Prologue: The Sergeant-Major and I stood looking across the airstrip, into the pitch-black darkness of the hot tropic night. Across the airfield the jungle loomed; thick, foreboding.
"If they hit us, that is the way they will come, right across the airfield," he said, sweeping his arm out toward the jungle.
"But . . . that is our most wide-open field of fire; that is the easiest sector for us to defend."
"That is exactly why they will hit it," he said. "They know it is the easiest place for us to defend, the least desirable place to mount an assault; that's why they'll figure we'll put the least attention upon it. When they come, they will come right across that airfield," he said.
A pause, and then he added, "You have to understand the Oriental mind."
Karma - from the Sanskrit कर्म - is the law of moral causation. The theory of Karma is a fundamental doctrine of Buddhism; the concept of "action" or "deed", that which causes the entire cycle of cause and effect.
San Phra Phrom
The Erawan Shrine ( ศาลพระพรหม - San Phra Phrom ) is a Hindu shrine in Bangkok that houses a statue of Phra Phrom; the Thai representation of Brahma, the Hindu God of Creation.
The shrine often features Thai dancers, who are hired by worshippers in hopes of seeing their prayers at the shrine answered.
The Erawan Shrine was built in 1956 as part of the Erawan Hotel to eliminate the bad karma believed caused by laying the foundations on the wrong date.
The hotel's construction was delayed by a series of mishaps, including cost overruns, injuries to laborers, and the loss of a shipload of Italian marble intended for the building. Furthermore, the Ratchaprasong Intersection had once been used as an area to put criminals on public display.
An astrologer advised building the shrine to counter the negative influences. The Brahma statue was designed and built by the Department of Fine Arts and enshrined on 9 November 1956. The hotel's construction thereafter proceeded without further incident.
At about 1 am on March 21, 2006, the shrine was vandalised by a Thai man. After smashing the statue with a hammer, 27-year-old Thanakorn Pakdeepol was himself beaten to death by angry bystanders. Two street sweepers who worked for the Pathum Wan district office were arrested and charged with the fatal beating.
Witnesses said Thanakorn stood on the base of the statue with a large hammer in his hands, and smashed the statue to pieces. The slain man's father, Sayant Pakdeepol, said his son had received treatment for psychiatric problems, that mental illness was the cause for the attack, and that the beating death of his son an "overreaction".
"Doing something like this is not the act of people with good beliefs, of those with real faith in Brahma," Sayant was quoted as saying. "Murder is an immoral act and people with morality would not have done what they did."
In the days following the incident at Erawan Shrine, embattled Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra visited and paid his respects to the broken statue of the deity.
Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra
At an anti-Thaksin rally on 22 March, government critic Sondhi Limthongkul claimed that Thaksin Shinawatra masterminded the destruction through Khmer (Cambodian) black-magic shamans in order to replace the image of Brahma with a "dark force" aligned to Thaksin, who sought to maintain power through black magic.
Thaksin, when asked to comment on Sondhi's accusations, simply replied: "That's insane."
THE FINLAND PLOT
Starting in May 2006, Sondhi's newspaper Manager Daily published a series of articles on a movement called "Finland Plot", claiming that Thaksin and former student leaders from the 1970s radical political movement met in Finland in 1999 to create a plan to overthrow the Thai constitutional monarchy and establish a republic. No evidence was ever produced to support the existence of such a plot, and Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai Party firmly denied the accusations. Thaksin sued Sondhi for defamation. Sondhi countered by saying that Thaksin was trying to silence the press.
Massive demonstrations against Thaksin ensued.
The People's Alliance for Democracy - PAD - ( พันธมิตรประชาชนเพื่อประชาธิปไตย ) - was a coalition of protesters against Thaksin Shinawatra.
PAD demonstrators wore yellow - the color of royalty in Asia - to show their support for the monarchy.
Then on 19 September 2006, the Thai military, led by General Sonthi Boonyaratglin, overthrew the Thaksin government and dissolved Parliament. Thaksin was exiled indefinitely and several members of his Cabinet were summoned for investigation.
Public protests against the military junta began in the months after the coup.
Thai Police with helmets and riot shields await near the protest zone.
Renegade Thai General Khattiya Sawasdipol a.k.a. Seh Daeng - "Red Commander" - charismatic leader of the Red Shirts
National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship - the "Red Shirts"
Things got ugly after the Army stepped in.
General Khattiya went down; an Army sniper's bullet to his head.
This whole situation is so messed up, so much bad karma from the git go - no wonder things are such a mess over there.
That makes me sad to learn about the Erawan shrine. Even though I'm a Christian, I strongly believe in the Buddhist way; karma and reincarnation - don't ask me to explain it because I can't. All I know is it is what it is; these feelings have been reinforced throughout all my journeys and adventures.
The Erawan shrine is a beautiful place, I used to love going by there in the evenings; the smell of the incense and the jasmine garlands, the gentle music and the Thai dancers.
Up until now the protracted violence in Bangkok has been so difficult to understand. Learning of the crazy vandalism of the Erawan shrine, and murder on holy ground, this explains so much; it all makes sense to me now:
The Gods are Angry.
Bangkok burning. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)