Happened In Thailand

Sweet “Nazi Chic”: It Could Only Have Happened In Thailand?

Forgive us for being slightly passed the deadline with this one – it’s worth a mention nevertheless: How a Thai school had to apologize to a Jewish organization for a Nazi celebration.

You heard it right: The “Sieg Heil” salutes happily performed by Thai school kids and the black Hitler swastikas affectionately made by the same kids – both actually meant to be fun.

Well, we farangs just have no sense of sanuk. What should you care as long as you look sexy and mega-chic!

Here’s an Associated Press report dating back to October 17th, 2007:

BANGKOK, Thailand: A Thai school has apologized to an international Jewish human rights organization for its sponsorship of a celebration that involved a Nazi-themed parade, according to an announcement received Wednesday.

The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a press release that a group of students at Thewphaingarm School in Bangkok chose to dress as Nazis on sports day, an annual event held in September that divides students into teams.

Photos from the event showed about 200 students — between the ages of 6 and 18 — dressed in red outfits with swastikas on their baseball caps behind a large sign with “NAZI” in shoulder-high letters.

Some students at the school — which also offers an English-language curriculum — wore elaborately stylized stormtrooper uniforms, carried fake rifles or performed the “Sieg Heil” salute.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center wrote a letter to the school earlier this month, protesting that such activity mocks the memory of victims of Nazi aggression and has no place in an educational institution.

“We are long past the time when such incidents take place in Asia that can be excused due to “alleged” ignorance of the Nazis’ atrocities during World War II,” the letter said.

According to the center, school director Kanya Khemanan responded with an apology, saying that the Nazi celebration happened mainly due to a lack of oversight.

The teacher responsible has been removed from his position and the school has since held lectures and discussions on the Holocaust, the center said, citing Kanya’s letter.

Calls to the Thewphaingarm School went unanswered Wednesday.

Nazi regalia and symbols surface from time to time in Thailand and other parts of Asia, often treated as chic design elements for otherwise unrelated products and services.

In 1988, a Nazi-themed bar in a trendy Bangkok mall drew protests from foreigners because of its glamorization of the Third Reich. In 1998, a Thai company used Hitler’s likeness to sell potato chips.

Hong Kong and Japan have witnessed a growth in the casual wearing of SS uniforms, as well as increased interest in “white power” music, popular with neonazis.

South Korea several years ago experienced a surge of public fascination with Nazi imagery, and earlier this year, a pro-Hitler group in Taiwan with approximately 1,000 members attempted to gain official status from the government.

Western reaction to the Asian phenomenon has been one of sharp criticism and utter astonishment. Western diplomats, especially Germans and Israelis, have complained heavily, pointing out that Asians suffered during World War II under occupation by Japan, Nazi Germany’s ally.

Says the Associated Press report.

The problem of “alleged” historical amnesia though runs much deeper in especially the wider Asia. Not that Asians are supremacists, no no.

What brings us to that older story – properly reported by Simon Masnick, a freelance writer living in Hong Kong.

His story back then in October 2005:

Let’s keep Nazis out of fashion

In a crowded marketplace there is a constant battle to stand out. A glance at the numerous magazines on display at a newsstand is a case in point.

And a glance at the moment might find your eyes landing on a quarterly magazine called Akasi, published by the Flying Wind group. The cover displays a scantily clad young woman posing as a Nazi tank commander with a Nazi general, Heinz Guderian. Inside, the magazine continues the theme with a centerpiece explaining Guderian’s life and times. Clearly they are aiming to offend and I will take the bait.

This is the latest example of a long line of “Nazi chic.” Fashion chain Izzue had an infamous campaign involving shops adorned in Nazi flags, swastikas and even Nazi propaganda films playing on the shop wall. There was also Bar Pacific with its photographs of Hitler and Nazi executions lining its walls. Last year another fashion chain was selling Nazi-themed bags. In Singapore earlier this year a school team chose the name “Hitler” for their leadership idol. These are not isolated examples. Rather they are all too common.

Many wonder what the fuss is about. Nazism is poorly understood in Asia, largely because the continent was thankfully immune to its effects. Instead Asia was tied up with its own war, with its different and incomparable evils. And herein lies the problem. There would be a massive outcry should a magazine cover feature a woman wearing Japanese Imperial Army uniform, cavorting with a World War II Japanese general.

Such imagery touches on highly symbolic and still open wounds of the past. There are painful memories to confront and are still the cause of visceral anger, as the anti-Japan riots earlier this year across China will attest. The images of Nazism are the analogous symbols for Europeans and the many victims of the Holocaust and Hitler’s aggression.

When the large majority shrugs their shoulders when Nazism is used as a marketing tool, it is incumbent upon us to raise our voices. In the words of American columnist Jonah Goldberg, “Hitler is supposed to define the outer limits of evil, not the lowest threshold.” Hitler and Nazism are the extremity, not a gimmick to sell magazines. The usual indifference to this blatant use of evil to make a buck reflects a broader intolerance that is all too common.

Ignorance of history is not an excuse. Trivializing the deaths of millions of people across Europe is a slap in the face to their collective memory and is not worthy of modern, civilized people. Ignorance breeds intolerance and hiding behind “I didn’t realize it was offensive” cannot be an excuse, just as it is not in law or other contexts.

The important thing is to find solutions. Governments across the region must ensure that history courses in schools include comprehensive coverage of the European experience in World War II. Along with the Israeli and German embassies, Asian governments should lead a widespread publicity campaign using media, exhibitions, seminars and exchanges to improve knowledge of the evils of Nazism and World War II in Europe.

The media and public need to remain vigilant against such crude desecrations of memory and bring pressure to bear if it happens again.

This is not about free speech. It is about the bounds of good taste and common decency, and making people aware of what those bounds are. Instead of Chief Executive Donald Tsang worrying about the “privatization of morals,” he needs to worry about the “privatization of ignorance.” We all do.

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