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Despite the promises that the Australian military “handled” those who flew the Nazi flag in Afghanistan, I’m afraid the problem goes far deeper than that.
This morning we recoiled at the sight of a Nazi flag fluttering above an Australian military vehicle in Afghanistan. According to the ABC, a Defence spokesperson said that the flag was only momentarily flown before it was taken down, and according to an unnamed source, it was a “twisted joke”, rather than genuine neo-Nazism.
Flying against the official narrative, however, the source claimed the flag was up for a “prolonged period”.
The Internet quickly lost all of its mind, with collective criticism led by Malcolm Turnbull who called the act “completely and utterly unacceptable”. As it stands, there’s a movement on Twitter that looks to seek more than a slap on the wrist for such an act, all the way to disbanding the ADF entirely.
Unconscionable. What a disgraceful disrespect to the Australians who fought – and died – to stop that flag ever flying again. How is a mere “caution” appropriate punishment?
Nazi swastika flag flown on Australian Defence vehicle in Afghanistan – ABC News https://t.co/Wnu5PTvUsS
— Van Badham (@vanbadham) 13 June 2018
Earlier this year, the Australian Army looked to address the culture, ordering a ban on morbid imagery, forbidding the grim reaper, skull and crossbones from appearing on any military slate. Suffice to say that this is far from an isolated incident, as history is awash with similar examples, as flags of previous hate have been flown by forces of current peace.
Back in 2012, the US Marine Corps confirmed that one of their units in Afghanistan was photographed in poses with a flag that looked very much like the insignia of the Nazi Schutzstaffel. As a response, Lt Col Stewart Upton stated that the use of the “SS symbol is not acceptable, and the Marine Corps has addressed the issue.”
At the time, it was settled as a “misunderstanding”, with the situation explained to the Associated Press thusly:
Master Gunnery Sgt. Mark Oliva, a spokesman at Camp Pendleton, California, said the photo was brought to the attention of the 1 Marine Expeditionary Force inspector general in November, and he found there was no intent on the part of the Marines to identify themselves with a racist organization.
Oliva said the investigation found that the SS symbol was meant to identify the Marines as scout snipers, not Nazis, but it was nonetheless not acceptable.
Despite Upton’s statement, the insignia is still widely used and apparently still remains as the flag of the Marine Scouts.
Now the motivations are more opaque, more subjective. According to a source who served overseas, the use of the Nazi or Confederate iconography in modern battle “is mostly nihilism, but there’s certainly some racism in there as well…in some cases, it’s also a modern way to take war trophies.”
“People do fly those flags, some to show we killed the shit out them and what’s funny now, also to let everyone know they can go duck themselves. It also feeds into the whole we are death thing. The (Marine) scout snipers are big into that. They’re death, the SS were death, and we kicked their heads in, so they’re even more death.”
When asked about the reasons why he thought those Australians flew that flag, the source said: “…I doubt they’re laughing about the Nazi flag. They are probably very angry about more than one thing. It’s also fucked up, and I would watch those people like a hawk if I served with them. Don’t discount the possibility that someone might actually be a giant piece of shit.”
While it’s a positive that the veil is starting to be thrown back, I suspect that reports of the Nazi flag’s final furling are premature. Endless wars will always have their ugliness. And ugliness will always find a flag.