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Army sex pics - if you don't know, keep mum

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In a country such as Thailand where the military holds more power and carries more influence than deemed appropriate by supporters of Western-style democracies, should its commanders be schooled in the basics of common sense?

Third Army chief Charnchainarong Thanaroon tells new conscripts what is expected of them in Phitsanulok on Thursday. His talk came amid a sex scandal involving six soldiers and a woman, which army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha, inset, said may have been a case of ‘‘mutual consent’’.

Should an effort be made with men who hold the power to wage wars to educate them about public relations? What with all the submarines that need buying, it must be difficult to remember what the right thing to say in public is and when you should really just keep your mouth shut.

Perhaps such men, soldiers, do not care for the subtleties of public speech. They are warriors, they do not talk, they get things done.

But what happens when the top commander of the armed forces is forced into a corner? Not with bullets and bombs but with words and accusations. How is such a man expected to fight his way out of such a situation?

With a lot of pauses, tripping over words and silly statements, that's how.

I am of course referring to army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha's verbal disaster concerning 31 pictures in two sets of photographs showing a woman engaging in sexual acts with multiple male partners.

In his initial statement Gen Prayuth claimed that the photos did not depict rape. No doubt the army chief was basing this conclusion on hard facts brought about by a thorough investigation into the matter, as can be ascertained by his quotes in the Bangkok Post on Tuesday.

He said it "might have been a case of mutual consent". That he was "not sure what the woman was thinking". Later he added that "I don't know but the soldiers did the wrong thing. I don't know if this is a plot to discredit the army."

That's a lot of I don't knows and I'm not sure for someone who is willing to go on public record and say that these photos were not of a rape.

Later Gen Prayuth made the claim that the photos may have been taken by a gang wanting to make porn movies for sale on the internet. Once again he gave no evidence to back these claims, although presumably he thinks that people who surf the internet for porn like grainy jpegs of hard to see sexual acts taken with mobile phones.

Now let's be clear here, I am not saying that he was in any way wrong. It is quite possible that the woman in the two sets of photos was of sound mind and gave her consent to be photographed with multiple partners. Anyone who thinks it's not possible is naive.

But defending your position without any evidence is like trying to hold a fort against invading forces when you don't have any ammunition and reinforcements that can't come to your relief. Or something like that, I've never been in the army myself although I did watch Michael Caine in Zulu once.

Forget military coups, inappropriate use of force and ridiculous military spending, if there was ever a reason why the Thai military should take more of a backseat role, this is it.

Just as a quick quiz, how many people know who the head of the US military is? I don't mean the president, he's the Commander-in-Chief. Who is the actual day-to-day head of the military? I'll pause while you think about it, and no cheating with Google.

After much searching and discussions with several Americans I believe the answer is the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, but I'm not 100% sure that I'm right.

My point is, the head of the most powerful military force in the world manages to keep himself out of the public eye. He is never quoted as saying anything stupid, because not many people even knows his name. And that is how it should be.

But this is Thailand, a country where having "big face" is more important than having a properly functional military whose power is carefully controlled by a civilian government. In our fledgling democracy where every would-be leader is a potential autocrat, the army watches over and protects us.

But somebody needs to watch the watchmen. Somebody needs to ensure that the army chief does not casually dismiss a potential rape case without evidence, offend women's rights groups and create silly stories about internet porn empires.

The military needs a crack team of PR Seals to say "hey, in general the public doesn't like women being taken advantage of sexually. If soldiers are involved, that could look bad for the army. We need to reassure the public that we are taking this matter seriously. That those involved will be punished and that it will never happen again."

Is it scary that the army chief needs someone to tell him that?

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Guest Friday, 18 April 2014

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