Thai Tears and Dirt Roads

A tribute to Kenneth Bigley and Paul Johnson


Willard Van De Bogart

October 10, 2004
a photograph of a dirt road in Banphot Phisai Thailand.
Dirt road in the tambon Bang-ta nagai in the ampur Banphot Phisai, Thailand
Click on image for larger view - photo by Willard Van De Bogart

a photograph of Kenneth Bigley's Thai wife. | a photograph of Eugene Johnson's Thai wife.
Sombat - wife of kenneth Bigley - Thanom - wife of Paul Johnson

There is something very calming about walking along a dirt road in the early morning hours deep in the woods or along a riverbank no matter what part of the world you live it.

But in Thailand you are apt to encounter a monk or an exotic wild flower or even an unusual silhouette of a bamboo tree providing a different kind of ambience as the sun slowly seeps through the large banana leaves. The aura of Thailand is forever permeated with reminders that here on the planet earth Lord Buddha holds the people's moral fiber together with thousands of Buddhist temples dotting the countryside.

a photograph of a monk and his dog. | a photograph of a wild flower
a photograph of bamboo trees. | a photograph of the sunset over the Ping river.
Click on images for larger view - photos by Willard Van De Bogart

I am not a Thai national. I was born in one of the world's largest metropolises called New York City. As I moved up in years my mind became full of ideas and knowledge of the universe. So, when I walk down a dirt road in the tambon Bang-ta nagai in the ampur Banphot Phisai, Thailand, surrounded by exotic flowers and plants and brightly colored orange Buddhist robes set against the trees, I contemplate the world I am from and the world I am in. My choice to live in Thailand stems from seeking a more contemplative lifestyle which shows respect for all life in a multitude of ways. Yet even in this monastic culture the modern day world is every bit as accessible as it was from my Western roots in America.

But on this morning I am particularly saddened by having to see portrayed on the global media a Thai woman pleading to powers she probably knows little of. Her heart felt pleas are directed to unknown political forces that want to kill her husband as he cries on television asking for mercy behind his blind folded eyes. I watch, the world watches, and the powers that are being pleaded to by this Thai woman to save her husband's life say they can not help. The powers that are being asked to show mercy to her husband are not listening as they have an agenda quite beyond the pleas to save her husband from being killed.

So today, on this dirt road in Thailand, like so many dirt roads in Thailand, Mr. Kenneth Bigley will no longer be able to walk with his Thai wife, Sombat, and look at all these beautiful flowers. Mr. Bigley's head was cut off by his captors, and the birds will miss Ken Bigley, the flowers will droop, and the morning mist will fill the rivers with tears of sadness. So now these dirt roads in Thailand are filled with tears of anguish and loneliness that comes from having to loose a loved one. Mr. Bigley is no longer with us, and what remains are the smug indignations of global leaders who allowed Mr. Bigley's head to roll down histories lane along with the heads of Nick Berg, Paul Johnson, Eugene Armstrong and Jack Hensley.

Prime Minister Tony Blair from the great country called England, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra from the bucolic country of Thailand, President George W. Bush from democratic America, and Iyad Allawi the Prime Minister of Iraq all allowed Mr. Bigley's head to be cut off because they all declared in unison, "we do not negotiate with terrorists". Our leaders watch helplessly as the terrorists continue to kill our loved ones, bomb our children, massacre our citizens before any of the leaders of the world would agree to listen to any of their demands. Rather, the powers that be will turn their heads away from dialogue and will bomb, annihilate and intimidate anyone who dares defy the letter of the law. Somewhere there is something terribly wrong with this picture. Both sides, the terrorists and the non-terrorists are killing one another and nobody is talking to anybody. Its killing for killings sake as if the popular adage is now "we will kill because to kill is to remove all obstacles in order to install the law of the land".

United Nations Secretary - General Kofi Annan gave an address before the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday Sept. 21st titled "Freedom is Best Guaranteed by Strengthening the Rule of Law". He states. "I believe we can restore and extend the rule of law throughout the world. But ultimately, that will depend on the hold that the law has on our conscience". But I ask, where have all the laws gone? I venture to say there is no law, but only the desire to impose the stronger will on those people who do not agree with the dominant point of view.

One day we could drink water and all die of poison. One day the air could be filled with biological agents stopping us from breathing. One day the sky could become very bright and then all would be still as the nuclear winter would finally settle in and another beginning of life would emerge generations later. The dirt road is so quiet this morning in Thailand. I can feel the sadness in the air, as Ken Bigley's head has become the iconic reminder of the untold thousands of people that are being killed by this global conflict of apparently insurmountable differences. Thailand is a country that is not prone to express its feelings of dissatisfaction with what its government is doing. But I am sensing that new ideas are filtering through the trees this morning. I am hearing that there is a growing dissent amongst the people. The course that is being taken by the rulers of Thailand is focusing on how best to make the Thai culture a good consumer society rather than an exemplar of morality and the sanctity of life. Thailand is succumbing to the globalization of the world by sanctioning swift legislation at the expense of listening to the people. The Buddhists, Muslims, farmers and Hill Tribe people are all demanding that their voices be heard. People want a representative democracy and not a "monetocracy". The people are asking why their leaders could not have done more to save Mr. Bigley. The time now in Thailand,in my mind, is a time of sadness that has never before been so drenched in despair as it is now with the combined broken hearts of Sombat, who is Ken Bigley's Thai wife, and Thanom, who is Paul Johnson's Thai wife. We are all crying with these Thai wives for their tragic loss, and everyone has the right to ask why did all these super powers act so helplessly, including Thailand, to allow these beheadings. It was wrong to allow it to happen, and surely this sadness is going to mutate, and whether this current Thai government likes it or not these beheadings are going to forever change the way people perceive their leaders both here and abroad.

So, the dirt road is so very quiet this morning. I hope Mr. Bigley can see that his life was not in vain, but a clarion call to pay attention to the powerlessness of those in power. The true power is the power of people's spirits and this power has to be the solution to resolving our global malaise that is allowing these killings to continue without concern for humanities dignity and ultimately its long term survival.

Ajarn Willard Van De Bogart
Nakhon Sawan Rajabhat University

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Willard Van De Bogart

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