Thu Nov 2nd, 2006 at 10:26:51 AM EST
On June 22, 1900 the British commander-in-chief Lord Seymour gave the straighforward order I use as a headline for this diary when he launched the attack on Fort Hsiku (or Hsi-cheng) during the so called Boxer Rebellion. For German turn of the century imperialists it was the moment of their greatest pride: they felt being recognized as equals by their role models, the British. Paintings were drawn and that strange cocky empire continued its cranky flag-waving descent towards the August 1914 madness - not without committing genocide against the Herero and killing another tens of thousands in the Maji Maji war in what is now Tanzania.
My question today is, are we back at the gates of Fort Hsiku already?
A great discussion in the comments - from the diaries ~ whataboutbob
Colonial brutality was of course only the prélude of what was to happen next in continental Europe. Two world wars, tens of millions dead and the killing of whole peoples just because of their religion or ethnicity.
Six decades later, here is today's New York Times:
Germany has made it official: it is prepared to move out of its postwar pacifist mode and undertake a greater role in global security. Good. There has been no good reason for some time why Germany should not do its share of global peacekeeping and peacemaking. Defending Germany's borders, to which its army was restricted after World War II, is hardly a consuming mission in today's Europe. <...>
The specter of German militarism, once terrifying, is a thing of the past. Contemporary Germans are, if anything, more sensitive than their neighbors to episodes of military wrongdoing. Last week's publication of photographs of German soldiers in Afghanistan toying with a skull prompted a suitably anguished public reaction. But it should not raise questions about transforming the Bundeswehr into a global intervention force. There's a lot of work to be done, and it's time the Germans joined in.
Here is what I mean:
Rightly, the allies made the decision in 1945 to dismantle the German military and to crush Germany's military complex. For nearly 10 years, Germany did not have an army. Then the cold war changed everything and the West-German conservative government saw the best and fastest way to regain sovereignity via anti-communism, re-militarization and joining NATO. The majority of Germans disapproved, and the foundation of the Bundeswehr - the German Armed Forces - was pushed through against massive popular dissent and demonstrations. To cut a long story short: the Bundeswehr and the draft did not re-militarize the German society in the way the Prussian military culture did - it did not have the same transformative power. In my opinion, most of the time Germans don't care about their military.
The 1990's of course brought a lot of change. Starting with Cambodia in 1992, German governments started to use the Bundeswehr within the context of international peacekeeping missions under UN command. Germany's supreme court - the Bundesverfassungsgericht - issued a key ruling allowing the government to do so with the consent of parliament. This was the major change because the constitution only allows to defend the country. German soldiers then served in Somalia and the Balkans. The first real participation in an armed conflict came during the Kosovo military campaign.
Germany gradually moved towards a militarized foreign policy. These also caused changes in the Armed Forces, especially the new Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK), a special forces unit within the Bundeswehr. The participation of Germany in the war in Afghanistan was the next step. We do not know what the KSK did in Afghanistan, yet we know that Germany has one of the largest troop contigents in place and it shares the command with the Netherlands. Asked about the reasons to support the intervention in Afghanistan militarily, then-minister of defense Peter Struck infamously claimed: "Today, the German interests are defended at the Hindukush".
So far however, German troops have not fought openly alongside other military forces. Thus there are virtually no deaths in combat. But this may change.
Just this week, the Federal government released a new White Book. A strategy document on the future of the role of Germany's army.
From Der Spiegel:
The 2006 White Paper is aimed at upgrading the national security policy for an era of "assymmetrical threats" like terrorism and providing peacekeeping or security-building forces in Afghanistan, Lebanon and elsewhere. In the wake of 9/11 Germany is also part of that assymetrical threat. In one of the more controversial points, the paper cites "the need to expand the constitutional framework for the deployment of the armed forces," including on home soil in exceptional cases where police authorities alone cannot overcome a threat. The new White Paper also affirms Germany's international commitment in particular to NATO and the European Union, and mentions the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction as a potential threat, and defines keeping sea channels clear for international free trade and "secure access to energy resources" as primary national interests.
Particularely the last point is worrisome to me. Yet I want to debate something different here.
I am really proud and happy about the very low role the military plays in the German society. After two centuries of being a militaristic society, I believe it was time for this country to become civilized and civil. My fears are that a changing role of the German army will eventually change the German society. We are getting back to that culture of uniformity and death. If German soldiers die in combat, we would see flag-draped funerals again and I just don't want that. I believe after blowing up the world twice in the last 100 years, Germans should abstain from the use of military force.
One example, when parliament recently voted on the mission of the German marine to secure the Lebanese coastline, the opposition and the government shared one goal from the outside: It would be unimaginable that a German army would have to use force on Israeli troops. A confrontation would have to be avoided at all cost. Hence, Germany only sent some ships. Yet things did not go well. There have been at least three incidents involving German and Israeli forces.
I just fear where this may end. On the one hand, it may be selfish to keep the German military out of conflicts while other countries see their soldiers die. On the other hand however, I am so glad, we managed to get rid of our demons. The wars on the Balkans show that wherever we go, we meet our history. It is like the British failing to secure Iraq - again.
What is your opinion on this? Most of you in Europe live in countries that have been at one point under German occupation. I have a rather negative view on the concept of the use of military force in General, but what do you think of the prospect of a strongly armed Germany ready to pursue its interest along the other powers? Laurent Fabius already came up with the idea of a Franco-German military alliance.
Have a nice evening.