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Sunday, 18 November 2012

A misunderstood profession – The need for a new support of the modern soldier



The Cause
About a month ago, German singer Joachim Witt has released a movie clip for his latest song “Gloria”. The first section of this apocalyptically and bleak movie showed a group of soldiers, apparently wearing German military uniforms, involved in raping and murdering scenes. This short section caused a massive protest by the German Soldiers’ Association “Deutscher Bundeswehrverband” (DBwV), whose chairman, Colonel Ulrich Kirsch, has condemned the “message” of this clip as a disgrace for the soldier’s profession. This disgrace notion was even supported by a large back-up of former and present military personnel or affiliated academics, blaming Joachim Witt to have produced this clip as a tool to gain as much publicity as possible.

Witt has used a contemporary and popular tool to discredit the entire military system, by blaming soldiers as “rapists” and murderers”. This is in fact an often used message my anti-militarist, militant left-wing extremists – either from the actual left wing parties or from radical eco- and peace movement followers. Traumatised by Germany’s history in the first half of the 1990ies, these groups reject any direct or indirect German involvement in security and defence, or even a direct or indirect affiliation to military structures. To them, anyone even sympathizing with the army of with active or retired soldiers is a right-wing extremist.

Being a soldier in Germany is no longer a respected or even awarded profession. In the past few years, but in particular since the beginning of Germany’s contribution in Afghanistan, there have been increasing incidents of assaults or public disturbances against soldiers, public military events, and public inauguration ceremonies for recruits. For any anti-military activist it is a matter of collective disobedience to attack soldiers or even their dependents, not matter of active or retired ones. Not thinking about the long-term consequences, they are about to destroy an entire profession of a nation.

The question arising from this serious public disorder is: is the soldier’s profession so different from others that they actually deserve such a treatment?
The answer can only be: no!

How the soldier’s image got distorted
About a century ago, the soldier’s image was exactly the opposite of today’s one. If a young man wanted to gain public respect for himself, his family and his life, he had to be enlisted to the army. It was not only an ego matter or a matter of pride; it was above all a guarantee for a professional career. If someone has served in the armed forces, his later career in civil life was almost certain to succeed as well.
This image has radically changed after both World Wars, especially in Germany.

Ever since the end of World War 2, the image of the Germans has radically changed – from a military society towards pacifist and anti-military. This image was enforced with the Vietnam War, even though that Germany was not remotely involved in the conflict. However, this war had also a profound effect on the soldier’s image in the US, too.

The failure in Vietnam marked a radical turning-point for the US soldier’s reputation that was hitherto marked by glory, success, and pride – especially in the view of the victories over Nazi-Germany and Japan in 1945. Vietnam suddenly smashed the glory of the US GIs and turned it into a fragile, broken and disturbed target for public discussions. The US Vietnam trauma gave plenty of material for movies and it has completely destroyed the US’ collective feeling of invincibility. Every war conducted by the US afterwards – in, Somalia, Afghanistan, or Iraq – caused the same traumatic results as Vietnam did combined with the same public reactions.

Public failures
No matter which conflict or war you take into consideration, for military personnel it is not an easy job at all. Being exposed to threats for physical and psychological health, soldiers are probably more vulnerable to mental and physical harms than any non-military profession in modern life. Looking at a soldier’s personal commitment – no matter from which country or in which war zone he has been deployed to – it is all a matter of personal sacrifice, long-term separation from the family, and 24/7 danger for his own life. Modern soldiers are no longer just trained for battlefield combats, but for peace enforcement, peace keeping, rebuilding, stabilization, and highly complex logistics. Of course, the primary function of a soldier still is to fight with weapons and to defend his country and the system he has obliged himself to. That is still his original training, for any nation throughout the world, throughout any epoch.

Unfortunately, this personal commitment for security is not rewarded by the mainstream society; on the contrary. Even the fact that soldiers returning from combat missions, either crippled or suffering from PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) does not raise social sympathy, but the exact opposite. It took years until PTSD was finally acknowledged by the national health institutions and by the government as a serious disease; a matter that has been advocated by the army and all soldiers’ associations for the past few years. But it is not yet recognized in society.

The sheer matter of fact that a second class artist like Joachim Witt is able to drag an entire profession in the mud by stigmatising them as murderers and rapists shows am utterly distorted understanding of contemporary society to one of the most important professions of a nation. Although the original job of a soldier is still to defend his country in the event of a war or of an armed attack by another actor – state or non-state, his new duties go far beyond simply using a rifle or how to fight in a cold and dirty trench. The modern soldier is a multitasking civil servant, responsible for multiple reconstruction, educational and conflict resolution tasks, for civil development and public order; despite the fact that he is wearing a uniform and using different tools to do his job. The modern solider of the early 21th century is far more civilized than his predecessors of the early and mid-20th century, but he still is following the traditional values of honour, pride, self-sacrifice, and discipline.

Regrettably, even the government as the military’s direct superior and commander in chief does not show much sympathy for the immediate effects of PTSD on its soldiers or the recognition of its military personnel in society. If an entire profession has become and legitimate target for humiliation and public attacks then it is an obvious failure of the state and of an entire society. A whole profession is losing support, and this loss will lead to a severe recruiting problem for young people interested in a military career, as they fear public attacks and humiliation.

Restoring a whole profession required
Even modern German soldiers still have to bear comparisons with old Nazi atrocities, and everyone sympathising with the armed forces is being blamed either as a right wing extremist or at least as a “neoconservative reactionary”. The general public needs a new view on the army and the modern soldier, and it is up to every single governmental and private actor to help restore the image of the modern, civilized and good soldier.

Soldiers are doing a tremendous effort for their job as good as they can, and they should be respected in the same way as any other person doing his civilian job. They enjoy our active and our moral back up, and we have to support their work as we depend on their skills to defend and to protect us.

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