July 20, 2008: 63 years after the end of World War
II, Germany is still challenged occasionally by its past when
it comes to military matters. That was evident in the days
prior to this evening's swearing in ceremony for 500
"Bundeswehr" soldiers who took their oath of allegiance on the
spacious lawn in front of Germany's parliament building, the
Today's ceremony was also the 64th anniversary of the failed
coup attempt on Adolf Hitler in his military hideout in eastern
Prussia. Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg was the man
who put his attaché case with a bomb under the table
near Adolf Hitler, but later the person sitting next to
Stauffenberg moved it because the attaché case was in
his way. He moved it to the other side of a large table leg,
farther away from Hitler. When the bomb went off, Hitler was
not seriously injured. Stauffenberg and a number of his
co-conspirators were later executed in Berlin.
Although this was not the first time that Bundeswehr
recruits took their oath of allegiance on the Stauffenberg
anniversary, it was the first such ceremony held in front of
the Reichstag. Critics pointed out that Hitler's government had
used the same area for military demonsrtations. Fearing public
backlash, a number of politicians declined to attend, including
Berlin's mayor Klaus Woworeit. On short notice, chancellor
Angela Merkel and German foreign minister Frank-Walter
Steinmeier decided to attend.
The soldier's oath of allegiance is "I swear to serve the
Federal Republic faithfully and to defend bravely the right and
freedom of the German people"
– certainly nothing that would tie
today's Bundeswehr to Hitler's Wehrmacht, which swore its
allegiance to him personally. Those who criticized the
ceremony being held in front of the Reichstag seemed to
forget that Germany's parliament – the Bundestag,
which convenes in the Reichstag – is required to
approve any deployment of German troops on foreign soil.
What better backdrop could there be for the induction
ceremony of an army representing a democratic state? The
criticism of the ceremony location prompted an editor of
the respected weekly "Die Zeit" to remark that "Hitler
doesn't live here."
Former chancellor Helmut Schmidt was the guest speaker
during the ceremony. He told the Bundeswehr recruits about the
difficulties he faced as a young German officer during World
War II. No German soldier today "goes to bed at night wishing
Hitler would go to hell, only to get up the next morning to
carry out his orders." Schmidt assured the recruits that
today's German government would not abuse them like Hitler's
government had abused him and his fellow soldiers.
However, Schmidt admonished the soldiers that today's peace
is not something to be taken for granted. "For centuries we
Germans have not shown ourselves to be an especially peaceful
nation," he emphasized. People can be deceived, "and we Germans
are still able to be deceived."