Episode 12: Memorializing Afghanistan: German and American Experiences
The United States, along with Germany and many U.S. allies, have been at war in Afghanistan for 18 years. It is the longest-running military operation in either country’s history and has had dramatic impacts on both the United States and Germany.
The war has created a legacy in both countries. The U.S. is accustomed to using force in extreme circumstances to confront security threats and challenges. It has an abundant infrastructure that addresses some of the consequences of the conflict and memorializes it in the public consciousness: federal programs to care for and support veterans; public recognition through military recognitions and awards; and most recently, legislation to build a “Global War on Terrorism Memorial.” At the same time, public support for the ongoing U.S. deployment in Afghanistan is waning. Some refer to Afghanistan and Iraq as “forever wars,” which encapsulates the problem: there are limits to what U.S. power can achieve. Regardless of those doubts, the U.S. public is overwhelmingly supportive of the troops deployed abroad, regardless of how individual Americans feel about that military action.
For Germany, sending troops to Afghanistan is a development unique in its postwar history. The country is not used to sending large numbers of soldiers into situations where there may be combat or loss of life. How German society and politics understands and memorializes these actions is also a new challenge, given a general public reluctance to support interventions abroad. In Germany’s political system, leaders have repeatedly had to justify the country’s involvement in military operations.
How does Germany memorialize its experience in Afghanistan? What does that memory say about German society, its media, and the political system? On this episode of The Zeitgeist, Jeff Rathke talks with Dr. Axel Heck about how the conflict has shaped political discourse in Germany and the lasting impact it will have.
Jeff Rathke, President, AICGS
Axel Heck, DAAD/AICGS Research Fellow and senior lecturer in International Relations at Kiel University