Chief of Army Lieutenant General Angus Campbell has issued a directive to commanders that they should stamp out all instances of ‘death symbology and iconography’ in the Australian Army immediately.
In a minute (formal military letter) dated 10 April 2018 – a copy of which is circulating on social media – Lieutenant General Campbell said he believed the use of such symbology/iconography was not widespread and that the overwhelming majority of force elements were ‘on the right path’ – but that commanders should take immediate action to remove such symbology/iconography from all formal and informal use within the Army.
“I refer in particular to the use of what could be termed ‘death’ symbology/iconography: for example the pirate Skull and Crossbones (maritime outlaws and murders), the Phantom or Punisher symbols (vigilantes), Spartans (extreme militarism) or the Grim Reaper (Bringer of Death),” Lieutenant General Campbell said, in the minute.
“Such symbology… 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 taking of life.
“This is not where we need to be as a national institution.
“As soldiers, our purpose is to serve the state, applying violence with humility always and compassion wherever possible.
“The symbology to which I refer erodes this ethos of service.”
Lieutenant General Campbell said he realised that without explanation [and CONTACT suggests that regardless of explanation] some will rile at this direction.
“But, be clear, I am adamant that this is right for Army.
“I seek your immediate attention to addressing this issue.”
CONTACT asked Defence to confirm or deny whether the minute circulating on social media was legitimate. They said – “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.”
Lieutenant General Campbell was this week announced as the new Chief of Defence Force, taking up the position in June.
CONTACT can only speculate that the new Chief of Defence Force’s concern over this issue may see the directive widened across the ADF later this year?
Meanwhile, commanders all across the country are frantically consulting dictionaries, thesaurus, Google translate and Wikipedia in an attempt to convert “inculcation of an arrogant hubris” to a form of English that might actually be understood by the types of ‘outlaws and murders’ most likely to wear the offending death symbology/iconography’.
A former 2RAR platoon sergeant wrote a passionate ‘open letter’ to Lieutenant General Campbell, spelling out his dismay, disappointment and disbelief.
Read that letter here.
It is worth noting, however, that the “pirate Skull and Crossbones (maritime outlaws and murders)” symbol was a widely used symbol in military forces through the ages – and still is.
The Royal Navy in WWII commonly flew the Jolly Roger on completion of successful combat missions, as a mark of bravado and stealth rather than lawlessness.
Today, the Jolly Roger remains the official emblem of the Royal Navy Submarine Service.
Other navies too fly the Jolly Roger, especially in submarine fleets – including the Royal Australian Navy.
On land, even the The Queen’s Royal Lancers in the British Army – a modern cavalry regiment that was formed as recently as 1993 – uses the skull and crossbones in its official (and presumably sanctioned or at least tolerated – by the Queen) unit emblem.