Australia’s Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, has issued a directive that prohibits the wearing of ‘death’ symbols.
Lieutenant General Campbell said the practice was arrogant, ill-considered and that it eroded the ethos of the Army.
The directive was circulated as an internal minute on April 17, and later posted to unofficial social media pages for commentary.
Several symbols were specifically prohibited because of their violent, murderous and vigilante symbolism including the Grim Reaper, the Skull and Crossbones, Spartans, and the Phantom or Punisher.
The Pineapple train may actually be stopping at this station. #TPE
Lieutenant General Campbell, who this week was named as the next Chief of the Defence, stated in his order that he had come across the symbols worn as patches or badges while visiting army units in Australia and overseas.
He reiterated that such symbols were at odds with Army values while acknowledging this was not the intention of those who wore them.
“Such symbology is never presented as ill-intentioned and plays to much of modern popular culture,” Lieutenant General Campbell said.
“But it is always ill-considered and implicitly encourages the inculcation of an arrogant hubris and general disregard for the most serious responsibility of our profession; the legitimate and discriminate take of life.
As soldiers our purpose is to serve the state, employing violence with humility always and compassion wherever possible. This symbology to which I refer erodes this ethos of service.”
In the directive, Army officers were ordered to take immediate action to remove any formal or informal symbols from within their command.
Lieutenant General Campbell acknowledged the decision would upset a minority of soldiers.
“I appreciate that without explanation some will rile at this direction, so please ensure my reasoning is explained but be clear that I am adamant that this is right for the Army.”
“I wish to reiterate that the use of symbology/iconography is uncommon within Army. The overwhelming majority of force elements are very much on the right path,” he said.
When approached by the ABC the Department of Defence issued the following short statement:
The Chief of Army issued an internal minute to all Commanders on 17 April, 2018 to reinforce that all symbols, emblems and iconography used across the organisation must align with the Army values of courage, initiative, respect and teamwork.
Death symbology demonstrates a general disregard for the most serious responsibility of the Army’s profession; the legitimate and discriminate taking of life.
Masks and scarfs depicting skulls are commonly used by United States soldiers and have been portrayed in popular video games such as Call of Duty.
A picture of a French soldier wearing such a scarf in Mali in West Africa was published in 2013 while battling against Al Qaeda.
It sparked an investigation at the time with the French military saying it was unacceptable behaviour.