Bid to restore Iron Cross divides Germany - Europe - World - The Independent

Bid to restore Iron Cross divides Germany

Germany has launched an anguished and widening debate over proposals to reintroduce the Iron Cross – virtually in its original form – as a military decoration that could be awarded throughout the armed services in recognition of "outstanding bravery".

The Iron Cross still rates as Germany's most famous military insignia, but its role has been reduced to that of a black and white emblem on the aircraft, tanks and warships of the post-war armed forces. It was dropped as a medal in 1945.

Adolf Hitler claimed it was the happiest day of his life when he received the familiar black and silver cross and, although banned as a medal for the past 63 years, any Second World War film would be unthinkable without the decoration appearing on the tunic of some jackbooted general.

Ernst-Reinhard Beck, who is a conservative MP in Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, an army reserve colonel and president of the Army Reservists' Association, said reintroducing the cross was justified because of Germany's new military role abroad.

He conceded that "terror and fear" had been inflicted on nations under the sign of the Iron Cross during the Second World War, but added that the symbol was now a "sign of help and solidarity" as a result of the German army's presence in the Balkans and Afghanistan.

Avoiding mention of the criticism to which Germany is subjected by some of its Nato allies because of its reluctance to commit troops to fight in southern Afghanistan, he added: "Soldiers abroad are always ready to risk their lives and their health to ensure their mission is fulfilled. I can well imagine a new medal taking the form of the Iron Cross as an award for special courage, bravery and achievements."

He said the desire to see the return of the cross was widespread in the armed forces. Soldiers felt that existing military medals were not good enough as many were simply awarded for length of service. More than 5,000 Germans signed a petition last year which called for return of the Iron Cross.

Although its reintroduction is opposed by the Greens and many Social Democrats, supporters point out that the emblem is not synonymous with Nazism. The award was introduced in 1813 by King Frederick Wilhelm III as an outstanding-bravery medal for Prussian soldiers engaged in a "war of liberation" against Napoleon. The medal was awarded during the subsequent Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 and during the First World War, when its most infamous recipient was Private Adolf Hitler, decorated with the Iron Cross second class for bravery as a dispatch runner in the trenches. Hitler described the day of the award as the happiest of his life and as Nazi leader he was rarely seen without it.

Although the medal fell out of favour after 1918, Hitler revived it in 1939 – albeit with a Nazi swastika embossed on its middle. Despising Germany's other First World War medal, the Blue Max, as it could only be awarded to officers, he favoured the Iron Cross which was open to all.

Franz Josef-Jung, Germany's conservative Defence Minister, said yesterday he was in favour of introducing a medal for "extraordinary bravery". However, politicians from the other parties were less enthusiastic. Rainer Arnold, a leading Social Democrat, dismissed bringing back the cross. "Given the legacy of Hitler and the Second World War, the medal is too burdened by the past for it to be reintroduced," he said.

Elke Hoff, a military specialist for the liberal Free Democrats party, referred to surveys on the German armed services which showed that many soldiers smoked too much, were unfit and were inadequately equipped in the field: "It would be better to provide soldiers abroad with the equipment they really need," she said.

Whether German soldiers will soon be sporting the Iron Cross again remains an open question. Although proposals for a medal to reward outstanding bravery were officially sanctioned by President Horst Köhler, the Defence Ministry's position was unclear. "We have not decided what the new medal should look like," a spokesman said, "However at no time did we consider reintroducing the Iron Cross that was awarded during the Second World War."

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Life and Style
tech... and together they're worth at least £100 million
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig is believed to be donning skies as 007 for the first time
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
Life and Style
Bono and Apple CEO Tim Cook announced U2's surprise new album at the iPhone 6 launch
tech(but you can't escape: Bono is always on your iPhone)
Sport
Tim Wiese
sport
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Manager with some Agile experience

£45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

Data/ MI Analyst

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

KS1 Teacher Cornwall

£23500 - £40000 per annum: Randstad Education Plymouth: Randstad Education Ltd...

Corporate Communications Manager - London - up to £80,000

£60000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Corporate Marketing Communications M...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week