America’s Military Should Confront Its Past, Not Bury ItBreaking News
tags: far right, military history, Germany, Confederacy
At the end of May, German police commandos arrived outside a rural home owned by a sergeant major in that country’s most elite special forces unit, the KSK. Buried in the backyard they found a trove of weapons, explosives and Nazi memorabilia. In response, Germany’s defense minister announced that she would disband one-quarter of the unit because of the widespread infiltration of far-right extremists into its ranks. But as several news reports have made clear, it is suspected that the infiltration extends far beyond a single segment of the KSK.
Being a soldier in Germany has long been a fraught proposition given the stain of its Nazi past, a history that, like the explosives in the sergeant major’s garden, the government has been attempting to bury for decades.
Like the American military, the German Bundeswehr is an all-volunteer force, with conscription having ended in 2011; that, combined with the public disapproval of Germany’s participation in the war in Afghanistan and an increasing number of other commitments abroad, has created a widening civil-military divide, much like the one that exists in the United States.
Unlike the American military, though, the Bundeswehr is in many ways an ahistoric organization, officially cut off from its complicated past. The acceptable history of the German military is codified in the Bundeswehr by its “Traditionserlass” (“tradition decree”). In that document (first enacted in 1965; a new one was issued in 2018), the current army purges its Wehrmacht past and traces its lineage instead to dissident officers who attempted to assassinate Hitler in the failed July 1944 Stauffenberg plot.
Given the enormity of the Nazis’ crimes, Germany’s disavowal as it attempted to reestablish its military after World War II is understandable. But the KSK revelations raise the possibility that in scrubbing its military’s history, the government failed to confront its past, but rather buried it, and in doing so, left that history — one easily weaponized — vulnerable to co-option by radicals, unchecked by the sort of moral framework that the full, open engagement of a society can provide.
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