U.S. Army officials are struggling to explain why a social media post designed to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge in World War II featured a large photo of a notorious Nazi war criminal responsible for the massacre of American soldiers during the Ardennes Offensive.
The Dec. 16 post, which ran on the Facebook pages of the XVIII Airborne Corps, 10th Mountain Division and the Defense Department, depicts a color image of SS Lt. Col. Joachim Peiper, a former adjutant to Heinrich Himmler. The post quickly prompted outrage on Facebook and Twitter.
Pieper commanded Kampfgruppe Peiper, the leading formation of the 1st SS Panzer Division, which helped spearhead the German offensive and carried out the Malmedy massacre, which resulted in the deaths of 84 American prisoners of war.
"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," Army public affairs officer Lt. Col. Brian Fickel tweeted.
Fickel is currently a student at the Army War College.
"Poor judgment for sure," Fickel tweeted. "I'm certain it was poor judgment and an inadequate approval process. This was not on purpose."
The post, however, was not a mistake, according to Maj. Allie Payne, a spokeswoman for the XVIII Airborne Corps.
"The concept of yesterday's post was to introduce the bad guy or the thoughts of a bad guy on the 16th of December," Payne told Military.com.
The post was part of a planned campaign of posts on the Battle of the Bulge that's scheduled to run from Dec. 16 to Jan. 22, Payne said.
Army Col. Tage Rainsford, spokesman for the XVIII Airborne, released the following statement.
"We regret the use of the photograph of Joachim Peiper. The Facebook post containing his image (and others) was the first in a series telling the full story of the Battle of the Bulge," Rainsford wrote.
"In an attempt to tell the full story of the fight, we also presented the perspective of the German commanders involved in the counterattack. This was in no way intended to glorify the German forces, but to fully portray the odds stacked up against the Americans by December 19th. The story of the Battle of the Bulge will run multiple times each day over the course of the next 6 weeks."
The post was designed to describe Peiper's thoughts, according to Payne.
"Today we gamble everything. He paused at his desk. He hated to be alone in his thoughts with the feeling of uncertainty he'd been trying to avoid for weeks. ... this was the way he always thought the end of the world would feel," according to the post.
The original post states that Peiper was a war criminal, but that disclaimer portion has not been included in many reposts, Payne said.
The choice of the photo may have added to the outrage. The watermark at the bottom right of the photo states it was "colored by Tobias Kurtz," who is an alleged neo-Nazi sympathizer, the Washington Post reported.
The Post reported that Kurtz had shared another image that depicted Hitler looking on as German soldiers readied to execute a man on his knees.
"This photo have my [thumbs-up]," Kurtz wrote in the comments of the drawing, according to the Washington Post.
"I would have been dumbfounded by the decision to prominently display a Nazi on military social media on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge -- had I not seen cadets making white power sign on national TV on Saturday," Twitter user Nancy Levine wrote.
Officials from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy have said they are investigating whether hand signs flashed by cadets Army-Navy football game on Saturday are "white power" symbols.
Michael Spears, a retired Army colonel, tweeted, "It seems they are trying to tell the story of the battle."
"Before everyone jumps on this, perhaps the 10th and 82nd could explain what they are doing. You can't discuss history of WWII without talking about the Nazis," Spears added.
-- Matthew Cox can be reached at email@example.com.