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An end to conformity: Jürgen Fuchs' experience of the army in Fassonschnitt (Crewcut) and Das Ende einer Feigheit (An end to cowardice)

Anette Horn (Cape Town)

The National People's Army (NVA) was the army of the German Democratic Republic and the most important part of the national defence policy formulated by the Socialist Unity Party (SED). The designation of socialist army was justified on several counts: It was the class and power instrument of the worker and peasant state that protected the socialist fatherland against all enemies of socialism; it was part of the military alliance of socialist states in the Warsaw Pact; it cooperated closely with the Soviet Army; it fulfilled its revolutionary class mission under the leadership of the SED and was constantly prepared to act according to its decisions; finally its tasks and self-perception were based upon a unified military doctrine. The NVA was a voluntary army until January 1962 when universal conscription was introduced.1 The SED maintained its leadership of the NVA throughout its reign and regarded this as well as its membership of the Warsaw Pact as reasons for its successful development into a socialist army.

The members of the army had to pledge the following oath of allegiance which sums up their total commitment to the army, the SED and ultimately to the dominance of the Soviet Union: "I swear: To serve the German Democratic Republic, my fatherland, loyally at all times and to protect it against any enemy on the orders of the worker and peasant government. / I swear: To be ready at all times as a soldier of the National People's Army on the side of the Soviet Army and the armies of our allied socialist countries to defend socialism against all enemies and to lend myself unreservedly to the pursuit of victory. / I swear: To be an honest, brave, disciplined and vigilant soldier, to show absolute obedience to my military superiors, to follow their orders unreservedly and to strictly guard military and state secrets at all times." (DDR 589) Although this allegiance might be reasonably expected of a soldier during war-time, it extended to peace-time as well, with repeated call-ups being the norm. The army insinuated itself into all aspects of everyday civilian life, suspending the normal human rights such as the right to the freedom of expression. It thus seems justified to speak of a militarized society.2

The term militarism with its emphasis on war-like values is replaced by militarization in modern Western societies. The term militarization is used wherever the boundary between the military and civil society becomes murky.3 Areas of civilian life that have recently become militarized include the entertainment and service industries, the role of intellectuals and gender relations.

The trend towards militarization which has been analysed in Western societies also manifested itself in the GDR since the late fifties. This is exemplified by a military decree of 1959 which aimed to garner the best men and women for the army and to mobilise the entire civil society: "The work of the party organisation mainly encompasses the area of political-ideological training, the enforcement of party decisions in military practice and the initiation and leadership of competition, which started in 1959 as the 'movement of the best' and has continued since 1961, justified by the command for competition by the minister of national defence, as constant mobilisation, as a campaign for utilising all personal and material reserves for the sake of fulfilling the tasks in the military." (DDR 590) This is ample proof of how the distinction between the military and civil society, represented by the SED, became blurred. The only difference between militarization Western and GDR style seems to lie in the way the SED used the army much more openly as its instrument of power not against an outside enemy but against its own people. The class enemy beyond the borders of the GDR became the enemy within the country. What the party feared most, was any criticism of its own policies by workers, students and intellectuals. It tried to prevent any opposition from these groups along the lines of the workers' strike in June 1953 or the Petöfi-Club in Hungary in 1956 or the Prague spring of 1968 by co-opting the best among them into the Party, the army or the Stasi. This policy created a set of contradictions within those institutions as the more critically minded tried to change them from within. So the Party had to revert to the carrot-and-stick method in order to control any opposition.

It seems as if Jürgen Fuchs who was born in 1950 in Reichenbach in Vogtland fulfilled the criteria of this movement of the best. He was the son of a worker who excelled at school, showed literary promise from an early age, completed an apprenticeship at the railways and enrolled as a student of psychology at the University of Jena in 1971. As a precondition for study he had to do two years of military service from 1969 which was the year after the NVA had joined the Soviet Army in suppressing the brief flowering of democracy in Prague under Dubcek. In his autobiographical account of his days in the army in 1969 in Fassonschnitt (Crewcut) (1984) and of four years later in the novel Das Ende einer Feigheit (An End to Cowardice) (1988), Fuchs remembers the deployment of troops to Zwickau, Johanngeorgenstadt and Plauen on the German-Czech border.4 He feels guilty about the interference of his army in the affairs of a brotherly state. He secretly identifies with the aims of the Prague spring, although the official Party line branded it a counter-revolution. In An End to Cowardice he grapples with the contradictions and ambivalences of his own stance towards the socialist system in the GDR, which he supports in its utopian vision, but which he would also like to change in some key areas such as its apparent disregard for human rights.

One of the major concerns of Fuchs' two army novels is the way it turns ordinary human beings into 'real men' who will fight for their 'fatherland'. He analyses the continuity between this attitude towards 'masculinity' and the militaristic attitude of the generation of his father who fought in the national socialist army. Underneath a thin veneer of prescribed anti-fascism this authoritarian socialisation had survived unchallenged in the GDR. In West Germany the militaristic ideals of the Nazi period were questioned through the student revolution, while the hippie-generation in the US protested against the Vietnam war, demonstrating their disdain for the establishment with long, untamed hair, rock 'n roll, the use of drugs and free love. The authorities in the GDR tried to prevent this rebellious spirit from igniting their own youth, but their contempt of the hippies as the embodiment of Western decadence made them all the more desirable in the eyes of the GDR rebels. The wearing of long hair (at least anything that exceeded the narrowly circumscribed lengths of the military crewcut) and the music of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones became a symbol of protest against a restrictive socialist system. In the following passage, Fuchs plays these opposing codes of masculinity off against each other:

'To look like a Beatle', this often meant: like a hobo, a pig, an asocial element, like a Westerner. Every word was used as a swear word ... A lot of things clashed. Our fathers grew up under the care of sergeants and power-obsessed corporals who occasionally slept in campbeds with an eye on the masses. Their ideal of beauty was masculine, decent, proper, deployable by the troops. It did its duty and normally achieved the superhuman with its utmost strength, radiant and blonde, hand at the holster or near the genitals. Our new socialist leaders also have the heroic look in their eyes. One can see this on photos and paintings. They are all chairmen and general secretaries, team captains and achievers, heroes and good comrades. Their faces of endurance with the hard or good-natured corners of their mouths are thoroughly compatible with binoculars, footballs, razor blades, space capsules and the hatches of tanks. They swear an oath and arrive at their goal. They have their will and serve loyally. This then collides with certain hermaphroditic creatures who lounge in front of the TV and watch the 'Beatclub', who listen to jazz and won't iron their pants. They are bastards, renegades, dissidents and Angloamerican hippies, who hang out on the streets, listen to loud music and lie in bed with full-busomed women for weeks on end, because they are allegedly for peace, which they don't want to defend with weapons out of cowardice. That's where the fun ends ... and it is true: That's where the fun really ended. They became serious. This old, stubborn seriousness. (F 66f.)

The German ideal of militaristic masculinity can be traced back further than national socialism to the foundation of the German nation state in the Prussian army. The Prussian militaristic ethic is best encapsulated in Clausewitz's belief that war brought out the best in man and was thus an agent for improving society or as he would have it, the race. The same blind loyalty and subservience of the soldier in war was also expected of the civil servant in the Prussian bureaucracy during peace. This culminated in the spirit of submissiveness of the Wilhemine era which Heinrich Mann had identified as one of the underlying causes of the rise of national-socialism in Germany. It is perhaps ironic that the ruling party of the GDR came to rely so heavily on this entrenched spirit of militarism and authoritarianism in the state bureaucracy it inherited.

In the GDR, militarization also manifested itself in the state institutions. The Party, the army, school and the young pioneers were intertwined. These institutions served as ideological state apparatuses that turned individuals into disciplined and controllable subjects. Fuchs has no illusions about their function when he asks: "Where does the state appear in its naked form? Where does the real meaning behind preambles, phrases and stilted words become clear? In prisons, mental asylums, barracks, schools. In the clerk's offices of small stations. When doors are opened and shut. When the supervisor appears in his blue dustcoat. When the stickler for rules yells and looks for dust on the lampshades and behind soldiers' cupboards. When an 'intake' is carried out 'at station', the handing over of personal utensils, the allocation of the room, the cell, the 'lockerroom', as it was called in the official jargon of the prison regulations of the Stalinists." (D 5)

These institutions were based on the militaristic principle by which the majority, the comrades, turned against the deviants, the outsiders, the dissidents whom they stigmatised as 'weaklings'. The aim of this subtle means of coercion was not to isolate the dissidents even further, however, but to bring them back into the fold of the 'normal' socialist community. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Stasi, which spied on everyone including the spies themselves to ensure a homogeneous society where everyone owed blind allegiance to the party, the aptly named Socialist Unity Party. This led to a paranoid situation, as Joachim Walther points out in his seminal work on the methods the Stasi employed to observe writers, artists and intellectuals.5 The trust, which bound the party and the community together was undermined not by a perceived outside enemy but by their own distrust of each other and eventually, themselves. This stems from the fear of letting go of the tried and tested formulas of Marx, Engels and Lenin and responding actively to change. It marks the difference between an authoritarian and a democratic form of socialism.

Fuchs describes his headmaster Uebel, who had previously led a cadet-school, as an example of the Prussian-socialist militarism he abhors:

It was the year 1961; I don't even have to mention militarisation.
He was a man, by the way, whom -- in some respects -- I saw differently then than later, even today. Certainly a lot in him was reprehensible to me; he, the Prussian-socialist officer, and I, the individualist with all my obstinacy. For him, education was mainly about a scheme, norms, conditioning. That applied to intellectual work, for example the demand for the slavish imitation of his work-style, down to the colour of his underlinings, but above all these assemblies, for example the marching exercises before the first of May and so on, in fact his military style.
(D 27)

What Fuchs respects about his former headmaster, though, is that he set very high intellectual standards and that he allowed his pupils to find out things for themselves. He also notices that he was never directly involved in interrogations by the education authorities who showed an interest in any deviant pupil. It is such complex and contradictory behaviour that renders any quick dismissal of the socialist system in the GDR as a monolithic dictatorship problematic.

Fuchs explores the avenues of resistance available to a recruit in a military system that did not tolerate any opposition. The National People's Army Every had the prerogative to conscript any young man it deemed fit for the military service. "'Military training, obligatory', preprinted on page 52 in the student's register: 'Confirmation of participation in the military, paramilitary and air force training.' A stamp from the directorate for education and training underneath, an overall mark is to be allocated. Date, signature." (EF 7) Military service is a prerequisite for further study, although with its absurd and mindless routine it seems the very antithesis of study. Yet Fuchs knows that the Party would not accept his argument that he had done his military service already: "I have served already, I know it already, saluting, standing to attention, cleansing weapons, cleaning boots, I know it already, one could not say that, if one wanted to continue studying in the new year." (EF 7) So it is back to the routine in the army, where the recruits kill time by playing cards, packing their clothes, chatting. The first-person narrator addresses them as "fellow-students, students, soldiers" and continues in a more questioning tone: "Comrades? Friends? EK's?" (EF 6) The second time in the army he starts a little black notebook in which he keeps track of his experiences: "To make this army, this peace my topic. If I am courageous enough. If I am lucky. Will there be a time to describe calmly what I have seen and hastily noted down, whom I met, here and in Johanngeorgenstadt, in Plauen, when my 'term' started? What was spoken about and how. The faces, the names, their stories." (EF 8) His writings in the army enable him to distance himself from his immediate day to day experiences. Eventually he plucks up enough courage to oppose not only the army, but to break through the conformity that is expected of every citizen in the GDR.

He observes his fellow soldiers closely but sympathetically both in their activities on the training field and in the barracks. At the beginning of An end to cowardice Pilz is overjoyed because he has completed his military service and is going home. He is, "tall, over two metres, broad, he wears grey braces on his baggy uniform-pants". Schonwald repeats Pilz' cry of 'Going home, boys, going home!' while he continues his game of skat. He is described as "an amateur radio operator, chemistry student like Pilz, round face, frizzy hair, medium build, fat, very loud voice, 'eighteen, twenty ...'". Schenck, his skat partner "passes, technology section, he hardly talks, listens, reads car magazines, compares technical data. His brother is an opera singer in Eisenach. When he says 'opera singer' he smiles, it is a friendly, sheepish smile: I cannot help it, just another career, singing ... Schonwald wins the game, Grand Hand." The background noises are the only reminder that this scene is acted out in the army: "On the corridor doors are slamming." (EF 6) For Fuchs these seemingly insignificant noises, such as the slamming of doors, and the tone in which the sergeants speak to the ordinary soldiers become symptomatic of the far wider reaching social ills of militarism and authoritarianism.

The army did not make provision for conscientious objectors be it on religious or moral grounds. Fuchs describes how a Christian conscientious objector with long hair and guitar is singled out and ostracised by the army officers.6 He also witnesses the suicide of a soldier while a football game is in progress. The army authorities try to underplay this incident by putting it down to the soldier's disposition. Through incidents such as these, he begins to question the ideology of the army and realises that he upholds it simply by being a part of the system. He accuses himself for his own readiness to participate in the system: "Again you were on hand. Eight o'clock next to the entrance door of the old university, not far from the Schiller-House, universal history. Again it was November. How is this story going to continue? Small, silly, as repitition? In the completely new, different time. A truck arrives, climb up. Peace corps, corps of honour, reserve, socialist combat training, it doesn't stop, returns again and again. As long as you join them, are available, participate. That's how long it will return. After the last day comes a first day. As long as you participate. You know that, it ocurred to you this evening, on the double-storey bunk with a view of the steel mattress above you, a few hours before departure, that's when it ocurred to you." (EF 37) But this realisation also carries a risk which the recruit might not be willing to take out of fear for the state's reprisals: "What will happen, if you don't cooperate here? What will they do to you? Any number of things. There is a price. Consider it carefully. There will be consequences. There are still other regions, other camps, other bunks. The street, the white and red boom of transition." (EF 37) In the end, the knowledge that a secret defiance would be cowardly, triumphs over his fear: "Counting the days does not help. Being against it secretly does not help. Saying no. Writing down, what you see and hear. Attacks of doubt. Making everything unclear, tearing it up, burning it down. Lifting it into the general. Putting it into historical perspective. Becoming lyrical. Continuing the double game. But it is over. You know, that it is over. What is written in black note books can no longer be withdrawn. The NDL [the most influential literary journal in the GDR] will not print it. Another kind of print will begin, if you show it, another chapter. One with files, summons and small lockable rooms. / Fear. / One's own way. / An end to cowardice." (EF 38)

Both novels are autobiographical and documentary in nature, a genre that was popularized in the sixties and seventies by Weiss, Enzensberger, and Wallraff amongst others. It seems to me that Wallraff is the best comparison in the case of Fuchs, since he also uses the first-person narrator in his documentary fiction. The tension between the desire for subjective authenticity and the need for objective distance that characterise the documentary genre create complex contradictions and ambivalences. How far is the writer allowed to follow his or her imagination and when does an account stop being a documentary and starts becoming fiction? The question of self-censorship was particularly pertinent to critical writers in the GDR, as they constantly had to walk a tight-rope between being truthful and avoiding the scissors of the censor:

What I am writing down, I am not even allowed to think. And reading it to others, giving it to others to read? 'I' is only the 'I-narrator', not me, I could say. The philosopher recognises himself ... The only thing I can be sure of is the reference to my literary intention. 'They are after all only images', Kafka claimed. He was a clerk in an office, wrote about castles and locked rooms, about America ... I am a soldier, subject to hard laws, everything can be held against me. Where does it come from, to scribble every day in note books ... I am only carrying out something ... The topic, the observations are stronger than the fear of the author for himself. Specht knows something. I trust him. Someone who has read Brecht that closely cannot be an informant. And Measures Taken? Brecht is also terrifying. Carola Neher ... his relationship with the Sowjet Union, with Stalinism, his silence ... Somehow he always keeps his nose clean. Or is that deceptive? Tucholsky and Borchert are closer to me. Writing as a last counter-attack. My writings break down any personal defence. Whoever reads that, knows what I am thinking. Excuses are useless. Observing the 'Difficulties in Saying and Writing the Truth'? I cannot make up stories under these circumstances. I have great difficulties with changing or omitting names. Something prevents me from taking detours. Perhaps I am tired, the disappointment about myself is huge. If I use disguises I cannot get rid of the pressure. I want to get rid of the guilt I feel. Another pressure rises, a danger increases. Indifferent? Doesn't matter? Attacks of fear. Throw the paper into the rubbish bin? Railway lines. Better to write, to risk it. I want to risk it. (EF 110f.)

Self-censorship is the suppression of thoughts and words that one fears will incur reprisals by the state. It makes the censor superfluous, because one is carrying him in one's own head. Self-censorship can also take the form of doubting one's own literary ability, so one doesn't even begin to write. In the following, the narrator calculates his risks and chances:

Anyone writing about the NVA, terrible abbreviation, must reckon with the military state attorney ... Will my stories find readers? Will anyone ever speak publicly of 'stories', of 'prose', not of 'material' and 'miserable efforts'? Anyone describing the fear, the uniformity, that which is printed, the conformity, can he count on friendly readers willing to engage in debate (I am not referring to the Stasi now)? What I describe still has power. If it is over, maybe then. And in foreign countries? (The next paragraph, distribution beyond the country's boundaries. I have no idea, don't know anyone, haven't undertaken anything! There are armies everywhere ... A small, distant interest ... a matter of taste ... the cultural section in the papers ... Eastern Europe ... (EF 111)

Fuchs has called the dedication to 'high art' a kind of censorship and self-censorship which instead of calling a spade a spade reverts to 'slave language' (a term coined by Victor Klemperer in his analysis of the language of the Third Reich). It selects from and alludes to an oppressive system by means of metaphors and symbols because it fears reprisals for a more direct depiction of 'reality'.

Fuchs holds the radical dictum that the private is the political. He characterizes his notes in his exercise books as follows:

Entries, scraps, verse, stories, quotes, violations, observations, dialogues, ruptures, memories. Days in the life of the recruit F., who is one amongst many. Who says I, because it concerns everybody. And because it concerns him. I, I, I, that's what he wants to say. And honestly, not for nothing, not lost. Maybe revenge is involved, to photocopy this here, the desire for a 'reciprocal justice' ... (EF 8)

Biography is not simply shaped by circumstances but also through the active choices of the individual. It is a case of filling the blank spaces of time with a meaning that one would later be willing, even proud to identify with. This requires courage: "The months pass, the weeks, the days, the hours pass and return. There is counting, enduring, ducking, accepting. Not to think of the next appointment. I am thinking about it. The little animal in the mill runs and runs, wants to escape. There is no escape, that is the course of events. Is that my biography?" (EF 8f.)

J.M. Coetzee in Truth in Autobiography has raised the vexed question of how much truth the writer is able to bear about him - or herself. In this way, the autobiographical text not only becomes an interrogation about a hostile socialist system, but also a self-interrogation of one's own motives and desires that could become potentially more damaging than originally intended. I would argue that the autobiographical text sets up its own rules and limits about what is spoken of and what is left unsaid and that this contract is brokered with the reader. It therefore becomes an indicator of wide-reaching social and political changes, in which the individual instead of an anonymous mass led by a hierarchically structured party is seen as an important agent of change. The student's and women's movement in West Germany and the peace movement in the GDR are examples of this alternative structuring of power.

Documentary literature in West Germany has itself renegotiated the parameters of what is regarded as 'authentic' or 'real' rather than of what is 'true' or 'false' in the old Lukacsian realist mould, which became the model for the officially sanctioned method of 'socialist realism' in the GDR. Individual or subjective factors are now seen as an integral part of 'realist' fiction. This is all the more remarkable for an author from the GDR where the subjective recording of everyday reality was regarded as a form of 'low' literature probably because it cast the existing system of socialism in an ambivalent light. It insisted on showing reality in both its positive and negative aspects. There were, however, precursors, such as Christa Wolf's Reflecting on Christa T. ('Nachdenken über Christa T.'), which strengthened Fuchs in his resolve to trust his own perceptions.



F: Fuchs, Jürgen, Fassonschnitt. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt 1989 (1984)

EF: Fuchs, Jürgen, Das Ende einer Feigheit. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt 1992 (1988)

D: Fuchs, Jürgen,und Gerhard Hieke, Dummgeschult? Ein Schüler und sein Lehrer. Basisdruck. Berlin 1992.

GV: Fuchs, Jürgen, Gedächtnisprotokolle. Vernehmungsprotokolle. rororo. Reinbek bei Hamburg 1990.

DDR: DDR-Handbuch. Wissenschaftliche Leitung: Peter Christian Ludz unter Mitwirkung von Johannes Kuppe. Herausgegeben vom Bundesministerium für innerdeutsche Beziehungen. Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik. Köln 1975.

Berghahn, Volker R., Militarism: The History of an International Debate 1861-1979. Warwickshire: Berg Publishers 1981.

Coetzee, J.M., 'Truth in Autobiography.' In: Ibid, Doubling the Point. Edited by David Attwell. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England 1992.

Enloe, Cynthia, "Beyond Steve Canyon and Rambo: Feminist Histories of Militarized Masculinity." In: The Militarization of the Western World. (Ed. by) John R. Gillis. New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press 1989.

Regan, Patrick M., Organizing Societies for War. The Process and Consequences of Societal Militarization. Westport, Connecticut, London: Praeger 1994.

Walther, Joachim, Sicherungsbereich Literatur. Schriftsteller und Staatsicherheit in der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik. Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag 1996.

Wolf, Christa, Nachdenken über Christa T.



1 DDR-Handbuch, p. 587.
2 Ironically the East German Marxistisch-Leninistisches Wörterbuch defined militarism as a "reactionary and aggressive system of domination and organization in social orders based on exploitation" in which "economic, social and cultural life is subjected to a military clique which views military force and war in particular as the main instrument for the realization of an aggressive policy". Volker R. Berghahn, Militarism: The History of an International Debate 1861-1979. Warwickshire: Berg Publishers 1981, p. 3.
3 See Patrick M. Regan, Organizing Societies for War. The Process and Consequences of Societal Militarization. Westport, Connecticut, London: Praeger 1994; and Cynthia Enloe, "Beyond Steve Canyon and Rambo: Feminist Histories of Militarized Masculinity." In: The Militarization of the Western World. (Ed. by) John R. Gillis. New Brunswick and London: Rutgers University Press 1989, p. 119-140.
4 "Once before special trains had stood ready, in Zwickau, Johanngeorgenstadt, Plauen, in sixtynine, four years ago." (EF 6)
5 Walther, Joachim, Sicherungsbereich Literatur. Schriftsteller und Staatsicherheit in der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik. Berlin: Ch. Links Verlag 1996.
6 Klammer's quiet defiance of the regulation army crewcut provides an example for Fuchs. Although the army authorities set him up as an object of ridicule, the recruits "are rather envious of him, with a measure of respect and admiration mixed in". See Fassonschnitt, p. 66.


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