Germany's Bundeswehr lacks the culture to win at war

Published: Sept. 26, 2008 at 3:31 PM


WASHINGTON, Sept. 26 (UPI) -- In his important new book, "The Culture of War," Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld warns that Germany's politicians have demanded that their army, the Bundeswehr, be stripped of all German military traditions, not just those of the Nazi period.

Creveld notes: "At first, only the years 1933-1945 were exorcised. From 1968 on, however, there was a growing tendency to extend the shadows until they covered previous periods. Not only the Panzer leader Heinz Guderian, not only the desert fox Erwin Rommel, but Hans von Seeckt, Paul von Hindenburg, Erich Ludendorff, Alfred von Schieffen, and Helmut von Moltke disappeared. From heroes who had served their country, they were turned into 'militarist,' 'reactionary' and 'imperialist' villains; in today's classrooms, it is in vain that one looks for their names or their portraits. ...

"In comparison with similar institutions in other countries, German military academies, staff colleges and other educational institutions have an empty, bare, functional and soulless appearance. The relics of the 'wars of liberation' apart, almost the only items on display pertain to the Bundeswehr's own history. However, since the Bundeswehr has never gone to war, the ability of those items to excite and inspire is limited. ...

"Given the terrible historical background, all this is perfectly understandable. On the other hand, it is indisputable that an armed force, if its members are to fight and die for their country, must have a culture of war. ...

"One does not have to be a 'militarist' or a right-wing extremist to note the peculiar smell that prevails throughout the Bundeswehr. That smell is made up of impersonal bureaucratic procedures, political correctness and the obsequiousness that results when people worry lest speaking up will lead to bad consequences."

Both of these extremes hold lessons for today's U.S. military. The inward-focused culture of the Second Generation of modern war that dominates the American armed forces has generated an ever-widening disconnect with the nature of the modern battlefield. That contradiction lies at the heart of the American failures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

At the same time, like the Bundeswehr, the U.S. armed forces are under political assault by forces that care nothing for preserving the necessary culture of war. The forced insertion of large numbers of women into the American military is one example. If the next administration opens the combat arms to women and also demands the recruitment of homosexuals, the damage to the culture of war may be vast. The kind of men who fight often join the military to validate their manhood. They cannot do that in armed services heavily peopled with women and homosexuals.

Just as van Creveld's book "The Transformation of War" warns that war is changing, "The Culture of War" cautions that some things do not change. The culture of war must contain certain elements, elements common to successful militaries throughout history.

If ideologies or other political or social forces outlaw some of those elements, the consequence will not be the end of war. War will be carried on by other means, by gangs, militias, tribes and terrorists who are not subject to political correctness and can embody in full the culture of war. From that perspective, Creveld's "The Transformation of War" and "The Culture of War" are two volumes of the same work.


(William S. Lind, expressing his own personal opinion, is director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation.)

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