Just over a week ago PPT commented on the cave rescue and the king’s self-selected role.
We noted that the king had ordered – a “royal order” – that “cave search-and-rescue training will be introduced to the curriculum of all branches of the armed forces…”. That was announced by The Dictator. The report cited went on to say that the king was “[w]eighing in on how the nation’s armed forces should be trained…”, and ordered that “the skills and knowledge used to rescue 12 boys and their football coach be incorporated into their training…”.
Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha immediately did as decreed, declaring: “[We] can adapt the rescue plan into diving and swimming lessons for the special operation forces in the future.”
We asked what business does the king have in “decreeing” how the military should be training? We also asked how many similar emergencies are there likely to be in the next few decades?
But in royalist Thailand, he who must be obeyed gets what he wants. Naval Special Warfare Command chief Rear Admiral Apakorn Yukongkaew has stated that “[s]kills unfamiliar to Thai Navy Seals but key to the successful rescue” of the kids and their coach in the cave “will be added to the training regimen of the Navy’s elite unit to better prepare them for unexpected situations.” He says that the operation prompted thinking “about arming themselves with the skills needed to navigate flooded, dark and murky passageways.”
We doubt that. This is coming from up high. When Rear Admiral Apakorn was asked “to name a priority for his Seal unit after returning from the cave rescue mission” he states that “Seals need cave-diving training…”.
To be honest, this is a bizarre response that only makes “sense” in the context of the royal command. And that makes very little sense.
Perhaps there’s also some nationalism at work when it is reported that the Navy team “handled the risks and pressure at Tham Luang well, but they still needed to be guided by world-renowned cave divers who also joined the rescue operations.” Nationalism is dangerous in such circumstances and the administration’s quick action in calling in experienced cave divers from all over the world was exactly the right thing to do.
We think the BBC gets it right too when it asks and answers:
Could the Thais have done this on their own?
No, and few countries could. Cave diving is a very specialised skill, and expert cave rescuers are even rarer.
Thailand was fortunate that an experienced caver Vern Unsworth has explored the Tham Luang cave complex extensively, and lives nearby.
He was on the scene the day after the boys disappeared, and suggested that the Thai government needed to invite expert divers from other countries to help.
The Thai navy divers who went down initially struggled, because both their experience and equipment were for sea diving, which is very different. They were driven out of the caves by rapidly rising flood water, and finding the boys seemed a hopeless cause.
Once foreign divers arrived, from many different countries, the Thai authorities allowed them to devise first the search, and then the enormously complex rescue. It was a huge logistical operation involving hundreds of people, building guide rope and pulley systems, putting in power and communication cables.
It is to Thailand’s credit that it was organised so well, and there was no attempt to diminish the foreign contribution.
So when a king who wasn’t at the scene and has no experience in caves or rescue operations provides daft advice, he should be ignored, not blindly followed. Monarchs need to be kept in their legal and constitutional place.