What was Samak thinking?

In a recent interview with CNN, new Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej made the stunning claim that only one person was killed in the October 6, 1976 bloodbath at Thammasat University.

Here's the exchange between Samak, an avowed rightist, and CNN correspondent Dan Rivers:

Rivers: Would you like to take the opportunity now to condemn what happened in 1976?

Samak: Actually it's a movement of some students. They don't like the government.

Rivers: But dozens of people, maybe hundreds of people died.

Samak: No, just only one died. There are 3,000 students in the Thammasat University.

Rivers: The official death toll was 46, and many people say it was much higher than that.

Samak: No. For me, no deaths, one unlucky guy being beaten and being burned in Sanam Luang. Only one guy by that day.

Rivers: So there was no massacre?

Samak: No not at all, but taking pictures, 3000 students, boys and girls lined up, they say that is the death toll. 3,000.

Rivers: People say that your very right-wing rhetoric inflamed the situation.

Samak: What's wrong to be the right wing if it is? The right wing is with the king. The left wing is communist.

In 1976, students from various universities began to protest the return of Field Marshall Thanom Kittikachorn, a military dictator who was removed from power and exiled three years earlier after a bloody crackdown on students. The protests initially started at Sanam Luang, a traditional protest ground, but soon shifted across the street to Thammasat University.

To commemorate three student protestors hanged in Nakhon Pathom province, the students at Thammasat staged a mock hanging. In what remains disputed to this day, some say that newspapers doctored a photo of the hanging to make the victim look like Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. When the photos were published, the rightist militants unleashed their fury. During the incident, Samak, then the deputy interior minister, tended to fuel the pro-royalist, anti-Communist rhetoric that created the environment for the pending massacre.

Branding the students Communists who wanted to destroy the monarchy, the pro-palace Village Scouts and the Border Patrol Police, as well the Red Gaur and Navapol—two ultra-rightist groups trained by the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc)—stormed the university with heavy weapons.

Some students tried to flee into the Chao Phraya Rver but were shot at by Navy vessels, according to Paul Handley's book The King Never Smiles. Others were beaten, hung from trees or set ablaze. Female students were ordered to strip and some were reportedly raped.

All in all, as Dan Rivers pointed out, officials acknowledged that 46 people died in the attack. Witnesses claim that hundreds died, although it's unclear if the truth will ever be known.

Click on an image to open the slideshow: {gallery}OCT6{/gallery}

Either way, the pictures presented here show that Samak’s memory has failed him. The pictures on this site— as well as here and here — show clearly that he is flatly wrong.

The comments to CNN represent not just terrible judgment, but also a blind dogmatism that hardly bodes well for democracy in a still deeply divided country. Just a few weeks into his term, Samak is already proving his staunchest critics right.