Photos that dishonor our army

The week's news at a glance.


“Shame!” said Bild in an editorial. German troops have “desecrated a corpse in the most disgusting way!” Photos taken in 2003 and 2004 and recently obtained by this newspaper show two German soldiers in Afghanistan posing with a human skull. In some of the pictures, the skull is placed on a tank or speared on a weapon. In others, a soldier holds it proudly on his shoulder. And in “the most perverse,” a soldier “holds his erect member in his left hand and the skull in his right!” It’s doubtful that the skull belongs to a victim of the coalition invasion. Army officials—who all condemn this vile behavior—say it probably got fished out of one of the many mass graves that date back to the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980s. Still, a desecration is a desecration, and experts fear that German troops will now be particular targets of Muslim rage.

Our boys were not supposed to behave this way, said the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Germany’s belligerent history has left it with a distaste for all things military. Our “limited willingness to send troops overseas” depended on “an unspoken assumption that German soldiers would set an example for exemplary behavior.” The reality, of course, is that living in a climate of oppressive fear and constant danger can make anyone, even a trained soldier, act in a shameful way.

The problem is that our soldiers aren’t properly trained, said Jurgen Busche in Berlin’s Die Tageszeitung. For decades, the German army has been a token force, existing only to deter invasion rather than to wage war. The ideal soldier was one who “needn’t fear ever going into battle and presented no threatening aspect to frighten others.” Most of our deployments have been peacekeeping missions on which troops are expected only to build houses and give candy to children. The result is that today’s German soldier is “like a soccer player who has all the moves—dribbling, tackling, heading—only he can’t actually score goals.” No wonder that, when he finds himself in a shooting war, such a soldier breaks under the pressure.

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Alain-Xavier Wurst

Die Zeit

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