The 14 October 1973 revolution will be remembered as one of
the darkest periods in Thai political history. It was the Day of
Great Sorrow when an uprising by the people brought down a
military dictator. But the costs in terms of human lives left an
indelible and traumatic scar on Thai society.
The principal characters involved were:
Field Marshall Thanom Kittikachon, the Prime Minister, Field
Marshall Praphat, the Police Chief and Colonel Narong,
Commander 11 Infantry Regiment. Narong, Thanom’s son was
married to the daughter of Praphat.
Thanom had taken power from Field Marshall Sarit in 1963.
In 1971, Thanom dissolved parliament and imposed one-man
rule. The decade of his rule in the 1960’s saw an escalation in
Thai involvement in the Vietnam War. The growing US
military presence in Thailand and the deployment of Thai
forces in Vietnam brought on political, economic and social
The early 70’s was an age of growing political awareness in an
increasingly educated middle-class and demands for economic
progress from a society tired of a regime that had stayed too
long. The plot thickened as rivalry between various military
and political factions intensified.
It was against this backdrop that the tragedy on 14 October
1973 unfolded. The flames were stoked in June 1973 when
student activists were expelled for anti-government activities.
The confrontation reached a climax in October when 13
students led by student leader, Thirayuth Boonmi, were
Students from Thammasat University massed at the
Democracy Monument demanding the release of their
colleagues. Workers and the general population who were
equally disgruntled with Thanom rallied in support.
Estimates of number of demonstrators exceeded 200,000, the
biggest public demonstration in Thai history.
Things came to a head when the student leaders who were
released were rearrested. The die was cast for a bloody
confrontation on that fateful day on 14 October 1973.
When the army moved in, a massacre ensued. Students ran for
their lives, many jumping for cover into nearby canals. Some
sought refuge in the Royal Palace at Chitlada where the gates
were opened for the fleeing students. There were tales of untold
heroism as some fought back by pushing buses across roads to
Recriminations continue to be traded between the people
involved on 14 October 1973. Conspiracy theories abound;
rivals out to dispose of Thanom by manipulating the students;
a plot by army rivals who instigated the confrontation to
Whatever the causes, it didn’t justify the brutal use of raw
military might against unarmed civilians. It was to the credit of
some military units that they refused to be involved in putting
down the popular uprising.
In the aftermath of the bloodbath, Thanom, Praphat and
Narong were asked to step down in the interest of national
unity and leave the country.
Sanya Thammasak, the Rector of Thammasat University, was
appointed as the civilian Prime Minister. A new constitution
was drawn up and elections were scheduled for January 1975.
There were hopes for a lasting and stable democracy.
In 1976, Thanom returned to Thailand to trigger another
round of protests, an even greater tragedy and darker period
in Thai political history. Again the events revolved around
Thammasat University in the month of October.
Where are the protagonists in the 14 October 1973 revolution
today? Thanom died in Thailand in 2004. Thirayuth Boonmi,
the student leader is a lecturer in Thammasat University and
still an outspoken critic on national issues.
The 14 October 1973 spirit lives on. The 14
October 1973 Memorial stands as a monument to the
sacrifice by the brave young men and women who stood up
and died for a cause.
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