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Friday, 20 July 2012

Operation Valkyrie, 68 years after, and the army’s responsibility to modern society

On the 20th of July 1944, a group of German army officials failed to end World War II by a bomb attack on Adolf Hitler. Instead, Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg and 50 more Generals, high ranked army officers, diplomats and state officials were executed by the SS, and the war went on for 10 more months.

Today, in the year 2012, new German army recruits have been officially inaugurated to the armed services in the court of the German Ministry of Defence at exactly the same place where Stauffenberg and his followers have been executed. In today’s speech during the inauguration, German Minister of Defence Thomas de Maizière recalled the overall responsibility of military personnel to society. The term of a “citizen in uniform” has marked the character of the soldier in post-World War II Germany, specifically after the reintroduction of compulsory military service through the “Bundeswehr” back in 1956.

While this image of a citizen in uniform does no longer seem to work as a marketing strategy to gain new recruits for the German army, the question remains: to which extend does an army still has a social responsibility?

A few decades ago, when a young man was drafted to the armed forces, it used to be a matter of course for him and for his personal development. Unlike to the pre-World War periods where military service was a more or less mandatory obligation to achieve a high social status and as a guarantee for a career boost, the Bundeswehr was an instrument to ensure an overall social obligation of its citizens. A temporary military service ensured an integration of the army into society through a constant exchange of different people with different qualifications and backgrounds, and preventing an infiltration by subversive counterforces who might have turned the army into a threatening instrument against the state, as it happened in the Weimar Republic.

Also, the modern German army has proven itself to be an efficient and reliable actor for humanitarian safe and rescue tasks, specifically after natural disasters. During the 1962 North Sea Flood, the army fulfilled rescue missions for the population, a first and remarkable success for the young armed forces whose mere existence was questioned since its very creation, as well as during the 2002 floods of the Elbe River.

For NATO striking capabilities during the Cold War, however, the Bundeswehr was not considered as the most powerful force (compared to the US and UK forces), and (this might sound cynical now) German soldiers would have been deployed as cannon fodder in the early stages of an armed confrontation between NATO and Warsaw Pact forces, until the first nuclear weapons had been dropped on advancing Warsaw Pact troops on Western German territory. In short, the Bundeswehr’s main orders were not to push back the adversary, but to hold them and to postpone the use of tactical nuclear weapons as long as possible.

Today’s social responsibility has switched. With the armed forces drastically reduced and compulsory military service suspended and replaced by voluntary service, the army no longer appears to have a useful purpose for younger generations or for society as a whole. Instead, the army is being regarded as a useless archaic construction from a bellicose and primitive past. In today’s so called “civilized” society, the army seems to fulfil no use anymore.

It should be pointed out that this is a wrong assumption.

The army is a part of our society, and it is obliged to the same social rules like any other public institution or private company. The army does its part to the contemporary job market, the integration of young people into a structured way of life, and a significant benefit to all entities, fields, and branches. But most of all, the army makes the citizens aware of their responsibility to the country in order to defend their fundamental constitutional rights through their own personal commitment.

In a certain way, this was the spirit of the Valkyrie conspiracy against Hitler, and this spirit is deeply rooted in today’s German army. The structures have changed over the years, but the main purpose still is the same: the integration of Germany’s citizens.

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