Bid to restore Iron Cross awakens Germany's angst


Verified Military
Sep 7, 2006
BERLIN: The German Army today has no awards for courage, only for attendance. The painful debate over reviving the famed Iron Cross to fill that gap underscores how distant Germany remains from normality when it comes to the military.

At a time when allies, including the United States, are pressing Germany to send more troops into the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan, the country is only beginning to reconnect with the basic trappings that go hand-in-hand with armed deployments. Not only does the Bundeswehr lack medals for valor, it does not have an award comparable to the Purple Heart for wounded U.S. soldiers.

Georg Martin, 83, a private during World War II, received the Wound Badge in Silver for the three times he was severely wounded, as well as an Iron Cross for fighting as part of a machine gun crew during the Battle of Kharkov in what is today Ukraine. In fact, he has two of each of them.

Once a year, on the national memorial day, Volkstrauertag, he dons replicas he purchased in 1959, at his own expense, for a few Deutsche marks. Meanwhile, in a file where he keeps copies of his military hospital records, sit the originals, bearing the swastika of the Third Reich.

The history of the Iron Cross, designed by the German architect and painter, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, dates to 1813 and the Prussian War of Liberation against Napoleon. But it is the Nazi history that takes precedence.

Because Hitler's regime placed the swastika in the center of the medal's simple black-and-silver design and handed out millions of them during World War II, the award remains off-limits for today's army.

"The symbol was abused by the Nazis and as a result has also become a symbol for the crimes of the Wehrmacht during National Socialism," said Stephan Kramer, secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Kramer said that he believed that German soldiers deserve a medal for bravery, but one with an untainted design.

"I don't think it will come back in that form," said Martin, who is active in the local German War Graves Commission, in an interview at his home in the Bavarian village of Ingenried this week. "Of course they should have something," he said, of today's soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, but added: "They could have something prettier."

The German defense minister, Franz Josef Jung, plans to request a new grade for bravery of the Cross of Honor, according to a spokesman, a decoration that is presently awarded in bronze, silver and gold after five, 10 and 20 years of service respectively. Though as an exception the decorations technically can also be awarded for individual acts, the Cross of Honor is not a medal of valor. The Bundeswehr also has medals for foreign missions, based on length of deployment.

A revival of the Iron Cross is not under consideration, the spokesman said. But that is a disappointment to many, particularly in the military, who would like to see the Iron Cross revived as a symbol of pre-Nazi military tradition.

"The crimes of National Socialism took place under the swastika and not under the Iron Cross," said Siegfried Storbeck, a retired lieutenant general living in Hamburg. In a telephone interview, Storbeck said that Germany would always have to carry the burden of the crimes committed during the Nazi era, but asked for "understanding for what came before National Socialism."

What frustrates Storbeck and other supporters of the Iron Cross is that they see it as having emerged from an era about which they say Germans could be proud and should learn more.

"This was part and parcel of the famous Prussian enlightened reform era, which included, a year earlier in 1812, Jewish emancipation, legal rights for Jewish citizens," said Michael Wolffsohn, a professor of modern history at the University of the Bundeswehr in Munich.

Oddly, while it is considered a political impossibility as a medal, the Iron Cross remains the symbol of the German Army, emblazoned on everything from military vehicles to the defense ministry Web site. But that is different from an award for heroism, a concept that many still find troubling in a country where the last recognized military heroes fought for a Nazi regime responsible for the deaths of six million Jews.

"In the German culture it is simply not possible to express esteem for young soldiers," said Christoph Zürcher, a professor of international politics at the Free University in Berlin. Anti-militarism, according to Zürcher, is a firmly centrist view in the political spectrum in Germany.

It was not until the 1950s that the German Army was reconstituted. It would be nearly another 40 years before the Bundeswehr would undertake its first foreign combat operations, by Tornado fighter jets in the former Yugoslavia in 1995.

The movement to revive the Iron Cross has come up many times in recent years. It gained steam last year when a young airman gathered over 5,000 signatures on an Internet petition to bring it back. On March 4, the head of the Bundeswehr reservists association and a member of Parliament, Ernst-Reinhard Beck, called for a medal for bravery, adding that he would have "nothing against the Iron Cross."

Stefan Schröter, a major in the army reserves who served in Bosnia in 2003, recalled a case during his deployment there in which the brakes failed on an armored reconnaissance vehicle on a high mountain road. The driver of the vehicle behind it swerved in front of the out-of-control vehicle, risking his life and those of his crew to save their comrades from hurtling off the side of the mountain.

Schröter said that in a staff meeting where the matter came up, the soldier's commander said, "It's a shame that there isn't a decoration for bravery, or I would put him up for it."

The soldier received two extra vacation days instead.

Fucking sucks to be a German Soldier.
The hippies need to STFU over this issue and bring back the Iron Cross IMO.
Fucking sucks to be a German Soldier.
The hippies need to STFU over this issue and bring back the Iron Cross IMO.

I totally agree with you. They need to be proud of their military history and the brave soldiers that deserve the proper recognition.

"They could have something prettier."

:uhh::rolleyes: And what the fuck is that?
I know, I almost punched my computer when I read that, Thats shows just how fucked up the German people are when they think about their Military.
I don't associate the iron cross with Nazism, I think it was just another symbol that got co-opted by the Nazis... I think the Germans could re-instate the Iron Cross in good conscience.
"They could have something prettier."
Before the Nazi era, the Iron Cross was a Prussian decoration, not a German decoration. Furthermore, it was only awarded for specific conflicts (the Wars of Liberation, the Franco-Prussian War, and World War I). Prussia had a number of other decorations for valor which could be awarded on other occasions. And each of the states of the German Empire, such as Bavaria, Hesse, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and Anhalt, had its own decorations.

Many of them are quite "pretty". In any event, they are not associated with the Nazis. The main problem is that unlike the Iron Cross, most were awarded based on rank - one decoration for officers, one for enlisted, different classes depending on your rank. By contrast, the Iron Cross was an egalitarian decoration, given without regard to rank. A modern democracy would not necessarily want to revive an award associated with the strong class distinctions of a monarchy (indeed, even a monarchy, Great Britain, eventually did away with its distinctions between officer awards like the Military Cross and enlisted awards like the Military Medal).

The other problem is that all Imperial-era decorations were awarded by states, not by Germany, so reviving any one of them, or making a new decoration modelled after one, might annoy other regions.

As noted above, the Iron Cross was a "big war" award. If the Germans are thinking about a new decoration, they could look to examples of what German soldiers earned in other conflicts such as the German-Danish Wars, the Austro-Prussian War, the Boxer Rebellion, and the Herero War.

This was the highest award a Prussian enlisted soldier could earn (even during World War I; it ranked ahead of the Iron Cross):


A Bavarian soldier might earn this as his kingdom's highest honor:

A Badener had this (the only German decoration that had the recipient's name engraved on it):

The Pour le Merite (popularly called the "Blue Max"), is a well-recognized honor associated with people like the Red Baron and a young Erwin Rommel. However, it has class issues as it was for officers only. Hitler created the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross, in fact, because he specifically did not want to revive this officer's award that he, as a lance corporal, could never have earned.

Etc. There are actually then scores of different designs to choose from. Of course, what they will end up with is some cheap piece of crap like the Bundeswehr's current Honor Decorations:

The German Army today has no awards for courage, only for attendance...

The US Army has more than a few awards that fit that description, too. I say bring back the Iron Cross in Germany and at the same time, drop about 50% of the awards that the various branches of the US military currently hand out.

There are people out there with 3 rows of ribbons on their chest who have never left CONUS, and have less than 10 years of service. It's ridiculous.

The Blue Max was awarded only to Air Squadron officers, correct?

Get one of those, you have a shot at Ursula Andress. ;)
The Blue Max was awarded only to Air Squadron officers, correct?
No, but like flyboys in every country, they got the glory and the chicks. General officers got the most awards, because the Pour le Merite was as much a distinguished leadership in combat award as an individual bravery award.

Of 687 total awards of the Pour le Merite during World War I, 80 went to army aviation personnel and 5 to naval aviators. Among non-aviators receiving the award were Werner von Blomberg, Fedor von Bock, Erwin Rommel, and Ferdinand Schoerner, all later field marshals in the Third Reich.

U-boat commanders were the other elite group overrepresented among recipients. 30 of the 49 navy awards went to them.

When you take out all the generals and general staff officers, aviators and submariners, those infantry junior officers who actually had to lead their men over the top of the trench and into no-man's land were pretty underrepresented.

By contrast of the 307 awards of all classes of Baden's Military Karl Friedrich Merit Order, the highest decoration of that grand duchy, 13 went to generals and 4 to monarchs. Of the other 290, 191 went to company-grade officers. Awards ranged from the Kaiser down to 21-year old reserve Lt. Karl Ens of Baden's 109th Life Grenadiers (Ens went on to earn the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross in World War II). The Military Karl Friedrich Merit Order is the one in the middle: