Book reveals truth about King Bhumibol, but mystery of brother's death remains

An article titled "Tragedy Strikes" offers a scene-by-scene analysis of the death of King Ananda, Rama VIII, elder brother of King Bhumibol.
PHOTO: Social media

'A Life's Work', released at the end of 2011, remains the most frank assessment of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej - and thus the most endearing.

This review, by The Nation's Manote Tripathi, first appeared on January 16, 2012. It is reprinted here in full:

 

IN QUIET MOMENTS in the days and weeks that follow, His Majesty King Bhumibol's legions of admirers will be turning to their personal memories of him and reaching out for whatever might be at hand to hold his spirit closer.

Those who have collected writings about Bhumibol the Great will likely have the remarkable and revealing "A Life's Work" from 2011, possibly the best book about him ever published.

"King Bhumibol Adulyadej: A Life's Work", issued by Editions Didier Millet, is the most authoritative treatise to date about His Majesty and Thailand's 750-year-old monarchy.

Former prime minister Anand Panyarachun, who chaired the book project's editorial advisory board, has stressed the team's commitment to presenting fact and shedding light on key issues regarding the monarchy.

"This book speaks the truth about every story, our beloved monarchy and other things," Anand said when the book was launched. "This book will fill the void of ignorance ... Readers will learn many things they never knew. They will know our King much better."

For the most part a thorough study of the royal institution and of the King and his views on the world and Thai society, the book also addresses the controversies. It looks at the Constitution, lese majeste, water management and politics - including the red-yellow divide.

Much that is already well known about King Bhumibol is amply covered, and yet there are also stunning descriptions of people, places and events we knew little about and even hesitate to discuss in public. Anand wants us to know the facts of these matters, not grasp at straws and rumours.

Nicholas Grossman served as editor-in-chief, Dominic Faulder senior editor and Grissarin Chungsiriwat deputy editor, and contributions came from, among others, David Streckfuss, Chris Baker, Porphant Ouyyanont, Julian Gearing and Joe Cummings.

Thanks to the material's unmatched sources, this book is an eye-opener even for veteran Thai journalists.

There are three sections: The Life, The Work and The Crown.

Though the book essentially begins in 1927, the year the King was born, it harks back to old Sukhothai, whose rulers pioneered the concept of kingship as paternalistic and righteous in the Buddhist sense. Every monarch since then has adhered to this moral template.

"A good king who fulfils the expectations of the Buddhist ideal can command enormous reverence and authority. A bad king rules weakly," writes one contributor. In the Buddhist perspective, the ruler is accorded tremendous respect and power and titles such as God upon Our Heads and Dhammaraja.

Extensive descriptions of Thai kings going to war to protect sovereignty and independence, from Sukhothai to the founding of the Chakri Dynasty and Bangkok in 1782, remind us of the inseparable link between the monarchy and the land and its people. So readers will come across titles like "Lord of Life", "Lord of the Land" and "Great Warrior".

There are some interesting epochs discussed in detail, with the end of absolute monarchy in 1932 warranting special attention. King Rama VII's abdication statement is displayed:

"I feel that the government and its party employ methods of administration incompatible with individual freedoms and the princes of justice," he wrote. "I'm willing to surrender the powers I formerly exercised to the people as a whole, but I am not willing to turn them over to any individual or any group to use in an autocratic manner without heeding the voice of the people."

Within days, Siam had a draft of its first constitution.

An article titled "Tragedy Strikes" offers a scene-by-scene analysis of the death of King Ananda, Rama VIII, elder brother of King Bhumipol. Most Thais know only that Ananda was shot at 9.20am on June 9, 1946. Who pulled the trigger has never been satisfactorily established.

"The events that followed have never been clearly explained," the article acknowledges. We read about the Colt pistol, the gunshot overheard, the bullet that was found, and the confusion in the palace and among political leaders, about the panel of physicians summoned and even about a 1979 BBC television documentary on the subject.

Yet the tragedy remains "the mysterious death", as one contributor puts it, and it seems we will never know more. Many theories arose. One that's mentioned in this book involved Colonel Tsuji Masanobu, a Japanese spy who disappeared into Laos and died in 1968.

The brothers who became Kings Rama VIII and Rama IX were constant companions. They were "look-alikes". But Prince Bhumibol was clearly in King Ananda's shadow on a visit to Sampheng Lane in Bangkok's Chinatown, in fact serving as the official photographer for the outing.

But this was how Bhumibol learned to be a king - by observing his brother through the camera lens. He discovered much about the world through photography.

When it comes to the jagged issues of our times, the lese majeste law is heavily discussed from a range of perspectives. The most compelling view is that of the King himself, who said during his televised address marking his birthday in 2005 that he was a human being and as such could be subject to criticism.

The contributors try their best to clarify such issues, and Anand stressed their commitment to surveying the full scope of opinions. "We debate issues in Thai society with this book," he said. "Differences of opinion should be heard so that we learn from facts, not rumours."

A look back at Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej's life

  • King Bhumibol Adulyadej is the world's longest-reigning monarch. His health has been fragile and he has not appeared in public for months.
  • King Ananda Mahidol (pictured here), 20, is found dead in his palace bedroom in Bangkok with a single gunshot wound in the head from a Colt .45 he kept by his bedside. His death shocks the nation. Within hours, his brother Bhumibol Adulyadej, 18, is named the new king. He returns to Switzerland to continue his studies while an uncle acts as regent. The case is later ruled as murder, and two royal servants and a personal secretary of the former king are convicted and executed for plotting to assassinate him.
  • Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej being carried by a cortege during the coronation ceremony in Thailand. Taken on May 5, 1950.
  • Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit posing with their first child Princess Ubol Ratana in April 1951.
  • (on left) Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej receiving flowers from a villager.
  • (on right) Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej and Queen Sirikit posing with their first two children Princess Ubol Ratana and Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn in 1955.
  • Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej (centre) on the throne at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.
  • Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej taking a picture during his trip to Cambodia. Taken on July 7, 1980
  • Japanese Emperor Akihito (second from right) and Empress Michiko (second from left) posing with Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej (right) and Queen Sirikit at the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Taken on Sept 25, 1991.
  • King Bhumibol Adulyadej receiving garlands from villagers. Photo made available by the Thai Royal Bureau on June 5, 2006.
  • (From left) Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Sirikit appearing at a balcony of Anantasamakom Throne Hall in Bangkok to mark the King's birthday. Taken on Dec 5, 1999.
  • Tennis player Paradorn Srichaphan (left) being granted a royal audience with Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Chitralada Palace in Bangkok.
  • French President Jacques Chirac (right) speaking to Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej at the start of a gala dinner at the Royal Palace in Bangkok. Taken on Feb 17, 2006.
  • Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his wife Queen Sirikit (left) reviewing the guard of honour during the military parade to celebrate his 81st birthday in Bangkok, Thailand. Taken on Dec 2, 2008.
  • Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej as he sits on a wheelchair during an appearance at a hospital in Bangkok on Oct 23, 2009.
  • Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong meeting King Bhumibol at his palace in Hua Hin in 2009.
  • Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej waving to well-wishers after the royal ceremony for his 83rd birthday in Bangkok. Taken on Dec 5, 2010.
  • Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej (centre) sitting in a wheelchair as he departs Siriraj hospital to grant an audience on his 85th birthday celebrations in Bangkok, Thailand on Dec 5, 2012.
  • Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej (centre), Queen Sirikit (second from right) and Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn (right) visiting Thung Makham. Taken on May 25, 2012.
  • King Bhumibol has been on the throne since 1946. A well-wisher was among those who prayed for his well-being in Bangkok on Oct 10, 2016.
  • On Oct 10, 2016, well-wishers pray in front of a picture of King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok where he is usually treated when ill.
  • A well-wisher at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok, where the king is treated when his health condition is serious.
  • Images of King Bhumibol were held during a parade at a festival in Narathiwat on Sep 17, 2016.
  • King Bhumibol has been in hospital since the end of May and has received treatment for various ailments.
  • Well-wishers held up portraits of King Bhumibol at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok on Oct 10, 2016.
  • The king was last seen in public on Jan 11, 2016, when he left hospital to visit his Bangkok palace for a few hours.
  • The king is widely adored by many Thais, who revere him as a semi-divine figure.
  • This exquisite cigarette box was a gift from King Bhumibol to Singapore's President S R Nathan in 2005. It is displayed at the Istana Heritage Gallery.
  • King Bhumibol welcoming President S R Nathan in his state visit in 2005.
  • Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew ande Mrs Lee meeting King Bhumibol at his palace in Bangkok in 1998.
  • The king has been treated for various ailments during a year-long hospitalisation in the Thai capital.
  • Many Thais see the king as a pillar of stability in a country which has seen bouts of political unrest over the past decade following the downfall of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
  • Women offer prayers for Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj Hospital, where the king is being treated, in Bangkok on October 11, 2016.
  • Women offer prayers for Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej at Siriraj Hospital, where the king is being treated, in Bangkok on October 11, 2016.
  • Women hold portraits of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej as they pray for his health at Siriraj Hospital, where the king is being treated, in Bangkok on October 11, 2016.
  • Thai citizens started wearing pink en masse as soon as word spread that the colour has "auspicious power" for their beloved King's good health.
  • Many people wearing pink headed to the Siriraj Hospital to write get-well messages and pray for His Majesty to recover.
  • Many people wearing pink headed to the Siriraj Hospital to write get-well messages and pray for His Majesty to recover.
  • Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha along with his wife, plus military leaders, members of the National Council for Peace and Order, and Cabinet ministers, left well-wishes for the monarch at Sala Sahathai Samakhom in the Grand Palace, while wearing pink and yellow.
  • Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha along with his wife, plus military leaders, members of the National Council for Peace and Order, and Cabinet ministers, left well-wishes for the monarch at Sala Sahathai Samakhom in the Grand Palace, while wearing pink and yellow.
  • Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha along with his wife, plus military leaders, members of the National Council for Peace and Order, and Cabinet ministers, left well-wishes for the monarch at Sala Sahathai Samakhom in the Grand Palace, while wearing pink and yellow.

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