Christian Kreutzer (“Germans to the Front”, Atlantic Times, March 2008) produced a piece on the German effort in Afghanistan, describing the army’s hesitation to take an active role the war. Alas, the Bundeswehr, more involved than the German public realizes, is still quite tepid about engaging in combat missions. But is this is question of post-war mentality?

The politicians have all run for cover because they are afraid that in the next election, an opponent might fashion a political noose out of any commitment to the mission, Perthes says. “In game theory, that is called a game of ‘chicken’ for cowards.” But politicians have demonstrated strong leadership in some cases, he adds, pointing out that they regularly make decisions that run in the face of majority opinion.

A deeper reason for German reluctance to fight lies in its collective subconscious, according to Perthes. “The American re-education campaign after the war was successful,” he said. As part of re-education after World War II, the U.S., in particular, required that school curricula, newspaper articles and popular culture promoted an anti-militaristic, democratic awareness among the German public.

Karsten Voigt, the federal government’s coordinator for German-American relations, can’t suppress a grin either. “After the last World War, the Americans wanted an especially peaceful German nation,” he said. “Now they have it and are astonished and unhappy that their re-education campaign was so successful.”

Perhaps, but I’m not quite convinced by the notion of Prussian militarism castrated by De-Nazification. Germans listen to American propaganda, but only to a point. Eventually, they resented hearing those messages, holding their ears when shorts came up in theaters. It just wasn’t that effective. Giving up a strong defense was controversial, being a matter of national sovereignty, and it was resolved politically rather than psychologically. If anything psychological prompted this new mentality, it was probably the extent of the German defeat for that first generation, as well as the guilt heaped on it by succeeding generations.
[Crossposted to Cliopatria]

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