The Social Figure of the "Political Soldier" and the Societalization of Violence

Studies on German Military History

Contemporary military operations abroad not only raise questions about the scale and tools of security and military policy, they also have consequences for the profile of professional military personnel. Whereas literature in this field explores whether the soldier of tomorrow should be an "all-rounder" or remain solely a "combatant", this project pursues a different track. Current wars of choice are fought on a political battlefield. The soldier has become a political actor who must make his own political decisions in a tactical microcosm. As new and provocative as this insight may seem, in terms of military history it refers to a long history of problems in which the relationship between politics and the military has been contentious time and again. The question of whether a soldier should be trained to be "political" or "apolitical" can be traced back to the first concepts of the citizen-soldier that emerged in the early nineteenth century. With the "societalization of violence" (Michael Geyer) that developed since World War I, this issue gained fresh momentum and preoccupied all of Germany’s regimes in the twentieth century. Whether Freikorps or Reichswehr, Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS, the old or new Bundeswehr―in all military orders, the figure of the "political soldier" constitutes, as it were, the final authority in which differing efforts to limit or expand violence, to control or unleash it, converge.

(Last modified April 2014)