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Germans said to be more afraid to kill than to get killed

Max Boot, fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard, visited the American Academy in Berlin and writes in Contentions that US and German "perceptions remain as far apart as ever on a variety of foreign-policy issues."
At the end of his op-ed, he lets an American observer explain why Germans are reluctant to send troops into combat operations:
It is not so much that the Germans are afraid of getting their own troops killed, he said; they are more afraid of what their troops might do. They realize that counterinsurgency is a nasty type of warfare and that troops of any nationality are liable to commit some excesses. Germans, this American suggested, are deathly afraid that combat atrocities might revive old stereotypes about German militarism. Thus the Germans will continue to stress “soft” power while we (and, to a lesser extent, the Brits) perform the “hard” tasks.
I think there is some truth to it. What do you think?
Another explanation is that most Germans tend to believe that aid and reconstruction can achieve more in Afghanistan than fighting an unwinnable war against a determined and experienced insurgency. Apparently many don't see the need to link both efforts. Besides, collateral damage (i.e. the accidental killing of civilians) strengthens the insurgents and makes winning hearts and minds of the local population much more difficult or even impossible. Moreover, Afghanistan is not seen as important to national security.

Related posts in the Atlantic Review:
Failing in Afghanistan and  "A Little Bit Pregnant": Germany About to Send Hi-Tech Jets to Afghanistan

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JW-Atlantic Review on :

The headline might have several grammatical mistakes. I would appreciate a correction. (Or a better headline.) Thanks.

2020 on :

Since WW2 Germany's attitude to war can be expressed by equations like Hitler=War, Hitler=Evil, therefore War=Evil. After two lost world wars and the nazi regime, after denazification and demilitarisation, Germany finally enters the theatres of war again. The world shouldn't be surprised we do it loudly, with hurray and song. It is only a few decades ago the world was united to see such behaviour in Germany extincted from the root. Actually, the majority of Germans rejects everything associated with the Evils they had more than enough of during the past century. They just say no to nazis and to war and most of world will admit that's not the worst thing to say about people. We just don't want to be evil, again. And in the case of Iraq, it (Schröder's No to War) has spared as already a huge mistake.

2020 on :

Typo: The world shouldn't be surprised we [i]don't do[/i] it loudly, with hurray and song.

2020 on :

Two more typos... /good night

David on :

"We just don't want to be evil, again" I am reminded of a recurring phrase in Paul Celan's great poem "Die Todesfuge": "[i]Der Tod ist ein Meister aus Deutschland"[/i] This is Germany's historical burden, which is why as a nation it must aspire to be the land of "Dichter und Denker" instead of "das Land der Richter und Henker" (Tucholsky).

Zyme on :

Land der Richter und Henker? *lol* I´ve never come across this term.

Bernd on :

If you want to build a ship, don't drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea. - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry I think this insight is the German attitude towards nationbuilding and spread of democracy. Democracy has to come from within a nation, western civilizations have to act as a role-model, not as teachers.

Zyme on :

I ´ve actually never seen it this way, but I must admit that the leadership actually has good reason to be afraid I think. I know a few soldiers at my age, and what they have told me about their experiences and impressions abroad makes me get the idea that it might be best to keep our soldiers out of the fighting as long as possible. The public in Germany could probably be kept calm if (!) the government initiated a proper media offensive to go along with military operations. But in other countries, it might raise uncomfortable questions.

Pat Patterson on :

Sometimes stereotypes can save lives. If Germany's enemies, both real and imagined, think that the present armed forces are a reincarnation of the Wehrmacht or the SS then German citizens are that much safer. The Romans found that it was neccessary, in the settled parts of the Republic and Empire, to burn to the ground a city like Jerusalem or Corinth every generation or so because this created a lasting fear of the legions. But in other parts, Gaul or Dalmatia for example, the Romans had to cross the border every year to maintain a reputation that they would stand for no threats or acts against the security of the citizens.

Don S on :

"Sometimes stereotypes can save lives. If Germany's enemies, both real and imagined, think that the present armed forces are a reincarnation of the Wehrmacht or the SS then German citizens are that much safer." And what do 'Germany's enemies' think of this passage in German history? Die laughing if anything. What is more important is what Germany's allies think of it. On that score Germany is not coming out very well, and not merely in the US. I've seen quite a lot of adverse comment about it in the UK and Canada as well. I can't comment about Nederlands and other allies because I don't read their language - but I wouldn't be surprised. The unilateral breach of faith by most of the continental NATO allies is very likely to be regarded as the death knell of NATO - and I doubt future historians will regard the actions causing that break as at all wise....

Don S on :

I'm certain that physical cowardice of German soldiers is not the obstacle. But it might be moral cowardice on the part of German politicians - or on the part of German society generally. I'm not asserting that as a fact but merely asking Germans to look in the mirror - after removing rose-coloured glasses, please. I think we saw an interesting development on this very blog. A few months ago there was a strong call for all the NATO allies to ship more troops in response t6o a crisis in Afghanistan. Shoulder the burden together - all good sound stuff. So what happened? Predictably some NATO members did send more troops. Some didn't. And one ally started a long, drawn-out debate about sending 6 recon planes to Afghanistan. A debate which only concluded last weak, months after the 'crisis'. I'm sure it was the result of the angst about 'not being evil', but in the real world that glacial and minimum response sent a compelling message that Germany i not to be relied upon in any kind of crisis because they are apt to arrive 3 months later with perhaps 50 noncombatants? In the real world you have to earn your keep, have to give value to your allies in return for the value you recieve. Do you really believe that Germany is doing this right now?

Bernd on :

I do not think that cowardice has anything to do with German foreign politics. It is more twisted. I think it is all about lawfulness. I think Germany - at least once after WWI and WWII - want to be "the good ones". And the "good ones" is not defined in terms of asking a nation now, but it is by trying to predict what historians will tell in 50, 100 years. How will they look at these wars? Will they think that the wars were "good" and "justified"? For the Germans, the question about "give value to your allies in return for the value you receive" is by far not that important. There is a level of loyalty, but that is overruled by the feeling that future will call these wars not just. You might call it "historical selfishness". As it is difficult to predict the future, many Germans have decided to look at the "international law" and try to base their decisions on this, perhaps to have at least the excuse "even if it was not good, it was at least legal". Germany always had a very strong relation to law and regulations, very often giving them priority to common sense. In some sense, "just" and "lawful" are synonyms for many Germans. A mandate by the UN is one case were Germans get the feeling that they are on the right side (like IFOR). Also, as ISAF is based on an UN resolution and is organized within NATO, the Germans have accepted it to be legal. Germany would have no (or at least much less) problems with getting more troops into these missions. On the other hand, "Enduring Freedom" is seen with mixed feeling: the legality of the mission under international law is disputed. And if it is illegal, the Germany becomes an accessory. That is the big fear of the Germans: to be the bad guys again!

Zyme on :

"I think Germany - at least once after WWI and WWII - want to be "the good ones". And the "good ones" is not defined in terms of asking a nation now, but it is by trying to predict what historians will tell in 50, 100 years." This is all well and good Bernd, but who actually wants us to be the good ones? - The ordinary people? They care about their own lives. - The economy? They worry about their shareholder value. - The politicians? *lol* do you actually think they care about our picture in 50 years more than they do about ANY goal that exceeds the timeframe of their current election period ? So who does? The civil servants? Yeah they worry about something in 50 years - their pensions! :D Ah now I know what you might be thinking about, the professors at our universities! Well I don´t want to disillusion yourself, but they can probably be expected to worry about the success of their own books a tiny bit more intensively :)

Don S on :

"I think Germany - at least once after WWI and WWII - want to be "the good ones". And the "good ones" is not defined in terms of asking a nation now, but it is by trying to predict what historians will tell in 50, 100 years. How will they look at these wars? Will they think that the wars were "good" and "justified"?" Ah, but which set of historians? This is an important question in a normal historical context (as opposed to the extraordinary and nearly unique context of WWII). I'm thinking of the historical judgement on Harry Truman as an example. It's been 55 years now since he left office, so he is a good example. David McCoulouch wrote a major biography of Truman a few years ago which was largely positive, and which I believe represents the mainstream view of President Truman today (at least in the US). Certain left-wing historians hold a quite contrary view, because Truman after all was the president who ordered the use of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This was an act which dwarfs anything which Bush or any other President since Truman has done with the possible exception of President Kennedy's decision to enter the Vietnam War. Another example might be Bismark. Historical judgement is quite mixed, yet I think that is unfair to the man himself. It's just wrong to blame the Kaiser or Mr. unmentionable upon Bismark, or so I think.

Don S on :

And to continue with my actual point in all this: Historians views of history change quite radically over time, do they not? Contrast the views of historians in 1907 with those today. Or constrast the prevailing views in 1927 versus 1947 if you will. I think it is futile to try to govern with an objective of achieving some kind fo historical purity. The last man to try was Neville Chamberlain - and we know what history thinks of Prime Minister 'Peace in Our Time', don't we? No, you have to do the best you can - while keeping an eye cocked toward posteritie's POV - but only an eye.

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