the new rules and give them a chance. It was better to have these rules than to have no rules at all. And it was better to have an assembly than to have no assembly.
Now, how clearly we see the impermanence of all things! Not long after I left our village, I heard that suddenly you had changed your mind. Together with some of your friends, you announced the annulment of the village rules and dissolved the village assembly. The village has now gone back to the system whereby it is ruled according to the will of the village chief and his friends, alone. In this case, it is still Brother Thamnu and his deputy village chief, assistant village chief, and so on; the same group, minus a few.
I have carefully considered the causes which you, Brother Thamnu, and your men cited as reasons for this change. I have spent a considerable length of time waiting to see whether, after the village rules were given up, existing bad conditions in our village would be corrected miraculously and if something wonderful would occur. But alas, there has not been the slightest sign of magical changes that were promised. In some instances, the situation has become even worse, for example concerning troubles along our village borders. Not feeling quite sure of myself, because I was looking from afar, I took two trips back to our village, with my eyes and ears wide open. The result was a definite confirmation of my original belief, that our problems of crime, external subversion, economic growth, and youth development could have been solved, with sincere intention, without having to give up the village rules. If necessary, the village assembly could have been re-selected, with the rules retained.
The most important issue is the new limitation on villager rights. Now villagers are not allowed to think, speak, or write freely. Public meetings concerning governmental affairs of our beloved village have been banned. This has prevented the village from receiving the benefits of intelligent thought by all the villagers, collectively and as individuals.
You, Brother Thamnu, may argue that the change has already been blessed by village officials and villagers alike, except for a few who are “unsound.” I would beg to inform you that as far as officials are concerned, they personally benefit from living without the assembly. They do not have to be bothered by men from the assembly. In short, now there is no one to stand in their way.
As for the villagers, you know very well that they cling to the motto: survival of the fittest. I can confirm this point, as I too was once a kind of chief, contributing to the work of our village. At that time, I never found anyone who would argue with me, whether I happened to be right or wrong. They all knew the secret way to survive. As for the claim that there has been very little opposition, this is quite valid, due to the omnipresence of your armed guards, Brother Thamnu. Your friends have been there since the beginning, ready to challenge all those who oppose you. Fear works magically to weaken cries from the opposition. If you would know how the villagers really feel, abandon intimidation.
Nevertheless, my letter is not intended to oppose you personally, Brother Thamnu. Rather, I would like to expound on the very point which you and I once agreed upon. That is, “We shall work to develop our Thai Charoen village.” Development, after all, can be truly beneficial only when it is carried out in all aspects: social, economic, moral, cultural, educational, and political, with an eye towards security.
As for political aspects of development, during the 20 years of my personal association with you, I have always heard that my Brother Thamnu and his friends believe in democracy. (The Reds are trying to wipe out democracy, so we claim, and it is true.) You expended time, care, brains, and money of the village for almost ten years to devise a new set of village rules. I sincerely admire democracy, just as you and your friends do.
Nowadays, civilised villages are usually interested in the environment which, if polluted further, will greatly endanger the human species. They fear the wrong application of science and technology, black smoke from automobile exhaust pipes, and factories, and poisonous chemical effects of industrialisation. In our Thai Charoen village, there are indeed such terrible environmental conditions. But they are by no means as bad as the poison of fear caused by intimidation and uncontrolled use of selfish power, whether used towards “justifiable” ends or not. Fear damages the intellect. The intellect, being damaged, sometimes becomes paralysed. Or worse things happen: the intellect, deprived and depressed, bursts out in reaction. This has been happening in many other villages, as is frequently reported in the press.
I agree with you, Brother Thamnu, that the external threat to our village must be done away with completely. But when our villagers are constantly exposed to coercion and frightening threats from within, and their intellects cannot be used in honourable channels as our ancestors often used theirs to save our country, and when more power breeds more fear, this is a time of danger! In biology it is said that the nerves can force the eyes to close. The time during which our eyes are closed is a time of potential disaster, for who knows but that our enemies may take advantage of this opportunity in the blinking of an eye?
Another factor which I consider very important is this: you are over 60; I am close to 60. We are both close to taking leave of this world. I have as much ambition as you do, for I too hope to leave behind to our younger generation a world and village which are worthy places to live in; to leave behind a village as free as its name; and one which is developed, capable of effecting change through peaceful means, according to the rules. To accomplish this much, if nothing more, would be considered a great legacy for future generations.
Some people ask: “Should we permit the youth of today to enjoy rights and freedom according to the village rules?” Many of today’s youth show disgustingly bad behaviour. I get rather disgusted myself at times. But you, Brother Thamnu, gave me a job which required close association with our youth for a number of years. I have carefully and objectively observed them and have found that rather than being full of contempt, I am full of pride for our Thai Charoen village youngsters.
They are humble, unlike the youth of other villages. I sympathize with them. They have been taught by us to love democracy, which was a correct thing for us to teach them, and to enjoy expressing themselves freely in thinking, writing, speaking, and associating with others, which was also the right thing to do, according to all the past village rules.
These teachings imparted to them are impressed upon their hearts. They were overjoyed when the new village rules were created for the use of the entire village. This act fulfilled their hopes and expectations, as it corresponded to what we had taught them to feel. But those rules had such a short life, a life that was taken away suddenly. No one knows when the rules will come to life again. Who would not feel the loss? Who would not be disappointed? They were hoping to have a part to play in developing our village according to the rules. Nevertheless, our youth have remained calm. They suppress their fear when making requests to us. They still believe in the good and sincere intentions of their elders. How can one help being kind to them and proud of them?
For these numerous reasons, and with my sincere respect for you, I beg you, please, to hurry to bring the village rules back into use again. As soon as possible, maybe in the middle of 1972, or at the latest, by the end of the year. Please allow the Thai Charoen villagers to live according to the principle of human rights, and elect a new assembly quickly. This would be a priceless gift to the villagers, for the present and future.
Article in the Far Eastern Economic Review, 16 September 1972.
It is signed Khem Yenying, a code name used by Dr. Puey in the Free Thai resistance movement during World War II.
The letter was written in Thai language, while Dr. Puey was a visiting fellow at Cambridge University, United Kingdom, to protest the Thai military coup of November 1971. The letter was first distributed by hand in Bangkok.
This translation, according to Dr. Puey, paraphrases the Thai original.