Rochelle Ratner


Land of Smiles

"Army radio broadcasts are reminding soldiers in Thailand to be friendly and courteous, especially to children and anyone who wants to take pictures with them."
                                      AP, September 23, 2006


Tanks are rolling down the streets, the soldiers waving and smiling. Nothing to worry about, these are just routine maneuvers. The prime minister dons his old Army uniform, covered with ingrained dust and too tight to fully button. Your duty is to serve the crown, not the government, he reminds the troops. And he smiles broadly for the cameras.


Americans watch the stock market nose-dive. Democracy is fragile, not just in Thailand but throughout the world. The coup leaders say they're ousting the Prime Minister to restore a populist government, not to tear it down. People walking the streets shrug their shoulders. Hearing the click of a camera they turn toward it, grinning so hard their teeth hurt.


The young soldier, acting on orders, poses with his arm around the wife of a tourist. Then he poses with a group of teenage girls. He kneels to be photographed with a toddler. When another couple wants to photograph him holding their baby, he hands his M-16 to the baby's father.

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