German Militarism

on the World today


October 1954

PERHAPS the most extraordinary phenomenon in the post-war history of Western Germany has been the deliberate attempt to de-Prussianize and de-militarize its 48 million inhabitants. It was obvious in the removal of the Federal Republic’s capital away from the potato fields of Brandenburg at Berlin to the vineyards of the Rhine at Bonn. It was evident in the person who emerged us West Germany’s Chancellor — Konrad Adenauer, a firmly anti-Prussian and anti-militaristic Rhinelander and one of the rare German men alive today never to have donned the field-gray army uniform of the German Reich. Above all, it was obvious in the liquidation of the Wehrmacht, so solidly built up some eighty years before by one of Prussia’s greatest soldiers, Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke.

Today the sweeping currents of history are reasserting themselves. Western Germany is now in the process of re-Prussianizing and re-militarizing itself. Last June the assembled deputies of the Bundestag and of the provincial Länder parliaments voted almost unanimously, and against the express wish of Adenauer, to turn their backs on Bonn, and to make the pilgrimage to Berlin, in order to reelect their much loved “Bundespapa,” Theodor Heuss, to the presidency of the Federal Republic.

The shadow of the Wehrmacht

There has been a significant shift in the once vehemently anti-militaristic attitude of most West German citizens. In March, 1950, a poll was conducted to test the reactions of West Germans to the idea of compulsory military service. Of those consulted 55 per cent declared themselves opposed to it; 15 per cent had no opinion, while only 30 per cent were for it. Last November the same poll was repeated. This time only 31 per cent declared themselves opposed to it, 19 per cent had no opinion, and 50 per cent were for it.

This noteworthy change in West German public opinion has been the result of intense and assiduous spadework carried on in the shadow of Western Germany’s noisy industrial recovery by thousands of German veterans in all walks of life—spadework that has been encouraged, coördinated, and in many cases even financed by what has been for almost four years a semiofficial Ministry of War.

This organization, which has become the brain and the nerve center of German rearmament, dates from the panic-stricken months that followed the outbreak of the Korean War. In Bonn, as in Washington, everyone in the autumn of 1950 was afraid that what had just happened in Korea was about to be repeated in Germany. A few weeks after René Pleven first outlined the plan that has since grown into the complex and controversial European Defense Community project, the Adenauer government set up a special bureau for military affairs immediately responsible to the Chancellor’s office.

The direction was entrusted to a 43-year-old former union official and Christian Democratic deputy from the Ruhr called Theodor Blank who during World War II had been in command of a Panzerjaeger company. As Western Germany at the time was still subject to the Allied veto on rearmament, the new office could not be dignified with the title of a Federal Ministry. With characteristic Teutonic brevity, therefore, it was called the Dienstette des Bundeskanzlers für die der Vermehrung Allierten Trap pen zusammenhängenden Fragen (the Federal Chancellor’s Office for Questions Relating to the Increase of Allied Troops). In practice, however, most Germans refer to it more succinctly as the Dienstelle Blank—the Blank Office.

The Blank Offiee employs some 600 former officers and civilians in Bonn, while another 200 are attached to the permanent staff of the projected EDC which has its headquarters at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris. The Bonn headquarters of the Blank Office are a group of temporary wooden barracks and a red brick house situated, ironically enough for a somewhat hush-hush organization, right behind the fortress-like school building which houses the Federal Republic’s Press and information Office, Tucked away in the desk drawers are the “secret" plans governing the rearmament of Western Germany. They call for the creation of a German army of some 380,000 men, to be organized into 12 divisions (six of them infantry, four of them armored, and two of them armored-infantry divisions, of about 13,000 men each); of a small air force of some 80,000 men and 1300 planes; and of a tiny navy of 20,000 men, limited to vessels not exceeding 1500 tons.

The build-up of this military force will take two years, and will require the services of some 60 former generals, 20,000 officers (old and new), and from 100,000 to 150,000 veteran noncoms. The rest of the West German army’s manpower will have to come from the draft. As it is, close to 150,000 applications for voluntary enlistment in the projected armed forces have already been received by the officials in the Blank Office.

The veterans’ organization

Such martial enthusiasm for an organization that has yet to blow its first bugle call might seem extraordinary in any country but Germany, where the military tradition is so deeply embedded in the fiber of the people as to constitute a national religion. But even here it is a tribute to the remarkable preparatory work carried out by hundreds of veterans’ clubs and associations all over the country. The scale of this work may be gauged by the fact that the most active of these organizetions, the Verband Deutscher Sold at en (the League of German. Soldiers), which corresponds roughly to our American Legion, has 340 branch associations and clubs all over Western Germany. And this is not to mention the 450 traditional regimental associations.

Of these veterans’ organizations the largest and the most democratic in spirit is the Heimkehrer Verband (the League of Homecomers), which boasts some 500,000 members, of which 120,000 are women.

But this mass organization is anything but typical, and it has never been particularly active. Far more effective have been such restricted closed cast groups as the elite officer corps association, the Stahlhelm, with some 6000 members, or the Kufhäuser, with some 10,000. While many of these antedate the Hitlerian epoch, a disturbing number of them are products of Nazidom and take pride in continuing to call themselves, in almost open defiance of the Bonn authorities, by such titles as “The Hermann Goering Panzer Division" and “The Führer Body Guard.”

Military magnzines

The proliferation of such military associations in Western Germany has been accompanied by a plethora of military publications. Today there are no fewer than twenty — —more than flourished at the time of Adolf Hitler. The ostensible purpose of many of these magazines is to provide Wehrmacht veterans with news of the return of comrades whom they had given up as lost on the eastern front or as having died in Siberia. But such information is necessarily scant, and in practice it is limited to one or two pages in the center of the magazine.

The rest of the magazine, as in the case, for example, of Der Front Soldat Erzählt (The DoughboySpeaks) or of Viking Ruf (The Viking Call), the organ of the SS, is made up of articles and photographs glorifying the heroic exploits of the Wehrmacht on the dust-bound plains of the East, in the snow-covered hills of the Ardennes, in the rugged mountains of Italy or the Balkans, or on the rocky coasts of Crete.

Such publications serve more than anything else to preserve the nostalgia for wartime heroism and excitement. But this is not true of all the German military publications, some of which, like Die Welirtechnische Hefte (The Military-technical Journal) and Wehrkunde (Military Science), are aimed at keeping their reading public abreast of the latest developments in the field of military, naval, and aittactics and strategy.

Students with sabers

While the tramp of nailed boots can no longer be heard on the cobblestone streets of old university towns like Marburg, Heidelberg, or Göttingen, in the last two or three years there has been a significant comeback of the combative activities of the old student corporations. In the immediate postwar years they languished, for the universities were then crammed with veterans who had seen all they wanted of the horrors of war during four, five, or six years on the eastern front, and who felt no need to induce a mock heroism in themselves by slashing at each other with sabers.

But gradually the veterans have left the universities and their places have been taken by younger students, who never served in an army and who never went to the front. Sabers have once again made their appearance along with torchlight processions and nocturnal dueling. Once again it is not uncommon to see students with the familiar saber scars on their cheeks, an outward mark of student honor.

Rebirth of Nazism ?

Some observers are afraid that the re-creation of German divisions will bring hundreds of unrepentant former Nazis to the top once again. But this is not necessarily bound to happen. All of the former Wehrmacht officers already serving in the Blank Office have been carefully screened, and it can no doubt boast of harboring fewer Nazis than the Ministries of Housing and of Refugees, both of which are headed up by individuals of a highly dubious past.

The officials of the Blank Office claim that the recruiting of future officers for the military build-up will be carried out according to the same strict standards, and that preference will automatically be given to those who have adopted a “positive” attitude towards West German democracy and who have made a go of it in civilian jobs. Considerable importance is also attached in these official circles to the fact that, if and when the European Defense Community sees the light of day, all future German officers will be trained in “European” military academies, where the working language will be French.

The German army, furthermore, was never a particular hothed of Nazism. It was in its ranks, indeed, that Adolf Hitler and his supporters encountered some of their most determined adversaries. The presence at the head of the Blank Office of men like General Adolf Heusinger, former member of the General Staff who is now director of the Army Planning Division, General HansSpeidel, Rommel’s Chief of Staff who now heads the German Liaison Section in Paris, and Colonel Count Adolf von Kielmannsegg, who is in charge of the Blank Office’s Political Section, is reassuring. For all three were involved in the July 20th conspiracy against Hitler and narrowly escaped with their lives.

Gehlen’s cloak-and-dagger boys

The danger of a large-scale rise to power of unregenerate Nazis is likely to become serious only if the Gulden Organization should be transformed into the Intelligence Department of the new German armed forces. This privately formed and operated organization takes its name from its chief, Brigadier General Reinhardt Gehlen, who headed the Russian Section of German Army Intelligence during World War II. In three years he has succeeded in building up a remarkable world-wide network of spies, agents, and informers, which he has placed at the unofficial disposition of Chancellor Adenauer.

Many of these agents are ex-Nazis who either have been living a more or less underground existence in Western Germany or have taken refuge abroad. The Gehlen Organization was originally financed by the United States Occupation authorities, but much of its information, gathered by globetrotting German businessmen, is now being withheld from the Allies and used to further German economic penetration in the Middle East and South America.

There is reason to think that the heavy infiltration of the Gehlen Organization by ex-Nazis and the plans they are known to be harboring for taking over the future West German army were an important cause leading to Otto John’s decision to cross through the iron curtain and to fight West German rearmament.

There is also the fear that German rearmament will feed the fires of nationalistic intransigence on such critical questions as the future status of the Saar and the right of the High Authority of the Coal and Steel Community to dictate policy in the Ruhr. Certain pessimists are, in fact, convinced that German rearmament, if undertaken now when the Community is barely a year and a half old, will kill all hopes of bringing the reluctant and stiff-necked Ruhr coal and steel barons to heel. These dangers can he avoided only if vigilance is exercised by the West German government and the Occupation powers in the critical months to come.