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Death, the Military and Society: Casualties and Civil-Military Relations in Germany

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The risk of being wounded or even losing ones life is part of a soldiers job description. Yet, since modern societies attach enormous value to each single life, one may assume that both the political as well as the societal legitimation of a military mission correlates with the calculation of ones own soldiers exposure to danger. In military sociology, this has been termed the casualty factor. So far, the relevance of this casualty factor for civil-military relations in Germany has not yet been closely examined, although, regrettably, the death of a German soldier in mission has increasingly become a reality due to the changes in the Bundeswehrs Mission Statement since the end of the East-West-conflict. The present study is based on six incidents in which German soldiers have come to death while on missions. It investigates and compares the reverberations their death has produced among the politicians and high-ranking soldiers responsible for the mission, and in the press. The analysis indicates that German society may be less casualty shy than commonly expected and feared. The authors offer two explanations for this finding. On the one hand, it may be the result of a process of socialization and learning. From this perspective, German society has learned from the security and political changes in the world to accept casualties among German soldiers for the right cause. On the other hand, this less-than-feared casualty shyness may indicate German societys indifference towards things military. In this vein, casualties among German soldiers are framed as a purely military affair. Further analyses are needed to assess which explanatory hypothesis is valid, and for which segments of society. The six missions investigated are the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia UNTAC the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia UNOMIG the International Security Assistance Force IISAF I in Kabul, Afghanistan ISAF II ISAF III and ISAF IV.

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  • Humanities and History
  • Psychology
  • Weapons Effects (Biological)
  • Military Forces and Organizations

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