The Hollow Men Operation Part 2

Let me be no nearer
In death’s dream kingdom
Let me also wear
Such deliberate disguises
Rat’s coat, crowskin, crossed staves
In a field
Behaving as the wind behaves
No nearer –
Not that final meeting
In the twilight kingdom

III

This is the dead land
This is cactus land
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.

Is it like this
In death’s other kingdom

— T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men (1925)

The station chief who came up with the title Hollow Men Operation was apparently a well-read man. Yale educated in the classics, his knowledge was encyclopaedic. Not only did he directly incorporate T.S. Eliot’s poem as part of the vast operation that comprised Mike’s work in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, but he also ensured that the nomenclature of the operation itself would go without detection for so many years. Most government bureaucrats, for example, did not understand the allusion, and they generally followed orders regardless of what it was called. Mike’s decision to tell us the details, marked by many years of soul-searching, but also vague feelings of remorse, coupled with a slow breakdown of his faculties which were the result of excessive alcoholic drinking, truly denote how “secret histories” are often related: orally passed on in dark corners of dark bar-rooms in the company of women who don’t understand a word of what you are saying.

Once the Potemkin villages of the red light districts in Bangkok served their intended purpose, controlling large parts of the military population and providing dollar-denominated currency to the Thai treasury, and once the conflict in Vietnam was over, there were questions that remained. What to do with the actresses and agents involved? What to do with the physical structures themselves? Was there a way to mothball the entire operation? According to Mike, the solution was fairly complex. Rather than keep close tabs on the military population, and to ensure that communist sympathizers were weeded out with efficiency, the decision was made at the top to keep the structures functioning, but now in an effort to attract the detritus of the entire globe who would be attracted to places like Patpong like moths to the flame. In short, it was an excellent way for Interpol and other organizations to follow international vagrants more closely and to monitor seedy business deals closely.

According to Mike, the operation was not mothballed, and an interim caretaker operated the “fronts”, or what we know of as the go-go bars. As their purposes changed over the years in terms of intelligence collection, it was decided that a quasi-governmental organization, comprised of several interested nations, would continue to monitor Bangkok’s red-light districts in order to sort out the various and sundry who come to Thailand’s shores yearly, looking for only God knows what.

We miss Mike dearly. The guy at the Madrid who paid for all the drinks, who shared his thoughts on everything from literature to God to conspiracy theories. He was the master of ceremonies in a time when Thailand needed him most. He was generous with the women, almost to a fault, and generous with his motley group of friends. He will be remembered for his service and dedication. Happy premature Veterans Day.

 

To be continued……

 

The View from Above

 

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