Michael Yon is Wrong about Thailand

Updated 20-Sep-2023

For someone who clearly and unambiguously states I do not understand Thai politics the lack of understanding does not stop him from claiming that he can actually see the truth, precisely because of this lack of understanding. Lest one believe that this is some kind of sophisticated participant observation he is promulgating, please be clear that Michael Yon does not understand the Thai language or Thai culture. Therefore what he sees is indeed largely and for the most part what he expects to see. > For many Americans, Asia is a murky, mysterious place inhabited by primitive people and repressive governments. We see what we expect to see. Yes, and the sad thing is that for Michael Yon, this is exactly what he sees, that is, what he expects to see.

Seeing What You Expect

For Michael Yon, expectation is based not only on his being an American, but as well on his years of embeddedness in a military that serves in places where the language and culture are completely foreign. Therefore, he interprets a group, who is protesting against a military coup, as an armed insurgency. End of story for Bam Bam.


Thailand has a very different language, culture and politics than the USA. This is quite obvious even to Michael Yon. Yet he still believes that the differences are one of language that is more confusing than clarifying. His years of living embedded among troops on the ground has provided him a so-called privileged position from which to resist the less accurate pronouncements of military leadership. But culture does not stop at language by any means, and includes the meaning of what is worn: clothing as well as magic amulets. In Thailand, these meanings are altogether different than that found in the USA and among US Military personnel.

Thai Clothes

Spend any amount of time in Thailand and one can see that Thai people have a different relation to western brands and the English language. Thai people will wear western clothes in a completely different context. In many cases, Thai people wear clothes with English words and phrases which they do not understand (and would not wear if they knew what they said). In America, what one wears is a statement about oneself, what one values and thinks is of interest (or ironically so). In Thailand, this is much less the case. One could easily claim there is a dearth of irony, much less hidden meanings in terms of what one wears. Clothes with a logo of a western gun manufacturer does not mean gun, rather it simply means clothing. Anything out of a Thai meaning context could mean virtually anything, but usually means nothing at all. So when Michael Yon sees a man speaking in Thai about peace, all he does is read the western logos on the mans' clothing, and concludes war. This is simply mistaken, tragically so.

Thai Good Luck Charms

Michael Yon not only misunderstands the Thai meaning of western brands, but the Thai meaning of Thai religious life. For example, the same man in the photo above is wearing a necklace with three Buddhist amulets. These amulets provide protection only if the wearer behaves in certain ways. To make the statement that Michael Yon does as above, a peaceful protester does not need magical protection from a peaceful military, so why wear them? Spend any amount of time in Thailand and one finds that amulets and talismans are worn and revered everywhere, every day. Again, the meaning here is not going to war against an armed enemy so much as the culture of the everyday. Micheal Yon is wrong about Thailand because he does not understand Thai politics, because of that lack of understanding (not in spite of it), and because of his expectations as an American and as a writer who lives predominantly among soldiers (though that hasn't been the case for a long time now, he still acts as if he does and colors his writing with this kind of mindset). Because of this wrongheadedness, he has chosen to ally himself with the Democrat leadership, who in fact have been charged with murder when they ordered the army to use live ammunition against demonstrators in 2010. When Michael Yon sees a military and a police force who simply refrain from such violence, he cannot see how that is actually peaceful. He willfully chooses the side of insurrection and military dictatorship over that of actual democracy and a peaceful approach to political engagement. Update 26-Dec-2013: Michael Yon is now advocating the same kind of anti-democratic, elite seizure of power and disenfranchisement in the US... > This is a reset. House cleaning. (Which we need in the US.) Clearly Michael Yon is advocating a military coup in the US. For this alone he should be considered a traitor and an enemy. Not sure if free speech covers such behavior... Update 18-May-2014: Apparently Michael Yon is quite the cyberbully and liar.