Autor: Inka von Puttkamer; Fotos: Laura Clayborn, Michael Gundelach
Federal Minister of Defence and Chief of the Defence Staff arriving at the Bundeswehr Command and Staff College
General Volker Wieker, Federal Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen, Rear Admiral Carsten Stawitzki
Federal Minister of Defence Ursula von der Leyen during her opening statement
Participants of the workshop on the Bundeswehr Guidelines on Tradition
Professor Dr Loretana de Libero giving her introductory presentation
Lieutenant General (ret.) Ton van Loon during his presentation
Federal Minister of Defence Kicks Off Workshop on Tradition at Bundeswehr Command and Staff College
At the Bundeswehr Command and Staff College (BwCSC), Federal Minister of Defence Dr Ursula von der Leyen kicked off the first of a series of workshops aimed at reviewing and rewriting the 1982 Guidelines on Tradition and the Cultivation of Tradition in the Bundeswehr. In altogether four discussion meetings, German military personnel, service members from partner nations and representatives from politics, society and the Churches will work together to develop new Guidelines on Tradition for the Bundeswehr. Subsequent meetings will be held in Koblenz, Potsdam and Berlin. "The tradition of the Bundeswehr within the contexts of a European defence identity and a transatlantic security partnership" was the overarching topic of this first workshop.
"I can't imagine a better place for this"
In her opening statement, Ursula von der Leyen pointed out that there are not one but two reasons why the Bundeswehr Command and Staff College is the ideal place for launching this series of workshops. For one thing, the BwCSC represents the highest standards of education employed in training our future military leaders, and this includes a close examination and an in-depth analysis of our understanding of tradition. For another, the institution can draw on a wealth of expertise and different points of view, as one glance at the many different uniforms in the audience confirmed. A good quarter of the almost 300 people listening to the minister's speech were soldiers from other countries who are taking courses at the Command and Staff College, contributing their individual expertise. The Commandant of the BwCSC, Rear Admiral Carsten Stawitzki, said he felt honored that the College was chosen to hold this opening event. Extending a warm welcome to all participants, he expressed his hope to gain useful insights from studying the past to be able to answer questions concerning the future.
Four major changes have taken place since 1982
After pointing out that today the Bundeswehr is already twice as old as it was in 1982 and can therefore draw on twice as much experience, Ursula von der Leyen elaborated on the things that have changed for the German Armed Forces since the Guidelines on Tradition and the Cultivation of Tradition in the Bundeswehr were adopted 35 years ago: From a heavily mechanized force of deterrence during the Cold War, the Bundeswehr has changed into an operational army that is equally capable of contributing to collective defence and engaging in international crisis management. This also implies a change in the soldiers' self-perception, because giving one's life as the ultimate sacrifice is no longer a mere theory but has become part of operational reality. At the same time, the Bundeswehr has become more diverse due to the suspension of compulsory military service and the increase in the number of recruits from different backgrounds and of different gender. Apart from that, the minister underlined the multinational commitments of the Bundeswehr: Assuming responsibility toward our partners, NATO and the EU has become second nature to our armed forces. The minister also referred to German society in general, which has become more open but also more critical in many respects. All these developments require a reconsideration of tradition and of the ways in which we cultivate it.
Acceptance within society
"Throughout the Bundeswehr, tradition is supposed to serve as a compass that provides our soldiers with orientation, guidance, and standards for their own actions—during routine duty as well as in an operational environment. And, most importantly, in existentially extreme situations which may well arise during operations." Given these ambitious demands, the revision of the Guidelines on Tradition must not be accomplished in a hurry, Ursula von der Leyen stated. She placed particular importance on the "compatibility" of the Bundeswehr's understanding of tradition with society's views and with insights from both the past and the present. This is the reason why so many civil representatives were invited to participate in the workshops. Only if the people understand what the Bundeswehr soldiers are proud of, can they also be proud of their army.
"The German Wehrmacht cannot be a foundation for our military tradition"
The identity of the Bundeswehr must be reflected in its understanding of tradition. This encompasses the liberal values our soldiers swear to defend with their own lives and more: it includes the military virtues of valour, comradeship, truthfulness and care. As for identifying role models, the minister cautioned her audience against expecting clear answers. Focusing on prominent figures from German armed forces of the past, in particular, would bring historical ruptures and frictions to the fore, leaving many issues to be discussed. Any action, its purpose and its objective, must be evaluated within its historical context. "The German Wehrmacht cannot be a foundation for the Bundeswehr's military tradition," the minister stated, and went on to emphasise that, this notwithstanding, individual soldiers wearing a Wehrmacht uniform, such as Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, could very well be such a foundation. Thus, scrupulous consideration was required and would lead to a healthy understanding of tradition. Distinguishing between history and tradition in this way meant that events from the recent past could also become part of a proud Bundeswehr tradition. Ursula von der Leyen was keen to point out that the Bundeswehr indeed has a history worth telling.
National and international military cultures of remembrance
Before the workshop participants began their extensive detail work in the four panels, Dr Loretana de Libero, professor and lecturer at the Command and Staff College, gave an introductory presentation on commemorative culture in the Bundeswehr, and Lieutenant General (ret.) Ton van Loon of the Royal Netherlands Army elaborated on international military cultures of remembrance. De Libero described a certain "uneasiness" among the members of the Bundeswehr when it comes to appreciating their own achievements. Naming a number of impressive examples, she demonstrated that many events and individuals can be found in the Bundeswehr's recent past which are worthy of providing the foundations for military tradition. Service members killed on operations are commemorated in the "Forest of Remembrance" in Potsdam. So some steps have been taken towards a cultivation of tradition originating in the missions of the Bundeswehr. In conclusion, the professor said that from her point of view, the Bundeswehr as a "best ager" has not yet realized what an inspiring repertoire it has to offer. Gen. van Loon followed up on the minister's words saying that tradition is part of the esprit de corps that is necessary to be able to fight and to give something meaningful to a soldier when embarking on a mission. Moreover, tradition provides a sense of community—between companies as much as within multinational units. Referring to the introduction of compulsory military service for women in the Netherlands in 2017, he stated that tradition is also something dynamic. Thus coming back to the objective of reviewing the Guidelines on Tradition in the Bundeswehr, Gen. van Loon put it in a nutshell: "Progress is not a pretext for not changing things, it is the courage to change things."