Year published :October 2020
Pages :322 pp., paperback
Size :15 x 23 cm.
Black & White illustrations :11
Rights :Southeast Asia
Moments of Silence: The Unforgetting of the October 6, 1976, Massacre in Bangkokby Thongchai Winichakul
Published by University of Hawaii Press. This edition is for sale in Southeast Asia only.
The massacre on October 6, 1976, in Bangkok was brutal and violent, its savagery unprecedented in modern Thai history. Four decades later there has been no investigation into the atrocity; information remains limited, the truth unknown. There has been no collective coming to terms with what happened or who is responsible. Thai society still refuses to confront this dark page in its history.
Moments of Silence focuses on the silence that surrounds the October 6 massacre. Silence, the book argues, is not forgetting. Rather it signals an inability to forget or remember—or to articulate a socially meaningful memory. It is the “unforgetting,” the liminal domain between remembering and forgetting. Historian Thongchai Winichakul, a participant in the events of that day, gives the silence both a voice and a history by highlighting the factors that contributed to the unforgetting amidst changing memories of the massacre over the decades that followed. They include shifting political conditions and context, the influence of Buddhism, the royal-nationalist narrative of history, the role played by the monarchy as moral authority and arbiter of justice, and a widespread perception that the truth might have devastating ramifications for Thai society. The unforgetting impacted both victims and perpetrators in different ways. It produced a collective false memory of an incident that never took place, but it also produced silence that is filled with hope and counter-history.
Moments of Silence tells the story of a tragedy in Thailand—its victims and survivors—and how Thai people coped when closure was unavailable in the wake of atrocity. But it also illuminates the unforgetting as a phenomenon common to other times and places where authoritarian governments flourish, where atrocities go unexamined, and where censorship (imposed or self-directed) limits public discourse. The tensions inherent in the author’s dual role offer a riveting story, as well as a rare and intriguing perspective. Most of all, this provocative book makes clear the need to provide a place for past wrongs in the public memory.
About the author
Thongchai Winichakul is emeritus professor of history at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
What others are saying
After reading Moments of Silence, no one should ever again refuse scholars the right to fuse emotion with analysis in reflecting on tragic events they have witnessed. At once a riveting memoir, a careful scholarly assessment, a yearning for conversations never consummated, and an act of sustained political courage tempered with compassionate fairness, the book exposes the violence that the continuing silence about the events of 1976 has inflicted on the Thai body politic. That silence, the norms that sustain it, and the labile public memory those norms have shaped serve the unsmiling authoritarianism that still haunts the “land of smiles” to this day.
—Michael Herzfeld, Harvard University
Thongchai Winichakul has done it again. Siam Mapped remains one of the most impressive books on Thailand’s past ever written, and his new one is just as good. Moments of Silence is also bracingly personal, for its author as a young activist was directly affected by the violence that convulsed Bangkok in 1976. An innovative blend of memoir and theoretically informed ruminations on memory, Moments of Silence has much to offer not just those concerned with Southeast Asia but also anyone interested in the myriad other settings, from Beijing and Burma to Cairo and Kent State, that have been sites of massacres, large or small, with complex and contested legacies.
—Jeffrey Wasserstrom, author of Vigil: Hong Kong on the Brink
It is very difficult for anyone belonging to the 1970s generations of Southeast Asian student activists to read and finish Moments of Silence.There is so much pain in this memoir of Thongchai Winichakul. Yet, somehow, he has been able to take a step back and analyze the 1976 massacre of his fellow students at the Thammasat University. With this book, Thailand’s ruling elites will not be able to hide the full story of that tragedy anymore.
—Patricio N. Abinales, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
The subject of Thongchai Winichakul’s Moments of Silence is not so much what actually happened on 6 October, but the silence that followed. There has never been an official investigation, and a blanket amnesty issued two years after the event absolved all perpetrators from blame. Most school textbooks make no mention of it, and those that do gloss over it in just a few sentences. To this day, the event remains cloaked in mystery, poorly understood and often misremembered. Thongchai’s revelatory memoir-cum-history charts a chronological journey through this silence, examining its causes, exploring its impact on individuals and exposing the toll it has taken on the collective psyche. . . . If Thailand ever reconciles with or integrates this grim chapter into the national history and collective psyche, it will be because of brave books like Moments of Silence.
—Emma Larkin, author of 'Finding George Orwell in Burma', Mekong Review, 5:3
—Chris Baker, Bangkok Post