Germany’s military has long visited schools in an effort to drum up interest in the armed forces as a career option. Politicians in the capital, Berlin, could be asked if it's time for the Bundeswehr to beat a retreat.
Berlin's Social Democrats (SPD) were on the defensive on Monday over a proposal to ban the German military from using schools to recruit future members.
The center-left party is seeking a ban on Bundeswehr (unified armed forces) recruitment in the city's schools, claiming that the risks of signing up might not be made clear to young people.
A Berlin SPD party conference on Saturday voted to ask members of the state parliament to add a clause to a state education act.
"It is forbidden for military organizations to promote service and work for the military sector in Berlin schools," the clause read.
In its reasoning, the Berlin SPD said that the pupils — as the target group — were at an age at which their values still needed to be developed.
"Accordingly, they are vulnerable to military propaganda and trivializing the real dangers of military deployment."
The decision drew some criticism, with SPD lawmaker and vice president of the German Bundestag Thomas Oppermann saying he was "appalled."
"Soldiers deserve our respect," tweeted Oppermann, stressing that the army was a democratic army that served parliament. "Whoever decides such nonsense should themselves keep away from our schools."
The Berlin SPD hit back saying it was "astounding” that Oppermann appeared to have based his opinion on a media report rather then its original proposal.
In its document, the SPD group drew attention to five deaths as a result of military service in 2017. Other potential consequences were not pointed out to pupils, it said, such as the potential psychological consequences of foreign assignments. Suicide rates, it said, were considerably higher among former soldiers than in the rest of the population.
But it also stressed the importance of Germany's military. "The Bundeswehr, as a parliamentary army, serves the defense of the Federal Republic of Germany," the proposal said." This is as necessary as ever. However, with the recruitment of minors into schools it clearly oversteps the limits of its area of competence."
For the ban to go ahead, the SPD would need the agreement of state representatives from both the Green and the Left party, with which it rules as a coalition in the state parliament.
In January, figures from the German defense ministry showed that the army had recruited 20 percent fewer minors in 2018 compared to the previous year.