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German Military Returns to Traditional Standing in German Society

This is a guest post from our long-time reader and commenter zyme:

July 20th is no day like any other in the self-image of the Federal Republic of Germany. The day of the assassination attempt of Count von Stauffenberg and his supporters on Hitler in 1944 marks one of the most decisive dates for the Republic and for its military, the Bundeswehr. It is conducted in remembrance of the military resistance against Hitler during the war.
From Germany's rearmament in the 1950s till today this has not changed. The circumstances have though - in many ways. Apart from foreign deployments and new defense strategies, Sunday's ceremony provides a good example of taking a look at how much the perception of the Germany Army among the national public and politicians has changed:

The first noteworthy point at this year's ceremony was its most prestigious site: Former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt gave a speech to 500 Bundeswehr soldiers and 2000 invited guests in front of the Reichstag in Berlin - where the German lower house, the Bundestag, resides.

These 500 soldiers didn't come there by chance. The plaza in front of the Reichstag also provided the stage for another built-in ceremony, as the soldiers where sworn into the Army in the evening.
While such collective oaths were sworn throughout the Bundeswehr's history, it is only since 1999 that the Army has begun to organize them outside of barracks at public places, so that the military can reclaim its place in the middle of society in a symbolic way. Holding it in front of the national parliamentary building though is a completely new appearance. Rather bizarre arguments in the preposition of the event would have almost made it impossible.
The biggest obstacle towards the ceremony proved to be a local authority (Bezirksamt), denying its permission for the event, because it considered the widespread exclusion zone around the ongoing to be incompatible with German law.

[Interruption from Joerg: Two interns of mine noticed the barriers and asked me later, if Obama had already been to Berlin. Yep, the upcoming Obama visit is considered the more exciting event and talk of the town...]

At first it may seem astonishing that the German federal government cannot even control what goes on in front of the parliament on a legal basis. Yet this is just a typical example of German federalism. So other means were needed to overcome this hurdle. After angry protests of high ranking former military and current government officials, Berlin's mayor Wowereit - from the same left wing SPD that is more famous for protesting against wars than supporting the military - came to the Defense Minister's help. Exerting pressure on the Bezirksamt, the last legal obstacle was resolved. Yet the plans of employing 2000 policemen and Feldjäger (military police) to keep protestors at bay clearly show how much popular opposition to such events is still expected by the authorities.

Even more typical was the initial disinterest of high ranking politicians. With the exception of Defense Minister Jung, no member of Merkel's cabinet was expected. With Germany's holiday season starting, I dare to assume that practically nobody among the population would have been surprised of this abstinence. Yet again former military officials and leading politicians of opposition parties started a media campaign, accusing the cabinet of failing to cope with their responsibility over the Army. In the end, Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Steinmeier, among other members of the cabinet, had to cancel their cancellations and show up to save their faces, as Spiegel (in German) notes.

Precisely this turn shows us how the role of the military has changed: From a neglected offspring to a fully dependent subordinate of the government to what has interestingly been called a part of the "MIC". And indeed as the rather populistic protests of opposition leaders prove - today there seems to be enough popular potential for furthering the army's cause that even national leaders can be forced to attend important ceremonies. The national tabloid "BILD" may not be the brightest star of German journalism. Being Europe's most popular paper, it must have a sixth sense at popular sentiments though. And its resumé for the event was merged into the headline "Two Chancellors strengthen our Soldiers!" (in German).

It is these developments that arouse the impression that the German military from a merely tolerated evil is back on its way to its traditional standing in German society.

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Fuchur on :

1. Juli 20th definitely [i]is[/i] a day like any other in Germany. Also, Stauffenberg is viewed rather critially. Let's not forget that he was Hitler's lapdog for many years. 2. [i]it is only since 1999 that the Army has begun to organize them outside of barracks at public places[/i] Hm, where did you get this from?! I'm sure that this is incorrect. My own swearing in was pre-1999 and in a public place (and apparently this had a long tradition). Google comes up with lots of other instances (e.g. 20.08.1980 on the Münsterplatz in Bonn). 3. [i]It is these developments that arouse the impression that the German military from a merely tolerated evil is back on its way to its traditional standing in German society. [/i] That's quite a bold conclusion. I'd say, this incident clearly shows that the German Bundeswehr has yet a long way to go. Frankly, I don't see anything special or groundbreaking here: Public swearing-in ceremonies with attendance of high ranking popliticians have a long tradition in Germany (see the example from 1980 above). The fact that the organizers had to "blackmail" their own party members to get them to attend the ceremony doesn't say a lot about the standing of the Bundeswehr. But of course it also reveals that the planning of the event was absymally unprofessional.

Zyme on :

"Hm, where did you get this from?! I'm sure that this is incorrect. My own swearing in was pre-1999 and in a public place" It seems that these are in effect since 1996, and more often since 1998 - at least Wikipedia says so :) http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feierliches_Gelöbnis According to this, it was not common before 1996 because massive protests in the population were expected. Anyway, 1999 seems to be incorrect. Unfortunately this mistake can only happen to someone who has not been old enough to notice at that time - like me.

Fuchur on :

Ah, wikipedia. I should have thought of that myself :-)

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