After three weeks that saw deaths, injuries and destruction, the rain of bullets, the dropping of bombs, and thousands of Thai and Cambodian borderland villagers turned into refugees, at the moment all is relatively quiet on the eastern front. Reports say villagers are returning home. But reports also say that both sides are amassing tanks and troops at the border, with F16s flying overhead.
Is this the quiet moment before the storm? Who knows? But the question we may first ponder is: What ignited this current round of conflict?
Nope. It's not over who invaded whom first. It's not over who shot at whom first. It's not about some map drawn by the French a hundred years ago. (And please, Thai people, stop picking on and blaming the French. Leave that to the English and the Americans. We Thais already have the Laotians and the Cambodians.)
Furthermore, it definitely is not about who Preah Vihear and that 4.6 square kilometres of dirt belongs to.
Those are mere propaganda tools, baits if you will, used by the puppet masters to stir up nationalistic sentimenets among their flocks of sheep and clueless bystanders, who in turn -jolted by innate fanatical fervour, and the lack of a constructive hobby (like ping pong) - cry for ownership and vengeance, spewing hellfire and brimstone, baying for blood and war. All of this from the comfort of their air-conditioned homes, while poor Isan boys get shot at and innocent Isan villagers have their homes blown to bits.
Because, you know, if it looks like a Hindu, was built by a Khmer and has all Cambodian characteristics, it definitely must belong to Thailand, most definitely.
They also have their fair share of fanaticism on the other side of the border. Remember in 2003 when soap actress Suvanant Kongying allegedly said Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand? The Cambodian people went on a rampage and destroyed the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh. That was over an alleged remark by a soap starlet.
Face it, Thais and Cambodians, we are overly melodramatic peoples, probably because Thai soap operas are popular in both countries.
Here's another glimpse of melodrama. One of the five captured Thais released by Cambodia is a member of the Santi Asoke sect. He has taken the name Tainae Mungmajon. The literal translation? First name: ''Dead for Sure''. Surname: ''Determined to be Poor''. The name change has to do with the sect's mantra. Would you invite him to your birthday party?
So here's the point of this conflict, the cause that ignited the current round of insanity. The government's retirement pension of 500 baht per month may be attractive to some, but not Major General Chamlong Srimuang. He's not ready to retire. He doesn't want to be unemployed.
Ask the experts and they will say that the Democrats are a shoo-in for the next general election. The cake has been divided and all has been prepared - the right people in the right place, as could only happen in a developing-world democracy. The Democrats will be in power for the next four years at least, so say the experts.
The red shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), with their endless flow of funds and the Puea Thai Party as their political arm, can and will continue their fight as the main opposition.
On the other hand, the yellow shirt People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), and the New Politics Party (NPP), which no one expects to win more than a handful of seats at best, will just fade into political irrelevance. They simply don't have the financial lifeline or the political muscle. Street muscle, however, is another story.
Ladies and gentlemen, why do we fight? It's because Maj Gen Chamlong is simply trying to keep his job. This may be the last hurrah. Desperation, if you will. But please, do not underestimate him. Under his generalship, the PAD is 2-0 against Thai governments, the administrations of Thaksin Shinawatra and Somchai Wongsawat.
Maj Gen Chamlong himself went toe-to-toe with the military and General Suchinda Kraprayoon in 1992, and it ended in a tie. He took on the military and came out with a tie! Chew on that one, people! Thaksin should fire Jatuporn Prompan and hire the good general. The UDD, with all their money and popular support, are 0-2.
One may wonder how this border conflict could lead to the NPP winning the general election. It doesn't have to. Neither the Thaksin nor the Somchai governments were brought down by general elections, were they?
As I'm writing this, all is relatively quiet on the eastern front. What are the possible scenarios that could play out? Here are some choices.
a) Thai troops attack, Blitzkrieg-like (but of course, we'll tell the world they attacked first, so keep this one hush-hush, OK?), routing the Cambodian army and capturing Hun Sen's son, Hun Manet. Cambodia, shaken and humiliated, sues for peace and exchanges ownership of Preah Vihear and the 4.6 square kilometres of dirt for Hun Manet's return. Thais dance naked in the streets and the Democrats win the election in a landslide.
b) The Cambodian troops attack, Blitzkrieg-like (but of course, they'll tell the world we attacked first, so keep this one hush-hush, OK?), routing the Thai army. Thailand, shaken and humiliated, relinquishes all claims to Preah Vihear and the 4.6 square kilometers of dirt. Cambodians dance naked in the streets, Abhisit Vejjajiva resigns in disgrace, a military regime takes over to ''strengthen and unite the nation in time of crisis''. There's no election.
c) Allow the PAD to spread the plague of fanaticism, whipping the sheep and the clueless into an uproar, creating internal chaos and dissension, using the lives of innocents on both sides of the border for their political ambitions, to the point that the military goes, ''Blimey, look at this mess. [Sigh]. We are going to have to step in and clean it up, lads.'' No need for an election. A national government is appointed. PAD leaders get lucrative spots, because they have friends in ''high places''. Preah Vihear is no longer an issue as Maj Gen Chamlong successfully negotiates his employment contract.
d) The Domino Effect. As happened prior to World War I _ both sides huff and puff and before anyone realises it, Total War. Untold death and destruction. The UN sends in peacekeepers. Hollywood makes a movie about it, starring Steven Segal as a former bone-breaking CIA operative and current customer of the month at a Patpong go-go bar, unwittingly caught in the conflict, and eventually saving the day.
e) Let keyboard warriors make war in cyberspace (yes, there are fanatical Thais and Cambodians screaming murder on web boards from the comfort of their air-conditioned homes, instead of, you know, adopting a more constructive hobby like ping pong). Let them spew curses and engage in the infantile and fruitless exercise of tracing what belonged to whom first and who wronged whom first all the way back to the Stone Age. Meanwhile, the two kingdoms have it out with Unesco, like educated, civilised nations would, and accept the verdict, like educated, civilised nations would. Or appeal over and over again, like educated, civilised nations (that refuse to just give up and play ping pong instead) would. Then come election time, those who hate Mr Abhisit can try to kick him out and those who love him can try to keep him in, the democratic way, like educated, civilised people would.
f) Relinquish claims to Preah Vihear and the 4.6 square kilometres of dirt in exchange for a casino in Koh Kong. Use the revenue to build schools, improve infrastructure, develop the country and enrich the lives of ordinary citizens. A true patriot can help his country in so many ways other than shooting at Cambodians.
g) Blame the French and start calling french fries, farang fries.
Dear readers, we ridicule the ridiculous. Examine the choices. Take your pick.