Sönke Neitzel has hidden the explosives very well in his new book, which is spectacular in several ways: “German Warriors: From the Empire to the Berlin Republic” is the title of the military history of the Potsdam historian, which was supposed to appear at the beginning of November, but has been published for a week by the publisher was preferred. An 800-page study in which Neitzel examines German “war culture” from the 19th century to the present day and asks what a lieutenant of the German Empire, an officer of the Wehrmacht and a platoon leader of the Kunduz Task Force in 2010 have in common. Are there continuities in military thinking and action? He asks. And does the Federal Republic of Germany still want armed forces today, “democratic warriors” who are really capable of waging intense battles against a well-armed enemy (for which the Bundeswehr would need completely different equipment)? Or does it want to confess its role as a civil power and “global social worker” with all consistency, without combat troops?
Responsible editor for the features section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in Berlin.
He begins with a quote from the former Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen: “The Wehrmacht is in no way traditional for the Bundeswehr. The only exceptions are some outstanding individual acts in the resistance. That is a matter of course that must be borne by everyone ”, she said when she commented on May 3, 2017 on the Bundeswehr scandal involving the right-wing extremist Lieutenant Franco Albrecht, who is suspected of terrorism. The suspicion that the spirit of the Wehrmacht would be patient in barracks should be countered so vigorously. However, whoever seriously dealt with the armed forces “beyond the soothing ministerial rhetoric”, according to Neitzel, could hardly overlook the traces of the past.
Soldiers who have pictures of heroic compatriots hanging in their barracks can be mistaken for Nazis. Right-wing radicalism and the glorification of the Wehrmacht almost always go hand in hand. The explanation of soldier identities, it says in “German warriors”, this finding contributes little, however. Investigations by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution and the MAD showed that only a single-digit percentage of soldiers belonged to a right-wing extremist milieu. “Far more Bundeswehr soldiers are likely to consider the Wehrmacht to be a legitimate part of their tradition.” One could find that outrageous, but one also had to ask why this was the case at all. “German Warriors” is about the search for the answer.
And so Sönke Neitzel moves the real or potential experience of fighting, killing and dying into the center of his book, which fundamentally distinguishes the armed forces from other social groups. In the Bundeswehr it is only a minority that puts fighting at the center of their professional identity. Many soldiers, as technicians, seafarers, drivers or administrative officials, tend to have civilian duties. But of course there are also combat troops. And the fact that soldiers who focus on the war in their self-image are looking for suitable role models is a “banal insight” for Neitzel. But the Germans “found it difficult with her after the Second World War. The cultural break was so profound, the crimes so incomprehensible, the defeat so morally total that her relationship with the military changed fundamentally. Most of them did not become pacifists, but society and politics took a more critical view of their soldiers than before, tried to contain them, to civilize them to a certain extent and, not least, to set them apart from the past. “