After a two-year absence from my blog and only keeping this domain alive just to use the email address, I decided to redo my blog. Some posts will vanish while some will remain on the web.

A month ago, I returned to the world of college education. I’m enrolled in the political science course of the FernUni Hagen, a college specifically designed for distance learning. I wish I’d started a year or two earlier. I have seven years left in the military, six until I can pursue full-time studies. The distance-learning program will take me six years to finish if all goes well. The military will pay for college, which is nice but not really crucial. It will cost around €1,800 (about $2,000). Not per semester, the whole thing costs that much.

The only reason why they let me start now is that I want to study history after my service. Or maybe military history. I’m not allowed to reach my goal during the service, only after. All education will be after the service, but it seems there’s more money involved.

There are multiple reasons why I study political science (and organization and sociology; it’s all one course). One is the availability. There are schools designed for distance-learning, but not many offer history or political science. History would have been my first choice, but there’s a severe lack of history courses. As a reference for military history, I used the University of Potsdam. Meanwhile, they offer a master’s degree in War and Conflict Studies. They require a bachelor’s degree in history, political or social sciences.

Another reason is my dream to write or possibly educate about military history or politics. A former teammate in my softball team was a freelance writer and told me not to study journalism if I want to write, instead, study something I want to write about. Well, here I am.

Studying political science has a nice side effect. It helps to understand current events. It prepares for future decisions. The United States will elect their new president in less than a week. Many European countries will vote in 2017. While Europeans laugh at the United States for their election, they will be in the same circus a year later. I’ll throw one name in the ring: Alexis de Tocqueville. I could go on about why history and politics are so important in the present time and the near future, but I’ll save that for another day.

70 years ago a group of patriots tried to save a nation. And, in my opinion, they succeeded. Still, today, people criticize the activity of the German resistance and also criticize the head of the group that attempted to kill Adolf Hitler on July 20th, 1944.

It’s hard to understand nowadays. But the whole story starts in 1918/1919. Germany lost the war, was forced to sign the Versailles Treaty and also accepted the blame that the war was Germany’s fault. Germany got crippled, lost lots of its territory and had to pay an unbelievable amount of reparations.

What Hitler did once he claimed power in 1933 – regarding foreign policy – was superb. One of the conspirators, General Friedrich Olbricht, said in 1938 that he hated Hitler from the first time he saw him. “But if he dies today, measured on his victories, his name will be one of the greatest in German history.”

It’s simply true. Almost on his own, Hitler added the Saarland, Austria, and Sudetenland to Germany; the Rhineland got remilitarized, and no shots fired. It was a huge gamble which worked out perfectly. When he moved on to Poland, to add the lost territories, he went too far and started the war. England and France could have ended the war quickly but preferred the Phoney War. That’s a different topic, though. In addition to that Hitler revoked the signature of the “War Guilt Clause” (Article 231 of the Versailles Treaty).

Oberst Claus Philipp Maria Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg joined the resistance in 1942, although he started disliking Hitler years before. He was shocked by the Reichskristallnacht in 1938 and also was against the brutal treatment of civilians and prisoner of wars in the Eastern territories. Still, it took him some years because he was overwhelmed by the military successes.

With the major turnaround of the war, the battle of Stalingrad, many officers, like von Tresckow (who is, if I may say, the most honorable of the group), felt the need to act to avoid a catastrophe. The main goal was an establishment of a new government and back to morals. Also, the plot group wanted to save the German borders from 1938 and the Polish parts and get a clean peace treaty.

When the day came, nobody was expecting success. Most of the conspirators just wanted to prove that not everyone was one of the monsters and that there was a will to end the war. So it happened. Almost everyone who was part of the plot gave the ultimate sacrifice and died for their country.

It’s a big shame that it took ten years for Germany to see Stauffenberg and the other patriots as heroes. In 1954 Theodor Heuss gave a speech that started to move the public opinion towards the group around Stauffenberg.

Nowadays Stauffenberg is considered as the great hero. Unfortunately, it’s only his name that is famous and well-known. Most people forget about von Tresckow, Olbricht, von Haeften, Beck, von Moltke, Goerdeler and von Witzleben, who said following words towards Judge Roland Freisinger on August 7th, 1944:

“You may hand us over to the executioner, but in three months’ time our disgusted and harried people will bring you to book and drag you alive through the dirt in the streets!”

A few times I meet servicemen who think that Stauffenberg was more of a traitor. They may be right when they say that he tried to kill his comrades, but he was trying to save his country and the in particular people. Didn’t Stauffenberg say “Long live our sacred Germany!” moments before he got shot? They have broken the oath, but Ludwig Yorck von Wartenburg did the same which started the liberation of Prussia and with that, the German states.

Let me salute the ones who gave their lives for a better Germany that may have helped to pave the way to today’s Germany. It’s a chapter of my country that can’t be made undone, but we’ll have to deal with it. Not to put it in a drawer and take it out once in a while. But to live this responsibility.

Whenever there is a discussion about this, especially the guilt that many people want to carry around with them although they weren’t even born back then, I say the same thing over and over again:

It’s not my duty to feel guilty about what happened. It’s my duty to make sure it never happens again.

Henning von Tresckow - bundeswehr.org

Henning von Tresckow

Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg - bundeswehr.org

Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg

One week has gone fighting the flooding in eastern Germany. Unfortunately, we didn’t have to help a lot.
The superior unit assigned our unit as reserves and, at least my platoon, only moved out twice.

The whole operation started Wednesday afternoon when we got alarmed and had to be ready to move out at some point in the evening. We were. We didn’t get orders to move. We waited. Thursday everyone was highly motivated to go and help the people, but again we waited. In the early afternoon, we finally boarded the bus, trucks, and other vehicles and started rolling. Because we left relatively late and the convoy moved slow, we stayed the night at a training ground. The next morning we continued to another training ground from where we finally got to work.

Saturday. After two days on the road and three days of basically doing nothing, we got the order to support a dike. It was a great feeling to help others, and it was even more amazing that civilians and military worked together. For 7-8 hours we worked until we got relieved.

Sunday. The toughest day. In the morning we had to ready up, and we left to help loading sandbags on trucks. We did that for quite a while. Our platoon got split up and while one half loaded the trucks the other half supported a dike. Later on, I switched to the dike-building half and helped there. At 8 pm we were supposed to be relieved, but we moved to another dike and helped there for another three hours. Finally, at midnight we were back.

Monday. We had to evacuate the training ground because a dike close to the town broke and we moved to a town’s gym hall where we stayed until today. While it was ok to rest, the next two days were horrible.

Tuesday-Thursday. Rested and ready to kick the tide’s ass we waited for orders that never came. Bored to death, we tried to make the day go by fast, but that didn’t work that well. I finished the book I bought on Thursday while the bus had to get gas in no time (although I wanted to finish it on the way back) and Dan Brown’s “Inferno” is at 50%. That’s how bored we were. But the hall was next to a school, and the guys on the trucks let the kids go in the trucks and that maybe was the only good thing about the two days of nothing.

Today we finally got the order to return…

Although we weren’t able to help as much as we all wanted to it was a success. Even though it only were two days we did something we helped and showed the people that we are there.

My opinion about the whole high-tide thing is that everyone waited too long. The water didn’t just come Wednesday it was a problem before, and everyone waited and did nothing. The past decade since the last high tide should have been used to prevent destruction. Ah well, for me it’s over now. I hope the people who had to move out and who lost their home and everything will get back on their feet soon.

-Martin

 

Exactly 200 years ago, on March 10, 1813, the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm III established the Iron Cross. It was supposed to be only awarded for brave actions during the War of Liberation against Napoleon that started later after the king’s proclamation “An mein Volk” which was published on March 20, 1813. The text was written on March 17, 1813, by the way. What a coincidence I’m born on March 17…

 

Iron Cross 1813 (Friederich-Wilhelm III)

Iron Cross 1813 (Friederich-Wilhelm III) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyways, Napoleon got defeated in 1815 when the allies fought him at Waterloo. The Iron Cross became the symbol of a new era. It became a symbol for equality. Equality because it was the first award that was for everyone. The Pour Le Mérite was only for officers, but the Iron Cross was for the lower ranks and for the officers. But it was also a symbol for the military reforms that are still the basis for the current German military: Conscription was implemented, but it was a short conscription to create many reservists. The military reformers Gneisenau, Boyen, and Clausewitz, wanted to bring the army and the population closer to increasing patriotism. Another new feature was a significant change in the officer corps. Non-royals were allowed into the higher officer ranks, and promotions/demotions depended on actual performance. Although not everything worked out as planned, it was important.

 

In 1870 the award was handed out again during the Franco-Prussian war that ended in 1871 and united the German nations to the German Empire. From 1871 on, it was also the insignia of the German military.

World War I is the next chapter in the history of Das Eiserne Kreuz and the first war that resulted in defeat. While it was still a Prussian decoration, it became more or less a German award. This changed though in World War II when Hitler made this a German decoration. WW2 is definitely the darkest chapter in the Cross’ history. No doubt, most of the recipients had great skills, but most of them were also brutal murderers and fascists. Hitler added the Knight’s Cross with multiple degrees (the Iron Cross from 1813 – 1918 had three degrees) to the Iron Cross and the guys that earned these awards are prominent names, for example, Rommel, Marseille, Rudel, Mölders, von Manteuffel, Galland, and Nowotny.

English: Badge of Honour of the Bundeswehr Deu...

Ehrenkreuz der Bundeswehr für Tapferkeit (Photo credit: wikipedia.org)

 

Germany rebuilt its military in the 1950’s and in 1956 the Iron Cross became the emblem of the new Bundeswehr. For more than 50 years the German military had no award for bravery, and in 2007 a petition came up for a new Iron Cross. Of course, there was opposition against an Iron Cross and a year later the Ehrenkreuz für Tapferkeit (Cross of Honor for bravery) was invented. It’s not like the traditional Iron Cross, but at least the cross is formed like an Iron Cross. Before there were several variations of the Cross of Honor for exemplary and meritious service but the cross to the right with the oak leaves was important. Since 1999 Germany sends men and women to countries like Kosovo and Afghanistan and they do a hell of a job. It was the time that they get some recognition because the Bundeswehr’s reputation is more of a beer-league football team whose officer don’t order, they ask their subordinates politely to do something. This time is gone.

Nowadays nobody remembers the history of the Iron Cross. It’s sad because it has a long history, as you see. Most think it was a product of national socialism. But it is a symbol that defined Germany and Prussia in both ways, good and bad. Of course whatever happened in WW2 was wrong and cruel. WW1 wasn’t solely our fault, and 1870 wasn’t very right either but could we please not forget 1813? Could we please remember the men that fought for freedom and the cross that became a symbol of hope and bravery? A symbol of the uprising against Napoleon who scarred Germany for years?

200 years later this symbol stands for hope and bravery again.