Jet fighter voodoo


Thai ghostbuster, Ornta Laokam, 77, makes amulets in the village of Phu Khieo, Thailand, Feb. 13, 2007.


Pornchai Kittiwongsakul

Two Thai F-16s, worth $130 million a piece, smashed to pieces on Valentine's Day over the nation's northeast fields.

The pilots ejected to safety. Both were participating in the world's largest war games, an annual U.S.-Thai-led exhibition of power in Southeast Asia.

So what happened? Engine failure perhaps? Mid-air collision?

How about black magic?

Rumors that the jets succumbed to Cambodian black magic grew so strong that a Royal Thai Air Force spokesman confronted them directly. "Do not believe in this sort of thing," he told the Bangkok Post. "This is science. An engine problem, perhaps. Not superstition."

If you're think that was an eye-rolling response to a journalists' goofy question, think again.

Several provinces from the crash, Thai troops are locked in a face-off with Cambodian forces over a border dispute. The Thai soldiers have received "talismans" from army officials to ward off any "evil forces" roused by their foes. Superstitious types have perceived the dark hand of Cambodian wizardry over the two fighter jets, which appeared to suffer engine failure at about the same time. 

It's difficult to underestimate the role superstition plays in power plays throughout Thailand (and much of Southeast Asia).

I would never miss an opportunity to recount my favorite ritual of all time: a protest leader's 2008 call to daub used maxi pads around the statue of a 19th-century Thai king. The leader, Sondhi Limthongkul, who is now agitating for war with Cambodia, claimed it would protect his political movement from evil spirits.

Sure enough, his protest movement helped topple the government and Sondhi later survived an assassination attempt on his life. (A sponsorship deal never materialized though, in my eyes, a man ever seemed so eligible to endorse feminine hygiene products.)

Perhaps its time for the Thai leaders who crave a Cambodian military defeat to break out their own incantations and fight magic with magic.