Autor: Jakub Kufčák (POST)

Introduction

This paper will try to wrestle with the question how was Germany`s armed forces engagement in out-of-area operations from the 1990`s to the first decade of the 21st century portrayed in German popular culture and in particular how it was depicted in the German cinema. This line of inquiry is logically following a broader picture and that is the image of armed forces in cinema in general. In the case of the German armed forces we could speak of significant neglect of Bundeswehr in German cinema after its creation in 1955, which was, as much as world audiences during the Cold War, fascinated by the German Wehrmacht.

In recent years, however, we can see the reversal of this trend as German television industry started to produce films, which thematize the Afghan deployment. In the light of comments from former federal president Horst Köhler that German society treats the Afghan mission with “friendly disinterest”[1] it seems that after a decade of deployment wider sections of society will finally come to grasps with this longest Bundeswehr deployment ever, at least through film experience. It is therefore of particular importance to analyze how this Afghanistan experience is actually framed for German television audiences.

The material for this analysis consists of six movies. It is worth noting that majority (four) of these film materials are not per se a films about foreign deployment but rather belong to the veteran films sub-genre which is unique because this genre is a novelty in post-1990 Germany cinema. These four veteran films about Afghan mission veterans returning to Germany were all produced by ARD, a major German public broadcasting channel, and were aired in TV in 2009. Unifying factor in all four films is that the drama is played out in the framework of soldiers` families.

First one of these movies is Andreas Senn`s Willkommen zuhause (Welcome home),[2] which revolves around a soldier returning from Kunduz deployment who feels guilty for death of his friend. Second film, Tod eines Freundes (Death of a friend),[3] follows a psychologist Maximilian Bloch who has to deal with two best friend soldiers` families affected with their fathers Afghan deployment one of which died. These two films veteran movies end on a happy note because the veterans are able to cope with their experience and their families are reunited.

Third of these four veteran movies is Nacht vor Augen (Night before eyes),[4] an award-winning film about Afghan returnee who shot an Afghan boy by accident. Fourth movie, Klick gemacht (It finally clicked),[5] is a part of a Polizeiruf 100 (Emergency call 100) series in which lesser Bundeswehr commander is abducted and forced to confess about his responsibility in a bombing of a Germany army convoy with three casualties in Kunduz. These latter two films, in contrast to the former ones, end in a rather grim fashion, as the families of the soldiers are rendered dysfunctional.

Apart from these four veteran movies, there are also the other two films, which are genuinely depicting the foreign deployment as such. First of them is Kosovo deployment movie called Mördericher Frieden (producers translation Snipers Valley)[6] which was the first ever feature film about an out-of-area deployment and which portrays the efforts of a German soldiers stationed in a fictional Kosovan town of Matletan to find Albanian militia hidden weapons intended to be used in reprisals against local Serbian population. The second one is Auslandseinsatz (Foreign deployment)[7] that follows the story of German CIMIC (civil-military cooperation) team interaction with a remote fictional Afghan village Milanh.

I. Post-war German cinema and the image of armed forces

Generally speaking, the post-war tradition of the genre in West Germany was based on a defining and recurrent theme, which portrayed the Wehrmacht soldiers as predominantly ambivalent agents within an overall tendency to remove the Wehrmacht from its historical context of National Socialism and to picture the war as de facto ahistorical destiny to which soldiers responses varied.[8] They, in the end, always turned out to do their soldierly duty just as in such movies as Das Boot (1981, dir. Wolfgang Petersen) or Josef Vilsmaier`s Stalingrad (1993).

Couple exceptions to this general trend could be named, however. One topic that has penetrated into the popular culture and even received scholarly attention was the comparison between deserters from the Wehrmacht and from the Bundeswehr. Andrew Plowman in his article from 2009 traces the changes in the image of Bundeswehr deserters in the 1960`s and 1970`s to the 2002 film Bungalow. He concludes that since the 1970s writers and filmmakers have rarely seen the theme of desertion from the Bundeswehr as significant in the same way as desertion from the Wehrmacht.[9]

The normalization of Bundeswehr image then came in the 1980`s and German unification brought about a period in which the army became “positively `mediensexy` in serials like Die Rettungsflieger (The Air Rescue Team, ZDF, 1997-2007) and dramas such as Tsunami (ProSieben, 2005), at least according to Bleicher and Hickethier.[10]

II. Out-of-area deployment in veteran movies – General assessment

As hinted above the veteran movie as a specific sub-genre of military inspired films is generally treated as a version of male melodrama where the experience of the soldier clashes, after their return from the deployment, with the expectations laid upon them by their families and society. The overarching main theme is the interaction between the soldier and his nuclear family, which follows the classic idea that was firstly termed as the traditional dichotomy of life taker/life giver by a feminist IR scholar Jean Bethke Elshtain in which the men go abroad to serve their country, while women stay put at the home front – war in this sense serves as a powerful agent which ascribes normative clean-cut gendered identities on men and women.[11]

Not surprisingly, in all four German veteran movies are the main characters male heterosexuals and, not surprisingly, non-white Germans are nearly absent throughout the films – with exception of one black soldier as a supporting character in Tod eines Freundes and one migrant soldier getting of a plane without speaking in Willkommen zuhause. Afghanistan is portrayed only scarcely, generally through a flashbacks, and if then as a broken country. Even heavy stereotypes like the cruel Islamic terrorists shouting Allahu akbar while videotaping their assault on a Bundeswehr patrol (Klick gemacht) or Afghani boy soldier death (Tod eines Freundes) serve an instrumental role in portrayal of the country.

Stephan Engelkamp and Philipp Offermann argue that the general pattern of these four veteran movies mirrors the institutional debate in Germany in two interconnected aspects. Firstly, the “broken country” stereotype in which Bundeswehr does not wage war, but in which German soldiers “patrol the streets and hand out sweets to the street children; a class of smiling school girls, willing to study; relief aid is handed out to the population.“ This underscores the “Germans` rational offer of development and stability that is returned with irrational violence. […] Such framing renders the burden to stabilize Afghanistan to the white man. It is the responsibility to fight the Taliban for the sake of Afghan schoolgirls. […] The Bundeswehr mission is narrated here as an act of male responsibility towards an imagined feminized Afghan other.”[12]

In other words, the foreign deployment is framed in not only in gendered (male) but also orientalist (Western) master narrative discourse. However, the exchange between security (from Germany in form of soldiers) and secured country (Afghanistan) is not one-way street. In the other direction (from deployment home) travel the returning soldiers with their memories and experiences. Crucial element in analysis of these veteran movies therefore lies in the way, how the domestic societies reincorporate the experiences of their soldiers into broader discourse about foreign deployments (foreign policy) and role of their country in the international order.

The abstract notion of Germany`s responsibility in the international arena is therefore dramatized, for the domestic audiences, in form of actual soldiers` decisions and experiences in Afghanistan.[13]

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II. A. Soldiers agency – The plot

The pattern all four movies generally follow is that after the return to Germany, soldiers are treated as heroes[14] and their try to communicate their own experience is blocked by their environment. These scenes[15] almost truthfully depict the relation of German society to Afghan mission. Soldiers` efforts to incorporate their experience into wider societal narrative about the war are blocked because they pose a danger to the dominant narrative of war and to “the stable narrative that leaves German society with a good conscience.”[16]

This struggle is then negotiated within family framework. In Tod eines Freundes this struggle is played out between the Seifert and the Rode families (Frank Rode, deceased soldiers best friend, harasses the Seifert family). In Wilkommen zuhause veteran Ben Winters interacts with his parents and his pregnant girlfriend. In Klick gemacht is the story based on the actions of deceased veterans` families who abduct Lt. Darkow and the tension between the police investigator (Cpt. Uli Steiger) and her father and superior. Nacht vor Augen then spins around the relationship between veteran David and his 8-year-old stepbrother Benni.

After this first phase, second one ensues. The discrepancy between the interpretation of war between the society (family) and the soldiers leads to dysfunctional social interaction within the respective families, which in turn leads to the separation of the soldiers. This mental separation then takes form of a spatial one – the couples split up and soldiers relocate because of their mixed conscious rejection of their representation of heroes and unconscious conduct because of their trauma.[17] This takes form of Ben (Wilkommen zuhause) being unable to sleep with his girlfriend and later moving to the basement. In Nacht vor Augen David tries to rape his girlfriend and then relocates to his old apartment. Frank Rode (Tod eines Freundes) moves to the attic for being overprotective of Seifert family and in Klick gemacht is Lt. Darkow separated by force by being abducted and holding captive.

Following phase is transitional in which the veteran becomes a loner because of his separation from family. Ben in Wilkommen zuhause begins to take runs in the forests. David (Nacht vor Augen) just sits in his flat watching cartoons and Frank in Tod eines Freundes builds a shelter in the forest.

After this transitional phase comes the moment where the veterans are able to finally communicate their experience of war independently of how it was framed by their society before. In all four films this moment is preceded by a serious breakdown because the decisions taken by them in Afghanistan still haunt them. In Wilkommen zuhause Ben tells the story to an army psychoanalyst, David from Nacht vor Augen to a drinking party in a Pub, Lt. Darkow to a video camera and, in Tod eines Freundes, Rose to psychoanalyst Bloch.

Once the soldiers decide to narrate their own version of their traumatic war experience, they receive redemption for what they did or couldn’t do in Afghanistan. Rode in Tod eines Freundes hesitated to kill an Afghan boy soldier who in turn was able to shot his friend Seifert and the psychoanalyst placates him that this was not a sign of weakness but rather a sign of his humanity.[18] In Nacht vor Augen is Lt. Darkow forced to “confess” the real story in which he took an unnecessary risk resulting in the attack on his convoy and three German soldiers deaths. However, the public does not know this true story as Bundeswehr tries to cover up in order to spread only “good news” from the battlefield.

Finally, the success of communicating the true story mirrors then the successfulness of reintegration of the veteran back into his family. As Rode (Tod eines Freundes) and Ben (Wilkommen zu hause) were able to retell their stories and these are accepted, they are reunited with their families and girlfriends. In these two films is also another aspect of this development that is displayed in younger generation of characters, as Tina (Rode`s daughter) and Paul (Seifert`s son, who is joining army now) become a couple in Tod eines Freundes. In Wilkommen zuhause Ben is again together with his now very pregnant girlfriend. Engelkamp and Offermann rightly note that there is a subliminal message here: “Here is another new family, a new generation of Germans who have learned to deal with their memories and accept their roles, and are using memory to accept their responsibilities and endure the hardship that such responsible behavior necessarily entails.”[19]

In Klick gemacht, on the other hand, the true story is not made public because of the army cover-up. This results in a rift between the police investigator (Cpt. Uli Steiger) and her father and superior who is responsible for the suppression of the truth. Uli, instead of going to Afghanistan as planned, leaves the Bundeswehr. David (Nacht vor Augen) traumatic memory of shooting an Afghan childe is told at a Pub but is nearly unnoticed. There is no effect on the true narration of his story and therefore we do not know if his psychiatric treatment was successful or not in the end of the movie.

800px-Bundeswehr_in_Afghanistan,_August_2011

III. Out-of-area deployment in Mördericher Frieden and Auslandseinsatz

These two movies differ from the previous four veteran films because they depict the deployment of Bundeswehr in Kosovo (Mörderischer Frieden) and Afghanistan (Auslandseinsatz). Their importance for picturing and framing the respective conflicts for German domestic audiences is therefore much greater than in veteran movies.

Both films share the same backbone in framing the foreign deployment similarly. The main characters – In Mörderischer Frieden Feldwebel Tom Kapielski and Daniel Gerber in Auslandseinsatz – are archetypes of introverts, „citizens in uniform“ who in the new out-of-area context cannot keep their detachment and neutrality in spite of orders.[20]

They both display, almost until the very end of these films, strong commitment to legal and other regulations governing the deployment. There is a best soldier friend of main character, a hot-headed type (Charly Berger in Mörderischer Frieden and Ronnie Klein in Auslandseinsatz), who in a rather rash decision pushes the main character to get involved in the local affairs. The key development is therefore the assumption of responsibility for local affairs by the citizen in uniform motivated by moral imperatives. Kapielski in Mörderlicher Frieden thus takes on the role in reconciliation between local Serbs and Albanians manifested by his endeavor to bring about the rapprochement between the Serb Mirjana Jovovic and Albanian-Kosovan boy sniper Durcan who initially shot her.

This involvement is more nuanced in Auslandseinsatz, as there is a migrant with Afghan roots (Emal) now German soldier deployed in Afghanistan who facilitates the assumption of responsibility of Gerber. Gerber is persuaded by Klein to rescue Emal and female NGO worker (Anna) from Taliban abduction, even as it is again direct order from command, in which they ended after trying to stop the transfer of teenage daughters of the local elder to the Taliban.

The depiction of moral imperative that motivate the main character to break the orders differs in each movie but the bottom line is the same – the moral imperative changes the concept of soldierly duty (to be neutral) through which the mission was initially perceived (in rather practical dimension) into perceiving the duty in ethical terms.

In Mörderlicher Frieden the atrocities by the Serbian side play a special role and following scene could be analyzed as an imitation of popular discourses in West Germany regarding the generational confrontation with the Nazi past in the 60`s. Kapielski in this scene confronts Mirjana`s parents about Serbian massacres in which her father, Dr. Jovovic, played an almost similar role to a “Schreibtischtäter” (desk criminal). Her mother seems to be in denial although it is obvious that she knew – a typical “Mitläufer who turn a blind eye. Mirjana, on the other hand, seem to parallel the young German generation and, in the end, seeks to break the cycle of mutual hatred through reconciliation with Durcan. Plowman identifies this as a derivative of well-known German model of “Vergangenheitsbewältigung” (coming to terms with the past).[21]

In this light, the moral imperative to stand up to genocide helps to legitimate the acts taken in spite of legal considerations. This is made obvious when, at the end of the film, Kapielski follows Berger`s lead in disregarding their orders to help Mirjana outside of KFOR protected space.

In Auslandseinsatz is the moral imperative based on orientalist and gender argumentation. This is made obvious by a scene in which Taliban shoots a young Afghan girl in crossfire during an attack on Gerber`s convoy. He has remorse because she didn’t understood English as he tried to warn her to hide. In a following scene Gerber discusses this experience with his superior, who shares with him the rationale of Bundeswehr involvement in Afghanistan – They are the only hope of ordinary Afghans against Taliban.[22] Just as in veteran movies, Afghanistan is a broken country unable to create stability on its own.

Gerber`s adherence to legal regulations is shown when American special operations squad shoots a local boy who was herding goats. Our hero confronts his superior about this and wants the killer to be found. Dispute about the acceptability of collateral damage during war ensues.[23] Within the structure of this film, the Americans serve as metaphorical `deus ex machina` and are depicted in rather simplistic manner.

To sum it up, we see a break from the post-war German tradition characteristic of the genre (soldiers doing their duty). Also the role of moral imperatives which are instrumental in motivating the main characters to act seem to mirror those used traditionally in Hollywood war movies in which heroes view the war in terms of both practical and moral terms, good versus evil.[24]

German_ISAF_Soldier

Conclusion

It is clear that all six of the movies forming the analytical material for this paper manifested similar features. Most importantly all of the six movies followed the gendered and orientalist bottom line that was highly noticeable thanks to all sorts of stereotypization of Afghanistan (`broken country`), Afghans (`boy sniper` and `Allahu akhbar shouting terrorist`), Bundeswehr`s mission (responsibility to create stability and girls going to schools), main characters (`citizens in uniform` and `misunderstood veteran`). Although, it shouldn’t come as big surprise given that majority of these films was oriented on television audiences.

The repetition of moral imperatives to justify the transgression of peacekeeping regulations is also one of the recurring themes, which is in the case of Mörderischer Frieden strengthened by hinting and paralleling Serbian genocide to that of the Nazis. Critical voices are silenced with reference to a higher morality that allegedly justifies the mission. In this discourse is the memory of suffering almost universally reserved for the German soldiers who were deployed abroad because of Germany`s responsibility to do so.

In this respect, the German films portraying the German engagement with foreign deployments break with distinguishable German film tradition and mimic the features of this genre spread traditionally by Hollywood.

 

Bibliography:

Films:

Auslandseinsatz [Foreign deployment]. Directed by Till ENDEMANN, screenplay by Holger Karsten SCHMIDT. Germany, first broadcast: October 17, 2012 (ARD).

Klick gemacht [It finally clicked]. Directed by Stephan WAGNER, screenplay by Christian JELTSCH. Germany, first broadcast: November 29, 2009 (ARD).

Mörderischer Frieden [Snipers Valley]. Directed by Rudolf SCHWEIGER, screenplay by Rudolf SCHWEIGER and Jan LÜTHJE. Germany, first broadcast: November 29, 2007 (in cinemas).

Nacht vor Augen [Night before Eyes]. Direcred by Brigitte BERTELE, screenplay by Johanna STUTTMANN. Germany, first broadcast: October 19, 2009 (SWR).

Tod eines Freundes [Death of a friend]. Directed by Züli ALADAG, screenplay by Marco WIERSCH. Germany, first broadcast: September 16, 2009 (ARD).

Wilkommen zuhause [Welcome home]. Directed by Andreas SENN, screenplay by Christian PFANNENSCHMIDT. Germany, first broadcast: February 2, 2009 (ARD).

Secondary literature:

BLEICHER, Joan K. HICKETHIER, Knut. Der Blick des Fernsehens auf die Bundeswehr. In: Die Bundeswehr 1955 bis 2005: Rückblenden – Einsichten – Perspektiven, NÄGLER, Frank (ed.), Munich 2007.

ENGELKAMP, Stephan and OFFERMANN, Philipp. It`s a Family Affair: Germany as a Responsible Actor in Popular Culture Discourse. In: International Studies Perspectives, 13 (2012), pp. 235-253.

PLOWMAN, Andrew. Defending Germany in the Hindukush: The `out-of-area` deployments of the Bundeswehr in Somalia, Kosovo and Afghanistan in literature and film. In: German Life and Letters, Vol. 63 Iss. 2, April 2010, pp. 212-228.

PLOWMAN, Andrew. Deserters from the Bundeswehr on Page and Screen: Shifting Cultural Meanings of an Act between Desertion from the Wehrmacht and Conscientious Objection. In: German Studies Review, May 2009, Vol. 32 Issue 2, pp. 377-395.

VON HUGO, Philip. Kino und kollektives Gedächtnis: Überlegungen zum westdeutschen Kriegsfilm der fünfziger Jahre. In: Krieg und Militär im Film des 20. Jahrhunderts, CHIARI, Bernhard, ROGG, Mathiass, SCHMIDT, Wolfgang (eds.), Münich 2003, str. 453–77.


[1] LÖWENSTEIN, Stephan. Gauck bei der Bundeswehr „Eine Stütze der Freiheit“. FAZ.net, 12.6.2012, [online] http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/gauck-bei-der-bundeswehr-eine-stuetze-der-freiheit-11783229.html accessed 8.2.2014.

[2] Wilkommen zuhause [Welcome home]. Directed by Andreas SENN, screenplay by Christian PFANNENSCHMIDT. Germany, first broadcast: February 2, 2009 (ARD).

[3] Tod eines Freundes [Death of a friend]. Directed by Züli ALADAG, screenplay by Marco WIERSCH. Germany, first broadcast: September 16, 2009 (ARD).

[4] Nacht vor Augen [Night before Eyes]. Direcred by Brigitte BERTELE, screenplay by Johanna STUTTMANN. Germany, first broadcast: October 19, 2009 (SWR).

[5] Klick gemacht [It finally clicked]. Directed by Stephan WAGNER, screenplay by Christian JELTSCH. Germany, first broadcast: November 29, 2009 (ARD).

[6] Mörderischer Frieden [Snipers Valley]. Directed by Rudolf SCHWEIGER, screenplay by Rudolf SCHWEIGER and Jan LÜTHJE. Germany, first broadcast: November 29, 2007 (in cinemas).

[7] Auslandseinsatz [Foreign deployment]. Directed by Till ENDEMANN, screenplay by Holger Karsten SCHMIDT. Germany, first broadcast: October 17, 2012 (ARD).

[8] VON HUGO, Philip. Kino und kollektives Gedächtnis: Überlegungen zum westdeutschen Kriegsfilm der fünfziger Jahre. In: Krieg und Militär im Film des 20. Jahrhunderts, CHIARI, Bernhard, ROGG, Mathiass, SCHMIDT, Wolfgang (eds.), Münich 2003, str. 453–77, p. 462.

[9] PLOWMAN, Andrew. Deserters from the Bundeswehr on Page and Screen: Shifting Cultural Meanings of an Act between Desertion from the Wehrmacht and Conscientious Objection. In: German Studies Review, May 2009, Vol. 32 Issue 2, pp. 377-395.

[10] BLEICHER, Joan K. HICKETHIER, Knut. Der Blick des Fernsehens auf die Bundeswehr. In: Die Bundeswehr 1955 bis 2005: Rückblenden – Einsichten – Perspektiven, NÄGLER, Frank (ed.), Munich 2007, pp. 269– 90.

[11] See more in: ELSHTAIN, Jean Bethke. Women and War. University of Chicago Press, 1987.

[12] ENGELKAMP, Stephan and OFFERMANN, Philipp. It`s a Family Affair: Germany as a Responsible Actor in Popular Culture Discourse. In: International Studies Perspectives, 13 (2012), pp. 235-253, pp. 241-2.

[13] Ibid., p. 242.

[14] E.g. “A German soldier knows no fear”. Willkommen zuhause, 00:25:20.

[15] Welcoming scenes from Wilkommen zuhause and Nacht vor Augen.

[16] ENGELKAMP, Stephan and OFFERMANN, Philipp. It`s a Family Affair…., p. 243.

[17] Ibid., p. 244.

[18] Tod eines Freundes, 1:23:20.

[19] ENGELKAMP, Stephan and OFFERMANN, Philipp. It`s a Family Affair…., p. 246.

[20] The beginning of both films: „Für uns gibt es keine Guten und Bösen hier. Wir verhalten uns neutral.“ [For us, there are no good and bad guys. We act neutrally.] in Mörderischer Frieden; „Niemand von Ihnen trifft vor Ort selbstständige Entscheidungen […] Mischen Sie sich niemals in die internen Angelegenheiten der Afghanen.“ [No one from you decides on site individually […] Don’t interfere in internal affairs of the Afghans] in Auslandseinsatz.

[21] PLOWMAN, Andrew. Defending Germany in the Hindukush: The `out-of-area` deployments of the Bundeswehr in Somalia, Kosovo and Afghanistan in literature and film. In: German Life and Letters, Vol. 63 Iss. 2, April 2010, pp. 212-228, p. 222.

[22] Auslandseinsatz, 0:20:00.

[23] Auslandseinsatz, 0:35:00.

[24] Ibid. PLOWMAN, Andrew. Defending Germany in the Hindukush…, p. 223.