Written by Siburapha
Translated by Tharita Intanam
Translation edited by Sutida Wimuttikosol
[คลิกที่นี่เพื่ออ่าน “ลาก่อนรัฐธรรมนูญ” ในต้นฉบับภาษาไทย]
In 2019, the Royal Thai Army unveiled its renovated museum building along with two new rooms, one of which was named “Boworadet,” pictured above in gold lettering. By so doing, the Thai establishment openly rehabilitated the memory of Prince Boworadet, the military leader of a royalist coup attempt against the People’s Party in October 1933. This rehabilitation came less than a year after the monument commemorating the rebellion’s subjugation—pictured above in the photoshopped door panels—was removed under suspicious circumstances. The monument’s current whereabouts are unknown.
“So Long, Constitution” was first published in December 1933, shortly after the rebellion’s defeat, in the yearly literary anthology Thoet Ratthathammanoon (To Revere the Constitution). Its author Siburapha (Kulap Saipradit, 1905-1974) was the leading writer of his generation, leading not only in terms of literary reputation but also in terms of professional helmsmanship and ideological guidance. The story, dedicated to “the 17 heroes who sacrificed their lives for the peace and happiness of the Thai people,” memorializes their patriotic heroism through the fictional character of Somsak Denchai, a civilian driven to soldierly action against his own uncle, a commander of the Boworadet party probably modeled upon Colonel Phraya Si Sitthisongkhram (1891-1933), the man whose name now graces the other new room of the Army’s renovated museum building.
Along with the battle of bullets between Somsak and his uncle, there is also a battle of wills between Somsak and Ruedee, his newly pregnant wife. In the former, civic duty definitively overrides duty to one’s family. In the latter, civic duty does win over duty to one’s family, but this either-or situation doesn’t apply to Ruedee. As Somsak’s fatal fulfillment of civic duty excuses him from the duties of a husband, Ruedee is imagined to be fulfilling future childrearing duties in a way that is bound up with civic duty. At the end of the story, he instructs her:
“I probably won’t live to see our child, my love, but—Ruedee, whether our child is a boy or a girl, remind them often that their father dies protecting the Constitution. If they have the same opportunity, please tell them to grab it without hesitation.”
Remarkably, the hero imagines a possibility of heroism for the next generation regardless of gender assignment; in the same breath, he forecloses possible futures for his beloved by taking for granted that she will carry the baby to term and dutifully assume the role of a single parent. His glorious self-sacrifice demands, thus, that she make unsung sacrifices in private. One wonders, if this story were to be restaged today with the genders reversed, how different (or same-same) might the battle play out between a Ruedee gone rogue and a Somsak trying to persuade her not to go?
So Long, Constitution
Dedicated to the 17 heroes who sacrificed their lives for the peace and happiness of the Thai people
When the first gunshot rang out on 12th October, Somsak Denchai could no longer sit still at his workplace. He steered his Morris coupe, its engine roaring with each hit of the gas, through the roads of the capital city. A few more shots were fired as his car was dashing along an unpaved road. There he saw some locals in a state of panic, racing into their homes. All doors and windows were shut—latches dropped!
Our young man slammed on the brakes in front of a shabby row house. A woman was frantically shouting at her child to call him inside and was about to shut the door. Somsak jumped out of the car, ran toward her, and yelled, “What is this frenzy, lady? There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
“Don’t fool me. Didn’t you hear the gunshots? They are exchanging fire on Ratchadamnoen Road, and soon they’ll be here.”
Then she pushed out the young man and slammed the door shut. Somsak grumbled, “These fools are hopeless!” He had been driving non-stop for an hour. Tired and thirsty, he decided to stop at a bar.
Inside, tables were packed with groups of gentlemen. Somsak knew nobody there, so he ordered whiskey and drank alone, standing. The gentlemen filled the place with noise as they discussed the riot, the revolt, and the ongoing fights at Bang Khen. Most people had similar opinions about the incident, but, at one table where three palace officials and a military officer were drinking together, there seemed to be serious conflict.
“Treasonist scum!” the soldier growled, lifting the glass to drink. “It’s a real shame that I haven’t been called up by the army. If I get the chance, I won’t back down until we purge the rebellion leaders of their lives.”
One of the senior palace officials tensed up in indignation.
He snapped, “At this moment, you can’t say that Prince Boworadet and allies commit treason. The outcome of the fight will determine who the rebels are.”
As soon as the officials finished, and before the military officer could argue back to his opponent, Somsak dashed to their table and bravely faced the speaker.
“Treasonist scum!” he shouted. “Now is the time to call the Boworadet allies the rebels. Boworadet has committed treason against the government, against the Constitution, against public opinion. Why can’t we address them as such? I’m warning you, you should be careful of what you say.”
The senior palace official was stunned, while all the other gentlemen turned and looked at the young man. Enraged, the respectable official put all his pride and arrogance on display.
He said with an air of superiority, “if you’re drunk, just get out. This place belongs to the well-bred.”
His face hot as if he were standing before a bonfire, the slighted Somsak could think of nothing else but getting even.
The young man lifted his glass and threw the drink on the official’s face, shouting “well-bred treasonist scum.” Then he turned and looked around to meet the people’s eyes: “Who else here stands with this well-bred scum?”
Almost all of them smiled and gave him a friendly look.
Suddenly, the official jumped at him, one hand firmly grabbing his collar. But before he could punch Somsak with the other hand, the military officer darted in between them to obstruct him. The other lads then circled around Somsak, and dragged him outside while celebrating his bravery.
Somsak left the bar seething. He drove straight to Bang Sue and tried to get as close as he could to the government army camp. Somsak did not know why he was doing that. Some army trucks ran past him; their engines thundered. He looked at them with admiration. These people were all heading to the battlefield to subdue the evil treasonists. What about him? Shouldn’t he be doing the same thing?
Back home that night, Somsak dreamed of the soldiers whose faces filled with pride for the opportunity to sacrifice flesh and blood in the fight against evil treasonist forces for the peace and happiness of all citizens, for the Constitution that is the spirit of the Siamese nation.
With his young man’s blood fervent with love and desire to sacrifice for the nation, he couldn’t hide his inner turmoil when dining with Ruedee, his beloved wife. Ruedee asked, “Sak, you’ve been frowning for two days. What’s upsetting you, my dear?
“Everything’s fine for me.” He gave a terse response and continued to eat without appetite.
Somsak ate very little. Skipping dessert, he lit a cigarette and asked for brandy.
“You’ve been acting strange, Sak.” His wife tilted his chin up with her hand and gave him a pleading look. “I can see that you’re agonising over something.”
“I am fine, really, Ruedee.” He took the brandy glass from her, drank it, and returned a weak smile to console her. “But I think you do realise that at this moment our country’s in agony from being harmed and hurt. And I’m a citizen who is still young and vigorous—how can I not share the pain?
His wife asked, “Are you talking about the fighting and rioting out there?”
“Exactly what I was talking about. It’s the evil treasonists, the thieves who ransacked the peace of the nation.” He grabbed his wife’s shoulders. “I have to admit, my love, my restlessness won’t be cured until I take up arms and fight those thieves like all the brave soldiers.”
Ruedee embraced his neck and consoled him, “How brave of you. Taking up arms is not your job; it’s the army’s. And they’re already doing their duty perfectly, aren’t they?”
“No, you don’t get it, Ruedee. Now that the nation’s being harmed, every citizen must be infuriated, not only the army. I’m young and healthy. If I have an army uniform and a gun, don’t you think I can do the job as bravely as the soldiers?”
“How are you going to go to war, Sak?” said Ruedee, gently rubbing her cheek on his. “You’re skittish. Every little crashing sound makes you jump and call out to me. How are you going to withstand the sounds of cannons and machine guns? When you’re frightened, who are you going to call? You can’t go out and fight with them. You were born to make love, not war.” Then Ruedee gave him a kiss on the lips.
She was confident that he was defeated, yet she was wrong. When she looked up, he immediately responded, “For my personal affairs, I might be unable to achieve many things. But for the national affairs, there’s nothing I can’t do. I reckon I’ll have to find my way into the battlefield as soon as possible.”
“Please don’t sound so serious. You’re worrying me.”
“I’m not kidding, my love. I do intend to go to war.”
She stepped back a little and gave him a disapproving look.
“What’s wrong with you, Sak? Let me ask you whom you’re going to fight against. Don’t you remember that your uncle, Colonel Phraya Singharajkhamron, is one of the commanders of the Boworadet party. Will you go to war with your own uncle? Will you kill your own uncle, Sak?”
“In wartime, there’s no uncles or brothers,” Sak firmly replied. “Only us and them. We need to put aside personal affairs for the nation’s sake. My only principle is, I shall go to war with the traitors. If my uncle is one of them, I can’t make an exception.”
“Don’t you have any respect for your own senior family member?”
“I do. But I have many times more respect for the government, the Constitution, and the public opinion.”
“Why do you call your uncle a traitor?”
Somsak let out a low chuckle, but with a disturbing ring to it.
“Yesterday, I almost punched an idiot who asked me this kind of question.”
“Whoa! You big fighter. But I believe you aren’t going to punch your dear wife in the face, are you?”
Somsak pulled Ruedee into a loose embrace, “If I punched your face, I’d get even more hurt than punching my own,” said Somsak in a livelier tone. He then continued in all seriousness, “It is entirely legitimate to call them treasonists because they mean to overthrow the government which follows constitutionalism, which is the form of government favored by the public. Because they go against the public opinion, they’re the traitors, the public enemy of the people and the nation. Do you understand now?”
“I do, a little. But Sak my love, I hope you won’t expect me to understand politics as well as household duties.” She pleaded quietly, “Please stay with me, my dear Sak. Please don’t leave me alone. I’m so very proud of your selfless devotion to our nation, but you should consider the pleas of your beloved wife as well.”
He held her more tightly, as she was burying her face in his shoulder.
“I will never leave you. Even if I die before you, my soul will always be with my beloved.”
“Please don’t talk about death, sweetheart. I’m afraid of your death more than my own. I’m relieved that you won’t go to war.”
“Ruedee my love, when I said that I won’t leave you, I didn’t mean that I won’t go to war with the rebels. Going to war is my duty to the country. Although I’ll have to be away temporarily, as duty requires, it doesn’t mean I’m abandoning you, does it?”
Ruedee untied his hands and stepped away from him. Clearly upset and hurt, her plaintive eyes brimmed with tears.
Somsak, who was always merciful to his wife, asked, “Have I done something wrong, sweetheart?”
“No, not at all. My dear Sak is a man sent down from heaven to earth, a man so devoted to the country that he has no compassion left for his wife,” said Ruedee with a shaking voice and tears trickling from her eyes. “You may have forgotten that you’re my heart and soul. I always remind you that I can’t live in this world without you. I love you more than my own life, worry about you more than myself. But it seems you barely comprehend my words. Is it my fault that I love my husband so much that I can’t live without him?”
Somsak, full of kindness and heartfelt sympathy for his wife, drew her into his arms and kissed her hair, her forehead and her wet eyes. Her tone of voice and her tears shook his resolve. He comforted her, “Look, you mustn’t think that I don’t understand you well enough.”
“If you understand my feelings, why do you still plan on leaving me alone?” she said, sobbing. “Have you forgotten that we just got married less than a year ago. I’m just a baby in the married life. I need you all the time like a baby needs its mother’s bosom. More than that, you mustn’t forget that your beloved Ruedee is pregnant. If by misfortune you get killed by the treasonists, won’t you pity the child who’d be born fatherless?”
Somsak was stunned, his resolve wavering. He kissed his wife a couple more times with love and heartfelt sympathy and consoled her, “That would be an exaggeration. Even if I go into the battlefield, I won’t get killed so easily. I’m confident I’ll come back to you with great success as a reward for my perseverance and faith in the Constitution. But your pitiful pleas have held me back from going to war with the treasonist.”
Ruedee’s eyes sparkled as his voice softened. She embraced his neck, tilted her head, and looked up at him lovingly.
“My dear Sak, please stay with me for the sake of our child who’ll be born and loved by their parents in just a few months,” she implored. “After the baby is born, if there’s another rebellion against the Constitution, I won’t hold you back. I’ll let you go fight and serve our nation. I’ll wait to celebrate your victory here. And if our child is old enough then, I’ll definitely let our child go with you. But at this moment that I’ve just gotten pregnant, please don’t leave me for war, my love.”
Somsak was nearly defeated. Speechless, he hugged his wife. It was clear that he could not go against her wishes.
But how unfortunate for Ruedee! The fire in Somsak’s heart would have completely gone out had no one else dropped by and reignited it into a roaring wild fire!
The servant boy brought a newspaper published earlier that evening to Somsak. He took it to check the news on the rebellion. The most important and devastating news of that night was the deaths on the government’s side of two military officers and six sergeants and privates stationed in an artillery truck in the battle at Bang Khen. The rebels sent a large Hanomag locomotive on a collision course with the truck. The officers, the sergeants and the two privates fearlessly fired back at the rebel troops and the approaching empty locomotive until the last moment when the truck was horrifically crushed and thrown off the rail; the eight were all killed. The treasonist officer who authored this horrific attack, according to the newspaper, was Colonel Phraya Singharajkhamron, Somsak’s uncle himself.
“Bastards!” Somsak yelped as if in pain and threw the newspaper on the floor. “I can’t take this anymore, Ruedee. If I have to stay home without ever expressing my indignation on behalf of these soldiers, I’ll go insane in no time.”
Ruedee shuddered once again. She picked up the newspaper from the floor and anxiously read it. When she finished reading the news, she consoled her husband, “I sympathise with your understandable indignation, but please do not get too carried away with vengeance. It will harm you, my love.”
“I can’t calm my nerves until I get to kill the man who devised the plan that took the lives of our eight soldiers.”
“Isn’t that man Phraya Singharajkhamron, your uncle? You mean you’re going to kill your uncle, Sak?”
“Please don’t talk of uncles and aunts with me anymore, Ruedee,” her husband snarled with fire ablaze in his heart. “I told you, at this moment, there’s no uncles or brothers. I have made up my mind that if Colonel Phraya Singharajkhamron is still alive, he will face Somsak in the battlefield.”
Ruedee’s heart skipped a beat and she became melancholic once again. She knew that there was no use trying to stop him when he was outraged. The only thing she could do at such a time was wait in terrible apprehension.
Somsak paced the room nervously. Finally, he ordered Ruedee, “Please get my coat and hat.”
Ruedee shuddered. She asked him fearfully, “Where are you going? It’s late.”
“Please, no more questions, Ruedee. I’m anxious. Please do what I told you to.”
In such an intense moment, Ruedee conformed to his command. A second after she disappeared into the next room, a full-on scream came out. Somsak nearly jumped out of his skin, and then ran into the room. Ruedee threw herself in his arms and turned her face toward Somsak’s unframed photograph on the desk. On the photograph, there was a dead mouse. It was soaked in blood, which was spattered all over Somsak’s picture.
“God, I thought something terrible happened. Just a cat killing a mouse,” said Somsak, still irritated. He then went to grab his coat and hat himself.
After he finished dressing, Ruedee approached him again. She embraced his neck and, on the verge of tears, asked plaintively, “Where are you going, my love?”
“I’m going in peace, alright? And will return to you soon,” was his terse reply.
“I don’t want you to leave home, Sak.” Ruedee shot a glance toward the desk. “Look, Sak, your picture is smeared red with blood. I’m terrified. It might be a bad omen. Please don’t go to war and stay home tonight. Stay close to me.”
Somsak frowned, thinking. But he then made up his mind a second later. His back straight, he was buttoning up his coat. “That’s nonsense, Ruedee. We have never been superstitious. We believe that whatever happens, happens for the best.” He drew her to him and kissed her passionately. “I’m going now, sweetheart. Please be calm and don’t worry about me. I’m going in peace.”
He bolted out the door and disappeared into the dark. Ruedee ran after him and called him over and over. But he did not return. He had gone. Although he told her that he was going in peace, it did not make her feel relaxed at all. When she re-entered the room and saw his picture tainted with still-fresh blood, she screamed again and backed away. She went to bed and tearfully prayed to sacred things, begging them to protect her beloved husband.
One day, two days, three days passed without Somsak’s return. No news about where he had gone, either. The day after her husband left, Ruedee went to Parus Gawan Palace to ask if Somsak had come here and volunteered to subdue the rebellion. She was told that the name Somsak Denchai was not on the volunteer list. Also, when the treasonists retreated from Bang Khen, no volunteer followed the army. Ruedee felt a bit relieved as she learned that her husband was not with the army. But she couldn’t figure out where he had gone because Somsak never stayed overnight anywhere. Ruedee counted the hours and waited for her beloved husband. And the only friends she had with her now were tears.
The treasonist troops retreated from Bang Khen to Don Muang, then from Don Muang to Tub Kwang. It was believed that they were planning to fight to the end at Pak Chong Station. People in the capital were waiting for news from the front and worried about the government army’s safety.
In the morning of 25th October, newspapers published the most exciting development since the beginning of the rebellion. One of the treasonist leaders, Colonel Phraya Singharajkhamron, was shot in a skirmish at Hin Lab Station by Mr. Somsak Denchai, his nephew. The news can be summarised as follows:
Mr. Somsak Denchai, in a Boy Scout uniform, followed the government troops from Bang Khen to Hin Lab Station. As he was just 24 years old, and with his beautiful face of a youth, everyone thought he was a real boy scout. Somsak had impressed a front-line officer whose duty was to oversee the battle. So, on the day of the encounter at Hin Lab, he asked for a handgun from the officer and accompanied the troops. Somsak sneaked into the treasonist camp alone and unbeknownst to everyone. Because it was nighttime and the terrain was full of hiding spots, he could enter their camp without much difficulty. He hid until the time of encounter drew near. As two treasonist soldiers were about to run past him, Somsak flashed a torch on their faces. Thinking he was one of them, they were not alarmed, asking “who’s that?” Having glimpsed the face and heard the voice, Somsak knew right away that it was Phraya Singharajkhamron, so he replied, “it’s me, Somsak.” Phraya Singharaj walked up to him asking, “my nephew?” All of a sudden, a bullet flew from the muzzle of Somsak’s gun toward Phraya Singharajkhamron’s heart area. The treasonist leader let out a sharp cry and fell to the ground. Phraya Singharajkhamron’s right-hand man dropped to a crouch and fired at Somsak. And apparently Somsak shot back at the same time. Phraya Singharajkhamron died on the spot, while his right-hand man died an hour later. Somsak was seriously wounded. The army rushed him back to Bangkok for emergency medical treatment, together with the body of the treasonist leader Phraya Singharajkhamron. The newspapers stated that Somsak should have been admitted to the care of the Army Medical Corps, Phayathai, by the morning of the day of publication.
As soon as Ruedee finished reading this news, an army vehicle arrived at her house telling her that Somsak was with the Army Medical Corps, Phayathai, and asked to see her urgently. Ruedee’s head was blank. She left home suddenly without dressing up. On the way, she asked the officers about her husband’s condition, but they all looked sad and could hardly answer her questions. Seeing their reactions, Ruedee realised how serious her husband’s condition was. She flashed back to the memory of the dead mouse on Somsak’s picture. She cried all the way to the field hospital.
When Ruedee got to the room where Somsak was being treated, she ran into the Commander-in-Chief of the Army and a group of officers who had just visited the brave young man. The Commander, coming out of the room with a sad look, asked her at the door if she was Somsak’s wife. When she said yes, the Commander asked to hold her hands, bowed his head in deference, and said, “the nation owes your husband a huge debt of gratitude. His sacrifice will be commemorated by the people. If he can’t make it, you should be proud of his honour.”
After the Commander bid farewell, Ruedee scurried into the room and found Somsak lying with closed eyes. His breath was weak.
“Sak, honey,” she called him gently and buried her face in his. As her tears fell on the patient’s face, he woke up and slowly opened his eyes with difficulty. He tried his best to give her a full smile, but it came out weak.
“I’m in bliss, my love. I’ve fulfilled a duty of a man,” he said softly. “You should be content and congratulate your husband.”
“How is your condition? How long until you get better?”
The wounded man smiled sadly. “I think, very soon, I’ll be – – – – let’s talk about something else, shall we, Ruedee?”
He twisted in agony. Ruedee sobbed uncontrollably.
“Please hang in there. Do not die. Don’t you worry about your wife and child?”
Somsak teared up.
“I do, my love,” said Somsak sorrowfully. “When I was on the front, I lied to the soldiers that I had nothing to worry about. The bravery I displayed to them made them completely believe that I was living by myself. But the truth, Ruedee, you know very well how much I love you, yet this doesn’t make your beloved husband forget the duty he has to our nation and constitution. A party of brave men were determined to sacrifice their lives to bring the Constitution to the people of Siam, then why shouldn’t I, your beloved husband, be determined to sacrifice my life to protect the Constitution, to save the spirit of our nation?”
“I probably won’t live to see our child, my love, but – – Ruedee, whether our child is a boy or a girl, remind them often that their father dies protecting the Constitution. If they have the same opportunity, please tell them to grab it without hesitation.”
“I have no riches for our child to inherit. I only have the honour of my good deed to pass on to them, a legacy which will never run out and which I believe is worth more than anything.”
“I’m proud to die for this cause. If they are to burn my body at Sanam Luang together with other brave men’s and if people are to come and mourn for our sacrifice for the peace and happiness of the Thai nation and for the security of the sacred Constitution, I’ll be gone in bliss. And if I’m honoured and mourned by my fellow citizens, you shall not be sad about your husband’s death. You shall hand over your husband to the Thai nation in bliss.”
Somsak delivered his messages slowly, softly, yet clearly enunciated like a mantra. During the talk, he placed a hand on his wife’s, eyes filled with tears. Sobbing, Ruedee listened to him and said nothing.
Somsak passed away the next day. Before passing the brave young man uttered his last words:
“So long, my love. So long, Constitution.”
Ruedee broke down, clinging to his body until she lost consciousness.
Go in peace, Somsak. Go in peace, our hero.
The good deed you left behind will never fade away.