The Untouchables

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It usually starts with a bumped shoulder or a stomped-on foot amid the thick smoke and boozy haze of a Bangkok disco. Then comes the chilling glare and the sudden appearance of men in black safari suits—often moonlighting cops or soldiers. But the sure sign there is about to be trouble—a merciless beating, a pistol-whipping or a shooting—is when the offended party with a chest full of gold chains asks: "Do you know who my father is?"

In Thailand, being from the right family too often counts for more than being right. The scions of privileged military...