German Military Propaganda War
When German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg took office, he soon publicized a two-pronged agenda to revolutionize postwar German thinking regarding its military forces.
On the one hand he promised a complete overhaul of Germany’s Bundeswehr, and on the other, the need to mount initiatives to change the public’s attitude toward the military.
In pursuit of the first goal, Guttenberg had within short time used the Kunduz affair as the opportunity to remove some unwanted senior defense and military personnel and then moved on to eliminate conscription as the prime means of maintaining personnel strength.
Now that the transition to a professional German Army is advancing rapidly under Guttenberg’s leadership—in tandem with nato’s new strategic concept—he is quickly working on enhancing the Bundeswehr’s image in the public’s eye.
German-Foreign-Policy.com recently reported that “With the help of ‘peace researchers’ and social scientists, the Bundeswehr has launched its ‘media war to influence public opinion.’ In modern propagandistic terms this is an Internet ‘security politics reader.’ It calls on the ‘opinion makers’ in German society to win over the public for Bundeswehr public relations purposes” (February 17, translation ours).
German-Foreign-Policy.com points out, “In the ‘reader’ there are not only analyses from army staff, but also contributions from leading employees of government-related think tanks, many university professors and so-called peace researchers.”
This represents a wide-ranging effort to harness top thinkers within the German community who are familiar with the national mindset and ways and means of influencing it in one direction or another. They are involved in shaping the approach of Germany’s defense elites to enact changes in their public relations strategy to minimize Germans’ postwar fear of their nation being involved in war. The objective is to create a collective national mindset in support of sending German troops into active combat once again.
In this respect, Defense Minister Guttenberg instigated the greatest postwar public relations coup for the Bundeswehr when he clearly indicated, shortly after gaining office, that German troops were actually engaged at war in Afghanistan. He was the first postwar German politician with the political courage to make such a statement.
German-Foreign-Policy.com further states, “The ‘reader’ says that since the German population does not stand behind the Bundeswehr ‘with a patriotic mind’ like in other countries, ‘pro-active media politics’ must be adopted. Thus the press is ‘part of the battlefield’ and must be used ‘from within to influence the outside’” (ibid.).
The Bundeswehr’s propaganda campaign is gearing up just as Defense Minister Guttenberg faces fiery criticism from Germany’s opposition parties concerning allegations of plagiarism in his 2007 doctoral thesis. Yet Guttenberg stoically presses on with his decisive agenda.
“Amid the biggest overhaul of the German military since World War ii, Mr. zu Guttenberg said he faces pressing duties ‘that I will continue to execute and fulfill with the sense of responsibility that I have up to now’” (Dow Jones, February 23).
Guttenberg’s confidence appears unshaken amid the smear campaign mounted against him by the left. In essence he is his own best public relations man. This is witnessed to by the fact that despite the opposition attacks, he remains as popular as ever. As Dow Jones observes: “[H]eavy coverage of the scandal appears to have done little to turn an admiring public against him. In a poll released by Stern magazine Wednesday, 70 percent of respondents said the allegations hadn’t changed their opinion of Mr. zu Guttenberg’s trustworthiness, and 73 percent said he should remain in office—including a majority of respondents who identified themselves as members of the opposition spd, Green and Left parties” (ibid.).
Having once worked for the Bild newspaper as a journalist, Guttenberg is well acquainted with the machinery of the press and mass media, and especially familiar with how to use it to best advantage.
At this point there is little evidence to indicate anything other than that most of Germany’s rather left-leaning mass media pundits are interested in playing up allegations of misbehavior by the defense minister.
Yet Guttenberg has the two segments of the nation that are most important to his political survival overwhelmingly in favor of him—the army and the public. It’s now just up to him to survive these latest politically motivated attacks by those most jealous of this support: his political enemies on the left.
The signs are that Guttenberg could well survive to achieve his two prime goals within the two-year time frame he has set: revolutionary change to Germany’s fighting forces to bring them up to top professional ranking, and a public mindset in clear, patriotic support.