Modern Languages Open (Dec 2020)

The Return of the Military Memoir: The Bundeswehr Deployment to Afghanistan and the Re-Emergence of a Literary Form

  • Andrew Plowman

Journal volume & issue
no. 1


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This article examines the re-emergence of the military memoir in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) since the deployment of the Bundeswehr, the armed forces of the FRG, to Afghanistan as part of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in 2001. The resurgence of a literary form associated in the 1950s with the apologetics of officers of the Wehrmacht, Hitler’s army, and the construction of a usable Second World War past is striking. The article locates this phenomenon in a gap that has been growing since the mid-2000s between official claims about the deployment and soldiers’ perceptions of the reality on the ground. It also reads memoirs by Achim Wohlgethan, Heike Groos, Andreas Timmermann-Levanas and Robert Sedlatzek-Müller as examples of the soldiers’ dominant narratives – of the exercise of military skills and of trauma – to emerge from ISAF. These recent memoirs resemble more closely the texts by soldiers from other NATO forces and they offer a partial normalisation of a form with a problematic history in the FRG. In the face of ongoing suspicion on the part of German scholars, the article draws on a tradition of English-language scholarship to argue also for a normalisation of critical approach. What is needed is a method able to relate the texts to international scholarship about the form while remaining sensitive to the distinctive way in which, against the background of the form’s problematic history in Germany, they embody key values of the founding ideal of Bundeswehr of the soldier as a ‘Citizen in Uniform’. Tweetable Abstract: The return of the military memoir in German suggests the normalisation of a difficult form; critical approaches are urgently required to explore this.