Of Hitler and swastikas: Southeast Asia’s fixation with Nazi iconography

1 / 2
A Thai translation of Adolf Hitler’s autobiography ‘Mein Kampf’ alongside other books on Nazi Germany on a shelf belonging to history lecturer Tul Israngura Na Ayudhya at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. (AFP)
2 / 2
A t-shirt with a picture depicting a nude Adolf Hitler on a beach for sale at a street market for tourists in Bangkok. (AFP)
Updated 03 March 2019
0

Of Hitler and swastikas: Southeast Asia’s fixation with Nazi iconography

  • Southeast Asia is wrestling with a lack of understanding about the provenance of Nazi paraphernalia that casually creeps into public spaces
  • Many countries in Asia have a complex relationship with strongmen generals and leaders who are sometimes wrongly applauded as nationalist modernizers

BANGKOK: Thai teen idol Namsai feared being booted from her band after a photo of her wearing a t-shirt with a Nazi swastika went viral, but without the uproar she says she would have remained ignorant about the offensive implications of her fashion choices.
As Europe battles a surge in anti-Semitism, including the desecration of graves in France, Southeast Asia is wrestling with a lack of understanding about the provenance of Nazi paraphernalia that casually creeps into public spaces.
From swastika-adorned trinkets on sale at Thai markets to selfies with Hitler statues in Indonesia, Nazi symbols are easy to find — a problem critics attribute to ignorance and a misplaced fascination with the fascist regime.
“I was shocked,” the contrite singer said of the outcry. “But I felt it was my fault. I wasn’t aware even though I should have known.”
The 19-year-old is a member of BNK48, one of the most popular girl bands in the country, performing choreographed J-pop-style numbers to adoring crowds.
But Namsai, whose real name is Pitchayapa Natha, waded into controversy when she wore a red-and-black top showing a Nazi flag and swastika during a televised rehearsal last month, prompting the Israeli embassy to express “shock and dismay.”
Namsai, who has more than 370,000 followers on Instagram, swiftly posted an apology for what she called “my mistake,” met with Israeli diplomats, and offered a tearful onstage apology.
Now she says she may join them in conducting seminars on Holocaust education in Thai schools.
In the meantime, she is researching Nazi history on her own.
“It was a bad experience,” she said. But it also presented an “opportunity” to learn, she added, citing a visit to the Holocaust memorial at the UN in Bangkok also attended by other band members.
While Hitler’s forces carried out atrocities in Europe, his Japanese allies led a scorched-earth campaign across Asia during World War II.
As a result, Japanese wartime actions are the more immediate prism through which many view the region’s history.
The Holocaust is covered in high school textbooks in Thailand but it’s “a small portion” of the world history sections, said Chalermchai Phanlert, an academic at the Education Ministry.
That means less emphasis on Nazis and their impact on Europe.
Derived from Sanskrit and with roots in India, the swastika is a commonly displayed motif in Hindu temples across Asia.
But Chalermchai said younger Thais do not fully understand the swastika’s European context or Nazi history in general. Instead, Third Reich symbols are used to sell fashion and anti-establishment culture.
In September a love motel outside Bangkok sparked outcry after photos online showed a portrait of Hitler hanging in one of its themed rooms.
Red-and-white swastika badges, stamps, flags and other Nazi-themed trinkets are on sale at Bangkok’s popular Chatuchak weekend market, while a vendor on tourist hub Khaosan Road hawks t-shirts of a naked Hitler enjoying a beach holiday.
Enthusiasm for Nazi iconography and portrayals of Hitler have earned rebukes in other Southeast Asian countries.
In 2017 an Indonesian museum that allowed visitors to take selfies with a wax sculpture of Hitler removed the exhibit following global condemnation.
But awareness of the offense caused is growing.
In Myanmar’s biggest city Yangon shopkeeper Ko Ko Aung said he used to be part of the punk scene where clothes with swastikas were part of a spirit of rebellion.
Now he says he understands that “punk and Hitler are not connected.”
It is both “inaccurate and unhelpful” to draw a link between a vogue for Nazi chic and anti-Semitism, says Elliot Brennan of the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm.
“That is not to say that anti-Semitism does not exist in Asia but one could argue these are led more by anti-Israel positions than anti-Semitism,” he said.
Thai history lecturer Tul Israngura Na Ayudhya said the fascination with Hitler has to be seen in context, adding that a lack of education is only part of the story.
Many countries in Asia have a complex relationship with strongmen generals and leaders who are sometimes wrongly applauded as nationalist modernizers.
He cited Mao Zedong, a figure whose policies cost countless lives but who has been the subject of nostalgia in some quarters of late.
And so, Hitler is not necessarily “associated with the devil” by everyone in the region.
Tul teaches one of the few university courses devoted to Nazi Germany in Thailand at Chulalongkorn University, where his syllabus begins with Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s memoir “Night.”
One of his students, German major Thanapon Danpakdee, laments the carefree approach to Nazi symbols in Thailand, even when it is not meant to offend.
“I think they ignore the other side,” he said.


Avengers assemble for final battle in ‘Endgame’

Updated 24 April 2019
0

Avengers assemble for final battle in ‘Endgame’

  • “Avengers: Endgame” is the final installment of a wildly ambitious 22-film arc featuring the beloved superheroes of the Marvel universe
  • Pundits are predicting a debut weekend that could break records with the first billion-dollar opening in history

LOS ANGELES: After nearly two dozen films and billions of dollars in ticket sales around the globe, the Avengers are gearing up for a final time — and their last adventure could shatter all box office records.
“Avengers: Endgame” is the final installment of a wildly ambitious 22-film arc featuring the beloved superheroes of the Marvel universe, many of them the creations of late comic book legend Stan Lee.
It hits theaters this week — parts of Asia and Europe get the first view of the three-hour epic on Wednesday, and it gets its wide release in the US and Canada on Friday. Pundits are predicting a debut weekend that could break records with the first billion-dollar opening in history.
That would easily beat out the previous record holder, “Avengers: Infinity War,” the first part of the “Infinity Saga” — as it was dubbed by Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige, who has produced every single movie in the franchise — which opened in 2018 with $640.5 million.
After Monday’s star-studded world premiere in Hollywood, the six original Avengers celebrated the end of the road Tuesday at the iconic TCL Chinese Theatre.
Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) assembled for a final time with Feige at the TCL Chinese Theatre, where they signed blocks of cement and marked them with handprints.
“It’s been an amazing ride,” Ruffalo — who attempted a handstand while waiting for the cement to set — said of the 10-year project.
The 21 preceding films have earned about $19 billion globally, and though “Endgame” marks the end of the current narrative arc, Marvel Studios is far from through.

Even as they mark the end of what Johansson called a “wonderful” experience, Marvel Studios has already announced several new projects: in addition to sequels for “Spider-Man,” “Black Panther” and “Doctor Strange,” there will also be “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3,” “The Eternals” and “Black Widow,” the second Marvel universe film to give a female character solo top billing.
“The fun thing about an ending is that you eventually get to do a new beginning,” Feige told AFP.
“So yes, there will be a new beginning, but right now, it’s about this combination of 22 movies. That’s what we’re most excited for.”
In preparation for the marvelous cinematic conclusion, “Endgame” directors Joe and Anthony Russo took to Twitter to post a letter to “the greatest fans in the world.”
“This is it,” they wrote. “This is the end. The end of an unprecedented narrative mosaic spanning eleven years and eleven franchises.”
They acknowledged the massive impact that the Avengers series has had on its fans, saying it was for “all of you who have been on this journey with us since the very beginning.”
Fans have been on the edge of their seats for the conclusion, and the cast has been notoriously tight-lipped during the press tour for fear of potential spoilers.
But someone couldn’t wait: on Sunday, five minutes of “Endgame” footage containing crucial plot points from the finale were anonymously posted online, prompting the Russo brothers’ letter.
The brothers concluded their message with an appeal: not to spoil the end of the movie.
“Remember,” the Russo brothers said, “Thanos still demands your silence. #DontSpoilTheEndgame.”