Today in extremely bad decisions: The Department of Defense as well as the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division and XVIII Airborne Corps uploaded the same glossy, artificially colorized headshot of reviled war criminal and Waffen-SS officer Joachim Peiper to Facebook on Wednesday, the Daily Beast reported.
The posts were ostensibly part of a series commemorating the 75th anniversary of World War II’s Battle of the Bulge, a massive Nazi counterattack on the Western Front that became one of the bloodiest campaigns in U.S. military history. Peiper led thousands of German troops against the Allies in that battle, but his role in the battle is primarily remembered for war crimes committed by 1st SS Panzer Division troops under his command. That includes the Malmedy massacre on Dec. 17, 1944, in which his men machine-gunned 84 U.S. prisoners of war, and hundreds of other killings. Peiper was later sentenced to death in 1946 by a U.S. military tribunal. But it was never carried out; after his release from prison in 1956, he burned to death in a suspected revenge killing in France in 1976.
The XVIII Airborne Corps’ post opened with a first-person narrative of Peiper’s preparations for the battle before switching focus to the U.S. side, and is still on the page (minus Peiper’s headshot).
The Department of Defense post said that the corps would “share stories about that brutal fight in the frigid Ardennes forest,” adding “These are the stories that were told by the men who fought in the historic battle. #KnowYourMil #DoDRemembers75 #InTheirBoots”. Screenshots posted to the personal Twitter page of Lt. Col. Brian Fickel, whose profile says he is currently studying at the U.S. Army War College, didn’t show any caption on the photo on the 10th Mountain Division’s Facebook page.
All of the photos now appear to be deleted. But according to the Beast, a moderator on the XVIII Airborne Corps page justified the decision by writing “Sometimes in movies, the movie will create a sense of tension by introducing a bad guy. It is technique of effective storytelling... The fighting started with a German attack. There is no way to get into the story without describing the German side.”
In other comments, someone controlling the account defended parts of the Waffen-SS commander’s record: “He had a good first day. Not really his fault that the initial push failed in the North and center (as we’ll see tomorrow) ... Peiper was a war criminal, but he cannot be faulted for the German failure in Ardennes.”
On Twitter, the corps added that Peiper “was a terrible person... but an effective combat leader. A teenager when Hitler come to power, Peiper joined the SS after serving as a member of the Hitler Youth. He rocketed through the ranks during the war, racking up medals, & promotions.”
Screenshots of the photo showed that it was labeled “colored by Tobias Kurtz” and appears to have been previously uploaded to a DeviantArt account filled with artificially colorized photos of Nazi soldiers. Online backlash to the posts was significant, NBC News reported, and public affairs officers stationed at the airborne unit’s base did not respond to the network’s request for comment (though the photo was deleted after NBC contacted them).
“Really?” one commenter on the corps’ Facebook page wrote. “You had to post a picture of a Nazi SS officer to commemorate the battle of the bulge? I guess that would represent the views of our current administration.” A different user wrote, “How about not writing this like it is Nazi fan fiction? I get what are you are trying to do, but giving a first person perspective from a Nazi war criminal who massacred American soldiers with a huge portrait of Peiper is disrespectful.”
Another commenter was more blunt: “you have to expand the post in order to get to your story, and when you do it never says this guy is a convicted nazi war criminal. wtf is wrong with you”.