“I know that for many people the Iron Cross is associated with the suffering of World War I and II,” said Ernst-Reinhard Beck, a member of parliament for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats and head of Germany’s association of army reservists.
“But today, when our aircraft and armoured vehicles are deployed in conflict zones or disaster areas, it also serves as a symbol of hope.”
Beck, who was born in 1945, said German should reclaim the positive aspects of the Iron Cross now that the Second World War was more than 60 years in the past and that Germany’s modern armed forces, the Bundeswehr, had “over half a century, established a tradition which has nothing to do with the Nazi era.”
The Iron Cross was originally a Prussian military honour, established by King Friedrich Wilhelm III in 1813, and the design is still used today as a national symbol on Germany’s military aircraft and tanks. The medal, issued in various grades, became the highest decoration for German soldiers serving in combat abroad, but has not been awarded since the end of World War II.
The Iron Cross remains closely associated with the abuses of German soldiers during the Nazi era and Defence Ministry spokesman Thomas Raabe ruled out reintroducing it.
“We are not thinking of bringing it back though we do want to introduce a medal to honour soldiers who show courage,” he said. “The Iron Cross is not an option, not only because of its Third Reich connotations, but because it was awarded for war service and we are not a nation at war.”
German soldiers are serving in some 10 foreign missions, including the NATO-led international force in Afghanistan.