The debate comes at a time when allies, including the United States, are pressing Germany to send more troops into the most dangerous parts of Afghanistan.
Not only does the Bundeswehr lack medals for valor, it does not have an award comparable to the Purple Heart for wounded U.S. soldiers.
The history of the Iron Cross, designed by the German architect and painter, Karl Friedrich Schinkel, dates to 1813 and the Prussian War of Liberation against Napoleon. But it is the award’s ties to Nazi history that most people remember.
Because Hitler’s regime placed the swastika in the center of the medal’s simple black-and-silver design and handed out millions of them during World War II, the award remains off-limits for today’s army.
“The symbol was abused by the Nazis and as a result has also become a symbol for the crimes of the Wehrmacht during National Socialism,” Stephan Kramer, secretary general of the Central Council of Jews in Germany told the International Herald Tribune. Kramer said that he believed that German soldiers deserve a medal for bravery, but one with an untainted design.
German defense minister, Franz Josef Jung, plans to request a new grade for bravery of the Cross of Honor, according to a spokesman, a decoration that is presently awarded in bronze, silver and gold after five, 10 and 20 years of service respectively. Though as an exception the decorations technically can also be awarded for individual acts, the Cross of Honor is not a medal of valor. The Bundeswehr also has medals for foreign missions, based on length of deployment.
A revival of the Iron Cross is not under consideration, the defense minister’s spokesman said. But, according to a recent article in the International Herald Tribune, that is a disappointment to many, particularly in the military, who would like to see the Iron Cross revived as a symbol of pre-Nazi military tradition.
Oddly, while the Iron Cross is considered a political impossibility as a medal, the symbol remains emblazoned on everything from military vehicles to the defense ministry Web site. But that is different from an award for heroism, a concept that many still find troubling in a country where the last recognized military heroes fought for a Nazi regime responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews.
The movement to revive the Iron Cross is not a recent occurrence. It gained steam a few years ago when a young airman gathered over 5,000 signatures on an Internet petition to bring it back.
Earlier this year, the head of the Bundeswehr reservists association and a member of Parliament, Ernst-Reinhard Beck, called for a medal for bravery, adding that he would have “nothing against the Iron Cross.”