No one is quite sure how an animated portrait of Adolph Hitler snuck into a Thai military propaganda film advocating 12 "core values" for schoolchildren. The country's ruling military junta says it's all just a big "misunderstanding," but it seems their brush off has done nothing to reassure the Israeli ambassador, who is "deeply saddened" by the whole affair.
The offending scene pops up almost a minute into the 11-minute video, titled "30," which has been screened in cinemas across the Southeast Asian nation since Saturday. It shows a smiling schoolboy with beret and palette raising his eyebrows while standing next to a picture he painted of the Nazi dictator. An overzealous classmate looks on, applauding and beaming.
Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, a former army general who came to power in a coup this May, commissioned the "12 values" campaign to promote a "national identity," and return "happiness" to Thais. The core values range from lessons on respecting parents and the monarchy to upholding "true democratic ideals" — a principle seemingly confused by the image of a murderous despot, critics say.
A spokesman from Prayuth's Office, Panadda Diskul, told the Associated Press Wednesday that the scene, which has elicited widespread mockery on social media, was simply a "misunderstanding," and will be removed from the film to be replaced with "another, more proper one."
"The film is good, but it has caused a slight misunderstanding in our society," Panadda said, adding that the boy in the video was merely jokingly comparing his mother to the tyrant.
Since nobody spoke in the scene and there were no subtitles throughout the animated introduction, this gag was lost on many viewers, including on Israel's ambassador to Thailand, Simon Roded, who said he was "deeply saddened to see this trivialization and misuse of Nazi symbols in an official Thai movie," and surprised that no one "checking it had identified it as being problematic and offensive."
"If we learn anything from this incident it is that Holocaust education, especially its global messages of tolerance, should be introduced into the Thai curriculum," Roded added.
Thailand's school curriculum focuses on the history of Thailand and the royal family, but less so on other countries and major events like the Holocaust. The country allied with Japan and fought with the Axis powers during WWII.
The misuse of Nazi symbolism and lack of understanding of this period of history has been the subject of a number of cheek-reddening episodes in recent years. According to some Thais — including Kulp Kaljaruek, the short film's director — Hitler represents a pop culture figure for many people in the country who are unaware of his crimes and violent associations.
Last year, Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University was forced to apologize after the dictator's image appeared among a gaggle of superheroes on a campus billboard. The university later took the mural down and blamed the imagery on ignorant students.
In 2011, students and teachers at a school in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand unwittingly caused outrage among the country's British, French, and German communities when they dressed as Nazis — replete with plastic machine guns, Hitler mustaches, and swastika flags — during a sports day march.
The swastika is a symbol that is widely displayed in Thailand, sometimes as graffiti on buildings and especially at temples. Historically, it is a sacred symbol in Buddhist and Hindu religions, but has since been associated with the Nazi party in Europe, which appropriated the symbol during WWII.
Kaljaruek defended the Hitler cameo scene Tuesday, telling local media that he "didn't think it would be an issue."
"As for Hitler's portrait, I have seen so many people using it on T-Shirts everywhere," Kulp said. "It's even considered a fashion. It doesn't mean I agree with it, but I didn't expect it to be an issue at all."
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