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Fascism in German army reminiscent of dark past


Military shaken to its foundation

January 30, 1998
Web posted at: 10:26 p.m. EDT (2226 GMT)

From Correspondent Bill Delaney

BERLIN (CNN) -- A vein of fascism -- hate, bigotry, anti-semitism and senseless violence -- has been uncovered in the German armed forces, reviving images of another era when such attitudes turned all of Europe into a slaughterhouse.

Right-wing extremist incidents in the German armed forces doubled last year. According to statistics from the German parliament, there were 171 neo-Nazi incidents involving at least 200 German soldiers.

Young German soldiers captured on tape
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One case involved a videotape in which a young German soldier pretended he was a Jew who "takes Germans' money." It also included a mock execution in Bosnia, a mock rape of a Bosnian woman and a soldier who greets an officer with "Heil, Hitler!"

"If you put these incidents together you get, of course, the picture as if there is something going on in the Bundeswehr that could become dangerous," says Manfred Goertemaker of Potsdam University.

There have been so many incidents that there have been calls for German defense minister Volker Ruehe to resign.

"I thought they were really horrible videos," says Ruehe, "and we threw the soldiers out of the army, and we tried to prosecute them.

"We did everything that was legally possible. The main thing was to send a very clear signal to the soldiers that we do not tolerate this."

Military shaken to its foundation

Soldiers on drill

Statistically the incidents implicate less than 1 percent of the military, but they have nevertheless shaken it to its foundation and caused outrage throughout the country.

Germany in the late 1990s is, in most ways, very different from the Germany of the 1930s that spawned and tolerated Nazism. It is a modern state where the overwhelming majority of people are repelled by the extreme right wing.

What concerns some, however, is that the same forces that gave rise in the 1930s to fascism are at work now as well. Unemployment in Germany is now higher than it was in the 1930s, and with it is economic pain and frustration.

And, as Ruehe points out, Germany's soldiers are a product of their culture.

"The main message really is that we give very clear signals that we will not tolerate this," he said. "But every year 180,000 new conscripts come into this army, come out of society, formed by schools, formed by families ...

"But the question 'Is there reason not to trust the armed forces in general?' and it's very clear to answer. These are single cases, still, and they are not typical of the spirit of the German armed forces."

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