2012 German Law in Context Project Ends with Keynote from German Military Attache

Brigadier General Dirk Backen

Brigadier General Dirk Backen

On Nov. 26, Brigadier General Dirk Backen will deliver the keynote for Washington and Lee’s 2012 German Law in Context Program, discussing the role of the military in contemporary Germany.

The keynote and discussion will take place at 5:00 p.m. in the Pogue Auditorium in the Marshall Museum on the campus of the Virginia Military Institute. The event is open to the public.

The German Law in Context Project is an annual research seminar led by W&L Professor Russell Miller.  The Project seeks to involve W&L students who are associated with the work of the German Law Journal in an interdisciplinary examination of German legal issues by exploring how history, politics, social institutions, the economy, and culture help illuminate and explain German law and legal doctrine.

Gen. Backen is currently the Military Attache to the German Embassy in Washington, D.C.  In that post he oversees relations between the U.S. Department of Defense and the German Ministry of Defense.  The Germany Army, Navy and Air Force are represented on his staff.

"This is an extraordinary opportunity for our students to explore a really interesting comparative law issue with one of the most knowledgeable experts on the social and political issues implicated by the German law we've studied," said Miller.

Prior to his assignment in Washington, Gen. Backen's distinguished career included service as Adjutant to the Chief of Staff of the German Armed Forces (2004-2006) and service as Chief of Staff of the 1st Armored Division of the German Armed Forces (2006-2009).  Most recently, Gen. Backen served as part of the German contingent in the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.  He assumed leadership of the Northern Regional Command (Afghanistan) after his predecessor was wounded.

"Very often, our comparative law efforts reveal dramatic differences between the U.S. and Germany," said Miller.  "The German Law in Context Project is meant to help us better understand and explain those differences."

The 2012 Program, titled "Parliament's Army:  Lessons from Germany on Law and War," began with just such a glaring difference, noted Miller.  Contrary to the robust military policy and extensive foreign military deployments that have dominated American foreign policy for the last 30 years, Germany has only cautiously flexed its military muscle in the same period.

Germany's military reluctance has been frequently noted by the media, with Time Magazine asking in a 2009 article "Will Germany's Army Ever be Ready for Battle?"  More recently, in the run-up to the 2012 NATO Summit in Chicago, German and American media and security analysts complained that “Germany’s reputation in NATO has hit rock bottom” and that “German weakness is NATO’s most significant problem.”

"Our work this semester has been two-fold," explained Miller.  "First, we wanted to know if the law had somehow contributed to this state of affairs.  Second, if the law does play a role, we wanted to know what forces in history and society helped shaped the relevant legal regime."

Alongside a number of round-table discussions of prominent German Constitutional Court cases on the topic, the seminar heard from experts in German history as well as scholars in German literature and film.  The group attended a brief theater performance of Wolfgang Bochert's anti-war play Draußen vor der Tür (The Man Outside) and held two film screenings (Die Brücke [The Bridge] [1959] and Das Boot [The Boat] [1981]).

The reference to "Parliament's Army" in the program's title acknowledges the German Constitutional Court's insistence that the German constitution makes the post-war German Army a parliamentary institution, giving the parliament sole authority over non-defensive deployments.

The 2012 German Law in Context Project involved a highly-successful collaboration between the W&L Law School, the German and Russian Department at W&L, and the Bigg's Chair in Military History at VMI.  Other faculty involved in the 2012 program include Prof. Roger Crockett (W&L German); Prof. Paul Youngman (W&L German); Prof. Bill Patch (W&L History); and Prof. Geoff Jensen (VMI History).

Past German Law in Context programs have focused on "The Immigrant in German Law and Culture," "The German Social State," and "Germany's 1968 and the Law."

For more information, please contact Prof. Russell Miller (millerra@wlu.edu).

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