A short propaganda film commissioned by Thailand’s military rulers was supposed to promote the “12 core values” every Thai student must learn, but there was one scene the junta has had trouble explaining, after a grinning schoolboy painting an image of Adolf Hitler while his smiling classmate applauds, appeared.
The video, which has been screened before films in major cinemas since Saturday, has been met with ridicule on social media and condemned by the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok.
A senior official in the prime minister‘s office, Panadda Diskul, said it was a “misunderstanding”, adding that the Nazi imagery in the cartoon scene would soon be replaced.
The 11-minute film tells the story of two young children learning about life and loyalty. Mr Panadda said the boy shown merrily painting an image of Hitler saluting beside a swastika was trying to compare his mother to a dictator, in essence a rebellious jest.
In the video, however, there is no explanation. It is part of a sequence without dialogue that depicts an otherwise normal day at school. It lasts just a few seconds and runs with a cheery tune playing in the background.
“The film is good, but it has caused a slight misunderstanding in our society,” Mr Panadda said. “We won’t stop the project, but we will replace that problematic picture with another, more proper one.”
Israel’s ambassador to Thailand, Simon Roded, said he was “deeply saddened to see this trivialisation and misuse of Nazi symbols in an official Thai movie”.
“I was surprised that throughout the screening process this movie must have gone through to be approved for public broadcast, none of the smart, well educated people checking it had identified it as being problematic and offensive,” he said.
“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.”
The study of history in the Thai school system revolves primarily around the history of Thailand and its long line of kings. World history is glossed over, with little or no mention of the Holocaust.
After overthrowing the nation’s elected government on May 22, coup leader-turned-Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha introduced the 12 values as part of a junta campaign to return “happiness” to the people.
The values reflect traditional concepts in Thai culture the military felt needed reinforcing, ranging from upholding the monarchy to respecting parents and understanding “true democratic ideals”.
Last year, Thailand’s Chulalongkorn University apologised for displaying a billboard that showed Hitler alongside Superman and other superheroes, saying it was painted by ignorant students who did not realize Hitler’s image would offend anyone.