When I first read this advertisement for the Bundeswehr (German Federal Defense Armed Forces), it came out bluntly as, “We also fight so that you can be against us,” which I thought was very strange and nonsensical… My immediate reaction was, “Why would you fight so that others can be against you?
It’s always a challenge to preserve meaning when translating even a sentence from one language to another. Yet even in German, I believe this Bundeswehr slogan is still open to several interpretations in regards to what it truly implies. When I show the advertisement above to other Germans, it was pretty much self understood to them than it was for me. Coming from America, the various branches of our military comes together as the core of our national security and we greatly honor and respect those who serve for us. That is why I was initially baffled at this somewhat self-deprecating rhetoric while ironically exuding a bold defense of its existence.
After hearing a handful of German responses, two things immediately shed light on the Bundeswehr’s existential crisis: the (1) radical left and, of course, its infamous (2) Nazi past.
History of the Bundeswehr:
The end of WWII marked a decade of redemption for Germany as the Wehrmacht (armed forces of Nazi Germany) was dissolved. Some military units remained under complete control of the four Allied Powers (U.S.A, Great Britian, France, & Soviet Union). A decade after, the Allied Powers (including West Germany) cautiously revisited the awkward question regarding West Germany’s utility of defense only out of necessity due to the Cold War’s heightening conflict between West and East. The fear of a militarized West Germany was stronger at the negotiating table of the West than the Soviet controlled East Germany, who was already secretly militarizing. Although 1955 marked the beginning of a modern “German Defense Forces,” the essence of the Bundeswehr was established with careful selection of all current and future Bundeswehr officials that had the right political attitude and experience in order to lead others under the mandate of defending Germany’s newly democratic state.
Even though Germany has severely tainted its military reputation and the Bundeswehr operated restrictively under NATO law and territory, I really believe that Germany has somekind of inherent knack for military prowess regardless of what mandate it serves under. Even with an inferior size compared to the French and American armed forces, the Bundeswehr became the backbone of NATO defense. The American Cold War Historian, John Lewis Gaddis, said the Bundeswehr was “perhaps world’s best army.” The question of how and to what extent will Germany use its military prowess has stirred more controversy domestically than internationally.
Germany can no longer be the “gentle giant”
No doubt that the legacy of its Nazi past still traumatizes and affects the German identity today. The German public today are more opposed to military than 10 years ago and it is reflected in the top political level as German Foreign Policy has portrayed Germany as the reluctant hegmon and pacifist.
At a deeper level, though, the German psyche remains deeply sensitive about anything which stirs memories of leadership as exercised by the Third Reich.
Stephan Green, Germany: The Reluctant Leader of the New Europe
As a result, the very thought of conceiving any world power frightens this gentle giant so it adopted a more reserved mentality that is focused on ushering domestic economic and social progress. But whether Germany likes it or not, its natural place in today’s world is to be a cooperative leader that helps to defend not only Europe, but the western hemisphere as a whole, especially when others are not sufficient to the challenge. Germany’s geographic center already sets the stage for its vital participation in European geopolitics but it lacks political will in the international realm.
Yes, standing up against your Nazi past should never be downplayed one bit, but resorting to align with a radicalized left, anti-German, pro-Israel mentality in response towards preventing one’s past is just evident of how lost you are in the your moral compass. Every situation must be analyzed objectively. Domestically, the criticism of the Bundeswehr’s stems mostly from the the left wing parties that fears that it will be a place for militarism, endangering Germany’s democratic institutions. Internationally, it is criticized for failing to uphold the responsibility to protect. This failure had its consequences when Germany declined to join the US, France, and Britain to authorize a no-fly zone in Libya during a voting at the UN Security Council. In addition, Germany’s record of of abstaining from or voting against any U.N. resolutions that criticizes Israel showed Germany’s inability to make objective decisions.
However, Germany is making good progress in becoming more comfortable in using its political might, such as when it voted against Israel during the UN Human Rights Council for its military methods during Operation Protective Edge. Its minimal military presence in UN peace keeping missions is something I would urge for more consideration. I am not promoting the idea of scaling back a full pledge German armed forces but I think the stripping the Bundeswehr from existence will not only handicap Germany from defending its very own democratic rights and values for its citizens, but also stifling world progress towards maintaining stability and order. Whether Germany or the world admits it or not, this country has an impressive history of military strength. The most important thing is that Germany uses this strength for good.
Here’s my own interpretation of the Bundeswehr’s advertisement:
“We fight as well for the same rights that allow you to be against us.”