Songpol Kaopatumtip, a 1987 Nieman Fellow, is editor of the Sunday Perspective section of the Bangkok Post and writes a column called “Eye on the Thai Press” for the Post’s Web site. In his column, he tracks commentaries from Thai publications. He notes that “most of the commentaries were anti-American, and I got angry letters for presenting their views.” The Thai media relied primarily on CNN and the BBC to follow news of the war, though many in the media complained about the domination of these Western news outlets; they accused CNN of being pro-American, while regarding BBC as more balanced. Some newspapers used Al Jazeera’s English-language Web site and other Arab Web pages to offer differing perspectives of the war. All of the leading Thai-language newspapers took editorial positions against the war, as did the most influential columnists. Two of Kaopatumtip’s media columns are reprinted below.
This column appeared on April 3, 2003.
“The Operation Iraqi Freedom has now turned into the Holocaust of the 21st Century,” says the mass-circulation Thai Rath in its main front-page article this morning.
With fresh reports from Baghdad of the deaths of Iraqi civilians at the hands of U.S. troops, anti-war—and to some degree anti-American—feeling is growing among leading vernacular dailies. The opinion is reflected in front-page headlines, photos and commentaries by sharp-tongued columnists, many of whom believe the war is waged to allow the United States and United Kingdom to take over vast oil and gas reserves in Iraq.
Both Thai Rath and Matichon carry big photos of a weeping Iraqi man who lost 15 members of his family when his truck was bombed by U.S. helicopters while fleeing a town south of Baghdad on Monday. Matichon describes the scene as “heartbreaking,” while Thai Rath proclaims, “This is ethnic cleansing.”
In an equally strong editorial, Thai Rath says the United States and United Kingdom are likely to be trapped in a long and violent war, which was launched without the consent of the United Nations and is now condemned by people around the world. Expressing a similar view in Matichon, columnist Chalotorn says the photos of Iraqi children killed in the war have “seared the minds” of all peace-loving people. “Muslim people are now asking: Should we continue to pray while our brothers and sisters are killed?” writes the columnist.
Muslim people in southern Thailand are already boycotting U.S.-made goods, Chalotorn says, adding that Thais in other parts of the country should take action as well. In his opinion, the war will only benefit big U.S. companies with ties to the Bush administration. Lucrative contracts for the reconstruction of post-war Iraq have already been doled out to these firms, says Chalotorn. He specifically mentions an oil well firefighting contract granted to a subsidiary of Halliburton Company, once run by Vice President Dick Cheney. “This only proves that there is no morality in the minds of these profit-seeking people,” concludes the columnist.
This column appeared on April 10, 2003.
Some foreign readers wonder why all the columnists, editorial writers, academics and ordinary people featured in this column are all against the U.S.-led attack on Iraq. These readers, particularly American, believe the Bush administration is doing Iraqi people a favor by freeing them from the tyranny of President Saddam Hussein. “How can the peacemakers condone what this SOB has done to his people?” a reader wrote me on Tuesday. “He even executed his two sons-in-law.” A few others believe Saddam is a threat to world peace. The Iraqi leader has weapons of mass destruction and supports anti-American terrorists, they say.
I respect their opinions. We may live in a globalized world, but there will always be a diversity of opinion. Do we have to hate each other because we do not share the same ideology, beliefs and ways of life?
These thoughts came to my mind as I read another hard-hitting article by popular columnist Plaew Si-ngern, who believes the attack on Iraq is in violation of international law, morally wrong, and serves the expansionist policy of U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In a column entitled “Twenty Days of Baghdad,” published in Thai Post yesterday, Plaew suggested the attack on Iraq was part of a grand scheme by powerful cliques in America and Europe to create a new world order under a “world government.” “Under this government, America will rule the world by its military might, leaving Europe to exert its economic and financial power,” he wrote. In his opinion, the United Nations has lost its credibility by failing to prevent Bush’s aggression against Iraq. And it is a shame that Bush and Blair are now asking the U.N. to be in charge of the post-war reconstruction of Iraq. “The U.N. will only be a rubber stamp for Bush and Blair,” he said.
Having gone through good and bad times, Plaew said he had learned not to get too emotionally involved in certain things in life. But what happened in Baghdad during the past 20 days was beyond description. “Every time I watch the TV news,” Plaew said, “my heart is filled with grief and anger.” His point is that why so many innocent people will have to die for the sake of some power-hungry politicians.
Kaopatumtip’s media columns can be found at www.bangkokpost.com, by scrolling down the left side of the page to “Eye on the Thai Press.”