This past weekend, a disaffected soldier killed his commanding officer at an army camp before going on a shooting spree in central Korat, the worst mass shooting in Thailand’s history.
29 people were killed before security forces ended a night-long siege and killed the gunman. As Korat mourns and recovers, we look at four talking points that must be addressed in the coming weeks:
Army security and accountability
Over the past two years, Thailand’s armed forces has had to justify its place in Thai society as opposition parties question the massive defence budget and the need for conscription. The military, under army chief Apirat Kongsompong, has argued time and time again its role was vital in safeguarding traditional Thai values and to protect against the encroachment of foreign values.
That the perpetrator of the worst mass shooting in Thai history is a soldier has not gone unnoticed among Thais and the military’s value is once again called into question.
A full and open investigation must be carried out by both the government and the army to ensure public trust. Key questions still remain in the aftermath of the shooting. How was the soldier seemingly able to get past security to a secured armory so easily? Why was he not stopped en-route to the Korat city centre? What mental health checks are available to Thai soldiers around the country?
These questions and more must be answered fully and openly for the public to begin to trust the military again.
The dangers of Columbine
One of the enduring, terrible legacies of the Columbine massacre in the United States was the rise of copycat crimes. People who worshipped Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris sought to emulate his crimes. The past two decades have been filled with school shootings and mass shootings, inspired by Columbine.
Thailand must not let this be our Columbine moment. We should not shed light on this army soldier, his motives and publish gory details of his crimes. Copycat crimes are real and in a country that has relatively easy access to black-market arms, Thailand should be worried and government programmes must be put in place to make sure this man is not worshiped and emulated.
The problem of media
Jasmine Chia has written a beautiful piece for us about the failings of Thai social and mainstream media during and after the massacre. We can’t stress enough how important this point is. Social media not only allowed the shooter to glorify his crimes (see above), but also allowed him to monitor the movements of security forces.
In the aftermath of the violence, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission has asked Thai terrestrial media to join a meeting to discuss what constitutes good live coverage and what could endanger the lives of security officials. This is a welcomed move.
But it should not require the involvement of state agencies for Thai media to practice ethical journalism. A long hard look must be had by all outlets to make sure that going forward, the mistakes of this past weekend are not repeated.
Even as social media retreats, once again, to its tribal corners and argues endlessly about whose fault this is, the topic of mental health is pushed to the back burner having barely registered in the national conversation.
But Thailand, and indeed this region of the world, must address this topic sooner rather than later and de-tabooify the field of mental health. It is not a taboo, it is not embarrassing and it is something that must be addressed seriously not only to identify possible shooters in the future but to save countless lives from mental health illness related deaths.