Germany gives soldiers bravery medal for first time since 1945


German Chancellor Angela Merkel has awarded four soldiers the country’s first medals for bravery in combat since World War Two, a controversial move to rally public support for German military missions abroad.

Reuters says the new medal would have been unthinkable just a decade ago in a country which rejected militarism and turned firmly pacifist after the Nazi defeat in 1945.

But Germany is increasingly involved in international peacekeeping missions in hotspots around the globe, and the government has decided it needs to acknowledge its soldiers’ good deeds with memorials and medals.

“Our soldiers should receive greater acknowledgment for their dedication,” Merkel said in a speech last Monday.

She said the soldiers, who had been deployed in Afghanistan, had done everything possible in a life-threatening situation to help their colleagues and Afghan children.
“We still speak too little about this in Germany,” she said.
Germany has the third-largest contingent of NATO forces in Afghanistan, with about 3700 soldiers concentrated in the north, yet public opinion is overwhelmingly against the mission.

Anti-war sentiment runs deep in Germany, where people were weaned on the notion of Nie Wieder Krieg (War Never Again!) after World War Two.

Some left-wing politicians opposed the medal — a cross sporting a German eagle within a circle of leaves — on the ground that it glorified the military.

The government has been at pains to distinguish the new medal’s appearance from the Iron Cross, which was introduced by Prussia in 1913 but became synonymous with the military aggression of the Nazis, who inlaid it with a swastika in 1939.
“With the cenotaph for fallen soldiers and the cross of honour, the government is venturing down a dangerous track,” said Paul Schaefer, defence policy spokesman for the Left party.
“Militaristic rituals for the glorification and exaltation of the military that have long been obsolete are now being reactivated,” he said in an emailed statement.

German forces are still not allowed to shoot unless fired upon first and Defence Minister Franz Josef Jung insists the German army is not in a “war” in Afghanistan.