Thailand’s Existential Crisis: Turmoil Looms as the Country Mourns the Loss of a Beloved King

399a11a000000578-0-image-a-2_1477125805528

The passing of King Bhumibol has brought out the best in Thais, but also the worst.

Alongside heartwarming stories of unity and kindness, of volunteers handing out water and snacks to the hundreds of thousands of mourners gathered outside the grand palace gates, there are also alarming videos of angry mobs. One mob surrounded a police station, demanding the arrest of a woman who allegedly committed lese majeste by insulting the late king on social media. Another mob stormed a food stall in search of the owner’s son who also posted offensive remarks. The crowd eventually agreed to disperse, but not before singing the royal anthem.

The cultish reverence Thais express for King Bhumibol has been the tenuous bond bridging the political divide over the years. During the brief decade of democratic rule between the mid-90’s and 2006, now-exiled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra emerged as a divisive figure in Thai politics: his populist policies made him highly popular amongst the rural poor, while the urban middle class saw him as corrupt. His critics also accused the pro-Thaksin faction of aspiring to the establishment of a Thai republic — an aspiration that was perhaps prevalent among just a subset of Thaksin supporters. Of course, Thaksin was not the source of division, but he certainly catalyzed the polarization of fragmentary tendencies.

Love of the king was at times brandished as a political weapon, perhaps like patriotism in America. To be accused of being disloyal to the monarchy would have elicited a social wrath similar to (or more extreme than) what Donald Trump faced when he derided Ghazala Khan, the Gold Star mother who accompanied her husband onstage at the Democratic National Convention.

However, another side of this collective respect for the king was its ability to bring people together. Concerned that conflicts and disunity would burden the king, Thais have kept turmoil from boiling over and descending into violence — or, they at least preserved the rarity of such occurrences.

King Bhumibol earned the love and respect of his subjects by devoting himself to development projects and making himself visible and accessible during his active years. Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, however, does not enjoy the level of reverence that his father did. This begs the question: can a king who is deemed less legitimate in the eyes of the Thai public maintain unity? Or will existing political fault lines reemerge, freed from any need to respect the wishes of a revered king?

If the latter plays out, the monarchy as an institution may be at stake and, because of the historical political alliance between the military and the palace, it is the junta who stands to lose the most. Thailand has been under military rule for most of its history since becoming a constitutional monarchy, but even during democratic rule, the military was never far removed from politics. It has managed to maintain political legitimacy by claiming to defend the interests of the crown.

With the accession of the Crown Prince, underground anti-royalist factions may start gaining traction. Whether the public will acquiesce to the accession — and if not, what the military’s response would be —remains among the many questions in the minds of Thais during this disorienting period. The death of King Bhumibol marks the end of an era, a definitive shift in the monarchy’s place in the hearts of the Thai people, and possibly edges Thailand closer towards institutional reform.

 

Originally published in The SAIS Observer, the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies Newspaper, on November 6, 2016.

Advertisements

The Origins of Thai-Chinese Identity

legend-of-thai-grocery

As Chinese New Year approaches, I thought I would take this opportunity to discuss the history of the largest overseas Chinese population in the world, in Thailand, and how its assimilation into domestic society stands out from the experiences of other overseas Chinese communities. Fourteen percent of the Thai population are of partial or full Chinese descent, according to the CIA World Factbook; but this statistic is likely a rough approximation, due to widespread intermarriage and seemingly fluid ethnic boundaries. Before we examine the Chinese assimilation into Thai society, however, it is informative to study the origins of Thai national identity.

The Emergence of a National Consciousness

The Thai word for ‘nation’ is chaat. Its original meaning derived from Pali-Sanskrit means “birth, race, lineage, and origin.” It was not until the nineteenth century, however, that the meaning of chaat came to encompass the concept of nation, initially only in reference to Western countries. For instance, a court document from 1850 refers to chaat amerikan, which implied a nation of people rather than an American race. (See Scot Barmé, Luang Wichit Wathakan and the Creation of a Thai Identity). Towards the end of the century, with Britain and France expanding their empires into Burma and Indochina, Prince Prisdang, Siamese ambassador to France, proposed to King Chulalongkorn the drafting of a constitution, in the interest of the Thai chaat, and to counter the growing threat of colonization from European countries.

Further, under Chulalongkorn’s reign, a feudal system known as sakdina was abolished in order to consolidate power. The system, instituted in the fifteenth century, subjected every male to a social hierarchy. Sakdina was measured in terms of land, although it did not translate directly to property rights; the highest ranking prince’s sakdina was 10,000 rai (approximately 4,000 acres) while prai, or common peasant, was designated 25 rai. Slaves were designated five rai. Each prai was registered under a nobleman for whom he had to serve for half the year; slaves were considered personal property of their masters and thus served full-time. With the sakdina system abolished and provincial noblemen stripped of their prai and slave labor, power was concentrated in Bangkok. Siamese citizens were now considered subjects of the state and civilian loyalties shifted from the provincial to the national level.

King Vajiravudh and the Three Pillars of the Nation

King Vajiravudh (1910-1925), the sixth king of the Chakri dynasty, initiated a campaign of official nationalism, building his discourse upon three pillars: chaat, religion (Buddhism), and the monarchy. He asserted the Buddhist view that kingship is essential for orderly life and the prevention of society’s descent into anarchy. Further, according to Buddhist belief, birth into kingship reflected the accumulation of good karma in past lives; therefore, by virtue of birth, kings were judged as possessing the moral capacities and legitimacy to rule. With the establishment of the tri-pillar concept of nation, Vajiravudh stipulated that a threat to the king was a threat to the nation.

Meanwhile, the overseas Chinese community had begun to grow rapidly. The most recent wave of immigrants were predominantly southern Chinese farmers from Guangdong province fleeing drought, poverty, and the communist revolution. This alarmed the king, who saw it as a threat to Thai national identity; he dispensed heavy criticism against the Chinese, famously in two articles (under the pen name ‘Asavapahu’) titled Wake up Thailand and The Jews of the Orient. In the latter he writes, “the Chinese are like the Jews…the Chinese were taught to divide humanity into two groups, namely Chinese and savages. From the perspective of the Chinese, Europeans are savages just like other (non-Chinese) Asians and blacks. Therefore, it goes without saying that the Chinese have no intention of doing honest business with us.” (Note: the text is in Thai; the translation is my own)

The Chinese Assimilation

Despite the rhetoric, formal policies were never enacted against the Chinese as the king recognized the Thai economy had by then grown dependent on cheap Chinese wage labor. Yet what the immigrants didn’t experience in formal discrimination, they did in bigotry. A derogatory term commonly used by Thais to refer to Chinese immigrants was Jek, intended to deride a person whose origins and ancestry were unknown; a nomad who peddled unskilled labor (Thak Chaloemtiarana speculates in his book Thailand: The Politics of Despotic Paternalism that the term has two possible derivations, the first is the word for the number ‘one’ in the Teochew dialect spoken by the vast majority of immigrants, and the second is the word for ‘uncle’). In order to assimilate into Thai society, many Chinese families abandoned their Chinese surnames in favor of Thai ones, following the royal decree of 1909 mandating that all Thai citizens adopt surnames (up until then, Thais had only first names but no surnames to identify lineage). The result was an almost complete assimilation of the ethnic Chinese population into society, many among the present economic and political elite. Today, a significant portion of the population, particularly in the central and northern areas, are of partial or full Chinese descent, although it is difficult to gauge due to the high incidence of intermarriage. Thai-Chinese individuals will commonly refer to themselves as Thai first and foremost, some even neglecting to identify themselves as ethnically Chinese.

The assimilation of the Chinese population in Thai curiously contrasts with that of its neighbor, Malaysia. Malaysia has the world’s second largest overseas Chinese community (after Thailand) and while it also experienced a large wave of immigrants from Guangdong and Fujian concurrently to Thailand, Chinese Malaysians remain highly segregated from the Malays. This difference is not attributable to socioeconomic factors as Chinese Malaysians occupy a similar position amongst the elite as the Chinese in Thailand. Further, the adoption of new last names which contributed to the partial blurring of Chinese identity was a phenomenon unseen in Malaysia.

The Chinese in present-day Thai society

Today, discriminatory attitudes towards Thais of Chinese descent are almost non-existent, perhaps only manifesting in diluted form as comical caricatures on TV shows (ill-mannered, nouveau riche, and greedy, for instance). But in everyday society the economic and political prominence of the Thai-Chinese are undeniable, and in this sense they are anything but a marginalized population. Bangkok’s Chinatown is a thriving commercial district teeming with shoppers year-round but especially busy during Chinese New Year and the Vegetarian Festival – festivals adopted and celebrated by the general population. The state’s historically discriminatory rhetoric coupled with a lack of formal exclusionary policies may have inadvertently facilitated assimilation though without causing the erasure of Chinese identity, which in turn has pervaded greater domestic society.

 

The point of death is life

IMG_1667

Several years ago, someone once asked me,

“What’s the point? We’re all going to die anyway.”

He suffered from depression and on that summer night was feeling particularly hopeless. He pondered why we had to strive to do well in school, to grow a successful career and form relationships and build a family, when in the end there was going to be no trace left of it, or of us. His tone was both resigned and desperate. I found myself unable to give him a convincing response. I fumbled, mumbling something along the lines of “Oh, but we can still enjoy it while it lasts.” But I doubted my answer the moment it came out, and saw no relief in his eyes.

This summer, I visited my Japanese grandmother’s grave on the second anniversary of her death. She is buried next to my grandfather in a beautiful cemetery overlooking Mt. Fuji, not far from her home in Nagatsuta, Yokohama, where my mother lived as a university student, and where began a precious relationship between two families spanning four decades.

My mother

My mother in the garden at the home in Nagatsuta, Yokohama

My mother, second from right, and Obaajama, left

My mother, second from right, and Obaajama, left

My mother arrived in Japan in 1969, on the Bank of Thailand’s scholarship to study Economics at Keio University in Tokyo. She ended up staying for seven years to complete both her bachelors and masters degrees. After two years in the dorms, my mother moved to Yokohama to live with a host family. She grew very close to her host parents, especially her host mother, and continued to correspond with them after she left Japan, visiting occasionally. I first met my mom’s host parents in 1991, six months after I was born, and they became known to me as Obaajama and Ojiijama (grandma and grandpa in Japanese) thereafter.

1013050_10151452322782623_1577158079_n

Ojiijama, Obaajama, and I on the subway in 1991.

IMG_1608

Obaajama dressing me up in a kimono, 1991

Growing up, I saw Obaajama and Ojiijama almost every year. Some years we would go stay in Yokohama, in the same house my mother lived in; other years they would visit us in Bangkok. After Ojiijama passed away in 2004, Obaajama took solo trips to Thailand and sometimes vacationed abroad with us. The only grandparent I knew was my father’s mother, who passed away when I was 10. So since then, Obaajama was the one who would spoil me with treats and presents.

She was vibrant, funny, and extremely talkative. I speak very little Japanese and yet she would talk at me, and it gave me joy regardless of whether I understood what she was saying or not. She sent me handmade postcards with photos of Jack, her beloved pug. She loved to sing and was a member of an amateur opera group for seniors, which travelled to Europe annually to give concerts. She would compile piano accompaniments of her favorite arias for me to play while she sang. We went strawberry-picking together, and potato-digging, after which Obaajama made the most delicious potato soup. We picked flowers from her garden and pressed them. Whenever she and my mother visited each other, they would stay up for hours chatting over tea.

In May 2013, Obaajama lay in the hospice bed, two months after the lung cancer she had seven years prior had returned and metastasized to her bones. She was very weak and held my parents’ and my hands with her eyes closed. She thanked us. hontoni arigato. I listened to her last words to me with limited comprehension, that my mother was her musumesan (daugher) and I was her omagosan (grandchild); her first blood-related granddaughter would be born six months after her death. I like to think that I was an adequate substitute.

Perhaps the question that doesn’t get asked enough is not “What is the point of life?” but rather “What is the point of death?” Life and death are inherently part of the same cycle, but often death is not given the consideration it deserves. By making the most out of death, we necessarily make the most out of life. If I could go back to that night in junior year and attempt the question again, of what the point of life is, given that it ends in death, I would reassure my friend that yes, we will die, but when we do, someone will remember. And when they can no longer remember, it won’t mean that it wasn’t so. The value of love, joy, and happiness is intrinsic, a value that is realized when it is given and received. And it won’t matter even if no one is left to cherish the memory. All that matters is that, there was happiness, there was joy, and there was love.

Luxor, Egypt, 2010

Luxor, Egypt, 2010

IMG_1640

Obaajama's baby granddaughter

Sawa-chan, Obaajama’s baby granddaughter, 2015

Lessons on Humanity from a Holocaust Survivor

We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses. We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers, From Prague, Paris, and Amsterdam, And because we are only made of fabric and leather And not of blood and flesh, each one of us avoided the hellfire. - Moses Schulstein

We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses.
We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers,
From Prague, Paris, and Amsterdam,
And because we are only made of fabric and leather
And not of blood and flesh, each one of us avoided the hellfire.
– Moses Schulstein

Last month, I had the rare opportunity of listening to the horrific experiences of a Holocaust survivor, Marty Weiss, who is now a volunteer at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Marty, a slight but very healthy-looking gentleman in his eighties, was a young teenager when he and his family were rounded up from then-Czechoslovakia, and sent off to Auschwitz in 1944. Upon arrival, the men and women were separated. Marty, his father, brother, sister, and two uncles were selected for labor, while the rest of his family was sent directly to the gas chambers.

According to Marty, the greatest source of suffering during his stay in the camp was hunger. The prisoners were so weak that they stumbled around as if blind. He recounts one incident when a man fell face-first into a shallow puddle and, being so weak, was unable to lift his head above the water. “No one would have thought to help him,” Marty says, “not because we were heartless, but because in that moment we envied him, that he was not going to have to suffer anymore.”

Marty and his father were soon transferred to a different labor camp, a sub-camp of the Mauthausen concentration camp. Towards the end of his time there, prisoners were being fed one meal a day, consisting of a pint of plant broth and a piece of “bread” made mostly from sawdust. The bread crumbled into a fine powder when cut, and had to be received with cupped hands. Marty said that at that time, he just wished he could eat a loaf of bread—not devouring it like a pig, but instead eating it like a human being, even leaving a small piece leftover, to preserve his dignity. “And then they could take me out and shoot me, and I wouldn’t care.” His voice already shaky, Marty paused to wipe his eyes.

When the Allies finally liberated them, Marty, his cousin, and a few other prisoners wandered from the camp in search of food (Marty’s father had by then already died of exhaustion and starvation). They found an abandoned truck loaded with cow hides and lard. At a nearby house, they knocked on the door, asked for some flour, milk, and eggs, and made dumplings on an outdoor stove. After their meal, the men returned to the house with the cow hides as tokens of their thanks for the German woman who had given them food.

Now that they were no longer captives and the Germans had lost the war, perhaps one may wonder why Marty and his comrades did not simply barge into the house and loot for food. This is what he said: “If I ever felt hate, it was then. To me, all Nazis were German and all Germans were Nazis. Yet, even after what they had done, it never occurred to us that we should have acted in an uncivilized manner. We were barely human then, but we managed to somehow hold onto our decency. And to this day it bothers me. It must have been a certain way that we were brought up.”

Marty saw the German woman, not as the perpetrator, but as a human being, and by doing so, preserved his own humanity. This lesson is important, and especially timely amidst the Israeli bombardment of Gaza and heavy fighting in Eastern Ukraine. History has shown us that patriotism and the categorization of people into political/religious/ethnic groups is dangerous. When we aren’t thinking in units of people, humanity is quickly lost and the destruction of a uniform, foreign, non-human population becomes alarmingly easy.

The poor are dumb and the rich are saints

whistle2

In my earlier post ‘Barely crawling and shouting “Democracy,”‘ I concluded that as long as income inequality continues to plague Thailand, democracy cannot work effectively. And the disparity is never more apparent than when insults are being hurled. I often hear anti-government groups refer to Thaksin’s supporters, the majority of whom are the rural poor (which makes up most of the country), as uneducated, unsophisticated, and politically unaware. Yet this allegation is false, because by casting their votes for populism, the poor are in a way making the most rational decision. Since only about 6% of the population pays tax, low income voters have no incentive to monitor government spending. So what if the government wants to distribute 1.7 million tablet PCs to elementary school children, despite the fact that internet coverage remains patchy or that the prime minister’s family also happens to own the country’s largest telecommunications company? Compliments of the taxpayers.

The latest round of anti-government protests have received overwhelming support from the elite classes, the self-proclaimed “panya-chon” or “educated people” who have come out to voice their disapproval for the sake of the nation. A new trend has spread rapidly through social media, with celebrities instagramming themselves donning headbands and blowing whistles and the rest of Bangkok following suit. Make no mistake, I have absolutely no problem with politically active citizens asserting their concerns and no doubt most of them have the country’s best interests in mind. Yet the rich and beautiful accusing the poor of ignorance and greed, of selling their dignity, completely takes for granted the fact that the upper classes are the ones that reap the benefits of inequality. Acting out the role of saint only serves to rub privilege in the faces of the poor.

Taking the moral high ground is a luxury – keeping that in mind will help us be more careful to withhold judgement. Discouraging corruption can be done without condescension. And please, stop it already with the self-glorifying whistle-blowing vanity shots. It’s distasteful.

whistlewhistle3dara

If you’re not a misogynist with an Asian fetish, don’t go to Maggie Choo’s

maggie choo's4

If you are a trendy Bangkokian, you’ve probably heard of the latest hangout spot in Silom: Maggie Choo’s, Cantonese restaurant and pub. The décor is 1930s Shanghai, a time and place when the West was getting its first glimpse of the mystical East and its exotic women. The women: silk qipaos with high slits fluttering to reveal a tapering white thigh, fans and flowers, demure gestures… This was the image – or rather caricature – of Chinese women that was disseminated by Hollywood at the time. And this is precisely what Maggie Choo’s has chosen to deck its interior: a homogenous-looking set of “Shanghai women.” Oh, and an iguana.

Maggie Choo’s hires women, dolling them up with the prescribed high-slit qipaos and identical wigs, and scatters them strategically throughout the restaurant. Some lounge sensuously across the piano, some sit in swings, while others are placed on top of the bar above the drinking patrons. They pass the time fanning themselves, smiling like porcelain dolls – or hookers waiting to be picked up from a brothel in the red light district. The positioning of their placements – on the swings or on top of the bars – often discourages interaction or conversation with clients. Their chief function, as well as the iguana’s, are to be looked at.

maggie choo's

The uniform costumes and wigs, combined with the lack of lighting typical to such establishments, blend the women into an indistinguishable bunch, not unlike the server girls from Papa Song’s in the movie Cloud Atlas (the hairdos also bear an uncanny resemblance)The china dolls of Maggie Choo’s evoke the 1932 movie Shanghai Express, an age of Orientalism in Hollywood, when the East served as an exotic and alluring backdrop for Western plots and characters. This was a time when Asian women were objects of fascination and fetish, when Anna May Wong, the first Asian-American actress in film, assumed two-dimensional supporting roles of exotic beauty or dragon lady, but mostly sex object. The restaurant’s portrayal of Chinese women in this manner is not unexpected. Situated in the basement of the Novotel and owned by an Australian entrepreneur, Maggie Choo’s caters towards an international, specifically western, clientele.  When a patron walks into Maggie Choo’s, he or she, to put it bluntly, essentially enters into the bigoted perception of a western (male) traveler getting his first glimpse of the East at the turn of the 20th century. He perceives the women in the same manner he perceives exotic creatures like the spiky green iguana.

So the marketing approach is no surprise, but what is surprising is the fact that such blatant proliferation of obsolete, yet viciously ingrained, stereotypes of Chinese women has not been met with criticism. On the contrary, Maggie Choo’s has received rave reviews. Patrons have described the ambiance as fantastical, dreamlike, and “funky.” CNN Travel even names it as one of 9 best new bars in Bangkok. Photos and check-ins at Maggie Choo’s flood my facebook newsfeed. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to urge friends to ponder the difference between a “funky” entertainment venue and a misogynistic bar which fetishizes and degrades Asian women.

maggie choo's2

Less is More: Thinking in Units of People

best-crowdsourcing-books

Several weeks back, I picked up a June issue of The New Yorker Magazine. Flicking through, I found a piece on Chris Kyle, a Navy seal celebrated as the deadliest sniper in American military history. He was deployed four times to Iraq where he allegedly killed over 200 targets. This is an excerpt from early on in the article:

He tattooed one of his arms with a red crusader’s cross, wanting “everyone to know I was a Christian.” When he learned that insurgents had placed a bounty on his head and had named him al-Shaitan Ramadi – the Devil of Ramadi – he felt “proud.” He “hated the damn savages” he was fighting. In his book, he recounts telling an Army colonel, “I don’t shoot people with Korans. I’d like to, but I don’t.”

While Kyle’s unabashed hatred and prejudice against Muslims would be subject of controversy in mainstream civilian society, it should come as no surprise; hatred and prejudice is requisite for war. Survival in war means there is no room for hesitancy, no room for doubt that the enemy deserves anything other than death. In war, everything is black and white, good and evil: we are good, the enemy is evil. If this were not the case, maintaining one’s sanity while killing a slew of strangers would be an impossible task. It is no wonder then that fighters must find their motivating force; for Kyle, that motivating force was his God and the belief, absurd as it seems, that he was some sort of modern-day crusader. Kyle was shot and killed in February by a fellow veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

There is a Facebook page dedicated to Thai soldiers titled “รักนั้นสำคัญน้อยกว่าชาติ” which roughly translates to “Love comes second to our Motherland,” inspired by the words of a veteran who lost a leg from an explosion in the deep south. The page is speckled with heart-wrenching photos and narratives of love and sacrifice. These words and images evoke many emotions in the viewer, sympathy and gratitude being among them. But more than anything, the idea that men and women are shedding blood, supposedly on our behalf, instills a sense of responsibility and an overwhelming, tear-inducing surge of affection towards what we refer to as “The Motherland.”

But is patriotism really about selflessness and sacrifice, or is it simply a romanticized notion designed to engage soldiers in otherwise senseless activity? Is patriotism not the motivation which drives them to kill? Does it not glorify those who would be considered criminals had they carried out the same actions against fellow countrymen? Does it not ease the conscience of the soldier who rapes and kills women in a foreign land because, to him, they are less than human?

Whether it’s fighting to preserve the honor and sovereignty of a nation (read: Thai-Cambodian territorial dispute), or serving justice by launching a drone war against Al-Qaeda (while killing hundreds of civilians in the process), what often is abandoned in the scuffle to rescue “The Motherland” is its main constituent: its people. While war is waged between countries, fighting transpires between individuals. The ability to kill targets efficiently requires the capacity to perceive them as uniform and belonging to the same enemy population, homogeneous in their evilness. To execute this faceless, anonymous mass is a lot easier than killing a person. It’s the same mentality adopted in making war movies; the hero is always shown unmasked, slashing his way through a sea of identical bodies, each an expendable gear in a formidable war machine (see movie clip below).

By default, humans have the tendency to categorize based on common traits, for instance, in terms of ethnicity and political or religious affiliation. To the sniper Chris Kyle, his targets were all Muslim Arabs, so logically he formed a stereotype for all Muslim Arabs. Consider the following: if instead we were to regard others on the micro, individual level rather than in aggregate, one would expect the capacity for violence to be significantly reduced. Rather than perceiving an entire nation – alien, unfamiliar and potentially hostile – recognizing the personal similarities, in family structure, love of God, and most crucially an equal degree of susceptibility to influence by ideals, could help foster greater understanding between individuals otherwise distinct. If Kyle could have realized that just as he was devoted to his God and country, his adversaries were equally steadfast in their cause and conviction that they were fighting on the right side, it would have been easier to empathize or at least comprehend their actions.

On a side note, aggregate perception of the military by civilians can also be another issue. The public’s view of the military as a uniform unit can create an inconsistent image and cultivate conflicting sentiments. On the Facebook page for Thai soldiers, a photo of them cleaning up the oil spill at Koh Samet is flooded with messages like “Thank you for your sacrifice”, “We love Thai soldiers”, and the like. Another photo of a soldier sharing his lunch with a stray dog receives equally affectionate responses. But think back to a time when the army was not regarded so favorably. In 2004, the military shot and killed seven protesters at Tak Bai and stacked the rest onto trucks, driving them five hours to a camp by which time 78 people had died from suffocation or organ collapse. This image stands in stark contrast to the diligent soldiers toiling away at Samet or the soldier sharing his lunch with a dog. Yet they are all undeniably representative of the military because, in aggregate, they are the same body.

Categorization is indispensable. It is necessary to draw lines between countries and recognize groups of people collectively. Aggregation and organization is at the base of any complex society. But it is also important to take a step back and evaluate people. It is easy to get carried away by the elusive concept of a motherland to which we must sacrifice ourselves, an ideal which we must devote our lives to, or the habit of assigning labels to certain groups of individuals. But in the end, the units are people. If anyone is to bear the burden of actions justified by patriotism or idealism it will be people, not the motherland or the ideal.

War movie mentality: the hero and his accomplice massacre their way through a homogeneous sea of “soldiers,” represented here as more mechanical than human in their uniform armor, the way they march, and largely concealed faces and flesh.