EDITORIAL: "Nazi Parade" scandal reveals issues with Taiwan's education system
By Editorial Desk
27 December 2016

TAIPEI (The China Post/ANN) - The attitudes demonstrated by both the Kuang-Fu students who staged the "Nazi Parade" and those who responded to the criticism afterwards reflect the failure of Taiwan’s utilitarian education system

A group of students from the private Hsinchu Kuang-Fu High School wore self-fashioned Nazi uniforms and wielded swastika banners at their school’s “Christmas and Thanksgiving Costume Parade” last Friday.

Photos taken at the parade served as fodder for a heated debate on PTT, Taiwan’s largest online BBS (bulletin board system) forum. When one netizens forwarded the photos to the Israeli representative office in Taipei, the debate escalated into a diplomatic affair. 

The Israeli representative office on Saturday condemned the “deplorable and shocking” display of Nazi paraphernalia and called on Taiwan to initiate programs to teach students about the Holocaust. The Presidential Office apologised for the presentation, which it described as “disrespectful to the Jewish people's suffering at the hands of war and representative of ignorance toward modern history.” The Ministry of Education also responded by threatening to cut subsidies to the school. Before the day ended, the school’s principal Cheng Hsiao-ming took a bow and apologized for the school’s negligence and failure to educate the students. He resigned the next day.

The event would have gone the way all gaffe-prompted scandals have -- with strong reactions, public condemnations, heads rolling and the public moving on to the next buzz topic -- if not for a strongly-worded online response from some Kuang-Fu students. In a post rallying for support for the resigning principal, the students said that they did not deserve such public humiliation as they had “done nothing wrong” and were simply taking part in a “costume event.” They questioned why they were expected to understand taboos about Hitler, as they are Taiwan-born citizens who love they country and senior high school students whose only concern is to finish school. They concluded by criticising President Tsai Ing-wen for siding with Israel and Germany while punishing her own people. 

It should be noted that the students probably wrote the post out of concern for their principal, who was reportedly beloved at the school and demonstrated care for his students by assuming full responsibility for the scandal. However, the lack of civic consciousness in a global community and blatant nationalism shown in the students’ response highlights exactly why the taboo against wearing Nazi uniforms is not just a political norm institutionalized by Western powers, as the students implied, but a much-needed measure to safeguard a liberal and democratic society.  

Positive depictions of Nazi Germany are taboo not only because Adolf Hitler was a dictator. Rather, the reasons are twofold. First, the evils of Nazi German extend beyond the scope of war crimes. Dictators and tyrants kill, some even with the same or higher numbers than the Nazis, but their killings are a means to an end. Never in history has a regime invested so much money in systemically destroying a people solely for the sake of that people’s destruction. 

Furthermore, displaying Nazi insignia is considered taboo because aesthetic appeal was part of Hitler’s evil movement. The visual appeal of Nazi uniforms and emotion-filled Nazi parades were not mere side effects of the movement but were deliberately designed by Hitler to package his foolish, populist, nihilist and genocidal ideas in palatable wrappings and to sell them to an unsuspecting public. People who care little about anything aside from their own concerns (like finishing school), who love only their nation and who like to act“cool” were Hitler’s target audience. 

The attitudes demonstrated by both the Kuang-Fu students who staged the rally and those who penned the response reflect the failure of Taiwan’s utilitarian education system, in which school is regarded as little more than a two-decade-long vocational training program. Students have little respect for history lessons because they are trained to view the subject as a series of facts that will allow them to pass an exam.

In fact, these students are the victims of a shallow utilitarianism that prevails in Taiwan. Ironically, such utilitarianism is evident in the government’s response to the Nazi parade controversy. The education ministry’s first reaction was to threaten to cut funding for a school that clearly needs more support. The government approached the incident purely from a political and diplomatic point of view. The students who organised the display and those who responded clearly lack civic sensibilities and historical knowledge, but they were right to feel that, instead of receiving guidance for their errors, they had been thrown under the bus by a government that handled the event merely as a PR scandal to be contained.

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