Army command apologizes for using photo of Nazi war criminal in Battle of the Bulge anniversary post

A Dec. 16, 2019, post by the Department of Defense contained a photo of a Nazi war criminal.


By KATIE SHEPHERD | The Washington Post | Published: December 17, 2019

An Army command apologized for using a photo of Nazi war criminal Joachim Peiper in its social media posts about the anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge.

“The intent was to tell the full story of the Battle of the Bulge, which will continue here, by explaining the incredible odds that were stacked up against the American Soldier by the time the reserve was called in on 18 Dec.,” the XVIII Airborne Corps tweeted on Tuesday, the day after the post sparked outrage on social media.


The photo was also shared on the Facebook pages for the Defense Department and the Army's 10th Mountain Division.

The backlash was swift. Critics in the Facebook comments accused the post of "glorifying a Nazi war criminal," called it a "'fanboy' flavored piece," and described the photo as "vile and disturbing."

Shortly after a public affairs officer for the Army criticized the posts on Twitter, the photos disappeared. The Defense Department and 10th Mountain Division deleted their posts, and the XVIII Airborne Corps removed the photo of Peiper from its lengthy narrative.

"I am dumbfounded by the decision to prominently display a Nazi on military social media on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge," Lt. Col. Brian Fickel wrote on Twitter.

An Army spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment. Pentagon officials also did not return messages about the posts late Monday.

Before the apology, the XVIII Airborne Corps, based in Fort Bragg, N.C., responded to some critics in Facebook comments, some of which are still visible on its edited post about Peiper.

"Sometimes in movies, the movie will create a sense of tension by introducing a bad guy," the Army unit wrote in response to someone who suggested the photo appeared to lionize the Waffen-SS, the military arm of Hitler's Nazi party. "It is a technique of effective storytelling."

In a now-deleted tweet, the unit called Peiper a "terrible person" but an "effective combat leader" who "rocketed through the ranks during the war, racking up medals, & promotions."

The XVIII Airborne also assured critics that the post was "just the first day of a continuing series."

On Dec. 5, ESPN revealed that the Army football team had been flying a flag printed with the initials "GFBD" for decades, apparently without realizing that the slogan, "God forgives, brothers don't," was popularized by the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, a white supremacist prison gang.

On Saturday, during the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia, two U.S. Military Academy cadets and a Naval Academy midshipman allegedly flashed the "okay" hand signal that has been used, in some instances, as a hate sign affiliated with white supremacy and the far-right. The Army and Navy both told The Post on Monday that investigators were looking into the incident. Lt. Gen. Darryl Williams, the Army's superintendent, said in a statement the Military Academy is "fully committed to developing leaders of character who embody the Army values."

Earlier this year, a doctor serving in the Army Reserve became the subject of yet another internal investigation after HuffPost revealed his alleged connection to the white nationalist hate group Identity Evropa. Lt. Col. Christopher Cummins allegedly shared a username, home state and lived in the same town as an anonymous user who posted on the group's now-defunct Discord server, boasting about spreading white nationalist fliers in Mississippi and Jackson, Tennessee.

An Army spokesman told The Post on Dec. 6 its investigation into Cummins' alleged connections to Identity Evropa concluded earlier this year. Cummins is still a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve. The spokesman declined to share the results of the investigation.

"Action taken to address the findings of an administrative action is subject to the Privacy Act," Army spokesman John Bradley told The Post in an email. "The Army Reserve takes allegations of involvement in extremist activity seriously and is committed to promoting good order and discipline within its ranks."