GIs in Germany: The Social, Economic, Cultural, and Political History of the American Military Presence

By Tracy, Tommy J. | Military Review, July-August 2014 | Go to article overview

GIs in Germany: The Social, Economic, Cultural, and Political History of the American Military Presence


Tracy, Tommy J., Military Review


GIs IN GERMANY: The Social, Economic, Cultural, and Political History of the American Military Presence

Eds. Thomas Maulucci and Detleff Junker, Cambridge University Press, New York, 378 pages, $89.10

Is in Germany is a compilation of 15 essays that explains the "complex" relationship between the United States and Germany. The essays are grouped into select topics: strategy and politics, the impact of military communities, tensions between the two countries, the making of the Bundeswehr, and the contentious period covering the 1970s through the 1980s.

Germany's opinion of U.S. presence in Europe was positive as the U.S. status turned from that of occupier to that of a more benign "protector" role. However, the relationship suffered during the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the ensuing U.S. economic downturn, recurring U.S. soldier criminal activity and racial conflicts, and the poor state of U.S. military readiness in the 1970s and early 1980s. The two countries' relationship evolved less from efforts in diplomacy and more from social, military, and cultural interactions shaped by the permanent, multi-generational presence of U.S. troops and their families.

After the start of the Korean War, new Cold War battle lines were drawn across the face of Europe. The question was how to defend the continent with Germans insisting on a far-forward defense while U.S. leaders desired a more cautionary defense. Through compromise, Germany's approach was adopted and the country acquiesced to rebuilding a formidable conventional force right after it regained its sovereignty in 1955. The paradox to building the Bundeswehr was how to make the military force "stronger than Russia but weaker than France."

Although the Federal Republic embraced U.S. superior air technology, it adopted its own form of mission command (Auftragstaktik) and a conscription force based on inner civic leadership. Simultaneously, the United States provided conventional forces at the pivotal Fulda Gap, stationed families on a permanent basis in Germany, and backed up its commitment with nuclear weapons assuredness. Although political leaders intended to maintain a permanent U.S. presence in Europe, it was the U.S. military that was kept in a state of flux as politicians argued over overseas troop levels. This flux resulted in low standards of living for military members and their families as infrastructure investments were kept on hold for decades at a time. It wasn't until the 1990s, when major troop redeployments out of Europe were imminent, that the Defense Department recapitalized facilities overseas, only to see many of the renovated and modernized bases handed back to the host nation.

American family members lived alongside allied military forces and the local German population in Berlin, even during the tense periods of the Berlin Airlift in the late 1940s, and later in 1961, and when the Berlin Wall was built. …

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