Comparative Studies in Society and History

Research Article

Soldiers, Citizens, and the State: East German Army Officers in Post-Unification Germany

Andrew Bickforda1

a1 Anthropology, George Mason University

Despite official narratives of a relatively smooth transition, of the merging of “those things which belong together,” German unification and the formation of a new German state has been an uneven project filled with friction and animosity. While the West German government celebrated the “victory” of unification, and stated that all East Germans wanted unification, one group of East Germans did not look forward to the dissolution of the GDR: members of the East German military, the Nationale Volksarmee (National People's Army, or NVA). Disbanded immediately upon unification, the overwhelming majority of NVA officers were left unemployed overnight, stripped of their status as officers and portrayed by the West Germans as the “losers” of the Cold War. For these men, unification was not a joyous, desired event; rather, it represented the end of their careers, security, status, and the state they had sworn to defend. As such, the “fall” into democracy for these men was from the start fraught with uncertainty, disappointment, anomie, and a profound sense of loss.


Acknowledgments: This project was made possible by generous grants from the Social Science Research Council Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, the Wenner Gren Foundation, Fulbright IIE, and the Woodrow Wilson Institute. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of these granting agencies and institutions. I would like to thank Gabrielle Fisher, Paige West, J. C. Salyer, Catherine Lutz, Roger Lancaster, Lesley Gill, Melissa Fisher, Susan Terrio, David Vine, Susan Trencher, Linda Seligmann, Jeff Mantz, and Katie Rogers for their helpful suggestions. I would also like to thank the three anonymous CSSH reviewers for their comments and critiques, and David Akin at CSSH for a smooth and helpful editorial process, all of which made this a much stronger article.