Dying for Kunduz? – Justifications of the German Mission in Afghanistan in Political Eulogies

Globally-oriented, extended security policies follow patterns of justification that differ from those drawn on by traditional policies of national self-defense. One of the fundamental differences is the fact that ongoing out-of-area missions are related to conflicts that do not threaten the existence of the nation and the democratic state. As long as national defense was the foremost goal, a socio-moral bond forged together the military and society, who shared—for better or for worse—common risks and a common fate. Today, without direct threats to the country’s security, this bond no longer exists. Now, on the one hand, a gap between the military and society has emerged; on the other hand, the armed forces, as an “instrument” of the security measures devised by policymakers, (increasingly) close ranks with the state and the political sphere.

Assessments of society’s reactions to these developments are ambivalent. Some deplore society’s “friendly disinterest” (former German Federal President Horst Köhler); others suggest that the citizens of a “post-heroic society” (Münkler) react sensitively and with indignation to reports of soldiers killed while on out-of-area missions. One perspective emphasizes how society distances itself from the military; the counterargument asserts that the public has reacted with compassion to soldiers’ deaths. The issue of closeness and distance between society and the military is also reflected in the results of recent surveys conducted by social scientists (SOWI studies). Although the Bundeswehr and the members of the armed forces are held in considerable esteem by citizens and also enjoy emotional support in the public realm, out-of-area operations meet at times with the vehement rejection of a majority of the German population.

Both the shift to preventive security policy and the ambivalent public responses to this shift highlight the problem of how policies are justified. Political speeches held to honor members of the military who have been killed during out-of-area missions exemplify the issue. This kind of extreme occurrence, a “public death” (Hettling), breaks out of the basic pattern of “justification through procedure” (Luhmann) by suspending its fundamental prerequisite—the reversibility of decisions. In public speeches for those killed during military operations, new grounds for justification must be formulated in order to counter unrecoverable loss with the assertion that there is continuity, nonetheless.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American-German Institute.