BANGKOK – Children ran around, scrambling to climb atop more than 20 amphibious vehicles, and played with helicopters, tanks, trucks and anti-aircraft guns at an army base in the outskirts of Bangkok on Saturday to mark Children’s Day.
Eight-year-old Nine, dressed in a green camouflage t-shirt, stretched up on his toes, trying to understand the mechanism of a shining M16, an American-made rifle first used in the Vietnam War, as a soldier showed him how to place the weapon on his shoulder and pull the trigger after focusing on his target.
“I am enjoying a lot, the arms are not very heavy and are easy to use,” said Nine, visibly excited to be trying out the bulletless gun.
Critics of the annual celebrations, held every second Saturday of January, denounce it as military indoctrination while nationalists say it helps to instil a sense of pride among the children for the armed forces.
“The children like it and feel elated playing with (real) weapons. They value the pride of being a soldier and defending their country,” Officer Jivakit Bumrungphol told EFE, recalling that he was encouraged to join the army after taking part in these celebrations as a child.
During Saturday’s celebrations, which were open to the public, the troops showcased VT4 tanks that it has recently bought from China.
An excited group of children also hovered around the rocket-launchers and anti-aircraft guns and posed for photos.
Despite the controversial nature of the celebrations, and many editorials in the media opposing them, no formal complaint has been made as yet to end the practice of celebrating Children’s day in the military barracks with weapons and arms.
The army has for long dominated Thai society and its political landscape and has carried out 19 coups, 12 successfully, since the end of absolute monarchy in the country.
The last coup in May 2014, brought to power General Prayut Chan-ocha, the current prime minister of the country.
After assuming power, the military junta started an education campaign to promote “12 values,” centered on defense of the authorities and the monarchy, among children.
Male Thai citizens are required to undergo conscription for two years once they reach the age of 21, although it can be avoided if during their formative years they have enrolled as volunteers for a training program once a week for a determined period.
Pavin Chachavalpongpun, Political Science professor at Kyoto University, who is on self-exile to escape charges of lèse-majesté, told EFE in an email that the celebrations are aimed at indoctrinating the youth regarding the importance of the the army in Thai society.
“This indoctrination is successful judging by the numerous coups since 1932 – when absolute monarchy was brought to an end – and the little resistance they have faced since then,” said the academic.