Thailand: The Domino That Didn't Fall

Why in a country riven by coups did an apparently robust and growing insurgency collapse?

THIS IS THE story of an insurgency that disappeared. It begins in the mid-1960s, when the Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) initiated an active and violent rebellion in Thailand’s poorest and most isolated region — the Northeast. By the late 1960s the hill tribesmen of North Thailand had taken up the fight. In the South insurgents from the CPT joined forces with bandits, Moslem separatists, and some Malaysian Communists, all of whom had created security problems for many years.

Thailand was swarming with Americans in those days: 45,000 members of the Air Force were manning the air bases, as many as 5,000 soldiers were arriving in Bangkok every five days for R&R, and a small army of people were working for the United States diplomatic mission—nobody was saying how many. The accoutrements of counterinsurgency, financed largely by the United States, were being put in place: a “Communist Suppression Operations Command,” special ranger units to patrol the jungles, and psychological-operations teams to promote the government’s popularity. There were also many social and economic programs to keep the people loyal, and for six years I was part of that effort. From 1965 to 1967 I served as a Peace Corps volunteer. I spent the better part of the next six years studying the effects of rural-development efforts for two private American research groups, one under contract to the U.S. Agency for International Development and the other under contract to the U.S. Department of Defense.

Halfway into the 1970s the United States suddenly lost interest. Especially during the slaughter in Kampuchea, not just Thailand but all of Southeast Asia was virtually ignored. By 1976 the Thai insurgency looked as if it might prevail. That year violent incidents occurred at a rate of four per day—up 71 percent from the rate of the year before. The CPT’s armed cadre numbered approximately 11,500—almost 7,000 more than in 1970. In some of the northern provinces the insurgents closed roads. The Thai government itself admitted that the CPT controlled 640 villages.

When the CPT began its offensives, in 1965, almost all of its members were disaffected villagers. In 1976 that changed. On October 6 there were riots at Thammasat University, in Bangkok, in which police and army troops killed forty-one students—victims, it now seems clear, of right-wing provocateurs. Soon after, between 700 and 1,000 students fled the city to join the rebellion in the hills. More followed later. For the first time the CPT had a bond with Thailand’s urban elites.

Over the same years that the insurgency gained strength, the Thai polity appeared to be coming apart at the seams. In October of 1973 the military regime of Thanom Kittikachorn and Praphas Charasathien fell; the civilian government that replaced it lasted for three years, but then was overthrown as yet another consequence of the 1976 riots in which the students were killed. The succeeding government was so far to the right that even the military couldn’t abide it, and it was overthrown in October of 1977. The general who took power, Kriangsak Chamanand, lasted until 1980, when he was replaced by another general, Prem Tinsulanonda, who then narrowly fought off a coup by young military officers.

During these coups and cabals, the royal family entered into political struggles, from which traditionally it had remained aloof. In turn, for the first time, it became a target of the insurgents. In 1976 the CPT’s underground radio station began to denounce the royal family. In 1977 an aide to the queen, Princess Vibhavadi Rangsit, was killed by insurgents in the South. In that same year an unsuccessful attempt was made to ambush the crown prince as he toured sensitive provinces.

The insurgency continued to grow through February of 1979, when the number of violent incidents during a single month reached an all-time high. Then it collapsed.

The first public sign of disarray came on July 10, 1979, when the CPT’s radio station in southern China closed down. An announcer said, “Dear listeners, we will be temporarily suspending our broadcasts beginning July 11.” And with no other explanation the station, which had been transmitting programs to Thailand for seventeen years, went silent. By the end of 1979, all the indices of insurgency— the number of guerrilla incidents, the number of assassinations, and the number of village propaganda meetings—had dropped steeply.

Few foreign observers believed that a turning point had been reached. The Far Eastern Economic Review, a respected Hong Kong-based magazine, was still cautioning in early 1980 that the Thai authorities themselves saw “scant cause for optimism,” because the drop-off in activity was a matter only of temporary problems within the insurgent camp. More and more people were leaving the ranks of the insurgents, but the Review played down those defections by noting that historically “the number of new recruits has always stayed one jump ahead.” Elsewhere it was argued that most of the defectors were students and intellectuals who had found that they couldn’t take life in the jungle.

Soon, however, it became clear that the government really did have the advantage. Defectors began to come out of the jungle in unprecedented numbers— in 1980 more than 800 (counting dependents) in the Northeast alone surrendered. During the first half of 1981 Thai soldiers cleared out an insurgent stronghold in the North-Central region that had successfully defied government forces for years. By September the CPT’s main forces in the Northeast had been scattered. By the end of October the army’s director of such operations, Major-General Chaowalit Yongchaiyuth, stated publicly that all but two major CPT bases in the country had been captured. In 1982 Thai counterinsurgency was a mopping-up operation. By then even the leaders of the struggle—senior officials and veterans of ten or more years in the jungle—were defecting.

Unable to gather safely as a single body, the surviving members of the CPT held rump congresses at locations around the country. One dissident group wanted to retrieve the situation by abandoning the Maoist model in favor of organizing in the cities. The proposal was beaten back, but the central party structure split irrevocably. On December 1, 1982, when 250 armed insurgents and their 750 dependents gave themselves up in Mukdahan Province, the northeastern insurgency collapsed. The following year saw more mass surrenders in the North and South. Today several hundred guerrillas—the number is hard to pin down—are still in the jungle, but open insurgent activity has stopped except in a few parts of the South.

So it is an intriguing puzzle indeed: A country is riven by government coups and countercoups. It is in the midst of a struggle between traditional and modernizing elites. The position of its monarchy, the historical fountainhead of national unity, is shaken. Whereupon an apparently robust and growing insurgency collapses. Last winter, I set out for the Northeast, where the threat had been greatest, to look for some answers.

KHAMPHI NOI, Na Kae District. This village, in what had been perhaps the most notorious Communist-dominated district, was having a New Year’s party to welcome 1984 when I arrived. A rickety stage had been set up and five young policemen in matching blue windbreakers were playing Thai pop music very badly over a very loud sound system. Some of their friends on the force were dancing in the dry rice paddy in front of the stage with teenagers from the village. The old folks hunkered on the dikes, watching. A half-dozen Buddhist monks, who had come for the New Year’s ceremonies, took shelter beneath an open tent; a buffet line had been set up nearby, and people helped themselves to mounds of rice and curry. The colonel who headed the district’s police force had come to open the festival. He was not in uniform, nor was he fussed over or protected. He sat with his wife, who was wearing a Florida State sweatshirt against the December chill, and they chatted with passers-by.

As recently as three years before, Khamphi Noi had been a Communist village. In those days the police did not stop by to play rock music and dance. Instead, a thirty-man combat unit was garrisoned there full time in a bunkered encampment; the men had to dodge sporadic harassing fire even in daylight. Once, a large force of insurgents tried to overrun the camp, killing two policemen in the attempt. And there were other casualties over the years, including Khamphi Noi’s headman, whom the Communists assassinated. Several of the young men of Khamphi Noi—different people gave me different numbers—went off to join what the villagers called the “jungle soldiers.” About a quarter of the villagers had actively supported the jungle soldiers, and many more had been sympathizers.

So where were Khamphi Noi’s insurgents now? The villager to whom I addressed this question smiled and pointed to the crowd dancing in front of the stage.

KONG SAWANG, Sakon Nakhon Province. To reach this village, I drove down a rough dirt track to its end, at the foot of the Phu Phan mountains. The Phu Phans are mountains only in comparison with the flat tableland of the Khorat plateau, from which they rise, but everyone calls them mountains, and the scrubby forest on their slopes, which everyone calls jungle, is thick enough to have hidden several thousand insurgents for more than ten years.

A medium-sized village of a hundred households, Kong Sawang looked entirely unexceptional from a distance. Up close, however, the scene was startling. In 1972 I had developed a technique for estimating the economic status of a Thai village: taking an inventory of vehicles and consumer goods. Then, in most places, the job was not daunting; a couple of motorcycles and a few sewing machines were signs of a reasonably rich village. More than ten years later, in Kong Sawang, I realized that the scale would have to be revised. My informal, partial survey of the village turned up one full-sized truck, two pickups, and eight motorcycles. There were two tiny shops, a rice mill, and a roadside restaurant of sorts. There were television aerials, in a part of Thailand where privately owned sets had been nonexistent.

My impression that the rural Northeast was getting richer was no illusion. Indeed, Thailand as a whole is more affluent these days than it used to be. It weathered the economic storms of the 1970s much better than did most of the Third World—and, for that matter, better than did most Western economies. Inflation was a problem in Thailand, as it was everywhere else, running between 10 and 20 percent a year during the second half of the 1970s. But real growth averaged 7.7 percent a year throughout the decade. International debt was kept relatively low and the currency remained sound. Perhaps most important, a new loan program made credit readily available to villagers for the first time. Although it is not at all clear that income distribution has changed for the better (the gap between the average incomes in urban and in rural areas may actually be increasing), there is no doubt that the economy in the countryside is improving.

There were 27 million Thai in 1965, and there are about 50 million now. Empty spaces have become rare. Kong Sawang is one of the few places where land is still available. Even as the insurgency was being fought in the hills just beyond the village’s perimeter, the word was spreading that a person could get a cheap start in Kong Sawang. As a result, it became a village of newcomers and entrepreneurs. The woman who ran the village’s roadside restaurant moved to Kong Sawang with her husband from a village a hundred miles away, where the soil was bad and they couldn’t buy any land. She had relatives here who told her that she could rent ten rai (about four acres) for only three dollars a month. The restaurant was an afterthought. The man who owned the rice mill moved to Kong Sawang in 1973 (relatives were his source of information too) because land was available. By 1981 he was doing so well that he was able to buy the mill with the help of a $3,200 loan from the company to which he would sell his rice. A man named Sai, twenty-nine years old and the village’s magnate, owned the full-sized truck. He returned to Kong Sawang after fifteen years in Bangkok, where he had saved his salary as a mechanic until he could afford to make the down payment on the truck. He was renting it to villagers for transporting crops and such, and he was farming on the side. Not everyone was faring so well, however. Sai estimated that only about 70 percent of the villagers had enough to get along comfortably. The other 30 percent were “yak jon“— so poor that they lived on the edge of subsistence.

What about the insurgency? Everyone agreed that there used to be lots of fighting in the area, with people firing at each other within earshot of the village. The insurgents would come to Kong Sawang to get food, but apart from those contacts the villagers had stayed aloof from both sides and had gone about their own business. Why had the insurgency stopped? Sai said that he supposed it was because of the amnesty program.

Amnesty had been available to insurgents since the 1960s, but the program had been given a low priority. It was revitalized by Prime Minister Kriangsak and then pursued still more vigorously by Prime Minister Prem. Even as a relatively junior field commander, during the 1960s, Prem had advocated more persuasion and less muscle in dealing with the insurgency. When he became the head of the Thai government, Prem was given the authority to do what he had always said could be done. As one observer puts it, “The government went into the jungle and began to cut deals.” Government officials sat down with relatives of known guerrillas and talked over the options. The relatives would pass along the information to the bands in the jungles, clandestine meetings would be arranged, and bit by bit, in peculiarly Thai fashion, a “contract” would be negotiated that might cover one defector or several hundred. The terms varied from one guerrilla to another. Sometimes the defectors wished to go back to their homes, sometimes they preferred to be resettled elsewhere. Sometimes they were given land, sometimes farming implements, sometimes roofing to use in building a house, sometimes cash. Also, the insurgents could sell their weapons to the government, although many found better prices on the black market.

SUWANNAKHOM, Sakon Nakhon Province. It was not just the amnesty, according to Songkha, the headman of Suwannakhom, and he was in a position to know. Ten people from his village had gone over to the insurgents, and two of them had been killed by government soldiers. Teachers and headmen from neighboring villages had been assassinated. The headman told me that from 1965 until 1981 he usually slept where the soldiers were stationed, and only rarely in his own house.

Songkha, who was about sixty years old, was well off by village standards. A television set powered by a car battery sat against one wall of his porch, under a cluster of pictures of the royal family. But he was not an entrepreneur like Sai, or wealthy even in the eyes of his neighbors. Songkha was mostly an idealist— he almost had to be, to have stuck with the job. A headman is elected by the villagers. He receives a token honorarium from the government but no perquisites, and he has unbounded responsibility for settling disputes, enforcing the law, encouraging economic development, and generally making the village a pleasant place to live. In return, in ordinarytimes, he is rewarded with a certain amount of prestige. The headman of any village near the Phu Phans had been under constant threat of sudden death during the 1960s and 1970s. I asked Songkha why he had kept the job, and made a small joke about letting someone else be the target for a change. Songkha, like many other elderly headmen, was a man of great dignity, and his answer was quiet and eloquent. He said that he loved his religion. He loved his king. He loved his country. AH this would have been lost if the Communists had won. It had been his obligation to do what he did.

But why hadn’t the jungle soldiers won? Why had they come home? The headman mentioned the development programs—mentioned the new road that the government built—but he didn’t dwell on them. Instead he argued that winning the struggle was a matter of explaining to the insurgents what the real story was. The boys from the village had gone off to the jungle hoping for money, a tractor, and land, and believing that Thailand was becoming a U.S. colony. According to Songkha, since these reasons for joining the insurgents were bad, and since life in the forests was so miserably uncomfortable, all you really had to do was talk to the fighters. It had taken a while before they’d understood, but once they did, they came back.

Now they were living in the village “choey choey”—that is, they were just living there, like everyone else. No, Songkha didn’t hate them. “We are all Thai,” the man next to the headman murmured.

BAN THAT, Nakhon Phanom Province. This was a sentimental journey. I had worked in Ban That for three months in 1968, and the headman then, Sang, was perhaps the most able I ever met. Sang had been my friend. I assumed that he had died long since, but he turned out to be very much alive— just back from a trip to the University of Khon Kaen to see his youngest son (born when Sang was fifty-seven) graduate with a degree in engineering. Sang’s boy was the first person from the village ever to go to college, and I looked at album after album of graduation pictures.

The guerrillas had never come to Ban That. The village sits astride what was once one of the infiltration routes from Laos, but, paradoxically, the village’s proximity to Laos had acted as a prophylactic. Most of the villagers have relatives in Laos, and after the Pathet Lao took power, the news from across the river was that life was terrible—nothing like the Communists had promised it would be. At the time, it was Sang’s opinion that no one could pay any attention to the Communists after seeing what had happened in Laos.

SAWANG DAEN DIN, Sakon Nakhon Province. Sawang Daen Din is to the Thai revolutionaries what Lexington was to the American colonists. It was there, on May 31, 1961, that a fiftythree-year-old schoolteacher and political activist named krong Chandawong was taken to an air-force landing strip on the outskirts of town and summarily executed, and it was his death that catalyzed the CPT’s decision later on in that year to plan a war of national liberation.

A round-faced, amiably earnest man of thirty-three named Pattana grew up in Sadao, a village a few kilometers from Sawang Daen Din. He joined the insurgency in 1971. He wasn’t a Communist at the time, but soldiers of the Thai army had killed five of his friends, and that made him mad. He began his career as a revolutionary by spending two years at a Chinese-staffed training camp in North Vietnam, where he specialized in combat tactics and weaponry. After returning to Thailand he was assigned to a zone that included Sawang Daen Din. When he defected, in 1979, he was the commander of a weapons unit of 105 men.

We talked at a center where guerrillas who surrendered were brought for “rehabilitation"—a process that would last a few days for the rank and file, a few months for senior cadre. The day I was there, the center housed only soldiers, who were using it as a convenient place to sleep. Pattana himself—a noncommissioned officer in the Thai army—had stopped by on his way back to his post after a visit to his family.

Pattana had surrendered in the first year of the collapse—1979. It hadn’t been his family who had brought him back; both his mother and his wife had encouraged him to join the insurgents and had regularly sent supplies to him. It hadn’t been the life in the jungle. He had been used to that. The immediate reason for his defection had been broken promises. In the zone where Pattana fought, the CPT’s provincial committee had for some time assured the guerrillas that in 1979 the party’s goals would be realized. When it became apparent that victory was more distant than ever, Pattana decided that the party had forfeited his allegiance. His conclusion was helped along by the battle lines he saw being drawn throughout Southeast Asia. He still considered himself a Marxist, and proudly showed me a color photograph, taken at a jungle base camp, of himself and his unit—portraits of Marx, Engels, Stalin, and Mao held high. He had been taught that socialist countries are fraternal, but then he had seen Vietnam invade Kampuchea. He had seen China fight a border war with Vietnam. He began to suspect that Vietnam might invade Thailand, too—and, like the headman of Suwannakhom, Pattana was a Thai patriot.

The amnesty program made all these perceptions easier to act upon. The more Pattana thought about it, the better surrender sounded. So he talked to his relatives and they talked to the district officials. One day Pattana walked out of the forest; a few weeks later he entered the Thai army.

The government’s generally forgiving treatment had not been limited to those who surrendered. Pattana and I were joined by a man who was also wearing Thai army fatigues but who had made no deals with anyone.

His name was Chuang. He was a small, fragile-looking man, no more than five feet tall, with an outsized head and a stiff, intense expression. Until two years before, he had been the senior administrative official for the CPT in an area covering Sawang Daen Din and parts of adjacent districts. I asked when he had surrendered, and there was laughter all around. Chuang had not defected. He had been captured. And while he was forthcoming, apparently candid, and pleasant, at no point did he imply that he was pleased with the way things had turned out.

The reason that the insurgency failed was simple, he told us. The Chinese abandoned it. The insurgents were thrown back onto their own resources, and their resources were insufficient to the task.

The Chinese gave no warning of their plans to cut off supplies. As Pattana and Chuang both remembered it, one month everything was the same as always and a few months later the pipeline was dry: no more weapons, ammunition, medicines, tents, uniforms, or tools; no more clandestine radio broadcasting from Yunnan; no more safe havens across the border for resting and regrouping. Suddenly, without explanation, the insurgency’s logistical prop of almost twenty years was pulled away.

The reason? Apparently, the Thai government had cut its biggest deal of all not with insurgents but with the Chinese.

THAILAND IS THE only Southeast Asian country to have escaped colonization in the nineteenth century. It did so largely as a result of the efforts of two supremely deft (and, fortunately for Thailand, long-reigning) monarchs who played the various powers off against one another. Thailand escaped devastation in the Second World War by nominally siding with the Japanese while some of the country’s highest officials sheltered Allied agents in the Rose Palace in Bangkok.

In the second half of the 1970s, with the unfamiliarly tight Thai—American alliance of the 1960s ended, Thailand’s leaders returned to the game that their predecessors had played so skillfully. In 1975 Prime Minister Kukrit Pramoj visited Beijing and established diplomatic relations—the beginning of a series of forays by senior Thai officials to Beijing, Hanoi, Vientiane, and even Moscow to work out rapprochements with Thailand’s erstwhile enemies.

Until 1979 the contacts with the Chinese produced some commercial arrangements, cultural exchanges, and a boom in Thai tourist excursions to China but did not affect the Chinese Communist Parry’s support of the Thai insurgency. The Chinese were friendly, but they had agendas of their own to worry about. As China’s chairman at the time, Hua Kuo-feng, is reported to have explained to Kriangsak during a visit to China in April of 1978, the Chinese could not afford to shut the door on the CPT, because doing so would only open the door for the Soviets and the Vietnamese.

Then, at the end of December, the Vietnamese invaded Kampuchea. Two months later a war broke out at the Sino— Vietnamese border. The world scarcely noticed the accusations that began coming out of Hanoi that Thailand was allowing the Chinese to supply their Khmer Rouge allies through the island of Koh Kut, in the Gulf of Thailand. The Thai government denied the whole thing, took newspapermen on a tour of the island, and restated its neutrality.

There the official history ends. The underground account (which was repeated to me in virtually identical terms by people in and out of official positions, none of whom was willing to speak for the record) is that Prime Minister Kriangsak and Deng Xiaoping, who was then China’s deputy prime minister, reached a quite explicit deal within days of the Vietnamese invasion of Kampuchea: the Chinese would quit supporting the Thai insurgency, in return for which the Thai would permit the Chinese to ship supplies across Thai territory to the Khmer Rouge. One of these observers added drily that the shipments were coming in at the same airbases from which the Americans had directed the bombing of North Vietnam, and were being trucked to the Kampuchean border over highways that had been built as part of the defense against the insurgency.

The Thai government continues to deny such stories. The salient fact is that, for whatever reasons, the Thai insurgents found themselves abandoned by the Chinese within a year of the Vietnamese invasion of Kampuchea.

The Vietnamese did not step in and fill the vacuum, as the Chinese had once feared they would. They couldn’t, easily, because they had severed their relationship with the CPT just before the Chinese had. In January of 1979, acting on a decision apparently made by Vietnam before the invasion began, the Laotian government forced two battalions of Thai guerrillas to evacuate safe havens in Laos and return to the northern province of Nan, and it was reported that the Laotians relieved the Thai forces of much of their weaponry as they went. The Chinese supply route through western Laos was closed at about the same time. In February of 1979 Vietnamese forces pushed CPT bands out of their Kampuchean base camps. Why would Vietnam take such harsh measures against a supposedly fraternal revolutionary movement? The reason, in another irony that cannot have been lost on the leaders of the insurgency (nor later, perhaps, on the Vietnamese), was that the CPT had allied itself too closely with the Chinese. The end result: an active insurgency with two natural revolutionary sponsors virtually next door was shunned by both of them.

Once the Chinese withdrew their support, the struggle became very, very hard, Chuang told me. There was too little of everything. The villages resisted the additional levies imposed on them by the insurgents to help make up the difference. As the disarray of the CPT became apparent, the party’s influence in the villages began to weaken. The government’s incursions into the Phu Phan mountains brought about the destruction of longtime refuges. These forays were successful because former comrades like Pattana, who knew all about the network of guerrilla base camps and the supply arrangements, led the government’s patrols. (When Pattana showed me a picture of himself at the head of a Royal Thai Army patrol, he seemed to be as proud of it as he was of the pictures showing him with his guerrilla unit.) It was no longer possible to stay in the jungle. When Chuang, the senior administrative officer for what had once been one of the showcase areas of the insurgency, was captured, he was pedaling a trishaw in Khon Kaen. His old comrade Pattana had tracked him down and led the police to him.

BUA MU HOK, Sakon Nakhon Province. One last side road on the drive back to Bangkok brought me to this little village at the southern border of the province. Bua Mu Hok is very poor, and extremely isolated. Several villagers told me that I was the first Westerner who had ever come.

At first, conversation took much the same course that it had elsewhere. The village had been in the middle of the fighting; the people had been split between those who supported the government and those who supported the insurgency; now everyone had come home. But as the talk went on, two young men got angry, at different times and for reasons that exemplify the ambiguities of this revolution that died.

One of the two cradled his baby on his lap as he talked. He had joined the local volunteer force three years before to help fight the Communists and had survived a number of fire fights. We talked about the amnesty program for the insurgents. How did he feel about that? His reaction was sudden and intense. “This is an important story,” he told me. “Listen. These were people who did evil—Thai who killed other Thai. And then they came back and they got all kinds of help, while the people who stayed in the village haven’t gotten much of anything.” Was there another way? I asked him. There was a long pause before he answered: No, there was not. The government had had to give assistance. In some cases, before the guerrillas went into the jungle they had sold everything they owned. Sometimes whole families had gone together, and nothing remained for them to return to. So the help had been necessary.

The other young man stood at the edge of the circle of villagers. The conversation turned to the development of the village, the local crops, and the prices the villagers were getting from the middlemen. He finally interrupted. “They’re very poor!” he shouted, pointing at the crowd. “Look at their clothes!” He went on, glaring at me, his voice bitter. The help the government has given has been pathetically little, he said. Something has to be done. He broke off as abruptly as he had begun and walked away. I decided not to ask whether he was one of the fighters who had come out of the jungle. He was the right age and had the right anger. He did not like the government. Probably he did not like rich Americans wandering around his village. And, for the time being, he had nowhere to go.

THOSE WHO OPPOSE intervention by the United States in the internal affairs of its allies might describe the Thai experience as follows: For years the United States gave Thailand an enormous amount of money, services, and advice in order to aid that country in its struggle against insurgency. Then the Americans left and the Thai were free to go their own way. Having discarded much of the Americans advice, they did quite well for themselves. All this goes to show that a hands-off policy is best for America and best for its friends.

People who see insurgencies as rooted in poverty and oppression would probably present a case like this: Thailand made new economic opportunities available to the people. It improved the responsiveness and evenhandedness of government in the insurgent areas. The Thai strategy for counterinsurgency (especially after the Americans packed up) centered on reconciliation and amnesty. In all of these ways the Thai government wore the white hat and distinguished itself from governments that resort to death squads—and it won.

Finally, those who believe—as every U.S. Administration since Truman’s has believed—that a Communist powder is behind any insurgency would be inclined to make these points: Thailand’s gentle domestic strategies did not quell the rebellion but merely positioned the country to reap the benefits of the deal it struck with the Chinese. The beginning of the collapse of the insurgency coincided not with the withdrawal of American aid or with economic reforms or with amnesty but with the end of support by the Chinese and the Vietnamese. To stop an insurgency, sever it from its sponsors.

You may choose your moral from among a large selection. In the end, perhaps, the most helpful lesson that countries struggling against insurgencies can learn from Thailand is that benevolence and realpolitik can mix.

—Charles Murray