Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Hearts, Minds, Skulls Plague Bundeswehr


Oh, the wailing, the gnashing of teeth along the Rhine whenever German soldiers are sent abroad. Is it okay with the rest of Europe? Will our soldiers behave themselves? Are we ready?

No more or less ready than American soldiers, it seems.

Here’s what happened, if you haven’t heard: German soldiers have been doing peacekeeping work in Afghanistan for years and things were going well, from a German-national-image standpoint, until a week ago, when the German magazine Bild published photos of Bundeswehr members in varying states of undress.

Cavorting with skulls.

... Images were published showing German soldiers who had placed a skull onto the hood of a Mercedes "Wolf" all-terrain truck as a sort of war trophy, a soldier pressing his naked genitalia against a skull and soldiers using the remnants of skulls as decorations, all the while smiling for the camera.

Note to Spiegel’s editors: The technical term for that genitalia-against-a-skull bit is “skullfucking.” That’s one word, all lowercase.

So much for moral superiority—although Spiegel speculates about just a few “bad apples” and writes that the Bundeswehr’s skull-dance is nothing like the U.S. massacre at Haditha or other touchstones of American misbehavior:

Only this spring, reports of the Haditha massacre in Iraq, where United States marines murdered 24 civilians in cold blood, invoked memories of the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War, when US soldiers murdered about 500 Vietnamese civilians. And the images of torture at Abu Ghraib are also recent enough not to have been forgotten.

We have always known that the emotional effects of war are devastating on those involved, and German troops are no exception. And yet compared to the excesses of American GIs, the Bundeswehr's behavior is almost innocent.

Almost, but not quite: Apparently, the German soldiers’ innocence is now in question back home:

The military, under the leadership of General Inspector Wolfgang Schneiderhan, has taken tough steps to lessen the shock of the incident. Last Friday Defense Minister Jung suspended two of the main suspects, a 25-year-old junior staff officer and a member of a mountain division based in the southern German town of Mittenwald. The case is being investigated by the public prosecutor's office in Munich, which plans to question the first defendant early this week.

The charge? “Desecrating the dead.” I seem to remember the last time this was an issue: in the 1940s, a few decades before My Lai.

1 comment:

Bob said...

If Germans are worried about image in Afganistan, they should send public relations specialists. Soldiers are trained for combat, which requires qualities other than sensitivity. (This is sort of a no-brainer.)

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