Published online by Cambridge University Press: 21 October 2015
History's eventual consensus on the intractable conflict that has scarred Thailand's early twenty-first century is impossible to foretell. That conflict may take its place as but one chapter in a larger story of liberal democracy in retreat, both in an increasingly Sinocentric Greater East Asia and in other parts of the world too. It may come to represent a sad example of rival social and economic elites’ selfishly tearing a society apart and in the process dooming a country to longterm decline. It may come to be understood as the inevitable outcome of the post-1960 public policy failings of Thailand and its Southeast Asian neighbours, above all in such areas as education, failings that contrast so markedly with to the successes of such Northeast Asian states as the Republic of Korea.
Scholars may treat the ongoing conflict between Red and Yellow as Asia's first major violent revolution — whether triumphant or extinguished — of the young century. They may see it as the sad end to a royal reign that looked so successful for so long. Or they may determine that it was due to the greed, cynicism, and evil of Thaksin Shinawatra alone.
More hopefully, these years may one day be seen as a time during which Thailand came to grips with its changing nature and worked out — if fitfully and with all too much bitterness and loss of life — a social, political, and economic order that reflected its great fundamental strengths and its enduring potential for pluralism and tolerance. Or these years may remain the subject of ongoing, unresolved, and even violent contention among the historians of the future, Thai and foreign alike. The uncertainty about ultimate understandings of the post-2005 period in Thai history notwithstanding, the events of recent years have made a number of realities very clear.
First, in a post-Asian Financial Crisis age of increasing income skews and burgeoning finance capitalism, many residents of Bangkok have lost all awareness of and interest in that great primate city's hinterland. The “development era” launched by Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat in exemplary partnership with King Bhumibol Adulyadej in the late 1950s is all but forgotten in the Thailand of 2011.