The Office of the Chief of Army in Australia has recently announced that “what could be termed ‘death’ symbology/iconography” is to be eliminated from their military culture. The memo, written by Lieutenant General Angus Campbell, Chief of Army, listed several examples of such iconography, followed by why the symbol negatively represents the Australian Army: “pirate Skull and Crossbones (maritime outlaws and murderers), the Phantom or Punisher symbols (vigilantes), Spartans (extreme militarism) or the Grim Reaper (bringer of death).” Gen. Campbell believes that these symbols are counter to the ethos embraced by the Australian Army, “employing violence with humility always and compassion whenever possible.”
Gen. Campbell mentions that he primarily would see this type of symbolism during his visits to forces deployed overseas. This is common in the U.S. military as well — many believe it to be a symbol of the warrior lifestyle, not necessarily of maritime outlaws or vigilantes. Gen. Campbell admits that the “symbology is never presented as ill-intentioned and plays to much of modern popular culture,” but goes on to say that “it is always ill-considered and implicitly encourages the inclusion of an arrogant hubris and general disregard for the most serious responsibility of our profession: the legitimate and discriminate taking of life.”
The battle between uniform militarism and popular culture is a constant one between upper echelons of the military and younger soldiers, and it is not exclusive to this generation. Many seek to forge their own brand of warfighting in their time when they’re the ones doing the fighting, finding their own symbols and sources of inspiration beyond the simple replication of uniforms. As war has become less and less conventional, a departure from the standard seems like the natural place to go, especially if it doesn’t have a direct effect on tactical skills. Others like Gen. Campbell would argue that the culture in the military is just as important as the tactical skillsets, and one cannot be separated from the other. They find value in universal standards and say that professionalism in appearance is important in theater just as it is back on home soil.
The new policies will take effect immediately, according to the memo. Gen. Campbell seems to fully realize the backlash this may incur, but insists that “this is right for Army.”