Marine Scout Snipers and the SS Flag

Just a quick editorial comment about some recent non-news - Panetta calls for new probe into photo of Marines - concerning the image of Marines posing with a Nazi SS flag. As a former Scout-Sniper Platoon Commander (way back then - over 30 years ago - they were called STA Platoon for Surveillance and Target Acquisition) I’m appalled by the legs this story is acquiring.  My scouts and snipers also liked the SS flag/logo. Not for any sinister or anti-Semitic calculation, but for the simple reason the acronym/letters SS fit nicely in identifying a Scout Sniper and generally because of a professional respect for the German military’s martial capabilities on the battlefield and not the politics or actions of the Nazi fascist regime.

I believe the Marine Corps Commandant, General James Amos, is mostly on target with his press release today and the SecDef is way off base in demanding more - Panetta should hunt for witches where they actually reside.  Here is what General Amos has to say:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

A STATEMENT FROM THE COMMANDANT OF THE MARINE CORPS

GENERAL JAMES F. AMOS

February 10, 2012

HEADQUARTERS, US MARINE CORPS - On February 9, I was made aware of an internet photo depicting Marines posing with a flag containing a Nazi symbol.  I want to be clear that the Marine Corps unequivocally does not condone the use of any such symbols to represent our units or Marines.

The local command to which the Marines in the photo were assigned investigated this issue last November.  They determined that the Marines in the photo were ignorant of the connection of this symbol to the Holocaust and monumental atrocities associated with Nazi Germany.  To ensure the Marines involved fully understood the historical use of the SS symbology, a formal instructional class was prepared and delivered by unit leadership.

In order to ensure that all Marines are aware of the Marine Corps' position on this issue, I have directed that:

- My commanders investigate the prevalence of the use of SS or other unauthorized symbols within the reconnaissance and sniper communities.

- The Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps immediately detach from his current duties in Washington, DC and personally meet with every senior Staff Non-commissioned Officer and Marine from our sniper and reconnaissance communities to reinforce my message and expectations.

- The commanding general of our training and education command review the current sniper school curriculum to ensure it contains prohibitions on the use of the SS symbol and other inappropriate symbols.

On behalf of the Marine Corps and all Marines, I apologize to all offended by this regrettable incident.

This SWJ blog entry reflects the author’s opinion and not necessarily that of Small Wars Journal or the Small Wars Foundation.

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Comments

I'm not so sure what part of my post conveys that I condone the use of the SS flag. I don't. My post was a bit of background on the subject as well as an endorsement of CMC's response. While I have always understood the difference between the Waffen SS (armed wing of the Nazi Party's Schutzstaffel) and other German units, not all do who appreciate aspects of Germany's tactical military capabilities during WW II. Maybe I inferred that the above would be taken as such as a given. I probably should not have been so brief. That said, I stand by my comments and most certainly do not endorse the use of such symbols. Rather, I offered up a possible explanation and a plea to Panetta not to go overboard on this issue. I'm confident that the Scout/Sniper community has "gotten the message". This is not worth a "witch hunt" that could possibly end careers of the most talented marksmen in our service. - Dave D.

I think we were confused by the part that read:

"I’m appalled by the legs this story is acquiring. My scouts and snipers also liked the SS flag/logo. Not for any sinister or anti-Semitic calculation, but for the simple reason the acronym/letters SS fit nicely in identifying a Scout Sniper and generally because of a professional respect for the German military’s martial capabilities on the battlefield and not the politics or actions of the Nazi fascist regime."

and where you suggested that "Panetta should hunt for witches where they actually reside."

See, what I would suggest is that this story is getting exactly the legs it deserves, that your explanation for *why* the SS symbol was attractive reveals an appalling misunderstanding of Nazi history and a failure at the NCO and officer ranks for not correcting that misunderstanding, and that it's not a witch hunt to find out why Marine units think it appropriate to invoke such a horrendous historical model.

Just a point of contention regarding the reference to Malmedy - afterwards the US forces committed several massacres in retaliation for that incident. Indeed for a time it was official policy to shoot rank-and-file SS rather than taking them prisoner. I only point that out to illustrate that even our soldiers are not above committing war crimes. You may say that those actions were warranted, given the atrocities of the Nazi regime, but war crimes are war crimes no matter who is on the receiving end.

Concerning the flag, it was probably a rejection of PC attitudes commonly found among those attempting to set themselves apart from mainstream society and a nod to the hard line militarism of the SS. Similar to kids writing racist rhetoric and symbols on bathroom stalls and school desks. Now that they have received so much attention and negative feedback, I'm sure they'll change symbols.

Don't even go there. The war crimes committed by Americans were not part of a national effort to wipe out entire races of people, an effort which both the SS and the Wehrmacht participated quite intensively. There is no comparison between the two sides.

How many Americans died fighting the Germans? Is there a reason so many Americans are defending the glorification of that enemy?

Seriously, Dave? A "professional respect for the German military’s martial capabilities on the battlefield," given what SS units actually DID on the battlefield (or at the gas chambers, given that concentration camps were run by the SS-Totenkopfverbände)?

Using an SS flag is plain stupid--and all the more stupid if those involved knew it referred to those German units responsible for some of the greatest mass atrocities of modern times. It also potentially undermines the mission, as all the press and political attention has shown.

I think Brett Friedman called this one right on the Marine Corps Gazette blog: http://mcgazette.blogspot.com/2012/02/ss-snowflakes-and-supervision.html

I take it no one agrees with the premise of this sketch then http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEle_DLDg9Y

It may be silly to be offended by this, but it's even sillier to be offended that people are offended at something so deliberately offensive.

"ut for the simple reason the acronym/letters SS fit nicely in identifying a Scout Sniper and generally because of a professional respect for the German military’s martial capabilities on the battlefield and not the politics or actions of the Nazi fascist regime."

Oh brother. You can use the initials without making them an SS insignia. And as to the latter part of your comment, the SS was a particularly brutal part of the Wehrmacht and deeply involved in the Holocaust. In addition, the Wehrmacht itself was quite deeply part of the genocide (despite what German generals argued after the war).

It's an appalling choice, and an appalling choice even to try to defend it.

This is just the kind of stupid move you would expect from young, dumb guys who have been desensitized to death. "(Gee...don't those double SSs look cool...and they stand for Scout Sniper too...Wow man!"

Perhaps such idiotic behavior is inevitable in war, but it has to be denounced just the same. But I don't think the punishment should be too harsh. These guys were not hired to be historians who fully appreciate the horror of war, they were hired to just do it.

Gene Simmons is the lead singer of KISS. His mother is a holocaust survivor. Here is a public domain image of the logo for his band: KISS logo

Not really newsworthy except as just another example of how really stupid young men can be. They know the letters are the same, the Germans fought well and the SS had really cool uniforms. But they didn't follow the links on the Wikipedia page to Malmedy and Oradour. If they had, they probably would have come up with a better idea.

I'm glad you posted this because it's so true. This is nothing more than a press consumed with mob mentality and no rational thought given to what they have written. I have yet to see the "scandalous" photo posted with any of the news stories that have arrived in my Google Alerts for USMC. That tells me the photo must not add fuel to the fire they have set.