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School Experiments in Militarised Fascism: Thai Kindergartners in Military Uniforms and The Third Wave

Thai kindergarten children have been taught discipline by wearing military uniforms, drilling, and practicing Nazi salutes in any other country should have immediately triggered a rescue operation by social services, involving psychiatric care and deprogramming. In Thailand, however, the central administration has praised the school.

At least some Thai people have noted with concern the news that the kindergarten students of Dun Sat Community School, Kranuan District, in Khon Kaen Province, wear soldiers’ uniforms every Thursday. Here is a picture of those students:

 

Dun Sat Community School children being drilled in practising their Nazi salutes

According to the kindergarten’s head teacher, the uniforms have been worn for the last four years on Thursdays in what is not a unique school experiment in militarised fascism in Thailand’s school system. The uniforms are worn as part of the school’s ‘Little Soldiers of Princess Mother’ project, which aims to instil discipline in children from 3-5 and educate them about the societal contribution of the late Princess Srinagarindra, His Royal Highness King Bhumibol's mother.

Apparently, the children and parents are highly cooperative, one reason on the part of the parents perhaps being because not cooperating might be construed as lèse-majesté. Moreover, the uniforms and drilling are seen as effective in imbuing the small children, who only 3-5 years earlier were in their mothers’ wombs, with ‘discipline’, as proven by the fact the children collect rubbish after their being lectured every Thursday morning on the values of discipline and the life of Princess Srinagarindra.

 The German Young People (junior Hitler Youth, beginning at age 10 – late for Thailand)

Speaking of collecting rubbish, permit me a short, relevan digression. Thailand’s favourite fascist and ‘human rubbish collector’, Maj Gen Rienthong Nanna, a medical doctor and director of Mongkutwattana General Hospital and chairman of the so-called Rubbish Collection Organisation (RCO), an ultra-royalist vigilante group with 226,729 Facebook likes whose members extol the virtues of a logical conclusion to militarised fascism, i.e., execution for anti-royalists, just conflated medicine with politics by guaranteeing that those who came to his hospital would be treated by pro-NCPO medical staff.

Also before continuing, a quick note on the social contribution of Princess Srinagarindra is warranted. There is no evidence whatsoever that Princess Srinagarindra ever extolled the virtues of small children whose cognitive development is at the pre-operational stage, one where symbolic functions and intuitive thought are being formed, wearing military uniforms. In fact, her hagiographical Wikipedia page lists a great number of worthwhile social contributions, including social welfare projects (the Border Patrol Police Support Foundation and the New Life Foundation), education (the Border Patrol Police School project), public health (The Princess Mother’s Volunteer Flying Doctor Foundation), environmental reservations (the Doi Tung Development Project and the Hill Tribes Products Promotion Foundation, as well as the Mae Fah Luang Foundation), astronomy, flowers, and photography.

As a matter of fact, one year after the 1932 military coup which removed her relative, Princess Srinagarindra is well known for seeking out a militarily neutral country, Switzerland, for herself and her children, keeping her children there for as long as was possible. Further, following the unfortunate death of one of her children, His Royal Highness King Rama VIII, during an incident with a revolver, Princess Srinagarindra, perhaps quite self-consciously, promoted a whole host of charities which did not display any martial tendencies involving small children who are still trying to understand the world around them and military uniforms.

We turn now to The Third Wave, another experiment in fascism, this time at the high school level, in order to try to understand why militarised fascism in any school system is a Bad Idea. The experiment was The Third Wave, and it has been made into an Emmy Award-winning TV special, The Wave; an Oscar-nominated 2008 German movie, Die Welle, perceived in Germany as showing a textbook case of a fascist experiment; and a film documentary, Lesson Plan.

In 1967, a high school history teacher at Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, California, Mr. Ron Jones, was finding it hard to explain to his students in a class on autocracy how an entire people, the Germans, could adopt Nazi ideology and, societally, commit the awful crimes against the Jews, gypsies and beggars, trade unionists, intellectuals and academics, and many foreigners, that they did.

During the first week of April 1967, Mr. Jones took the fateful decision to show his class how the Holocaust could have occurred. The experiment only lasted four days before Mr. Jones realised the horror of what he had created and shut down the experiment, on the fifth day.

 

Day 1: A Ruleset

On the first day, Mr. Jones decided to instil a sense of discipline in his students. He did this through adopting the persona of a high social dominance authoritarian (such as General Prayut) and via very simple rules:

  1. Students had to be sitting at attention (i.e., upright) before the second bell to begin class,

  2. Students had to stand up to ask or answer questions and had to do it in three words or fewer,

  3. Students were ordered to begin each comment with "Mr. Jones".

His goal was relatively simple – to bring discipline and order to the children by turning them into right-wing authoritarians, much as General Prayut did by introducing the 12 Core Values as a simplistic ruleset in every school. It should be noted that these rules are similar to those required at Dun Sat Community School

 

Day 2: A Collective Sense of Discipline

On the second day, Mr. Jones decided to extend what he had created by providing a collective sense of discipline. This involved giving a special name to his class, The Third Wave, in a conscious echo of the Third Reich, just as Dun Sat Community School did with its movement, calling them the ‘Little Soldiers of Princess Mother’, and just as General Prayut has done with the ‘Return Happiness’ movement. And, just as at Dun Sat Community School, Mr. Jones implemented a mandatory Nazi-style salute, to be used both in and outside school.

 

Day 3: Exponential Growth and Self-Regulation

On the third day, the experiment began to spin out of control. Students from other classes in the school began to spontaneously join the movement. Students were issued a membership card, as with General Prayut’s merit passport, and they were given special tasks, such as designing a Third Wave banner and deliberately excluding non-members from the class – as exclusionary practices against ethnic minorities, women, communists, intellectuals, etc., are fundamental to defining right-wing authoritarians’ sense of the group. Given the desire of others to join the movement, Mr. Jones also instructed his cadre in how to initiate new members, beginning the third day with a class of 30 and growing to 200 by the end of the day. Crucially, members of the Third Wave had started their own secret police practices, reporting to him other members’ breaking of the rules – exactly in the same way as Maj Gen Rienthong Nanna’s Rubbish Collection Organisation (RCO) acts.

 

Day 4: A Right-Wing Authoritarian Machine

On the fourth day, Mr. Jones realised he had created a monster. His own authority over the experiment began to slip as discipline-oriented student projects began to drive the movement forward internally – a successful, efficient, right-wing authoritarian machine had been created. In a desperate but inspired act, he announced to the students that their project was, in fact, part of an ongoing national movement and that on Day 5 a national Third Wave presidential candidate would be announced on television – just as there have been rumours in Thailand, strongly endorsed by pro-Junta movements, that a military-picked unelected individual will become Prime Minister.

 

Day 5: Emergency Shutdown

On the fifth day, hundreds of student members of The Third Wave assembled for the national address by their presidential candidate. Instead, they were met with a blank screen, and Mr. Jones explained to the students that they had been participants in an experiment in fascism. For some, it was an experiment which changed their lives forever.

 

Conclusion

The lesson of The Third Wave, that a right-wing, authoritarian, fascist machine which created its own exponential growth and secret-police tactics, was put in place in only four days in a school setting, is extremely troubling. That General Prayut has had two years to condition children nationwide, using the techniques of political psychiatry, in his own social experiment is terrifying, given that Nazi conditioning of schoolchildren was extremely effective. That many Thai people do not understand why small children being regimented and mechanistically drilled is why influential, fascist individuals such as Maj Gen Rienthong Nanna will always have a steady – and quite possibly rapidly increasing - stream of recruits.

Theatrical release poster for the German adaptation of The Third Wave, Die Welle, showing Third Wave members practicing their Nazi-style salutes