How is one soldier better than another


Nina Leonhard

To person

is a qualified sociologist and works as a project manager in the research area of ​​military sociology at the Center for Military History and Social Sciences of the Bundeswehr, Potsdam. [email protected]

With the end of the East-West confrontation as a result of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the increase in asymmetric, hybrid conflict situations, tasks arose for the Bundeswehr, as for most armed forces in Europe, that differ in many respects from national and alliance defense. These tasks, which differed from "classic" warfare, not only brought a series of structural changes with them. The most obvious example of this is the suspension of compulsory military service, [1] which in the Federal Republic of Germany was not implemented until 2011 and thus much later than in other European countries. A cultural change, related to central ideas about the meaning and purpose of the use of military force as well as about the soldier's profession, was connected with it.

From a social science perspective, such change processes can be recorded in various ways: for example in the form of models, on the basis of which the quality and direction of empirically observable changes are (should) be mapped and evaluated; or through an analysis of public or published debates, i.e. discursive debates about certain problem areas - based on the assumption that the interpretive patterns and topoi reproduced and confirmed or modified in this way contribute to constituting social reality and thus the way in which individual and collective ones are constituted Actors see the world around them and act in it.

In the following, I will give an overview of various models of armed forces, recapitulate the debate about the importance of fighting for the understanding of the soldier’s profession, and come to insights into the central features and challenges of the soldier’s profession today. The focus of the presentation is the situation of the German armed forces, supplemented by selective references to comparable relationships in an international context.

From defensive armies to postmodern armed forces

The statement that the end of the Cold War also and especially meant a major turning point for the armed forces appears to be a commonplace. However, it is more complicated to precisely grasp and classify this turning point in its implications. One of the first comprehensive approaches to this comes from the US military sociologist Charles Moskos with his thesis that western armed forces are developing into "postmodern" armed forces. [2] The starting point for this is the assumption that the prevailing war image or threat scenario determines not only the constitution of the armed forces, but also the form of their involvement in civil society. If the function and tasks of the armed forces change, this not only has an impact on the prevailing military profession, but also on the composition of the armed forces as well as the interaction of the armed forces with the civilian environment, such as the relationship to the media or the attitude of the population towards it them. Against this background, Moskos drafts a typology of three to describe the character of western armed forces - derived from the US military as an anchor case - for the period up to the Second World War ("modern"), for the era of the Cold War ("late modern") and the Time to describe since 1990 ("postmodernism").

"Postmodern" armed forces are therefore typically small volunteer armies whose main tasks include peacekeeping and humanitarian operations - in Anglo-American parlance: "military operations other than war" (MOOTW). For postmodern armed forces it is no longer the fighter or leader in combat (as in the period up to 1945) or the military manager (as in the Cold War period) that is the professional model, but the military diplomat and scientifically trained soldier (" soldier-statesman ";" soldier-scholar "); they are also characterized by the integration of previously excluded groups such as women and homosexuals. After all, postmodern armed forces seek close contact with the media, but they are dealing with a population that is largely indifferent to them.

Regardless of the criticism of inadequate justification of the characteristics that make up the typology, as well as of the concept of postmodernism [3], which remained vague, Moskos' armed forces model served in the international military-sociological discussion well into the 2000s as an important reference point for comparative analyzes of western armed forces and in this country as Background slide for a description of the "new" Bundeswehr as a "Einsatzarmee". [4] A substantive thesis, which made it possible to use the construct of postmodernism to go beyond the mere description of changes and bring to the point the associated socio-political implications in general or country-specific, was only partially connected with this.

For the German military sociologist Heiko Biehl, in the mid-2000s, this was the reason to develop his own model in the discussion and expansion of the ideas of Moskos in order to critically capture the changes that the Bundeswehr in particular had undergone up to then. [5] Biehl also designs a typology for this, which, however, is not intended to represent a historical course, but rather two fundamentally different military functional logics: the "defense army" and the "intervention army". In the first type of "defense army", the task of the armed forces is derived from an external threat; it is mostly stable and is accepted as a matter of course, which also determines the composition of the armed forces - usually based on compulsory military service - and the status of members of the military ("national defenders"). In contrast, the mission of the second type of "intervention army" depends on the respective foreign and security policy interests of the respective state, which can vary from case to case and therefore always have to be justified anew: the legitimation of the armed forces in and for themselves and the legitimacy of their use fall apart here. The use of intervention armies is not a "national necessity" without alternative (as in the case of defense armies), but rather as part of the "security capital" [6] of a state. The use (or non-use) of intervention armies therefore always shows "a voluntaristic moment" [7], since the decision made in each case could in principle have been different.

On the basis of these general considerations, Biehl discusses change processes in the Bundeswehr at the macro, meso and micro level and at the time came to the conclusion that the reform of the Bundeswehr that had been taking place since the 1990s was an "inhibited transformation" [8 ] act. According to Biehl, this is not only "due to the time necessary for a conversion", but sometimes also politically wanted - due to the fear that a "comprehensive availability and usability of the Bundeswehr for military interventions would arouse greater desires" on the part of the allies . [9] This in turn would exacerbate the tension that has broken out since 1990 between the two maxims for action that constitute the self-image of the Federal Republic of Germany in terms of foreign and security policy, namely alliance solidarity and military restraint, and make it more difficult for the public to legitimize foreign missions.

Biehl's thesis of the obstructed change in the Bundeswehr, which specifically expresses the lack of security policy consensus in the Federal Republic of the meaning and purpose of the use of military force, was well received by the small group of German-speaking military researchers, but it did not generate any response beyond that. especially since with the decision on the suspension of compulsory military service from 2011, another decisive feature of the "old" Bundeswehr had ceased to exist.

Postheroic society

For a larger public as well as academia, the reflections of the Berlin political scientist Herfried Münkler on the "post-heroic society", which also emerged in the mid-2000s, have become relevant. [10] Münkler took up the American debate about "post-heroic warfare" [11] in order to discuss the challenges of dealing with military violence and the resulting victims (on one side as well as on the other), which are specifically for political communities one civil, that is, a self-image aimed at renouncing violence like that of the Federal Republic. [12] Like Moskos and Biehl, Münkler starts from an equation between the form of war and social constitution, focusing on the aspect of willingness to make sacrifices: the greater the heroic potential in a society, i.e. the degree of social anchoring of (warlike) heroism and willingness to make sacrifices The more war-ready this society is - and vice versa. On this basis Münkler developed - similar to Moskos - a historically based typology of society: from the time of "classical" nation states in the 19th and early 20th centuries to totalitarian societies before and during the Second World War to the western industrial societies after the Second World War . According to Münkler, the latter have become societies in which heroism and willingness to make sacrifices (in the sense of sacrificium) have lost their previous status ("post-heroic"). Especially in times of asymmetrical conflict situations, post-heroic societies are therefore not only characterized by a particular vulnerability in terms of foreign and security policy, as was particularly clear from the example of the 2001 terrorist attacks. In addition, they have particular domestic political difficulties in dealing with death and wounding in the context of the use of military force, as emerged in the debate about the "memorial" of the Bundeswehr in 2009. [13]

While the models by Moskos and Biehl address the functional interactions between the constitution of the armed forces and their civilian environment beyond the national defense reference, Münkler focuses on the dilemma that was already evident in this country during the Bundeswehr missions in Kosovo and that arises within the framework of the Afghanistan mission fully unfolded: that an appeal to universal values ​​and alliance obligations makes the use of military force appear necessary, which at the same time has to be assessed critically or even negatively from the perspective of a civil society self-image that emphasizes the renunciation of force. This ambivalence of military violence, on which the security policy dissent described by Biehl about the Bundeswehr's missions abroad is based, is further accentuated by Münkler by emphasizing the sacrifical dimension of being a soldier. Against the background of the question that emerged in the mid-2000s as to how the Federal Republic should deal with the Bundeswehr members killed in action, these considerations were given a connectivity that goes beyond science, especially for circles close to the military, who thus meet their demands for greater social recognition for the soldiers could give the Bundeswehr identity-political emphasis. [14]

What consequences the diagnosis of postheroism has for the armed forces and their relatives and how they generally deal with the challenges of current operations is not at all problematized by Münkler. Within the framework of the conceptions of Moskos and Biehl, this point is recorded on the basis of the category of the job description or the type of professional motivation, but is also not discussed in detail. [15] The consequences of the changes outlined at the military level, on the other hand, have been and are thematized in German-speaking and international military sociology by examining various images of soldiers. Central features of this dispute are recapitulated below on the basis of the question of the status of the soldier's ideal of a fighter.

What can and should the soldier do?

When the Bundeswehr's mission in Afghanistan became increasingly violent in the second half of the 2000s, a lively debate about the future image of the Bundeswehr as a soldier developed in academia and the public, but also within the armed forces. [16] The focus was on the question of whether soldiers, in view of the current operational requirements, can, should and / or must expand their professional skill profile, or whether it is more a matter of concentrating on the competence of fighting - as an action-related counterpart to the armed forces-specific ability of organized provision, threats and application of violence - can, should and / or must: [17] In one case, an image of the soldier is propagated as a polyvalent citizen in uniform who, in addition to the battlefield, also has to act as a diplomat, helper, protector or even social worker - which comes very close to the idea of ​​a "postmodern" soldier in the sense of Moscow. In the other case, fighting is emphasized as a soldier's core competence and unique selling point. More or less openly expressed, this debate also dealt with the question of whether and to what extent the Bundeswehr mission statement, which is still officially valid today, of the soldier as a "citizen in uniform", which is an essential part of the inner leadership, the "corporate culture" [18 ] of the Bundeswehr, is, can or should continue to be valid. The question of the status of fighting was and is politically so explosive because the ideal of the citizen in uniform stands for a type of soldier who is certainly characterized by the ability and willingness to fight; The use of military force, however, is seen here exclusively as a means of achieving legitimate political goals - such as national and alliance defense or the establishment and maintenance of peaceful conditions - but is not an aim or even an end in itself of military action in and of itself.

If one follows Biehl's overview, [19] three different perspectives can be recognized in the various statements on this problem: In addition to contributions that define how a soldier in the Bundeswehr should be from a normative point of view should - which turns out differently depending on the political point of view taken - other contributions deal with the possibilities and limits of preparing soldiers for the current tasks of the Bundeswehr - at that time: Afghanistan - from a functional perspective: The discussion here is how far soldiers are be able canto cope with the diverse requirements of the missions and, in particular, with the contradictions that arise, for example, from the violent confrontation in the country of deployment against the background of the civil society's prohibition of violence in the home country. [20] In this context, it is warned against overburdening the soldiers - and it is sometimes predicted that, in case of doubt, the professional self-image will concentrate on fighting. [21] Finally, there are contributions that discuss from a decidedly empirical perspective which factors shape the professional self-image and the motivation of soldiers. Citing the results of empirical surveys [22], Biehl himself comes to the conclusion that there are hardly any indications that the professional attitudes and motivations of German soldiers have changed fundamentally as a result of the deployment in Afghanistan. He hereby distinguishes himself in particular from the Potsdam military historian Sönke Neitzel, who, on a similar literary basis [23] and with reference to his own research work on the Wehrmacht, [24] emphasizes the effectiveness of the reference framework "war" and emphasizes the importance of experiences of violence for soldier self-images - and explicitly includes the Bundeswehr here.

These different assessments are at least partly due to the fact that some researchers like Neitzel concentrate on the immediate combat events and the corresponding action parameters (and derive lasting consequences from them) - while other authors like Biehl consider military action in a general context and with regard to its reflect on the political and social consequences in the home country and in the country of assignment. Among other things, this leads to the fact that experiences of violence in the operational context become one of several considered variables.

Identity and recognition

A look abroad shows that the question of how strongly or exclusively members of the military identify with the soldierly fighter role is not only relevant in the German context with its specifically normative charge [25]: A research team from the Netherlands has been dealing with this for a long time with the compatibility of different role expectations of soldiers as "peacekeeper" or "warrior". [26] Accordingly, these are identification roles that are not mutually exclusive, but can sometimes complement one another. The results of a comparative five-country study also indicate that it might make sense for armed forces to give both roles a place in military training instead of only emphasizing one or the other role. [27]

In this country, with the conversion of the military operation in Afghanistan into an international training mission and the illegal annexation of Crimea by Russia, the debate about the relevance of military combat has weakened since 2014 - not only on the part of science, but also within the Bundeswehr itself Confrontations as described by the Bundeswehr officer Marcel Bohnert between "Drinnis" and "Draussis", [28] between soldiers deployed inside and outside the camp, or as a conflict between younger, more experienced soldiers and their older, less experienced superiors under the The catchphrase "Generation Deployment" was negotiated, [29] have since lost their former explosiveness.

More recent study results also indicate that returnees - with a few exceptions - mostly cope well with the (violent) experiences they had in Afghanistan. [30] Apparently, within the armed forces, the German experiences in Afghanistan are now widely and largely consensually interpreted as "professionalization" [31] and officially remembered in this form. This emerges from the new version of the traditional lines from 2018: [32] There, probation in combat is positively mentioned - for the first time -, which can be interpreted as a political concession to the demands of experienced soldiers for more recognition. The principles of Inner Leadership and the associated commitment against (exclusive) focus on the professional expertise of military violence management were, however, reaffirmed as a whole. All of this indicates that the Afghanistan mission and the associated experiences of violence brought about a change in the organizational culture in terms of both professional and identity, which could be described as a (re) focus on the military competence of combat. This (re-) focus was gradually institutionalized over the course of time - inauguration of the "Memorial of the Bundeswehr" in 2009; Creation of an operational medal "Battle" 2010; Inauguration of the "Forest of Remembrance" in 2014; Adoption of new traditional guidelines in 2018 and definition of the term `` veteran '' 2018 - and thus enclosed.


Like many other European armed forces, the Bundeswehr has undergone a process of change over the past few decades. In the course of a relativization of the function of national defense and an increased focus on asymmetrical and hybrid forms of conflict, the legitimation of military violence has become more political and therefore more precarious: Under these conditions, the use of armed forces represents one option among several and is therefore always subject to anew justification. [33] For members of the armed forces, this means that their social acceptance is not necessarily congruent with their approval of the tasks assigned to them by politicians. In the case of the Bundeswehr, this was particularly evident in the growing public criticism of the Afghanistan mission.

The debate about correct and incorrect images of soldiers, which has developed in this context, is illustrated here in excerpts and also illustrates the strong normative framework that characterizes the occupation with the soldier profession in this country and is related to the peculiarity of this profession: Because soldiers exercise violence can and should, while all other citizens (with the exception of members of the police) are prohibited from doing this, their attitude and behavior are subject to special evaluation standards - in the German case these are the principles of Innereführung. At the same time, it follows from this ascription of function that military personnel from professional Reasons for the fulfillment of their mandate have their own access to the exercise of military force or have to train them. [34] In this sense, the outlined discussion about the importance of combat experience within the Bundeswehr against the background of the Afghanistan mission can certainly be understood as a successful attempt to confirm and upgrade the soldier's profession. How sustainable the consensus currently achieved is will be shown in the context of future tasks, where new (kind) battles, for example in virtual form, could come to the fore. The same applies to the question of the extent to which the national and alliance defense, which has become more important again since 2014, will result in a renaissance of the ideal of the "national defender", which can also be understood from an ideological perspective.