State of Emergency
By mid-morning Bangkok was boiling hot. People had awakened to discover that a state of emergency had been declared. Overnight the inevitable happened: blood has been spilled in the streets of Bangkok. Pro and anti-government clashed. News reports say one upcountry man was killed and forty-four others injured.
This morning and early afternoon driving on Bangkok streets everything appeared, on the surface, normal. People were shopping, eating in restaurants, walking on the streets. But across town in the area around Government House, a different story unfolds. If the story were a noir novel, then it is at the point in the story, where the abject bleakness and despair descends as the main characters seek a final confrontation.
Final solution. Final confrontation. Words shoot overhead like flares. No one knows what happens next. Once a landscape has been bloodied, in the fog of battle, accusations and insults and threats fill the sky like circling birds, looking for prey or a place to land. No one can be sure. All a foreigner can do is hunker down, wait, and watch as deeper instincts, the ones that mark our species as dangerous, take flight. In times such as these, it seems that for all of our knowledge, technology and insights, there is an untamable nature that is raw, enraged, determined, and brutal. Isn’t that the definition of noir? The id breaks free and goes on a rampage. The psychic cauldron erupts destroying the illusion of civility; that under the surface, there is a beast waiting, fangs and claws showing, occupying the no-man’s land, where one man’s right becomes another’s wrong.
In noir books and movies everyone is cast as a victim. They have no way out no matter what they do. They are doomed. The characters glide through the motions of an ordinary life—but it is anything but ordinary as it is shaded the colors of fear and uncertainty. People are served up with the daily bowl of rice not knowing if there will be another bowl in the evening. The waiting continues in early afternoon. A novelist would wish to write a different kind of thriller. One that was hard-boiled Bangkok. A tough place, but at the end there is the possibility of redemption; a thin ray of hope. Just enough to give the characters courage to believe that tomorrow might bring an end to the confrontation and violence. That tomorrow all sides remember that life matters. That’s the book people want to read about Bangkok. Noir between the pages is an entirely different experience than noir in the streets.
Much has been learnt in Thailand since Black May 1992. I lived through that period. I walked the streets at the time and saw the aftermath of violence. I heard the gunfire. That dark period, like 1976, changed the attitude of many people. In 2008 there is far more restraint exercised by the authorities in the way they deal with demonstrations than in the past. The ultimate test to the limits of that restraint is now under way. Whether the outcome is noir or hardboiled turns on resolve to maintain restraints on the use of violence. Once that resolve is lost, the outcome is inevitably noir.