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Germany's citizens in uniform

The Local · 16 Nov 2009, 16:10

Published: 16 Nov 2009 16:10 GMT+01:00

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I come from a military family and so I can well remember my English father’s withering contempt for the Bundeswehr, its concessions to the individual, its subversive concept of “Citizens in Uniform.”

He was, by the standards of the time, an enlightened man but he was sure of one thing: armies had to be strong, otherwise they had no function and strength meant ignoring dissent. There had to be leadership and a clear chain of command, not democratic consensus.

I was an adolescent, in perpetual conflict with my father, and so delighted in praising the Bundeswehr. “If you want blind loyalty,” I told him, “buy a German shepherd.” He threw a shoe at me.

But many non-German Europeans like me, growing up in the 1960s admired the “Citizens in Uniform” concept because we thought it undermined the army, and we considered all armies to be redundant back then. Of course, I have since changed my mind. And Germany has quietly discarded any pretence of having a democratic military. Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg promised last week that he would make the new six month military service into an effective training programme, but we all know that conscription is doomed in Germany, just as it has been phased out elsewhere.

And that’s really just fine; it is time for the citizen to take off his uniform, and let a German soldier to be a soldier. But what the country needs now is radical changes in other institutions that are being managed as if they were part of the Prussian military.

For example, hospitals where powerful head doctors are treated like generals that cannot be challenged or contradicted. Academic institutes where professors expect lowly researchers to produce the work for their articles. Or state television channels, where programme directors are regarded as commanders on horseback leading the battle for ratings.

All these institutions are stuffed full of talented people yet the old-fashioned chain of command, the muzzling of criticism, throws much of that creative energy away. Why do German universities come so low down on international league tables? Why is German television so poor compared to foreign competition? Not because there is a shortage of intelligent, gifted people, but rather because of the way such institutions are managed.

Germany needs a cultural revolution, an opening up. Take German football clubs. Players used to be working class boys who, in return for obeying orders, could make themselves wealthy. Now players are more articulate; they are young millionaires with advisers, and they want the management to listen to their views.

Philipp Lahm quickly found out where that leads. FC Bayern Munich will not accept publicly expressed criticism; a soldier is allowed to grumble in the barracks but not confront his superior officer. Why did Lahm make his doubts about the team’s strategy public? Because no-one was listening when he tried to express them privately.

No wonder that the late goalkeeper Robert Enke was afraid to go public about his depression. He had seen what had happened to Sebastian Deisler at Bayern. Edmund Stoiber, the former state premier of Bavaria, once moaned depressed Deisler was “one of the biggest losing deals” the club had ever negotiated. Was Enke scared of being written off as a loss?

It could be that other countries apart from Germany have these problems; the fear that institutional managers have of losing their authority, of accepting criticism without looking weak. But it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a football coach in England, Italy or France behave like Shalke’s Felix Magath.

Story continues below…

“He is like one of those crazy colonels in the First World War or the Crimean War who would yell at his soldiers so that they would be more afraid of him than of the enemy,” said an English friend after we had watched one of Magath’s tantrums.

But football is not war. Good, modern management is not based on fear. If your boss rejects intelligent suggestions, if he accuses you of disloyalty for thinking independently, then tell him to buy a German shepherd. You are not in the army.

For more Roger Boyes, check out his website here.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

17:26 November 16, 2009 by xyz_79
I think it is because Germans are deeply rooted to adhere to Authority.

But what Germany needs is not a great Army today but Great systems, Reasearch & Development, Technology, Great Economy, New Global Business houses.

The army part I think America has taken care of that and a responsible role in the world.
01:03 November 17, 2009 by Logic Guy
Well, I must say that xyz_79 and Roger Boyes said intelligent things.

Without a doubt, authority is very important. Someone or an elected group must lead. However, at the same time, the team that they lead should be listened to. This too is very important. Because no one knows everything.

And if a leader has destructive policies, then obviously he has the potential to destroy everyone and everything.

I care as much about Deutschland as any other human being who has ever lived in this world. And I agree with Roger Boyes, in that Germany has many talented and intelligent people. But he country lacks an "Efficient Structure". Simply put, Germany's power is being under-used. I shouldn't be afraid of the past. Germany could become a world leader in many things, without creating fear within other countries around the world.

Liberal and inefficient policies will never take any nation to the zenith.
08:52 November 17, 2009 by snorge
This story is all over the map, what exactly is the point? The German Army, the British Army, the authors father or Germany and authority??? Back to the drawing board....
12:07 November 17, 2009 by Aschaffenburgboy
This is a well "expressed" article. Kudos to the writer.
19:03 November 18, 2009 by snorge
I disagree...
19:58 November 18, 2009 by edwards725
All countrys need an army
13:58 November 20, 2009 by dbert4
Oh please.....Germany needs an, ""Efficient Structure"? Such as the UK for example? What does any country have to learn from a second rate country like England. The only reason that England has any influence in the world at all is by being a "bitch-boy" for the US. You are a bankrupt, corrupt nation of ignorant pub fighters who are still think that you're an empire.
17:59 November 20, 2009 by deutschamer
Another Englishman who believes the myth of "German subservience to authority". The myth is mostly based on the misconception that the nation supported the Nazis during WWII because of this trait. The truth is that the vast majority of Germans truly supported the war. I'm not saying thats good or bad, I'm just saying thats how the myth got started.
18:34 November 21, 2009 by 1FCK_1FCK
The German subservience to authority myth probably more has its roots in Prussia, and was exacerbated by the Allies conflating Prussian militarism with Germany. And while it's true the NSDAP never achieved an electoral majority, the absence of a significant political opposition can be used to argue that a majority of Germans supported Nazi policies. Of course one could also argue that the Nazis eliminated or at least intimidated the opposition from existence. But we must remember how large the threat of communism loomed in 1930s Europe and that many people, and not just Germans, saw Germany & fascism as an important bulwark, perhaps the only barrier, against communism sweeping across Europe.
14:24 November 22, 2009 by berliner12
Ok English people stop teaching or correcting us.We know what we are doing.Can you please tell us good news about your country.
19:24 November 22, 2009 by texasboy
I cannot tell good news about UK.But what I know Great Britain is not Great

1.because other countries are alraedy out of recession them not yet, still crawling

2.Bad government, full of corrupt officials.

3.Bad education system

4.Bad Health System

5:Low state pension

5.To much youth out of school,graduates with no jobs and they are known in the whole world of their habbits of binge drinking

6.Banks are crazy, easily give credits to the people

7.People like to go on credits and credits, and living beyond their means

8.They are printing money

9.People like to flee (so be careful germans) from "great" britain because they think their country is like a toilet.

10.they are bankrupt

It's only few of the lists, you can read more http://www.dailymail.co.uk
04:23 November 23, 2009 by anglogerman
Please don't use this forum as an anti-British rant board. As an Irish/British passport holder, I fight some of the comments offensive and downright rascist. Being British, I can assure some of the more narrow minded and ill educated 'writers' on this forum that the UK is not a second rate, bankrupt country with a 'cliched' bad health system etc. etc. I don't really need to tell you the huge positives about the country, because quite frankly, it is beneath me to do so.

Whether the offensive 'writers' were American or German, I don't care. I have lived in all three countries and I know where I will end my days. Please think about what you post, educate yourself and try not to be so rude in future about my homeleand.
18:35 November 23, 2009 by Major B
Was going to sit this one out but I agree with anglogerman, all this fingerpointing and denigration of countries is childish. The language of Great Britain, English, is the international language of the world, period. I trully dislike some of the decisions and policies of the British Empire but the influence of Britain is undeniable --- geez.

@ xyz_79_ whatever decisions Germany makes about its military, it is fullly entitled "now" to do. Respectfully, the following statement you made tatement is not accurate:

"The army part I think America has taken care of that and a responsible role in the world."

American is not and can not be the "policeman" of the world. The American people totally reject that and would prefer to take any military action "in concert" with its allies. Although it could go much better, the NATO effort in Afghanistan, of which Germany is committed to, is a test case for joint action. The citizen soldier concept is not new and theoretically is a good concept. The FRG has proven record of reliability and cooperativeness the past 60 years and the citizen soldier concept seem to have helped. But frankly, now is the time for both reinforcements and for the "gloves to come off" in Northern Afghanistan
23:12 November 23, 2009 by Logic Guy
Well, obviously there has been a misunderstanding. And for starters, I'm not English. In fact, I'm as German as it gets. I was simply saying that the journalist made some interetsing statements.

Perhaps the best example of an "Efficient Structure" is Denmark. As some of you may know, the Danes are Germaic People. Us Germans could surely learn a few things from our "relatives".

Take a look a the state of california, in the US. Although they have the world's sixth largest economy, however, it is almost a failed state, primarily because it is too liberal and lacking of authority. It sort of reminds me of Germany.
17:56 November 24, 2009 by lordwilliams629
reguardless of germanys past military, every free country needs a good military to stay free. Most who are against a strong military within a free country are always the ones who live in freedom themselfs but will cheer for crazy dictators in other country's, but will totally condem its own country for wanting a strong military. The new president in america is fine example that.
19:23 November 24, 2009 by Major B
The governor of Kalifornia(the way he pronouces it) is just about Germanic as you get, having been born in Austria. He said he became and an American Republican(circa 1970 or so) because he thought the policies of the American democrats were too much like the socialism he left behind in Europe. Are you saying the governor is "too liberal and lacks authority" Logic Guy. What's logical about that?

Just how do you justify saying the American president doesn't want a strong military Lordwilliams629? Give a comment about the decision the previous President and Vice-President made about going into Iraq, despite the "dire" warnings from our allies, who predicted what would happen. We had decided almost 20 yrs ago that "if you break it, you own it" in regards to Iraq then went recklessly ahead and disgarded the wise decisions of a previous administration. Now President Obama is "anti-military" because he wants to return to traditional "smart analysis" in American military decision making?
22:59 November 24, 2009 by lordwilliams629
Major B how i justify that comment is by actions, the commanding general in afghanistan has asked for 40,000 troops to finish the job, obama does nothing, he closed down gitmo, which im sure makes you happy, obama chumped poland by taking out missle defence. Theres more, but i dont have the space or time. But my question to you is this, which one of americas allies warned bush and what did they say what did these allies predict be specific about which countrys your taliking about and what they said? I do know one thing that many brits also know but wont admit this fact, and that's this, tony blair called bush every day leading up to the attack on iraq to try and get bush to attack. Maybe you can also tell me this, is iraq better off without sadam or do you find saddam a better man than bush. And as far as afghanistan, I can give you 3,000 reasons it needed attacked, and yes i served two tours of iraq so i do have my money where my mouth is. Well anyway as time goes by we'll see just how smart your hero obama is on military matters, a man who never even took care of gas station let alone a country.
23:17 November 24, 2009 by Logic Guy
Well, Major B you are correct, Arnold Schwartzenager is from Austria. And Austria does share profound similarities with Germany. And yes he is very conservative. But he does not have full control over the state. California is larger than many countries. And authority there is "very fragmented."

It is very difficult to accomplish anything, with such a structure.

Look at Switzerland. It has a similar structure. And the Swiss would tell you that it takes forever to get anything done.

If a nation were to elect an effective, conservative leader and then place conservative intellectuals around him for support, then the people would most likely experience consistent, longterm prosperity.
05:19 November 30, 2009 by Major B
Well, so much to deal with.

O.K. Sir "lordwilliam 629", much respect to the two tours you served in Iraq. Maybe you're American, but "lordwilliam 629" indicates a British name. Anyhow, we see how favorably the Brits view Iraq as they have pulled out, not even managing the port area of Basra very well when they were there. But at least they went. Come on, your questions are rudimentary and were available in any reputable publication or media outlet. The US Congress went so far as to try to ban "french fries" because of the French response and the German government then very specifically warned of the consequences of military action. Very many--geez, Europe, Middle East nations in particular, pushed to allow the UN team to return to check out the charges of "weapons of mass destruction", which proved to be groundless. The issue isn't whether Sadaam was a better man than Bush. He was boxed in, and we didn't need to "do anything" but keep up the sanctions and other restrictions that had effectively boxed Sadaam in. It is not the U.S.'s responsibility to take out every tinpot dictator. Perhaps the best response is that there was a "Bush" who understood very clearly the consequences of invading Iraq: "father knows best". Keep on being unfair to Pres Obama but I remind you that Pres Bush was a "no-show" to his Air National Guard unit and Vice-Pres Cheney received at least two draft deferrments. What was that about military experience? As for the 40,000 for Afghanistan -- are you thinking clearly man? Here is a Switzerland type country in terms of terrain, the size of Texas!!! Had we focused on Afghanistan instead of that ill-fated Iraq misadventure we'd be somewhere. We've passed our time, it is 8 years now and we and our allies want to stabilize and scaled down. The American people do not agree with you.

Logic Guy -- "conservative intellectuals"? You mean like the ones that advised Pres Bush, got us into Iraq, drove up the price of oil and contributed to the current economic downturn? You mean those guys? That conservative stuff always sounds good till the truth comes out -- it's just another way to slant the laws and policy to benefit the wealthy and well to do.
18:12 November 30, 2009 by lordwilliams629
Well Major B,on your comment of my nationality I am in fact american I live in a town called Dixon Illinios, yes the name does sound british, but like the rest the comments, your just making another asumption. As far as your other comments they validate what i said, you had no bases for your other comments, they where only your assumptions. So what your now doing is shifting your words into empty statements that have no bearing on what we were debating such as french fries, George Bush's military record. Your all over the map. Lets just be honest your whole point is that you just don't like america, and hey i'm ok with that because I no what your hate is based on, and I know we will never go down in your lifetime we are to powerful, envy never gets you anywere.
19:24 November 30, 2009 by Major B
Look, use your GI Bill, go back to college, study hard, stop talking and get some real education. It takes knowledge about history, an understanding of international events and raw objectivity to really understand the super complex world we live in. I gave you facts. Check out why George Bush Sr. and his Sec of Defense, Dick Cheney, stopped the U.S. military from advancing further into Iraq in 1991. The rest were "facts", not assumptions. They've got you fooled and bamboozled and you "don't even" know it. Quit listening to Limbaugh and Hannity and "think for yourself". Don't EVER accuse me of hating America -- you have no idea what you're saying. Your prejudice is so evident!!!

The topic of this article is about "Germany's Citizens in Uniform", not about the U.S. Your initial comment was that "every country needs a stong mlitary to stay free". Not so but, O.K. The author strongly dislikes the "citizen-soldier" concept for the German military. That is a decision for the German people to make, and is no business of the British. What do you think of the citizen-soldier concept for the German military. Do you know why it was adopted decades ago? Does it hinder Germany's ability to conduct military operations now? This philosophy has affected the German govmnt so much that the Chief of Staff of the Bundeswehr just resigned, due to the airstrike in early Sept that killed some civilians. Other NATO countries have killed a number of civilians mistakenly in airstrikes but their military chiefs haven't had to resign. Stick to the topic!!!

Stop making disgraceful remarks about your President!!!! That isn't American!!
20:07 November 30, 2009 by lordwilliams629
Major B there you go again your all over the map. And college, Im sitting in the library of the community college (sauk valley college) at this very momment, and currently working on my second business degree. I completed my BA in marketing at northern illinios university in dekalb illinios. Right now im reviewing an essay I just completed on mental abuse, which is for a writing class I completed long ago and passed but feel i needed to retake. And of course im jumping around the net kind of mixing it up. And as far as making remarks about president obama, I have every right too, after all this is a president who feels he has to run around the world apologizing for america. I don't know if your a brit or american but if you were as politically savy as you claim, you would also know that obama does not like the UK, this hate goes back to the U.K.'s history with kenya. Im sorry sir but their is so much you don't know, your knowledge is based on assumption and propaganda, your words show it. Oh and the topic NO, your the one who sawyed off the original topic, and with part of this statement your trying to make it look like you were on topic and trying get back on it. You have two things in this world, thats words and actions, your words speak volumes as to who you are and what you know, which with you seems to be based on a crutch, that crutch is propaganda, assumptions,and inuendals oh and lets not forget hate for america. And actions, I put a couple of my actions out I served my country. What actions have you completed in life that makes you a better citizen?
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