Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Flip Side

Amersfoort Concentration Camp
Image via Google Images
In light of Brett Friedman's previous post about the use of the Schutzstaffel symbol in our Scout Sniper community, a post that was no doubt provocative and probably unintentionally incendiary, I thought it might be interesting for everyone to see this from a slightly different angle. These two links are from the 9 Feb 2012 editions of and De Telegraaf, two of the biggest news mediums in The Netherlands, one of which is operated as a public service.

This is how I found out about the photo, not through American media. Living in Holland, I am sure you can imagine my reaction when I first saw it the next morning on the train. I was hoping to just read another breakdown of the crisis in Greece and maybe some requisite European criticism of Romney and the U.S. political system. Wasn't the case... Some interesting thoughts came to mind though, especially since I had recently visited the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam a couple of weeks prior and saw the new-ish exhibition “Free2Choose”, an interactive exhibit devoted to education and world tolerance. Naturally, I began formulating explanations in my head (in Dutch) that I knew I would need to be armed with for the rest of the day. The reaction from the Marines here was quite typical; it mostly involved good natured ribbing about how stupid and arrogant Americans are, but no real interest in diving into history or any sort of philosophical discussions on symbolism (then it was business as usual - endless coffee and cheese). It was the varied reactions from the civilian population that surprised me. They ran the gamut from the expected outrage to being quite gracious and everything in between. Here are some of the comments from the De Telegraaf article (translated into English as best I can of course and in no particular order):

"There is clearly something wrong with the history lessons in the American schools when the soldiers do not know this is an SS symbol from the 2nd World War. Maybe there and also in the military should some special attention be spent."

"America has always been a country with groups with fascist tendencies, nowhere in the world is the lack of consistency so large. Nationalism is [spoon fed] at an early age and that is an excellent breeding ground for strange character traits"

"This means something else. These people are risking their lives because we send them there and then they get pissed on. Really sad. I think these guys are great."

"Read all the negative comments about Americans [by people who will never have to be liberated]. They are the ones who clean up the messes everywhere while the rest of the [pissers?] sit at home by the fireplace. A little respect ok?"

"provoking...there are Americans that have always been good...but there is this sad nation in between"

"You train people to be killers and then complain afterwards that they must keep their propriety. 'Kill everyone off but don't use a flag improperly boys'. Real America."

Like me, I am sure you anticipated seeing some of the comments, but others probably not. Here is a nation that has spent the last 60 years doing everything it can to rid itself of and forget the psychological stains left behind by an oppressive and murderous German regime. A typical modern reaction when a civilian hears that someone they know is joining the military goes something like,"Why? Are you not smart enough for a good job?" Despite the fact that they march to a completely different social drum than we do, our long standing ally still recognizes the fact that we as American military men and women provide a service to the world that cannot be delivered by anyone else. Many people in Holland still have living family members who spent a portion of their childhood behind a barbwire fence, one of which still stands, along with the watchtower, less than a 15 minutes’ drive from where I sit writing this post. Even though as a culture they hate everything about war and would probably prefer to just do away with their own military, most of them have the upmost respect and admiration for ours.  It is an interesting dichotomy that I have the privilege of witnessing first hand every day.

My intention is not to provide my own opinion on the SS symbol, the scout snipers that claim it, and how it makes me feel.  I want to bring to light the fact that sometimes, regardless of how harmless or harmful something may seem, there is always another perspective you don’t see. There is always something at hand that is bigger than ourselves. The citizens of The Netherlands have every right to be offended, a right that was involuntarily paid for by their parents’ and grandparents’ generation in blood, but most of them managed to take this “incident” in stride - some not caring at all. Let’s not make something like this more epic than it needs to be. Let’s also show a little class and just put the things away that do not need to be seen outside the confines of our personal lives. We have a logo that was adopted in 1868, and it happens to need no explanation when displayed in public – maybe units could rally around that one more often and just be content with it.  Like I said, sometimes things are bigger than ourselves and I thought a quick glimpse into another culture's perspective might be interesting for this one. Thanks for reading. 


  1. Very good post. On even another flip side, here in Estonia (this is SSgt Frick, by the way, sir) they got to experience both the Nazi's and the Commies. Lets just say they have far fonder memories of their time with Germany in control than with the Soviet Union.

    I know this isn't kosher to say (no pun intended) but I've pretty much come to the conclusion that the world would have been better off if Germany had beaten Russia instead of the other way around. I've spent the last 26 months in Warsaw Pact countries, and the Soviets have ruined everything they were in control of. At least the Germans were organized and had some sense of architecture. Sadly there is this idea floating around the world that Communism is somehow a good thing.

  2. SSgt,

    Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment. I think one thing we can all agree on is second- and third-order dynamics from war never cease to provide fodder for conversation and debate. I wish more Marines could share in experiences like yours and see how wide and enduring the footprint can be from actions of world powers.

  3. Rodney,
    Interesting perspectives. I think your last paragraph is most in-line with what Im thinking about the whole incident.
    Unfortunately, we are all under the politically correct microscope and all things having to do with Marines will be criticized, mostly in a negative light. Most that do the negative work have an agenda against the Corps and they try to push aside the common sense of why these Marines have a flag like that at all. My perception: They were proud of being Scout Snipers, the symbol has been used for years in that community, and they thought it looked cool. Marines cannot be continually pressured to act as diplomats with guns. They are not. They seek out, close with and destroy the enemy by fire and maneuver. Thats why we pay them and that is why Americans love them.