What are examples of Prussian military traditions

Working papers

As a globally operating army, the Bundeswehr is in a process of constant change and transformation. This dynamic change has accelerated with the German participation in foreign assignments and is defined along an expanded range of assignments, a comprehensive capability profile and global deployment areas. For the "Bundeswehr in action", out-of-area missions for the purpose of international crisis management and conflict prevention have now become an integral part. This has a direct impact on the everyday work and culture of the armed forces, but also on the anchoring of the armed forces in civil society. The most recent debate about a reliable understanding of tradition for the troops is an example of this.

At the institutional level, the German involvement in international missions resulted in the creation of mission-oriented structures and a continuous technical and structural transformation process in the Bundeswehr. A parallel and purposeful development of a line of tradition that is based on the new operational experiences, however, did not materialize. As a result, role conflicts were raised within the German armed forces about the soldier's self-image. The soldiers today are confronted with the requirements of a professional ethical reorientation and definition of meaning. You are faced with the challenge of locating yourself in an army that is subject to complex security policy frameworks, must take into account changing risk potentials and is stressed by change as a result of an ongoing transformation process.

What is operational culture?

Under the framework conditions mentioned, there was freedom in the troops for individual negotiation processes for a soldier's job description and understanding of tradition. A generation of Bundeswehr soldiers who are experienced in operations and combat brings their operational realities and combat experience into precisely this space. The associated handing down of operational experience is expressed in a multitude of symbolizations and subcultural customs that are cultivated by the soldiers in the form of an operational culture. These include, among other things, specific modifications to items of equipment and uniform parts, the strengthening of comradely relationships and the emergence of informal procedures in a wide variety of processes that are geared towards the needs of foreign assignments. The primary means of maintaining and spreading this operational culture are the stories from the operational areas. The stories are characterized by an authentic perspective of the soldiers themselves and mostly deal with operational stresses, combat activities and borderline situations.

Thus, even members of the Bundeswehr without personal deployment experience develop relatively precise ideas about the deployment culture and the importance of personal participation in a deployment abroad. As a result, military service participation becomes an initiation service within the Bundeswehr, which means that they are included in the unofficial status group of "deployment experienced" and thereby experience recognition and social advancement outside of formal career paths. With the further increase in operational and combat experience, informal structures that also emerge from the operational culture are becoming more and more resistant to institutional influences, and formally valid hierarchies run the risk of being relativized. This is additionally reinforced by the fact that for the first time in the Bundeswehr, young soldiers in the lower rank groups in particular can report on experience of the highest intensity.

In addition, with the shared wealth of experience from the missions, informal structures become more important than abstract concepts and values. Accordingly, a military internal culture, at the top of which is the leadership concept of Innereführung and the valid guiding principle of the citizen in uniform, is exposed to the risk of losing importance among military members for their own professional self-image and the military (operational) realities.

More and more combat soldiers are less oriented towards the politically determined goal of a foreign mission. Instead, they take part in a foreign deployment of the Bundeswehr for the sake of participating themselves and primarily orientate themselves on site to the apparent requirements of the realities of the military in the area of ​​operation - which in most cases also includes the ability to fight. The fighter's self-image, however, hardly fits into the civil and pluralistic society of Germany and makes it all the more difficult for those soldiers of the Bundeswehr who primarily rely on this understanding to find a way that is socially recognized and at the same time professionalized Self-claims guaranteed. Many members of the Bundeswehr believe that they will find this way in the culture of military operations. Correspondingly, the soldiers combine the “tradition of action” with the virtues of comradeship, bravery and a sense of duty, which they consider to be worthy of tradition and which are regarded as genuine soldier values ​​within the troops. With this in mind, a revised traditional decree should recognize the operational culture and its social impact in the troops and classify them politically.

In addition to a new operational culture, the current challenges and experiences of foreign missions have created a new form of tradition within the Bundeswehr: military customs and mission-related stories from the soldiers' immediate environment. This custom is not the content, but only the form through which the operational culture is passed on. The soldiers have the opportunity to participate, because customs, in contrast to the official lines of tradition of the Bundeswehr, mostly arise directly from the troops. Rather, military customs are directly anchored in the everyday lives of soldiers and are able to provide orientation in service in a more tangible context.

The official lines of tradition of the Bundeswehr also require orientation. The basis for these lines of tradition is provided by the guidelines for understanding and maintaining tradition in the Bundeswehr from 1982 - the so-called tradition decree - as well as the rule of law within the meaning of the Basic Law. The three official lines of tradition are:

  • the Prussian army reform from 1807 to 1814,

  • the military resistance to National Socialism and the Nazi regime,

  • the history of the Bundeswehr since it was founded in 1955 and how it is anchored in society.

In the past, however, there was a great deal of leeway for the more precise structuring of the traditions. According to the last decree on tradition, tradition was always a personal decision in view of the varying degrees of binding nature of historical events and figures in a pluralistic society. Under these framework conditions and in connection with the missions abroad, the Bundeswehr itself ultimately became the most important giver of tradition among the three lines of tradition - including the operational culture and military subcultures.

While the Bundeswehr's own tradition is becoming increasingly important, there is no clear historical reference point for soldiers with regard to the direct combat experience of foreign missions - because none of the three lines of tradition explicitly relates to combat operations. In the absence of such a traditional offer, references to the Wehrmacht were repeatedly made in the troops. Crimes during the Second World War that are directly related to the Wehrmacht were partially ignored. This hiding on the part of the soldiers occurs - and this must be emphasized - mostly without political motivation. First and foremost, reference points for historical combat experiences are sought with such references to the Wehrmacht under a purely functional aspect. As a result, with the foreign missions of the Bundeswehr - especially the Afghanistan mission - references to the Wehrmacht initially increased, but are now continuously being displaced by the operational culture as a traditional basis. The historian Sönke Neitzel, for example, recently said in an interview with Der Spiegel: “With the operations in Afghanistan there is now a tradition of its own that we can reflect on.” The Bundeswehr's own tradition is much more present for members of the armed forces than historical reference points that are far in the past and appear abstract.

The Federal Minister of Defense Dr. When Ursula von der Leyen was commissioned to have the valid traditional decree of 1982 revised, she made a necessary decision that should have been taken with the Bundeswehr's first missions abroad. Because the current decree with the triad of its historical lines of tradition no longer offers a sufficient traditional basis for the Bundeswehr as an operational army with an increasingly solidified operational culture.

In the course of the ongoing debate about the Bundeswehr's understanding of tradition, the question of the soldiers' individual convictions must be asked with a view to the order situation and global operational obligations. This is particularly important because the soldier's profession is a profession of conviction and personal convictions have a decisive influence on the exercise of service. In this context, surveys of the armed forces showed that soldiers who joined the Bundeswehr after 1990 gear their professional self-image primarily to deployments abroad. This orientation is directly linked to the operational culture, which is increasingly being formed around a professional and functional job description.

Furthermore, a subculture has developed within the operational culture that is oriented towards an apolitical fighter type and which is at the expense of a value and norm-based politicization of the soldier's self-image. This notion of a fighter image can be found predominantly in the armed forces division, as this unites by far the largest proportion of infantry units. The army also provides most of the soldiers with combat experience. This is due to the limited utilization of a weapon technology lead, which makes boots on the ground necessary, especially in asymmetrical conflicts. Especially since the members of combat troops, compared to other members of the Bundeswehr who are deployed as paramedics, logisticians or IT specialists, for example, lack the opportunity to relate their official (combat-related) tasks to a civilian relationship. As a result, it is the infantry units that have become the central cultural bearers of the operational culture as well as the subculture of a fighter type and thereby influence the entire Bundeswehr.

Operational and subcultures offer soldiers - in contrast to the concept of internal guidance or the traditional decree - a direct subjective experience and suggest to them an immediate expediency. The soldiers will also evaluate newly formulated guidelines for the Bundeswehr's understanding of tradition against the background of their personal operational experience. It must therefore take into account the operational experience and the realities of the soldier, these must be adequately appreciated and the smoothest possible points of contact offered. In particular, members of all rank groups must be included in the process of revising the traditional decree.

The Bundeswehr will continue to be challenged in the role of a global operational army. As a result, it will continue to be in a constant process of transformation, through which the military organizational structure is constantly being realigned to the missions abroad. In addition to the associated changes on the technical and structural level, the everyday social and professional life of the Bundeswehr members at home and abroad will also change again and again. At the same time, with the focus on foreign missions, the operational culture will increasingly gain influence on the military world. It will not remain tied to the areas of operation locally, but will continue to have an impact on everyday work at the Bundeswehr locations in Germany. This development has long since started and with further experience of German soldiers it will gain in importance for the soldier's self-image.

It is therefore all the more important to offer the young recruits, at the beginning of their military service, an understandable range of traditions and cultures that not only relate to action and combat, but also does justice to the complexity of various deployment scenarios and is socially acceptable. It is important to strengthen the Bundeswehr's own tradition and to allow it to develop in a politically clearly defined framework. If the reformulation of the traditional decree does not succeed in capturing uncontrolled customs and the mission-related self-image of an archaic and apolitical type of fighter, this will have far-reaching consequences for the Bundeswehr as an operational army. Because such a purely functionally defined job profile is in contrast to the requirement profile of foreign deployments and excludes those skills that are not genuinely military but are of enormous importance in the areas of deployment of the Bundeswehr. The asymmetrical and highly dynamic fields of action there require every soldier to have intercultural skills and civilian skills that are not represented in an archaic job description. In order to meet the diverse requirements, what is needed is a foundation of tradition that internalizes basic democratic values, is emotionally powerful and at the same time suitable for the battlefield.

With the reformulation of the guidelines for the understanding of tradition, a politically legitimized concept of orientation must emerge that is operational, sustainable and aligned with the realities of the soldier. In order to be able to guarantee this in the long term with a view to the future, the research field “Bundeswehr” has to be consistently and consistently addressed and the soldier life worlds must be recorded from “bottom to top”. Since modern armed forces are complex organizations, the everyday service life of members of the armed forces varies drastically depending on their specific activity. The spectrum ranges from logistics warehouses or workshops to desks and conference rooms to combat vehicles or shooting ranges. In particular, subcultural customs (recurring habits and ritualized actions that have grown out of the troops and which exist alongside the politically legitimized lines of tradition), as well as the military operational culture and its repercussions on the everyday life of the entire Bundeswehr must be placed in focus. Subjective realities of life are imperative to grasp and to say goodbye to the technocratic-functional notion of a homogeneous mass of command recipients. Instead, the heterogeneity of a collective army must be accepted.

This requires a close look at the daily reality of the service, which can only be implemented to a limited extent by means of the previous accesses, such as standardized questionnaires after participation in an operation. A scientific alternative to develop a sound operational culture and to understand military life would be to take a dense, ethnological perspective on the armed forces. Such a perspective is characterized by a qualitative research approach and unrestricted participation in the everyday life of the soldiers. This allows the awareness and behavior of military personnel to be depicted as autonomous achievements by individuals. This ethnographic approach offers the opportunity to establish an internal cultural monitoring system for the Bundeswehr and to anticipate future debates on tradition.

The already pronounced heterogeneity of everyday work in the Bundeswehr and the associated subcultures are likely to become even more differentiated with future social challenges and the increasing struggle for cyber and information space. For example, the soldiers deployed in the new CIR organizational area in the future will hardly relate to immediate combat in their self-image. It is important to keep an eye on these developments in order to be able to give the soldiers points of orientation at an early stage. With its variety of methods, the discipline of ethnology can make a decisive contribution here, provided that it is given access to the Bundeswehr.

Philipp Fritz is doing his doctorate and works at the Cluster of Excellence “The Formation of Normative Orders” at the Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main.In addition to his scientific work, he is a lieutenant in the reserve with operational experience. The author gives his personal opinion.

Copyright: Federal Academy for Security Policy | ISSN2366-0805 page 1/5