By Saksith Saiyasombut
During the most recent clashes at the Thai-Cambodian border the Thai military have beefed up their presence in the area with more troops, more military hardware and apparently also more amulets…?!
The chief of the 2nd Army distributed talismans to his troops to help protect them from evil curses which he believes Cambodians are likely to call upon in their fight over disputed border areas. As a result, soldiers guarding the border with Cambodia are now equipped with arms, life-saving kits – and talismans.
Second Army chief Thawatchai Samutsakhon issued assorted talismans to soldiers stationed at the disputed border area near the Preah Vihear temple in Si Sa Ket’s Kantharalak district to ward off Khmer curses. “I believe in this and I have to take care of my subordinates in every possible way,” Lt Gen Thawatchai said.
Lt Gen Thawatchai is a follower of the late Luang Poo Jiam Atissayo, a respected monk at Wat Intrasukaram in Surin’s Sangkha district. (…)
An army source stationed at the border said he believed Cambodian troops would perform “some kind of rituals” on Preah Vihear temple to counter the army’s distribution of talismans to its troops.
“Keep your talismans close, boys“, Bangkok Post, February 12, 2011
Now, it would be easy to laugh it off as a quirky side note and call it a day. But you have to consider that superstition in ghosts and black magic is deeply rooted in South-East Asia and coexists alongside more established religions (and sometimes leads to some wild spiritual mashups). One big aspect of this are talismans and amulets that are supposed to give magic and/or protective powers from bad influences, but also bullets, knives and other worldly dangers.
So much so that in another incident, where two F-16 fight jets of the Thai Air Force have crashed during an exercise drill with US armed forces, there were persistent rumors that…
The air force spokesman brushed off a rumour that there could be a supernatural cause of the crash. “Do not believe in this sort of thing. I can’t see how the crash could be related to that [black magic]. This is science: an engine problem perhaps, not superstition.
“Air force seeks clues to crash of F16 jets“, Bangkok Post, February 15, 2011
Its impact reaches regularly into politics in Thailand, when there have been dozens of predictions by fortune tellers about the possible downfalls of prime ministers and/or military coups. And like all predictions, some are correct (partly), some are not (yet) and some utter nonsense!
For more on superstition and its influence on Thai politics I recommend you an article written by Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker called “The spirits, the stars, and Thai politics”, available here.
BONUS: As said above, superstition is widely common in South-East Asia and doesn’t stop at the highest ranking people. The Irrawaddy runs a story where Burma’s military junta leader Than Shwe was seen wearing a women’s skirt in “an intentional act of superstition” to nullify many fortune-tellers prediction “that a woman will rule Burma one day”.