The Thai-Cambodian border conflict has suddenly reached new heights of alarm after Cambodian PM has issued an ultimatum calling on Thai troops to withdraw within 24 hours or else face the area becoming a ‘life and death battle zone.’ Concerned Cambodian young men have, apparently, been signing up for the armed forces, some of which appear to be semi-official organizations made up of former Khmer Rouge fighters, if I read it correctly. The visit by the new Thai Foreign Minister (we have had quite a few recently) to Phnom Penh appears to have been unsuccessful. Even so, the sudden announcement by Hun Sen seems surprising – is there some internal conflict or division which he is seeking to overcome by this call for nationalism? I have written before that one of the big problems is the almost complete lack of knowledge that Thai and Cambodian people have of each other – if I ask my students to name one Cambodian celebrity or one word of Khmer language they look at me as if I were a very strange creature (which may be justified, of course). Attempts by the Education Ministry to whip up nationalism here by printing textbooks depicting Cambodians as inherently untrustworthy does not help.
Sometimes it can appear that everything I think is wrong – so many voices try to justify the exact opposite of what appears to be the self-evident truth that it can be disorienting. Well, the unexamined life is not worth living, as Socrates said so a little re-evaluation is not always a bad thing. However, some events show that my beliefs are not that far wrong, or at least not all of the time. So, congratulations to Paul Krugman for winning the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2008. The prize citation relates to Krugman’s work in trade patterns and locations of economic activity but many people will relate the prize to his opinion pieces in the New York Times (syndicated in the Bangkok Post, also), which have relentlessly picked apart the faulty reasoning and occasional bald lies proposed by the right wing ideologues who have dominated American public life since the time of the Reagan disaster.