British media reports state that Special Air Service (SAS) operators were ordered to remove all Punisher patches and other similar insignias from their kits. SAS received the removal order after military VIPs visited the unit’s headquarters in Hereford, saw the skull-like emblems on troopers’ combat kits, and considered them controversial.
The rationale behind the decision appears to be the Punisher skull closely resembles the death’s head “Totenkopf” emblem of Nazi Germany’s SS. More specifically, British outlets report the British military hierarchy believes the Punisher emblem could be “be upsetting to other units and disrespectful to enemy forces.”
Just by that remark, you can tell the leadership’s level of detachment from reality on the ground. If the destruction of an enemy is disrespectful––destruction being what the Punisher insignia portrays––then something is utterly wrong. Of course, all troops must abide by the laws of war and the Geneva Conventions. But in the end, armies are mostly intended to wreak havoc, not be politically-correct organizations that strive for designations of the “most friendly” group to work alongside.
Whether accurate or not, the story highlights the deep rift between troops on the ground and their political––and sometimes higher military––leaders. Units formed, funded, trained, and kitted for close combat have one primary mission: to engage with the enemy and destroy it.
Sgt. Trevor Coult, a recipient of the Military Cross for his actions during a combat deployment to Iraq, said that “the Ministry of Defense should be doing everything in its power to support the SAS, not messing around telling them what they can and can’t wear on operations. This is politically-correct nonsense, and it’s ludicrous.”
Marvel Comics’ the Punisher symbol has a long history with the military. But its popularity skyrocketed after Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and his fellow frogmen in SEAL Team 3 adopted the insignia. Kyle, heralded for his astounding effectiveness during multiple combat deployments to Iraq, wrote about the decision in his autobiography, American Sniper.
“We called ourselves the Punishers. He’s a real bad-ass who rights wrongs, delivering vigilante justice. A movie by the same name had just come out; the Punisher wore a shirt with a stylized white skull. Our comms guys suggested it before the deployment,” Kyle wrote. “We all thought what the Punisher did was cool: He righted wrongs. He killed bad guys. He made wrongdoers fear him. That’s what we were all about. And so, we adapted his symbol––a skull––and made it our own, with some modifications. We spray-painted it on our Humvees and body armor, and our helmets, and all our guns. And we spray-painted it on every building or wall we could. We wanted people to know: we’re here, and we want to fuck with you.”
As per its standard operating procedure, the British Ministry of Defense refused to comment on matters concerning the United Kingdom Special Forces.
Jack Murphy recently wrote an insightful piece on the Punisher. You can read it here.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that Sgt. Trevor Coult didn’t serve in the SAS.