The Other Land of the Free
Plain Truth Magazine
July-August 1983
Volume: Vol 48, No.7
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The Other Land of the Free
John A Halford & Leon Sexton  

   In a part of the world that has seen so much upheaval, war and misery, this nation of 45 million people has remained stable and at peace. Much of that is because of the outstanding example of leadership set by the man who has ruled Thailand for 36 years — King Bhumibol Adulyadej. It is time our readers have a closer look at this remarkable man and the nation he leads.
   To the casual visitor, Thailand might not seem like one of the world's more successful countries. It is still classified as a "developing" nation.
   But if we look deeper and examine the fabric of the country, we see a different picture. Thailand's people, in general, are not caught up in the mad scramble to get ahead at all costs. Their social and family life is not falling apart.
   Perhaps we should not think of the Thais as a "have not" people, but as a people who just "have different." What is it about Thailand that has preserved it in a troubled region?
   Thais are grateful for their long record of independence — Thailand means literally, the "land of the free." Although strictly nonaligned, Thailand enjoys a long and stable friendship with the United States — also known worldwide as "the land of the free" — and the nations of Europe. (Thailand was never a colony of one of the European powers.) In foreign affairs, the Thais conduct themselves with dignity and common sense. Some years ago, the nation earned international respect when it opened its borders to hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled neighboring Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos after the Indo-Chinese wars.
   Various governments, civilian and military, have ruled Thailand since the end of the Second World War. But changes in government do little to disturb the tranquil pace of Thai life, which is firmly built on three pillars: the Throne, the Buddhist faith, to which most Thais belong, and the land itself.
   Although King Bhumibol is a constitutional monarch, holding no political power, he is held in almost universal prestige and honor by his subjects. Pictures of the Royal Family adorn nearly every home, shop and office in Thailand. Such is his reputation that lese majeste — showing disrespect to the Royal Family — is a serious offense. No loyal Thai would ever think of speaking against the King, or defacing his picture (or even a postage stamp with his portrait on it). In times of peace, the King and Queen provide a focal point for the Thais' love of their country. In times of crisis — yes, even peaceful Thailand has its moments of anxiety — it is to the Throne that the nation looks for guidance and reassurance.
   King Bhumibol does not rule by fear and oppression. The respect for him and his beautiful wife, Queen Sirikit, is genuine. The King and Queen deeply love their people. In return, the Thais sincerely honor their King and Queen with an intensity that is rare in today's world.
   That is an important point — let us restate it. The people of Thailand look to their King as the embodiment of all that is Thai. He is the head of the Thai family — an extended family that encompasses the whole nation. Throughout history, men of many nations have risen to rule their people — only to become carried away with delusions of grandeur, demanding homage from those they rule. But the King and Queen of Thailand deserve their honor. They and their children have dedicated their lives to their people. King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit are followers and upholders of the Buddhist faith, yet perhaps no finer examples could be found of Jesus' admonition that "he who will be greatest among you should be servant of all." They serve!
   Each year, the Royal Family travels thousands of miles, by plane, helicopter, jeep and on foot to every corner of their large kingdom. His Majesty tries to spend as much time as possible meeting and listening to the people who are the grass roots of Thai society the peasant farmers who form 80 percent of the population. He makes it a point to visit even the remotest areas of the kingdom, appraising himself of the needs of even the humblest of his subjects. During their reign, the King and Queen have initiated hundreds of projects aimed at educating and improving the well-being of all Thai people. The King has met much of the expense of these projects from his personal funds.
   His Majesty's projects are not designed to impress visitors and enhance prestige. There are no monuments to vanity that have so often been the legacy of rulers trying to impress. Neither does the King encourage industrialization for its own sake. He is not against modernization, for he is well acquainted with the Western world and its ways. He was born in the United States and completed his formal education in Switzerland.
   King Bhumibol carefully monitors his country's progress. As the wealth of Thailand lies in its land, it is to the land that the King directs his people's attention, His royal projects are always carefully planned to fill a genuine need. Many developing nations would do well to copy the Thai example, before they collapse completely under self-imposed burdens in their efforts to catch up with the industrialized world.
   The King's projects range from irrigation of the dry northeast of the country to flood prevention in the south. They focus on agricultural and animal husbandry projects that teach Thai farmers how to increase productivity without abandoning traditional methods.
   Farmers in one area, for example, were too poor to own a water buffalo — essential for tilling the rice paddies. King Bhumibol initiated a water buffalo "bank," that would loan a buffalo to a farmer until his plowing was done. Another project introduced improved strains of fish into the canals and waterways that bring water to the fields, thus providing an additional supply of food.
   Agricultural research is even carried out within the Palace grounds in Bangkok. The King will personally plant rice grains selected for their strength and hardiness. The harvested seed grains are sent to farmers throughout the nation.
   The King will often pay a personal visit to regions where crops fail. Practical help always follows, and the King often makes a follow-up visit to be sure the problem is solved.
   The Queen serves alongside her husband. She is the innovator of many projects designed to revive and improve Thai art and handicrafts. She stresses respect for traditional methods along with top quality workmanship. In this way Her Majesty has fostered a renewed interest in her people's unique talents.
   One of the most far reaching and innovative undertakings initiated by the Royal couple are the Royal Highland Hilltribe projects.
   The Hilltribes of northern Thailand are ethnically different from the Thai people. They have different languages, customs and religion, and have not had much social contact with the lowland Thai population.
   Up until the middle of the 1950s, little attention was paid to these nomadic tribesmen. But since then, the government found it necessary to concern themselves with these simple mountain peoples for three important reasons:
   First, they used a destructive method of agriculture known as slash and burn. In a selected section of mountain rain forest, the trees are slashed or cut down and burned. This not only clears the land for cultivation, but also provides ash that gives additional nutrients to the soil. Crops are then planted and harvested repeatedly until the soil is exhausted five or seven years later. The tribe then moves on to slash and burn another area. Through slash and burn, Thailand's vast teak forests and the land on which they stood were being ruined. As the Hilltribe populations increased, more and more upland forest land was destroyed. This caused a change in the watershed patterns, which disrupted the lowland rice cultivation and caused flooding.
   Second, in the later part of the 1950s, rebel groups began infiltrating the mountain regions of Thailand, posing a potential threat to security as they attempted to influence the Hilltribes.
   Third, the Hilltribes of northern Thailand are traditional cultivators of the notorious opium poppy.
   Because of these three areas of concern, Thai intervention in the traditional patterns of life of the Hilltribes became essential. But how to intervene was the problem.
   It is at this point that King Bhumibol demonstrated his grasp of the situation and his concern for the welfare of his mountain subjects. He realized that it would be disastrous to forcibly suppress the growing of opium, as it was the Hilltribes' main source of income. Also, demanding a halt to their traditional slash and burn agriculture would disrupt their way of life and make them prey for potential enemies of Thailand.
   His Majesty used his influence to institute a well-planned project of intervention based on one vital key — EDUCATION. He initiated a number of projects designed to educate the Hilltribes in the cultivation of alternative cash crops. He also encouraged them to practice a more settled form of agriculture that would preserve the mountain forests from the effects of slash and burn. Members of the Royal Family became familiar figures in the mountain valleys as they traveled, often on foot, encouraging the people to adopt the new programs.
   These programs have proved successful. Entire villages now grow peaches, beans, strawberries, coffee and upland rice crops instead of opium. These crops bring in better profit than did opium, and many Hilltribe villages are now too busy growing cash crops to bother with the risky opium trade.
   This is not the end of the story. Concerned about the future generations of his mountain subjects, King Bhumibol initiated a further project to improve the educational standards among these mostly illiterate tribes, to prepare them for increased contact with the lowland Thais.
   Volunteer teachers and specially trained Border Patrol Police have been sent into the hills to teach the equivalent of the Thai "three Rs" in mobile schools. Thailand's Hilltribes have appreciated this project most of all, as they highly value education, especially for their children.
   Today the Hilltribes of northern Thailand recognize His Majesty King Bhumibol as their friend and protector. He has proven to them that he is genuinely concerned for their welfare. The King understands that the way of giving, sharing, helping, encouraging and educating may not be the quickest way to eliminate a problem. But it is the best way — and indeed the only way to a lasting solution where everyone benefits.
   King Bhumibol has shown the world that long-range practical solutions that take into consideration the well-being of everyone can be made to succeed. Giving to his mountain subjects has worked — taking from them will not.
   Whether it is working with the Hilltribes, visiting refugee camps or pioneering some new irrigation or self-help project, King Bhumibol and Queen Sirikit daily prove themselves to be more than just figurehead monarchs. This dedicated Royal couple show that they think and plan constantly for the needs of their country. No village is too remote, no person too insignificant not to warrant the Royal Family's concern. Even the hapless refugees from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam have received their Majesties' care and attention. The Royal couple have visited many of the camps personally, bringing encouragement and practical aid. (The King has been seriously ill from a blood disorder that he may have contracted while visiting refugees in a border region.)
   The King and Queen's three children follow their parents' example of sacrifice and hard work. When King Bhumibol came to the throne, he made a promise: "We will reign with righteousness, for the benefit and happiness of the Thai people." He and his queen have kept their promise.
   In a world where, almost daily, governments are overthrown, leaders assassinated and princes and kings sent into exile, the Thai Royal Family is a remarkable example of stability. They show that it isn't necessary for a head of state to hang on to power by fear or oppression. In the long run, it is love, concern, hard work and a genuine attitude of service that endears a ruler to his people. Three thousand years ago, wise King Solomon summarized this principle in a proverb: "It is an abomination for kings to commit wickedness, for the throne is established by righteousness."
   Thailand — the other land of the free — is indeed fortunate to have such a dedicated Royal Family.

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Plain Truth MagazineJuly-August 1983Vol 48, No.7