German Military Tradition and the Expert Opinion on Werner Mölders: Opening a Dialogue among Scholars

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Since their foundation in 1955, the armed forces of Germany have struggled to find a compromise formula that might allow them to integrate elements of recent German military history into a corporate image which is both modern and democratic. Specific guidelines to steer this process have often been left deliberately vague, leading to some questionable choices with regards to the Bundeswehr's relationship with military personalities of the Third Reich – both living and dead. A new set of ministerial guidelines from 1982 managed to strike a practical compromise between the need to visibly disassociate the armed forces from individuals obviously at odds with the democratic system on the one hand, and the desire to maintain a tradition that still has a place for martial qualities on the other. In the late 1990s, this balanced view was increasingly challenged in a number of ways by extreme left-wing groups, with the remainder of the country's political class showing an obvious reluctance to take sides. This was partly due to the perceived need not to compromise the brittle consensus established with regards to the Bundeswehr's first overseas operations, but also the simple fact that visibly siding with a cause that is dear to the armed forces rarely makes for a vote-winner in present-day German society.

It is this article's contention that when these developments culminated in a controversy over the wisdom of using the name of World War II fighter ace Werner Mölders for Jagdgeschwader (Fighter Wing) 74, the Militärgeschichtliches Forschungsamt (MGFA; Military History Research Institute) in Potsdam discharged its duties in a manner which stands in strange contrast to its otherwise exemplary scholarly track record.

Furthermore, the article endeavors to draw attention to the fact that the expert opinion produced by the institute – and which was the main rationale for depriving JG 74 of its honorific title – has since been challenged so comprehensively by independent scholars that a stage has been reached where it is the Forschungsamt's reputation, rather than that of Werner Mölders, which is at stake.
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  • Global War Studies (GWS) is the leading international peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the study of the Second World War, 1919-1945. Published three times annually, GWS features articles and book reviews that explore a broad range of topics, including military, air power, naval, intelligence, and diplomatic history. Additionally, the journal publishes original research on weapons technology, geopolitics, home front studies, the Holocaust, resistance movements, and peacekeeping operations.
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