How Are Acts of Collective Violence during War Remembered in Times of Peace? - Doing Memory By German Soldiers Returned from Combat Missions

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Kristina MEIER, Center of Methods in Social Sciences, University of Göttingen, Germany
Katharina TEUTENBERG, Center of Methods in Social Sciences, University of Göttingen, Germany
This paper is about returning soldiers, their re-integration processes, discourses in the civilian population, and the interaction between discourses and biographical self-presentations.

From the beginning of the first military operations of the Bundeswehr (the German army) in the early 1990s (e.g. in Bosnia, Kosovo or Afghanistan), these operations were referred by the German media as “peace missions” or “stabilization missions”. Government officials classified them as “military assistance”, “commitment” and “international responsibility”.

According to our empirical findings, which are based on a combination of discourse and biographical analysis, this dominant public and political discourse diverges from the reality presented by the soldiers. In our paper we will discuss the question of how everyday life and political discourses constitute the biographical self-presentations and how the discourses are perceived, modified or rejected by the biographers.

We will discuss two case studies of ex-soldiers who faced the challenge of integrating their experiences of combat missions into everyday life. It will be seen that they established different biographical repair strategies which (initially) enabled them to exclude their (traumatizing) experiences of combat missions from their own biography in order to adapt themselves to "normal" civilian life. They learned that it is necessary to keep silent about their experience of violence, to deny or trivialize it. These strategies fit the dominant discourse and present the military operations as largely harmless.

At the same time, the biographers complain of a lack of recognition and define themselves as returnees "without a voice". This self-perception fits with a relatively new counter discourse, established since 2010 by several thousand (former) soldiers, who have joined together in veterans' associations. They call themselves “New German Veterans” and fight “against forgetting” and for acknowledgement as returnees from the war. They understand themselves as "mouthpieces" of their grouping and want to "break the silence".