The Lonely Germans

by Daniel Russ on November 15, 2009

German Soldier Deploys To Afghanistan

German Soldier Deploys To Afghanistan

This article really struck me how a country lets its people go to war and pays little attention to them. The Germans are seeing heavy ground combat an it’s just an odd thing to consider that they feel unappreciated.

“Instead of marking Veterans Day or Armistice Day on Nov. 11, Germany on Sunday observes Volkstrauertag, its national day of mourning for soldiers and civilians alike who died in war, as well as for victims of violent oppression. German society has a complicated relationship with war, due to the Nazi era. The result has been a generally pacifist bent and an opposition to most armed conflicts; that includes majority opposition to the Afghanistan mission, which often expresses itself as a mistrust of those in uniform.

In this, there is a profound contrast to current attitudes in the United States, where even opponents of recent military missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have taken pains to express support for the ordinary soldier who has been sent to fight and perhaps die.

The German men and women in Afghanistan set off for war without the support of the populace, and they know that when they return there won’t be crowds cheering in the streets, ready to make heroes of them. Germany has turned its back on hero worship. The soldiers fight alone.

“This sense of appreciation, you don’t get that, the feeling that wearing your uniform people are going to be proud of you,” said Heike Groos, who has written about her time as a German military doctor in Afghanistan. “Young people die. Young people are badly wounded and one feels out of place and lonely when one thinks, ‘No one in Germany understands and no one in Germany is even interested’ .”

The German military was revived in the 1950’s as a linchpin in the NATO barrier to Soviet expansion, but it was limited to a defensive role. Although they trained and took part in disaster assistance, German forces did not face combat until taking part in NATO’s Balkan campaigns in the 1990s. Now the German military is trying to come to terms with the radically different realities facing the professional soldiers in combat in Afghanistan (conscripts can be sent only if they voluntarily extend their service).

In July, Mrs. Merkel awarded four German soldiers who served in Afghanistan the first medals for bravery the country had given since World War II. In September, President Horst Köhler opened a memorial here in Berlin to all those who have died while in military service since 1955.”

Source: NYT


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