U.S. Marines, unaware that the Waffen-SS insignia epitomizes savagery and malice? Horseshit. The Corps has no excuse for refusing to discipline every soldier here, including the photographer.
Now before you start jumping up ‘n down about how I’m condemning our glorious holy troops, remember that the American Armed Forces are made up of individual young men and women. And some of them – lest we forget – don’t want to be there; suffer from PTSD, alcoholism, or addiction; or maybe are just in it for the citizenship or tuition money. The point is, there is an assortment of motivations, ethics, psychological profiles and personalities: a melting pot of potential misdeeds and mistakes. We’re only human, and we’ve been at war for 10+ years. We’re going to make mistakes, yes. But not this one, no sir. There’s no way you’re going to convince me that every Marine in this picture was unaware of the ferocity behind the The Waffen SS and the SS-Totenkopfverbande (SS Deaths Head Organization). By that idiotic logic, the flag with which they’re posing might just as easily have displayed a toaster.
So yes, a court-martial is necessary here. And again, before you reject the idea of persecuting our fine young heroes, remember that #1, posing with an SS emblem isn’t heroic, and #2, the term “court-martial” is often mistaken for penalty and punishment. In reality, it’s merely a review of the circumstances surrounding a loss of discipline, proper conduct, military property, or the rule of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. A court-martial does not always result in punishment, but it will always produce facts. Policies and future training will depend upon scrutinizing the participation of every Marine involved and making their explanations part of the official record. If the Marine Corps chooses not to punish these soldiers, fine. But make that decision after a thorough court-martial review.
Besides, you’d think the Marine Corps would have enough decency to at least go through the motions on behalf of enduring death camp survivors, still-living WWII vets, and even your average Jew on the street. Call it a show trial or a nod to general principle – just don’t call it “naïve” and move on. That flat-out lie is sickening and gives this photo all that much more power. Yeah – power. Ask yourself who might benefit from that power: those who accuse Americans of drifting into fascism perhaps? And wouldn’t an entire branch of the U.S. military writing Third Reich symbols off as “naïve” lend such criticism arguable credibility?
“Support the troops” doesn’t mean shouting down anyone who questions American foreign policy. “Support the troops” isn’t just a bumper sticker. With a looming Afghan theater drawdown, American Armed Forces will soon face the reality of recovering from a really long time at war (if we don’t jump into another one in the meantime).
U.S. Marine snipers may not know that Heinrich Himmler was the principal engineer of the Final Solution or that the Waffen-SS was his personal link to Satan, but with this incident or that of the Marines urinating on three dead Taliban, it’s clear that fury and ignorance come with war. Just look at the accusations leveled at Operation Wheeler or the Tiger Force incidents of Vietnam; look at the massacre at Son Thang, often called the “Marine Corps’ My Lai.” When I first saw this picture I wrote it off as the part of the ignorance and atrocity that exist in any theater of war. But it’s another thing entirely for deplorable behavior by the U.S. military to be dismissed (i.e. excused) as “naïve.”
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called the urinating-on-dead-Taliban episode “absolutely inconsistent with American values and the standards we expect from our military personnel,” adding that anyone involved “must be held fully accountable.” For this new incident, the Marines should hold their soldiers fully accountable. No U.S. personnel trained to fire a weapon should be able to use naïveté as an excuse for giving renewed purpose to symbols associated with the Third Reich. “Support our troops” means give ‘em what they need so they won’t embarrass us, too.
Back when I was a prison inmate, countless Caucasian arms bearing those stupid double lighting bolts passed salt and pepper my way at each meal. In California prisons at least, each bolt signified the stabbing of a black inmate, and of course you were supposed to earn ‘em. Some guys had ‘em tattooed on anyway, just to prove an alliance. So maybe I have a special reason to detest the SS insignia.
But if that makes me a Taliban-lover or guilty of having a wimpy, liberal attitude, let me just say that as a member of the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry stationed in Schweinfurt, Germany during the Cold War I knew of no soldier who needed instruction of any kind on this matter. We shouldn’t ask less of today’s military just because the lessons of the Third Reich have been eclipsed by our desperation to exhibit every self-congratulatory image we can pose for.