Army instructor’s racial comments face scrutiny

By Kirsten Grieshaber The Associated Press

BERLIN – Germany’s Defense Ministry said yesterday an army instructor’s order to a soldier to imagine being accosted by blacks in New York’s Bronx borough while firing a machine gun was “absolutely unacceptable” but denied it was a symptom of widespread racism.

The instructor who issued the command, recorded on a video circulating on the Internet, was under investigation, ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe said.

“This behavior is absolutely unacceptable and contradicts the training standards of the German army,” he said at a news conference.

Raabe insisted it was an isolated incident.

“We have a success story for more than fifty years in our German army and it is really seldom that something like that happens. I think it is not a special German problem,” he later told AP Television News.

In New York, Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr. has demanded an apology and called for whoever was responsible to be disciplined.

“The German government obviously has work to do to correct something that is insidious. … Clearly these folks don’t know anything about African-Americans or the Bronx,” he said Saturday, after the video was aired on German television.

The clip shows an instructor and a soldier dressed in camouflage in a forest. At first, the instructor tells the soldier to imagine gunning down terrorists trying to hijack an airplane. The soldier fires several rounds.

Then the instructor tells the soldier, “You are in the Bronx. A black van is stopping in front of you. Three African-Americans are getting out and they are insulting your mother in the worst ways. … Act.”

The soldier fires his machine gun and yells an obscenity several times in English between bursts. The instructor then tells the soldier to curse even louder.

The video has vanished from a German Web site but since appeared on

The video follows two other incidents that raised concerns about training in the Germany army, which is increasingly being called on to carry out sensitive overseas peacekeeping missions.

A group of army instructors accused of abusing and humiliating recruits in 2004 is currently on trial. Last year, newspapers published photos of German soldiers in Afghanistan posing with skulls – including one who exposed himself.

The German military, or Bundeswehr, was founded in West Germany in 1955, more than 10 years after the collapse of the Nazi government at the end of World War II. It has some 250,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen, of whom around 38,000 are draftees.

As a reaction to Germany’s Nazi past, the Bundeswehr stresses character, ethical conduct and personal responsibility with the expectation that civilian society’s legal norms are to be upheld by those in uniform. The contemporary armed forces specifically reject most of Germany’s pre-1945 military traditions.

In Germany in general, inciting racial hatred – including by denying the Holocaust – is a crime.

The Defense Ministry said the video was filmed in July 2006 at barracks in the northern town of Rendsburg and that the army had been aware of it since January. Raabe said a soldier had given a superior a CD containing the clip.

The video has drawn only muted reaction in Germany. A headline in the taz newspaper focused on reaction in the United States: “Army Video Horrifies New Yorkers.”