The Military Elite of the Bonn Republic

(completed in 2007)

This study focuses on the analysis of biographical texts from high-ranking officers in the West German military. In order to elucidate their situation even before the West German Bundeswehr was established, primary source materials from the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research’s “Group Experiment” conducted in 1950/51 (and to a large extent still unevaluated) and the records of interviews carried out by German-American social scientist Hans Speier in 1952-1954 were evaluated. These sources yield insights into the intensity of corps spirit and the role of service in the Wehrmacht but also offer new perspectives on how various genera-tions differed with respect to the ways in which they processed shared origins and experiences. The approach used to study this older material was extended to conduct of further biographical interviews with former Bundeswehr generals. Altogether, representatives of five different gen-erations of officers born between 1914 and 1939 are portrayed in the study, including two former general inspectors of the Bundeswehr, Wolfgang Altenburg and Klaus D. Naumann.

Analysis of biographical narratives aimed to uncover the specific “life constructions” (Heinz Bude) of these West Germany’s top brass, as a means of reconstructing generational profiles that transcend the individual case studies. A key conceptual goal of this examination was to contrast the statements made by high-ranking members of the German military during the military’s early phase in the beginning of the 1950s with their recent retrospective life assess-ments. The tensions revealed by these comparisons demonstrate what paths members of the military elite took before finally arriving in today’s parliamentary democracy. Furthermore, this evaluation shows that the conflicts between politics and the military, between parliamen-tary processes and military thought and action are no longer indicative of “remnants” of We-hrmacht traditions but instead delineate the “normal business” of a perpetually conflict-ridden coexistence of politics and the military in a democratic society.

From a theoretical perspective, this study—which in contrast to some misunderstandings is not intended to be a contribution to an oral history of the Bundeswehr—highlights the usefulness of the concept of “institutional generations”. While this idea draws on Karl Mannheim’s no-tion of social and political generations, it also communicates insights into how institutions contribute to shaping various groups of actors in specific ways. The results of this study might be summarized as follows: generations of officers are not only trained to “fit into” the organ-izational goals and cultures of the military, they also themselves shape the appearance of the organization as actors. This process is manifested quite tangibly in the various biographical texts in which Bundeswehr generals recall the aporia and dilemmas of the nuclear constella-tion of the Cold War.