Germans Unsure Over Plans to Revive Iron Cross

An initiative by Germany's Secretary of Defense Franz Josef Jung to reintroduce a new medal of honor for German soldiers is turning out to be a very complex and sensitive issue and has rekindled emotions dating back to the end of World War II.

The government wants to roll out a brand new medal, since there has not been a way for the military to recognize bravery since 1945, but it is resisting calls to reintroduce the pre-World War II version of the famed Iron Cross.

The Iron Cross was handed out for acts of "extraordinary bravery" and dates to the 19th century, but was abused by the Nazi regime, and the recent debate to restore it has caused anguish and angst for many.

But others say it's time to revive the medal to it pre- WW II glory.

Ernst-Reinhard Beck, an army reserve colonel and president of the German Reservists Association, has been leading the call to bring the medal back. "A lot of fear and horror was spread under this symbol during the Nazi era,"he told ABC News," but we should reclaim the positive side of this symbol."

"Nowadays," Beck added, "the original Iron Cross, as it appears on all aircraft, ships and tanks, is identified as a sign of help and solidarity from the Balkans to Afghanistan."

The Iron Cross first appeared in 1813, when it was introduced by King Frederick Wilhelm III as an outstanding bravery medal for Prussian soldiers engaged in a "war of liberation" against Napoleon.

The medal was awarded during the subsequent Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871 and during World War 1 (1914-1918).

Its most infamous recipient was an army private by the name of Adolf Hitler, who was decorated with the Iron Cross, second class, for bravery as a dispatch runner in the trenches during the first World War.

Later in life, the Nazi leader was rarely seen without it.

The Iron Cross, which had fallen out of favor in 1918, was revived by the Nazis in 1939, albeit with a Nazi swastika embossed in the center of the medal's original simple black-and-silver design.

It was handed out as a top honor to German soldiers during World War II, but became a symbol for the war crimes of the Nazi Wehrmacht and was abolished in 1945.

The movement to revive the Iron Cross has come up many times in recent years.

"The Bundeswehr [the army] has established a tradition, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the Nazi era," said Beck, adding that Germany's participation in an international peacekeeping mission has increased in recent years.

Currently, some 9,000 German troops are stationed abroad, 10 percent of those are reservists.

A defense ministry spokesman puts speculations over proposals to reintroduce the Iron Cross, without the swastika, of course, into perspective.

"We're definitely planning to introduce a medal to honor outstanding bravery. However, reproducing the Iron Cross that was awarded during World War II has never been an option," he told ABC News.

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