Citizen in Uniform: Democratic Germany and the Changing Bundeswehr

By Koltermann, Jens O. | Parameters, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

Citizen in Uniform: Democratic Germany and the Changing Bundeswehr


Koltermann, Jens O., Parameters


The Innere Fuehrung with its corollary of "citizen in uniform" greatly contributed to the fact that the Bundeswehr became not only a self-evident part of our society but also a reliable instrument of German security policies. (1)

--Dr. Franz Josef Jung, Former German Defense Minister

On 12 May 1949, Germany's three Western Military Governors (United States, France and Great Britain) sent a letter to Dr. Conrad Adenauer, the President of the Parliamentary Council. With some reservations, this letter approved the Draft Constitution of the Federal Republic of Germany. (2) In less than two weeks, on 23 May 1949, the Constitution (or Basic Law) for the young democracy was confirmed by the Parliamentary Council in a public session. (3) The unique preamble of the Basic Law committed the German nation to the promotion of peace and European unity. The Basic Law did not, however, include any articles regarding the establishment of armed forces. (4) Even so, Germany and its occupying powers were determined not to repeat the militarism and fanaticism that had brought the nation and the world into two devastating wars in the first half of the century.

The ensuing deepening East-West conflict necessitated a German military contribution to defend Western freedom. This was especially evident following the 1950 communist North Korean invasion of South Korea. (5) The United States urged its European North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partners to rearm Germany as a NATO member after the Pleven Plan for a European Defense Community was rejected by the French national assembly in 1954. (6) But German citizens, who had suffered two major wars, remained skeptical regarding their nation's rearmament. (7) Nonetheless, Chancellor Adenauer managed to gain formal approval of rearmament, even though the majority of Germans opposed it. (8) He envisioned this as a way to restore Germany's sovereignty; a rearmed Germany would gain equal partnership within the western alliance of democracies. (9) On 12 November 1955, the 200th birthday of General Scharnhorst, the founding father of conscription in Prussia, (10) the first 101 volunteers joined the Bundeswehr. (11) Two years later the first 10,000 conscripts were drafted. (12)

A central issue was how to guarantee that the new force would be an integral part of the young democracy and not yield to antidemocratic tendencies in its ranks. This was especially important because much of its military leadership would come from the veterans of the Wehrmacht and Reichswehr. In October 1950, a Rearmament Commission established by Chancellor Adenauer issued its initial proposal for the formation of a new German army. A group of 15 hand-picked former Wehrmacht officers met at the "Eifelkloster Himmerod" under the lead of Adolf Heusinger (13) and drafted the so-called "Himmeroder Denkschrift" (Himmerod Memorandum), (14) which became the founding document for the new Bundeswehr. The group strongly advised that the preconditions for German rearmament should be totally different from those that led to the Wehrmacht. They insisted that Germany's new army should be closely integrated with German society and subordinate to civilian leadership. (15) German leaders did not want to create another "state within a state," (16) as happened with the Reichswehr. Nor did they want the military to be misused politically or to be subject to political indoctrinations, as was the Wehrmacht. (17)

The preamble of the Basic Law guided the new German national vision: "Inspired by the determination to promote world peace as an equal partner in a united Europe, the German people, in the exercise of their constituent power, have adopted this Basic Law." (18) The founding fathers of the Bundeswehr needed to ensure that the norms and values embodied in the Basic Law would be assured in the Bundeswehr. (19) Therefore, Lieutenant General Graf von Baudissin (20) advocated that the Bundeswehr be built on the principle of Innere Fuehrung (leadership development and civic education), based on its corollary of "citizen in uniform" (Staatsbuerger in Uniform). …

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