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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Red vs Yellow

Red vs Yellow (ISBN 978-974-480-150-0, White Lotus, Thailand, 2009) was written and illustrated by Nick Nostitz, and it was of interest that this hard-backed book is called “Volume 1”.
In the prologue, Nostitz highlights the highly complex system of shifting alliances and patronage networks which make up Thai politics, and uses protests against this as the reason for the formation of the UDD and claims that there is a paucity of academic studies into the political arena. He does admit that he is not an academic, but states that the book is an attempt at describing the series of events that led up to the hostilities of 2008. He decries the media for bias, but seems to forget that he too is a media person, calling himself a “western journalist”.
Very early in the book, author Nostitz declares that although initially his sympathies were with the yellow shirted PAD, his allegiance changed to the red shirted UDD. This major shift appears to have come from the refusal of PAD leaders to speak to him, whilst the UDD did. What he does not say, is what were his own political leanings in his native Germany. However, one can surmise.
The book begins with an overview of the Thaksin years 2001-2005, which is reasonably accurate, but glosses over Thaksin’s improprieties so is hardly an accurate record of those times.
The formation of the yellow PAD camp is next, and again Nostitz strays from reportage to commentary, followed by the chapter on the formation of the red camp. As an overview of the complex situation has been difficult, one reads on, hoping to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, once again Nostitz has trouble even identifying the tunnel.
The escalation of the conflict is described with such leftist leaning that he describes the PAD “illegal bullet-proof vests” made from X-Ray film donated by hospitals.
Nostitz has obviously realized that the Red/Yellow conflict is far from over. At the end of the narrative he writes, “… The ongoing political crisis is not just about Thaksin’s return, but about fundamental changes in Thai society of which Thaksin was only a symbol in the perception of his voters.” “If the government and the old elites cannot compromise with the aspirations of the common people, then the likelihood of further and maybe worse violence that might shatter the fabric of Thai society at some point in the not too distant future is extremely high.”
Red vs Yellow volume 1 is not an inexpensive discourse, but with half the book being color plates, the price of B. 955 is justified. What has to be understood, however, is that this book is not an unbiased examination of the Thai situation characterized by the two camps, and author Nostitz allows too much of his own personal bias to come through. A typical example is in a photograph of a group of red shirts with the caption reading “half an hour after the photo was taken, the man standing on the left was beaten until his skull split.” This is far and away from good photojournalism.