While the recent Hitler related stories Thailand has encountered have evoked public discussion on taste, sensitivity, education and freedom of expression, there is a missed opportunity to engage in a dialogue concerning the Thai infatuation with figures of authority. One only needs to peruse the message boards around the articles shedding light on the Hitler controversies to find regular, everyday Thais defending their infatuation with the moustachioed murderer.
What should be said is that no Thai contributor to this discussion seems to be wholly neglecting the atrocities committed by the Third Reich; many of those defending the murals/t-shirts/chicken store/music video acknowledge that what Hitler did was ‘very very bad.’ But some have asked if the things that Hitler did were anything worse than the wholesale slaughter the European colonists (recurring theme) wrecked on the Native Americans, or the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Others take a more historical position and ask why Thais should bare any antagonism towards Nazi Germany when its main adversaries were Imperial Britain and France, Siam/Thailand’s two greatest adversaries in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Needless to say that such defences have sparked numerous debates online and offline. But the one defence that people often ignore, with some even going to so far as to ridicule it, is the line of thought that while Hitler undoubtedly did ‘some’ bad, the good that he did for Germany was much more. After all, this was the man that brought a country teetering on the verge of Weimar induced economic collapse to world conqueror in less than a decade. For the purposes of this piece, let us ignore the fact that this argument completely holds no water, that the reparations for both world wars would last well into the 20th century, that if it wasn’t for the Truman doctrine and Marshall Plan, German economic recovery would have taken much longer. For the purpose of this article, let us instead focus on this Thai infatuation with the strongman.
If we take into account what has been summarized previously by your humble servant the argument boils down to this. Some Thais are willing to say:
- Yes we know Hitler committed various atrocities including streamlining the murder of over 6 million people, the extermination of the European Jewry, the long term consequence of their relocation etc.
- Yes we know that Hitler started a war that wrecked the known world, whose repercussions lasted until the 1990s.
- Yes we know all this, but even despite all that, Hitler is/was a great man because he brought stability and economic stability to the people of Germany.
The argument previously stated may seem absurd but this is not the only time that Thai people have been infatuated with strong men. Even today, with all our historical records intact, Thais have a propensity for worshiping ‘stability and sovereignty’ over rights and liberty. For example if one asks the generation that lived during the time of Sarit Thanarat their impressions of the strongman, the answer is overwhelmingly positive. Some even go so far as to say that someone like Sarit is needed right now to stabilize the current situation. What they conveniently forget when it comes to Sarit is the regime of murder and extra judicial killings, the corrupt pretense of democracy, the graft, the willful suppression and brainwashing of his people. It is not as if these crimes aren’t taught in Thai history books, it is just that ‘stability’ always takes precedence.
There are many circumstances that could lead a nation to place such high value on stability. All would doubtlessly need further investigation as they would be just conjecture at this point. Hypothesis can range from the value of stability in the wake of European Imperialism, where our neighbours relative instability led to their being colonized. Other theories could involve the need for stability as a result of communist expansion in Indochina, where strongmen and stability were needed to counter the rise of communism. Maybe it is just that our country has been so brain washed by military coups, strong men governments, graft and institutionalized education that the only thing that matters is uniformity, conformity and stability.
This Hitler infatuation may be ignominious at its surface but it is deeply troubling at its core. For if Thailand has continued to hold this infatuation with strong men and would still price freedom beneath stability, then that bodes ill for the future of democracy in the country as well as the rights, liberty and property of her people.