Friday, November 20, 2009



By Kevin Stoda, Germany

American suicide rates for military personnel are setting all-time highs, but America is not the only place where PTSD and related war experiences can lead to violence. Germany is only now beginning to brace itself for the hard lessons of war and war zone experience—and how that continues to effect volunteers and their loved ones (and society) long after the battles are over.

During most of the Cold War era, no German soldiers were sent to engage in wars, battles or do international peace keeping duties until the Yugoslavian breakup of the 1990s and the end of Cambodian wars. Since that decade, German forces have been found in war zones in Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and in Africa. Since Germany sees its forces abroad as working in peacekeeping and development capacity, there has been little inclination to really face the issues of post-traumatic stress faced by its troops.

James Dunnigan wrote in August, “In the last three years, some 62,000 German troops have been stationed in combat (or peacekeeping) zones, where they can be exposed to traumatic events, the most traumatic one being not allowed to fight back.”

Dunnigan claimed that a lot of the stress had had to do with the rules of engagement (ROE) that most German, non-combat and combat troops find themselves in. “While many Germans oppose the presence of their troops in Afghanistan, the restrictive ROEs [prior to changes in August this year] had become a growing embarrassment. The thousands of German soldiers who had served in Afghanistan continued to complain about it when they returned home. And then there the growing number of soldiers coming back suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Last year, 245 German soldiers, who had served in war zones (including Afghanistan), were classified as PTSD casualties. The year before, there were only 83 PTSD casualties. The restrictive ROE caused stress. Just the thought of it can be stressful.”

Suicide attempts have not been uncommon among returnees from wherever German Peacekeepers have been, though. The Yugoslavian occupations have brought back severely strained troops to make their way in a post-military Germany.!/delta/base64xml/L2dJQSEvUUt3QS80SVVFLzZfMkZfMTQ5RQ!!?yw_contentURL=%2F01DB090200000001%2FW27VVHL9421INFODE%2Fcontent.jsp

In an article entitled, “Already Forgotten” [Schon Vergerssen], a German Bundeswehr (Military) article on the web recently talked of the work the Evangelical church is offering on behalf of returning soldiers—who are no longer helped nor covered by PTSD assistance offered by military psychologists. This lack of help for former soldiers by the Bundeswehr itself has forced many concerned former soldiers to create their own self-help organizations.

One such self-help group is named SKARABAES after the Egyptian beetle god of stong transformation or “transforming strength”. Heinz Sonnenstrahl, a former sergeant, founded the group in 2003 for those no longer serving in the military. Sonnenstrahl is particularly concerned that some of these soldiers will eventually undertake an attack on society as American’s witnessed in the recent Fort Hood massacre.

Just as Dunnigan (above) was concerned with the extra stress that Germans face often as non-combatants in a war-zone, Sonnenstrahl has noted that 8 years of war in Afghanistan is longer than the duration of WWII. He pointed out in an interview with the Left Party’s newspaper, KLAR, last week that it is quite clear that military forces are “ill-fit to fulfill the role of peacekeeper in Afghanistan”.

Sonnenstrahl notes that until now German society and its national military leaders are keeping the vast number of problems faced by war-zone returnees a bit under wraps because all of Germany’s international activities require volunteers.

Sonnestrahl claims that if knowledge of the vast problem of PTSD “were well-known, military volunteerism in Germany would be significantly adversely affected”.

Sonnenstrahl also explains that the most traumatic phases of PTSD sometimes only manifest themselves after forces have been out of Afghanistan or other war zones for a long time. Therefore, the lack of trained professional help (outside the military or Bundeswehr) after one leaves the military is a grave issue in Germany these days. The founder of SKARABAES adds, “It is often much later, after returning or leaving the military, that the total collapse for individual victims of PTSD occurs.”



Blogger Kevin Anthony Stoda said...

It should be noted that Germany is considering a transition to an all volunteer army for the first time since the 1950s.

6:53 AM  
Blogger Kevin Anthony Stoda said...

Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg is the new Defense Minister of Germany. He went to Afghanistan recently and called the job of the military was now in war zones. He wants to change German policy to allow the country now to send troops anywhere in the world--not only as peace keepers and development help.

This is a shift that has not occurred in German foreign policy since WWII

7:08 AM  

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