Taboo Monument is a campaign to raise awareness and questions about the existence of King Bhumibol Adulyadej Square and the monument in Cambridge, MA, which was dedicated to the previous king of Thailand who suppressed democracy and human dignity in the country.
Who deserves a monument and a square named after them on US soil? How about a person who endorsed eleven military coups, supported radical right-wing groups which killed and lynched hundreds of victims, and oppressed freedom of speech? Does that person stand for any ideals Americans believe in?
The square and the monument are at the corner of Eliot and Bennett Streets, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The square was first dedicated on April 8, 1990, by princess Chulabhorn, youngest daughter of King Bhumibol, to commemorate the King's birth at Mount Auburn Hospital on December 5, 1927. Then on November 14, 1992, princess Sirindhorn, representing King Bhumibol, unveiled the plaque installed at the square.
In 2003, a Thai American group was known as the King of Thailand Birthplace Foundation (KTBF), and the City of Cambridge renovated the square. They installed the current monument by moving an old plaque onto a raised platform, which they claimed makes the plaque more visible. The group also mentioned that the monument was a gift for the King's 76th birthday on December 5, 2003.
In an interview, Chontanee, the president and founder of the foundation, gave an interesting reason for initiating this project. She didn't want to see any foreigner's bicycles tied at the King's Square, which she believes is disrespectful to the King. Therefore, she used her foundation to renovate the monument to a more 'honorable' state.
He might have been known as the most beloved king among Thais, the king who has thousands of royal projects to improve Thai society. But in fact, he used his power to make himself the world’s richest monarch. Meanwhile, people in Thailand are not allowed to question or criticize him; otherwise, they might be imprisoned for up to 15 years per offense.
King Bhumibol’s power and influence were maintained through extensive propaganda efforts. Pictures of the King are mandatory in Thailand’s public buildings, schools, and even homes. Reverence for the monarchy is instilled by the public education system, and every evening all television channels broadcast a propaganda program praising the royal family.
King Bhumibol, the propaganda claims, worked tirelessly to develop Thailand and brought stability to the nation’s turbulent politics. But in reality, neither message is valid. The King’s numerous “development” projects are PR-stunts largely funded with tax-payer money and have never been proven effective or financially accountable. Similarly, the King’s benevolent role in politics is a myth. Bhumibol would often intervene in favor of powerful groups—most often the military—and strengthen rather than heal divisions in Thai society.
In 1976, for example, he supported right-wing militias who murdered hundreds of students demonstrating in Bangkok. This is the infamous ‘6 October Massacre’, an event Thailand’s rulers have long tried to conceal from history. King Bhumibol played a crucial role in bringing about this massacre and returning Thailand to military rule.
The royal family, particularly the crown prince, gave explicit support to the police and right-wing groups inciting violence. In the end, none of the massacre’s perpetrators were held accountable, while more than three thousand innocent students and civilian survivors were detained.
Since the beginning of his reign in 1946, Bhumibol has endorsed 11 military coups. These coups denied Thais the right to elect their leaders democratically and allowed military regimes to oppress the people.
Besides endorsing the coups, King Bhumibol also appointed most generals involved in the coups to be privy councilors (King's official advisors). He granted them public favors and made it clear the generals were doing their will.
Since 1957, lèse majesté law (which prohibits defaming or insulting the monarch) has been used as a political weapon to criminalize and punish political opponents in Thailand. After 1976, King Bhumibol heavily enforced the lèse-majesté law, which punishes anyone who criticized him and his family with 3-15 years of imprisonment per offense. Throughout his reign, over 1,000 were punished by this law, with the longest sentence being 87 years.
Some victims are still in prison, some had to flee the country, some were abducted, and others were murdered. Many lèse majesté cases were not publicly revealed because domestic and international media must routinely self-censor their reporting or risk prosecution.
This monument is not only a symbol of oppression but also a tool for suppressing free speech in Cambridge today.
On November 1, 2020, Thais and Thai Americans gathered in King Bhumibol Square to protest the use of violence against protesters in Thailand. At the time, rubber bullets, tear gas, and military units were being deployed against peaceful protesters in Bangkok.
However, a group of ultra-royalist Thai Americans attempted to silence the demonstrators by shouting over their speeches and heckling. Afterward, several demonstrators received blackmail texts, threatening to expose their undocumented status and reporting their protest to the Royal Thai Consulate in New York. As demonstrated at the king’s monument, the second threat is potentially very dangerous and could be interpreted as a crime of lèse majesté in Thai law.
This is a blatant infringement on the rights to free speech and assembly. King Bhumibol Square and its monument are being used by extremist Thais to violate First Amendment rights on American soil.
This monument honors a person who opposed democracy, who supported military rule, and who jailed his critics. King Bhumibol does ot stand for any of the ideals Americans believe in.
We hope that one day, the City of Cambridge will get rid of this stain on American democracy.
We are currently working hard to brainstorm and listen to all ideas to find our next step, so please feel free to share your opinions via email. Also, we will keep you posted if there is any update on our next step.
Meanwhile, we encourage you to learn more about this person from the book The King Never Smiles: A Biography of Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej, written by Paul M. Handley, published by Yale University, which banned by Thai authorities.