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In September 2017, I wrote a summary on 'The Enigma of the Deaths on October 6' for the Documentation of Oct 6 Project. One of the issues mentioned was the photo of a man holding a chair and using it to beat the body of a hanged victim on Sanam Luang. The photo by Neil Ulevich, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1977, was one of the most viewed photos of the October 6th incident. The 'chair' in the man's hand has therefore become a symbol of violence. But 40 years have passed and we still do not know who he was; very few people even cared to ask who he was. So we would like to refer to him as the ‘Chair Man' for now.
In fact, the idea to search for the Chair Man (and those who were laughing in the photo) began with Acharn Thongchai Winichakul, who proposed it to David Tucker, an Australian documentary filmmaker. But efforts to find him were not very successful. I myself have become involved with the idea only after I planned to produce a documentary film to commemorate the victims of the October 6th incident for the 40th anniversary of October 6. The movie was 'Respectfully Yours', with Phattharaphon Phuthong (Aor) as the main force in the search for the victims' relatives. Phattharaphon also helped David research and relate information.
During the time Phattharaphon and I tried to trace the victims' relatives, we had to do as much homework as possible by looking at the photos and reading the information on the victims. We had to compare the photos with the information in order to find out who was who, as it was necessary for setting the questions. The more we looked, the more details we found that led us to confirm that there were at least five persons hanged on Sanam Luang that morning. Many more questions were raised, (please see which made us realize that we had to work on it seriously.
Undoubtedly, we were also looking for the Chair Man, as Acharn Thongchai (Winichakul) told us that the man had appeared in many of the violent scenes. The attached photos indicated that he was involved in at least three deaths: the one in Ulevich's photo, the hanging of Wichitchai Amornkul (a 2nd year student of the Faculty of Political Science, Chulalongkorn University) and the burning of the four bodies. Acharn Thongchai said he saw another photo of the same man sitting on top of the body of a woman who had been stripped naked, but we could not find it. (If you have the photo, please send it to the project). The important question was: what did it mean when the very same person appeared to take part in many of the most atrocious crimes on that particular morning?
Since early 2016 when I started to get involved with the October 6 Project, I recalled how, in 2011, my son, a Matthayom 2 (8th Grade) student, related to me about his khon (traditional Thai theatre) teacher at school who proudly told his students that he had been involved in the use of violence against the students on October the 6th. My son said that this teacher was aggressive and rude; he liked to hit children as punishment and they were very afraid of him. I didn't really like what I heard. My son also wasn't happy with this school, which was a famous private school where most children came from wealthy families. But he stayed there only for one semester and quit. Therefore I stopped paying attention to the matter.
But in 2016 when I got involved with the research on the October 6th incident and our team was interested in seeking and interviewing members of the right-wing mob involved in or witnessing the violence at Sanam Luang, I asked my son whether he remembered the name of his khon teacher just in case the man would agree to be interviewed. We wanted to know why he was at the incident, whether he acted on his own or which group he belonged to, etc.
My son remembered the teacher's name and helped me find the man on the internet. Unfortunately, the man had just recently passed away from a serious illness in 2015. Among the information my son found, there was a portrait photo of that teacher. I asked Phattharaphon and my family members to look at the photo. But none of them could confirm that he was the Chair Man, despite the fact that he had a similar square-shaped face, flat nose and prominent jawline. I kept this in mind and returned to the photo quite often. Then one day someone gave some long-kept photos to Phattharaphon for the October 6 Project, and among them there was a full face photo of the Chair Man. This showed that the face structure of the teacher and the Chair Man were very similar. Therefore Phattharaphon and I turned to following up the matter seriously once again but in the end we concluded that the two were not the same person. However I would like to document the search process as it shows a lot about the sickness of people.
I told Phattharaphon that we should seek information from the school. Very fortunately, a younger friend of Phattharaphon had recently been assigned to write the school's history and therefore could access information about the school. This friend of Phattharaphon was an alumnus; he said that the teacher had once been fired because he injured a colleague, but the school later took him back. He himself and many of his younger and older friends remembered well how this teacher talked about his heroism on October 6th in class: how he was the one to 'open the scene of' (start) the hangings on Sanam Luang, how he helped to free one student, who had been shot but was not yet dead, from his suffering by beating his head with a brick to kill him, and so on. I believed all generations of students who had studied with this teacher must have had to hear about his heroism. Phattharaphon's friend was around 10 years older than my son yet they shared the same experience.
Phattharaphon also got the phone number of the teacher's family. We together called and talked with the wife of the teacher who said her husband also used to tell her and the children how he was involved in October 6th. We cropped the face of the Chair Man from the photo and send it to her; she insisted that it was not her husband. Finally, we obtained a photo of the teacher as a young man, which confirmed that the two persons were not the same. The search therefore ceased.
What shocked and saddened us about this was the thought of what kind of society makes a person still feel proud of his own brutal acts, although almost 40 years have passed. Age did not help enable a human being to reconsider his past actions, actions against a 'political enemy' that he had never personally known, but which made him proud of himself ever since.
This story was first published on Puangthong's Facebook account.
The Chair Man is an iconic picture of the 6 October Massacre
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