Thailand's leading university has come under fire for displaying a heinously distasteful banner as a tribute to its graduating class. How heinous are we talking here? Um, well: the giant billboard depicts a host of popular American superheroes flanking Adolf Hitler. Photos taken at the graduation show that Hitler is depicted giving Nazi salute — a gesture several students reportedly mimicked after receiving their diplomas. "CONGRATULATIONS," the top of the banner reads.
Chulalongkorn University has since issued an apology, claiming that the sign was crafted by ignorant students who weren't aware that anyone would be offended. From the institution's Facebook page:
Chulalongkorn University and the administration and students of the Faculty of Fine Arts deeply regret the appearance of this deeply offensive mural.
We have investigated the case and found that the mural was created by a group of students who were unaware of its significance, and who have now been given an official verbal warning. In the future we will make every effort to ensure that an incident of this kind will never occur again.
According to the art school dean Suppakorn Disatapundhu, the banner was part of an annual send-off organized by the freshman class for the graduates. It was one of dozens of billboards displayed all over campus. It, however, was the only bit of celebratory artwork to show a genocidal maniac responsible for millions of deaths surrounded by Batman, Superman, Captain America, and the Hulk.
Suppacorn claimed that the concept was "to paint a picture of superheroes who protect the world" and that "Hitler was supposed to serve as a conceptual paradox." He notes that Hitler is painted in black and white, in contrast to the vivid superheroes. But, even if it is a poorly-executed statement about good and evil, that doesn't explain why the Nazi leader seems to blend in so seamlessly with the fictional heroes around him, nor does it provide any rationale for the students imitating his salute.
According to the Bangkok Post, Suppakorn also stated, "The students only wanted to show through the mural that different superheroes are there to protect the world and that there are both good and evil people... Please do not forget that they are first year students and have been here for only a few months."
The Associated Press notes that the study of history in the Thai school system "revolves primarily around the history of Thailand and its long line of kings." As a result, "world history is glossed over, with little or no mention of the Holocaust." This isn't really an isolated incident: in 2011, a Catholic school in Chiang Mai drew criticism after students dressed in full Nazi regalia for a yearly sports day and participated in a parade; a similarly wildly insensitive parade occurred at another Thai school in 2007. And, in 2009, the Louis Tussaud's Waxworks museum issued an apology after displaying a poster of Hitler giving the Nazi salute with the slogan "Hitler is not dead." Maybe, after all the public backlash, this giant, seemingly-celebratory Hitler image will be the last? A girl can hope.
"Thai University Apologizes for Hitler Banner" [AP]
Image via Getty.