Good heavens, German soldiers serving in Afghanistan took photos of themselves, in 2003, posing with a human skull! There's only one word that comes close to describing my reaction to this headline-grabbing revelation: boredom.
Now, I comment less and less on current affairs on this blog, for one simple reason: I came to Germany because so little happens here. You can really live without distractions in a country where the unauthorized sale of elderly meat (which doesn't even make anyone sick) passes for a huge scandal.
But skullgate is just too rich to let pass without comment.
First, some background. German soldiers are -- how can I put this diplomatically? -- not renowned for being relentless killing machines. (Nobody wants them to be, obviously.) They're good at respecting the local culture, helping out with building projects, settling disputes, and the like. Whenever they are sent somewhere (usually reluctantly, after extensive debate), they are kept well away from combat. They'll be patrolling the coast off Lebanon, not mixing it up with Hamas. In Afghanistan, they've been sent well up to the peaceful north, far away from combat. Two-thirds of the 18 German deaths in Afghanistan have been from accidents.
So these soldiers were probably bored out of their skulls, so to speak. Yes, posing with the bones of some hapless Afghan was in poor taste. But it's not as if German forces killed the guy whom they posed with, which happened in Abu Ghraib (the man in the photo was killed by the CIA, not by the soldier posing with the body, according to the linked story).
Now, of course, German politicians are doing (G) what they do best -- stepping in front of microphones to register their "shock", "disappointment", and "concern" over this "outrageous" incident. The reporters, no doubt bored stiff themselves, dutifully transcribe the politicians' promises: The soldiers involved will be severely punished! Troop training will be reviewed! Parliamentary sub-committees will be summoned into action!
All this blue-ribbon outrage, just because some bored soldiers had a bit of disgusting fun, and were dumb enough to capture it on their camera-phones? I'd be willing to bet there are thousands of much more unpleasant photos on hard disks and CDs all over Afghanistan. People do senseless things when they're sent to foreign countries to do boring, stressful jobs, and I can think of much worse that these soldiers could have gotten up to. Much, much, much worse.
Unless this involves something more than stupid photos, I don't see why these should get anything more than a good talking-to and mild punishment. Except for the soldier who posed with the skull next to his exposed penis (G). That man obviously doesn't belong in any army.
He should be directing operas.*
* I know, that was cheap. But I couldn't resist. If the soldiers are brought up on charges, though, I would recommend an artistic freedom defense (German Basic Law, Article 5(3)) This was no corpse-desecration, it was an impromptu performance-art happening in which the soldiers made use of a traditional memento mori motif.