When it comes to the question of education in the context of war, one institution is often overlooked or left out of educational research, namely the military. Even if armies hardly see themselves as ‘schools of the nation’1 any more, it cannot be overlooked that they are important contributors to socialisation, education and discipline – especially in the case of recruit training in traditional conscript armies. Just as interesting as the question of how educational institutions react to war and warlike conflicts is the question of how educational measures in the armed forces change over the time. In the case of the German Federal Armed Forces (Bundeswehr), education alongside leadership and training is still officially one of the core tasks and competencies of military superiors vis-à-vis subordinate soldiers (see Bundesministerium der Verteidigung, 2017). However, the use of the term ‘education’ in the regulations of the Federal Armed Forces is very broad. It primarily encompasses means of indirect education (Hartmann, 1994) and must be placed in the context of the Federal Armed Forces’ own understanding of leadership. One can also speak of planned socialisation by the superior based on certain ethical-normative values and a special understanding of leadership and discipline, which in turn has its foundations in the so-called Innere Führung (‘Inner Leadership’) (see Hartmann, 2007; Dörfler-Dierken, 2005). ‘Inner Leadership’ as the leadership philosophy of the Federal Armed Forces was formulated in the course of its founding in the 1950s and is still valid today.
With regard to military education, the phases preceding or following a military conflict are of particular interest. The goals of education, training and leadership – as far as they can be foreseen in the medium or long term – depend on the prevailing political-military conflict situations, war scenarios and technological means. Sometimes, lessons are learned from lost wars and reforms are introduced at the various levels of training, material, tactics, discipline, etc, as in the case of the Prussian army reform after the lost Napoleonic Wars (see Stübig, 2012). This historical article, however, is not about the Prussian reform era at the beginning of the 19th century, but about the early phase of the German Federal Armed Forces, which was founded in 1955. This was a period marked by the defeat in the Second World War and the confrontation with the Nazi and Wehrmacht past, as well as by the East-West confrontation, which ultimately also led to the division of Germany. What educational and socialising intentions did the young Federal Armed Forces pursue in this specific situation? Although this question cannot be answered comprehensively in the following essay, the aim is to present a concrete example in which ideas related to this question can be developed. The Federal Armed Forces promotional film “The Soldier’s Everyday Life” (Der Alltag des Soldaten) from 1957 was chosen for this purpose. As the title indicates, the film was intended to give the audience an insight into the daily routine of the post-fascist military and in this way motivate young men for service. In order to be able to analyse and interpret the film appropriately, some information is needed at the outset concerning the context in which it was made, i.e. on the security policy, military and social situation in the 1950s in the Federal Republic of Germany.
2 Political and Military Situation
The rearmament of Germany after 1945 was initially highly controversial in both foreign and domestic politics. After the division of Germany in 1949, the exchange between Germany and the Allies intensified concerning what the Federal Republic’s (FRG) contribution to European security should look like and how the dangers of renewed militarism could be averted. Both sides thought of integrating the FRG into the planned European Defence Community (EDC), but its implementation failed in 1954. The supranational considerations thus shifted to the national track. As early as 1954/1955, the Paris Treaties established the (limited) sovereignty of the Federal Republic and its admission to NATO as a largely equal member (see Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt, 1990, 1993).
The formulation of new political and ideological foundations that radically broke with the Wehrmacht past was a prerequisite for the legitimisation of a West German army both externally and internally. Corresponding considerations with a view to rearmament began unofficially – although tolerated by the Allies – from 1950 onwards in the so-called Blank Office, a predecessor institution of the German Ministry of Defence. A special area of work concerned questions of recruitment, but also the education of future soldiers and officers as well as discipline and leadership within the troops. Wolf Graf von Baudissin 2 was in charge of the elaboration of corresponding guidelines and policy papers, and from the beginning he was interested in exchange and cooperation with science, especially pedagogy (see Kurig & Berner, 2022; Berner & Kurig, 2023, in preparation). An important concept that is still valid today, which was born at that time and is closely linked to Baudissin’s name, is ‘Inner Leadership’ with the ‘Citizen in Uniform’ (Staatsbürger in Uniform) at its heart.
3 ‘Inner Leadership’
3.1 ‘Inner Leadership’ Today
According to the current Central Service Regulation “Innere Führung. Selbstverständnis und Führungskultur” (“Inner Leadership. Self-Image and Leadership Culture”) (Bundesministerium für Verteidigung, 2017), ‘Inner Leadership’ forms the “spiritual and moral basis of the armed forces” (Bundesministerium für Verteidigung, 2017, p. 3); hereby, the term “inner” refers to the rules and values that determine the inner structures and workings of the organization. These constitution-based norms are realised in the army through “the totality of leadership, education and training” (Bundesministerium für Verteidigung, 2017, p. 9). The aim is to ensure “the highest level of military performance” and at the same time to guarantee “the highest level of freedom and rights for the soldiers within the framework of our free democratic basic order” (Bundesministerium für Verteidigung, 2017, p. 5). Essential to this are the integration of the Federal Armed Forces into state and society, the guiding principle of the ‘Citizen in Uniform’, the ethical, legal and political legitimisation of the mission, the realisation of essential state and societal values in the armed forces as well as the limits for “command and obedience” (Bundesministerium für Verteidigung, 2017, p. 7-8). With reference to the film analysis, one aspect of ‘Inner Leadership’ should be emphasised in particular, namely the changed understanding of discipline. For this purpose, we will go back to the original concept developed by Baudissin at the same time as the production of the film 3.
3.2 ‘Inner Leadership’ and Discipline
The leadership concept of ‘Inner Leadership’ can be traced back as a specific response to the context in which the Federal Armed Forces was founded around 1955. The confrontation with the Nazi and Wehrmacht past and the image of war characterised by nuclear armament and the intensifying East-West confrontation led to a domestic and foreign policy pressure to legitimise a planned rearmament. The result, according to Bröckling (1997) with reference to Baudissin’s concept of ‘Inner Leadership’, was “a reform model of military leadership […] that was supposed to mediate the functional requirements of a highly technical army with the political claim of integrating the military into state and society and at the same time allay the NATO partners’ fears of a new German militarism” (Bröckling, 1997, p. 297). The prerequisite for this was the subordination of the armed forces to the primacy of politics, their integration into civil society and a leadership culture that respected the soldier as a responsible citizen.
Baudissin’s understanding of discipline was shaped by the idea that technical progress, efficiency and democratisation were mutually dependent. Thus, he took the view that the use of scientific principles and methods and the mechanisation of the “military craft” made the traditional ideas of hierarchy, obedience, discipline and drill superfluous (Baudissin, 1965/1969, p. 120-121). Flat hierarchies, partnership and cooperation in small teams were thus demands that originated in technology (Baudissin, 1954a/1969, p. 240). Against the backdrop of increasing specialisation, factual or functional discipline was to take the place of the traditional military discipline of attitude. In contrast to drill and the tone of the barracks, Baudissin describes the discipline of facts, in which the matter itself demands certain behaviour, in contrast to silent obedience (Baudissin, 1954b/1969, p. 250). Baudissin thus not only assumed that technological progress held the chance of realising democratic principles (delegation of responsibility, teamwork, dismantling of hierarchies, image of the responsible subject) in the military organisation; rather, he judged the (self-)discipline thus demanded to be clearly more efficient than the traditional forms of soldierly obedience and subordination. As a result, differences between civilian and military activities and professions proved to be increasingly minor and insignificant; “democracy as a form of state and life, democratic military and highly developed industrial society” had thus “become compatible” (Baudissin, 1979, p. V). Conversely, the “demands for order in the barracks”, i.e. the discipline necessary in the modern army, increasingly corresponded to “the attitude to life of industrialised society” (Baudissin, 1965/1969, p. 127). The derivation of the military concept of leadership from the forms of action and cooperation applicable in modern, highly technicalised democracy (Baudissin, introduction in Krause 1979, p. IV), the concordance of military and civilian discipline (Baudissin, 1957/1969, p. 171), fundamentally challenged the transmitted idea of the soldier’s profession as an occupation and form of existence of its own. The fusion between the military and civilian order, or the civilisation of the military, finds expression in the figure of the ‘Citizen in Uniform’. This means that even as a soldier, the citizen retains his civil rights to the greatest possible extent; at the same time, this expression entails that the soldier’s profession should not be considered to constitute a superior form of existence. The civilisation and liberalisation of the new armed forces in contrast to the previous ones meant a radical break with the military tradition. Such a break also seemed necessary in view of the widespread antimilitarism among the young population.
4 Publicity for the Federal Armed Forces in Times of Antimilitarism
The birth of the Federal Armed Forces on 12 November 1955, when the first 101 volunteers began their service, did not coincidentally fall on the bicentenary of the birth of the Prussian general and military reformer Gerhard von Scharnhorst. Since a connection to the immediate military and political past was impossible, but tradition was and is an essential element of military self-image, a suitable reference was sought and found in the liberal elements of the Prussian reforms of the early 19th century (see Abenheim, 1989).
According to surveys, a clear majority of West Germans rejected rearmament at the beginning of the 1950s. In the course of the Korean War, the East German uprising in 1953 and the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, this majority melted into a strong minority. However, the young generation in particular countered the remilitarisation with slogans such as “Ohne mich” (“Without me”) or “Nie wieder Kommiss!” (see Topf, 1952; Weiskirch, 1954; Bald & Wette, 2008). The break with traditional notions of the military was thus quite appropriate. Baudissin envisioned an “army without pathos” (Weinstein, 1951). Ceremonies and rituals were to be reduced to the bare essentials and military pomp dispensed with. The design of the new uniforms was correspondingly unadorned. For Baudissin, it was important that the new, civilian spirit was also reflected in the language. After all, the military’s own language had always contributed significantly to the transmission of military content, forms and values. In his language reform, Baudissin used the ‘modern’ terminology from the civilian world of work based on the division of labour and replaced command with coordination; instead of obedience, he spoke of cooperation; instead of groups, he spoke of teams; he replaced comradeship with the term partnership, which also referred to the relationship between superiors and subordinates (see von Rosen, 2013).
In order to demonstrate the new military spirit to the population and to promote service to the fatherland, the Federal Armed Forces produced posters, brochures and films (see Schmidt, 2007). The 1957 film “Der Alltag des Soldaten” (“The Soldier’s Everyday Life”) is paradigmatic for this project. It shows how the ideas of ‘Inner Leadership’ and of the ‘Citizen in Uniform’ were to become effective in the troops through the new legal, social and pedagogical design of the organisation and the behaviour of the superior (in the ideal).
5 “The Soldier’s Everyday Life” (1957)
“The Soldier’s Everyday Life” was shot in Agfacolor and lasts about 25 minutes. It was directed by the later famous German director, film writer and producer Rolf von Sydow. As the title indicates, the film was intended to convey impressions of the everyday training of recruits in the young Federal Armed Forces, based on a company of armoured infantrymen. The film begins with them marching into the barracks; this is followed by a short line-up. As they leave, the voice of the announcer begins, calling a soldier in front of the camera and introducing him: armoured infantryman Werner Müller from Frankfurt, a commercial employee. He is the parlor elder among his four comrades: Jürgen Engelmann (high school graduate), Willy Mertens (farmer’s son), Hans Langsfeld (confectioner) and Oskar Fleischer (industrial worker). The audience will encounter these actors again several times during the course of the film.
Most of the subsequent film sequences show the recruits in training. The young armoured infantrymen are seen during weapons training, shooting and combat exercises as well as sports (swimming, running), which not only contribute to fitness but are also supposed to offer variety. The importance of the principles of cooperation and teamwork is emphasised several times in the film, underlined by voiceovers. Weaker soldiers are cheered up and supported by their comrades. Civic education is also practised, as the narrator explains, through the use of “group self-work” (6:02). A short scene shows drill, with the narrator emphasising, “It [formal education] is necessary, but it is not the main focus” (6:06). Other sequences, for example, give an insight into living together in the parlor. There they listen to the radio and smoke. The young men clean their equipment and get ready to go out, in a relaxed atmosphere of camaraderie with mutual banter. This also makes the audience aware that the recruits have strict working hours, comparable to civilian jobs, and thus free time. They stream out of the barracks in civilian clothes or dress uniforms. At the guard station, recruit Fleischer is spontaneously offered a lift by a higher-ranking officer in his VW Beetle. They are on their way to the nearby city for further education (English lessons) or entertainment, be it ballet, sports (table tennis), chess or by the young soldiers pursuing their hobbies on the military grounds in the workshop or darkroom.
Obviously, the aim of the promotional film was to show the viewers, and especially the young men of military age, that the new Federal Armed Forces was fundamentally different from the old ideas of the military. This applies first and foremost to discipline. For even between superiors and recruits there is a relaxed, sometimes humorous tone. Formalities are reduced to what is objectively necessary, and they end where the term of service ends. Recruits are also allowed to show weaknesses (exhaustion, clumsiness, listlessness), especially in the tough terrain and combat training – recruit Fleischer is given this role in the film. If this is the case, he receives encouragement and support from his comrades and superiors. All in all, the military appears to be an extremely humane, ‘civilised’ organisation. This is evidenced not only by the working hours regulations but also by the scene of a visit to the troop doctor or the insight into the operation of the clean troop kitchen. Plenty of tasty home cooking is prepared in the shiny cooking pots. On the menu is chicken soup, roast pork, Brussels sprouts, potatoes and oranges (7:18).
Two aspects that define the new army run through the film: first, the flattening of hierarchies with an emphasis on cooperative working across ranks; second, the emphasis on the superior’s duty of care to subordinates.
A key scene (17:03-17:59) for the first theme is the gathering of the five young main actors with their staff sergeant, who has just been promoted to sergeant.
The short scene takes place in the latter’s home living room. Present are the recruits of Stube 14, the newly commissioned sergeant and his wife. The men are in dress uniform, one of them smoking, another brought his guitar; there is coffee and cake, and also a schnapps to toast the promotion together. Recruit Fleischer, tipsy and therefore with a slip of the tongue, makes the toast. As they leave, the wife wants to clear the dishes, but the newly appointed sergeant stands up and states that this is his job. Apparently, the highest-ranking man in the group is not too shy to take on this servile, rather feminine work. In this way, he qualifies as a ‘modern’ superior and a man who seeks equality in both the military and gender hierarchies.
A key scene (12:56-14:21) can also be cited for the second theme, the superior’s duty of care.
It refers to the aspect of being allowed to show weakness, which has already been mentioned, but also to the Federal Armed Forces’ high regard for education. In this way, a new image of the future soldier emerges, which is no longer (merely) characterised by heroic fighting spirit. In the scene, recruit Engelmann appears in his function as a man of confidence. He presents himself to his captain to go through a list of book requests. The superior is obviously pleased to receive the request and takes the opportunity to ask Engelmann to talk privately about another recruit named Brandt. Brandt worries him because he is acting a bit “crazy” (13:51), and he asks Engelmann about possible reasons for his behaviour. Engelmann tells him that his comrade’s mother is seriously ill, which puts a lot of stress on him. He suggests to the captain to consider moving Brandt to a place near his home so that he can visit his mother more often. The superior is immediately open to this suggestion, which he wants to discuss with Brandt at the next opportunity. The interaction between the two actors is relatively informal and casual and takes place at almost the same eye level.
The final sequence begins with a night alarm that heralds a 36-hour exercise. Over several minutes, the company is shown in cross-country combat as well as marching through mud and slush in the rain. The extensive rifle fire at the end of the attack and counter-attack is reminiscent of fireworks. The fight “for peace and freedom” (24:04) was successful, and so, as the speaker states, the training proved its worth. At the end, the company moves out of the barracks, singing the same marching song as when they moved in. The soldiers pass through a village and the Citizens in Uniform are flanked and accompanied by their fellow citizens, children and animals. While the federal service flag waving in the wind was visible at the very beginning, the federal eagle is superimposed at the end.
The period after the end of the Nazi regime meant a ‘zero hour’ of a new political beginning for Germany. The same applies to the armed forces that were reorganised in 1955. In the years following the establishment of the Federal Armed Forces, it was a good half of the male cohorts who did military service and were thus socialised militarily in some way (see Bundesministerium der Verteidigung, 1970). According to the reform forces involved in building up the Federal Armed Forces, the army was to realise the essential liberal-democratic principles of the Federal Republic internally and its members were to retain the status of mature, self-responsible subjects even when in uniform. Like society as a whole, the military was to be denazified and its members ‘re-educated’. Wolf Graf von Baudissin’s concept of ‘Inner Leadership’ served as the ethical-normative basis. The analysis of the film “The Soldier’s Everyday Life” showed how the Bundeswehr sought to bring Baudissin’s ideas to the people. The medium of film is suitable in that it allows the abstract message to be packaged in a story in a generally understandable way, with concrete actors embodying the values to be conveyed. The film audience learned that while combat training certainly has its hard sides, it can be mastered thanks to the ubiquity of principles of camaraderie and cooperation, respect, caring and empathy across ranks. Authoritarian military discipline is replaced by a leadership style that emphasizes reasonable insight, self-motivation, and autonomy in those it addresses. The openness to the civilian world is not only evident when recruits and superiors pass through the barracks gate and go out together at the end of duty, but also when the superior celebrates his promotion with his recruits in his private living room.
All this says little about actual everyday life in the troops at that time. On the one hand, the so-called ‘reformers’ were opposed from the beginning by traditionalist-minded military officers who criticised ‘Inner Leadership’ as a “soft wave” (Hammerich, 2007) and tried to undermine it. Moreover, there was soon concrete evidence that reality was sometimes far from the ideal (see Schmidt, 2007). Criticism may also arise as far as ideas are concerned. The position on which Baudissin based his concept of ‘Inner Leadership’, according to which technological progress had democratising potential and benefited the autonomy of the subject, was overly optimistic, if not naïve – consider, for example, recent developments in the field of lethal autonomous weapon systems (see Roberge, Senneville & Morin, 2020). It is therefore worthwhile to examine the ideas that have shaped the self-image of armed forces to this day. With regard to the Bundeswehr and its educational self-image, this is done from time to time, albeit almost exclusively from a military-internal perspective (recently: Bormann, 2021).
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- The concept of the military as the ‘school of the nation’, that is, as an educational institution shaping the entire (male) population toward national values, was widespread in the Prussian Empire and far beyond (see Wette, 2005). ↵
- Wolf Graf von Baudissin (1907-1993) studied law and history in Berlin from 1925 to 1926 and completed an apprenticeship as an agriculturist from 1927 to 1930. He served in the Reichswehr from 1926 to 1927 and from 1930 onwards, he was promoted to captain in 1939. He served as a major in the general staff of the Africa Corps in 1941 where he became a prisoner of war. In 1956 he joined the Federal Armed Forces with the rank of colonel. In 1968 Baudissin joined the Social Democratic Party (SPD). Between 1971 and 1984 he was the founding director of the “Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy” at the University of Hamburg (see Schlaffer & Schmidt, 2007). ↵
- Despite recurring controversies and attacks, ‘Inner Leadership’ is today considered the corporate philosophy (see Wiesendahl, 2002; Naumann, 2021). Since the publication of the “Inner Leadership Handbook” in 1957, the concept has been revised several times, but with the claim to maintain the essence of the concept. ↵