/ 10 December 2014

Hitler imagery in Thai junta propaganda film sparks outrage

The swastika
The swastika

An officially sanctioned propaganda film commissioned by Thailand’s junta has caused outrage and bafflement after viewers noticed it used imagery of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

The short film – one of a series commissioned by Thai generals to promote “Twelve Values” it wants the kingdom’s youth to adopt – told the seemingly innocuous story of two schoolboys who learn to accept that winning and losing is part of life. 

But viewers were left shocked by the animated opening sequence, which clearly showed one of the boys in a classroom completing a portrait of the Nazi chief standing in front of a large swastika.

“This is a massive failure of understanding of history by a Thai government administration that has explicitly mentioned wanting to teach history,” it said on the Responsible History Education Action website, which was set up by an American expat based in Thailand to combat the use of Nazi imagery in the country.

“We are concerned and deeply saddened that the image of Hitler and a Nazi swastika was featured in a government video meant to extol values to the Thai people.”

Nazi images commonplace
Images of Hitler, swastikas and other Nazi regalia are fairly commonplace in Thailand – adorning T-shirts and memorabilia – a phenomenon blamed on a lack of historical understanding rather than political leanings.

Last year Bangkok’s prestigious Chulalongkorn University was forced to apologise after its students created a mural depicting Hitler during graduation celebrations. A Catholic school was also left red-faced in 2011 after students dressed up in Nazi uniforms for a sports day parade.

The latest deployment of Nazi imagery was greeted with bafflement on social media. 

“I’m speechless,” wrote one Thailand-based Twitter user under the name @chomsowhat.

Another local user, @snetibutr, added: “How damning that is of TL [Thailand’s] education/history teaching.”

No offence meant
The director of the film, Kulp Kaljaruek, said he did not mean to cause offence but was trying to illustrate the child’s moral progress. 

“It’s symbolic. The child is going in the wrong direction. But I didn’t mean it [to show Hitler] in a bad way,” said Kulp, whose father is head of Kantana Group, one of Thailand’s largest film studios.

“You know Hitler had quite strong power in the past. But not in a good way. So it’s like he [the boy] is learning from that until he becomes a good person at the end,” he said.

Kulp confirmed the junta had approved the film but said “nobody asked” about the contentious scene featuring the painting.

Every pupil aged eight to 18 has been ordered to learn the “Twelve Values” crafted by Thailand’s junta, which seized power in a May putsch, highlighting obedience towards the royalist establishment.

But some student groups have hit back, calling the values a form of brainwashing. – AFP