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The first Minister of Defense failed due to three almost impossible tasks

The defense department is considered the “hottest chair in the cabinet” in Germany.

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The first Minister of Defense failed due to three almost impossible tasks

The defense department is considered the “hottest chair in the cabinet” in Germany. Only one of the 19 incumbents, namely Helmut Schmidt, gained political power after his time there. Two of his successors, Manfred Wörner and Ursula von der Leyen, were deported to NATO or the EU, but were nevertheless given influential posts there. For seven other defense ministers, this office effectively means the end of their political careers, including Rudolf Scharping, Franz-Josef Jung and Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg.

Bad karma has stuck with the resort since its first owner. On October 26, 1950, Theodor Blank was officially appointed by the federal government as "the Federal Chancellor's representative for questions relating to the increase in Allied troops". A stretched title that was actually unnecessary. Because even in the autumn of 1950 it was anything but a secret what his task was to be: to build up a West German army.

His office, which was formally attached to the Chancellery until 1955 and was only then officially renamed the Federal Ministry of Defence, was almost coyly named “Amt Blank” after him. From the beginning it was clear that he had taken on an almost impossible task.

Because Federal Chancellor Konrad Adenauer aimed for the fastest possible integration of the newly founded Federal Republic into a Western alliance - but the legal and factual status of West Germany in 1950 was still that of an occupied (partial) country. Helping Adenauer's goal proved that in June 1950 the communist dictator of North Korea Kim Il Sung attacked the pro-American south of the peninsula, with Soviet and Red Chinese support.

In this situation it was clear that the USA and Great Britain as the western victorious powers, but also France, the Benelux countries, Denmark and Norway as well as Italy as a special case as countries formerly occupied by the German Wehrmacht, had an interest in deploying troops in the most populous country Western Europe had. Adenauer wanted to use this to achieve the integration of the Federal Republic and a return to full sovereignty via rearmament.

At the same time, however, the majority of public sentiment in the country itself was against this goal: According to early representative polls, up to 77 percent of those entitled to vote spoke out against the establishment of a new "Wehrmacht" (as it was called in many German newspapers at the time). That was the first conflict that Blank had to deal with as Chancellor's representative.

The second: After the experience of three invasions by German troops within 80 years, namely in 1870, 1914 and 1940, France was actually against German troops. But if they had to come to strengthen Western Europe's defenses against aggressive Soviet Communism, it was by no means under German command. So as a (Western) European army.

Adenauer brought his representative into a third conflict: as an arch-civilian, the chancellor attached great importance to the primacy of politics. Under no circumstances should there again be a kind of "state within a state" like the Reichswehr in the Weimar Republic. So Blank also had to assert himself against the military competence that shuffled his feet in the person of numerous ex-World War II generals.

Three almost impossible tasks at the same time: In the fall of 1950, they didn't want to be in Theodor Blank's place. But if anyone could do it, it would be him. Born in Westerwald in 1905, he came from a family of craftsmen, had a Catholic upbringing and was close to the Center Party and the Christian trade unions until 1933. Until then, Blank had not been able to attend a higher school or even a university.

After the National Socialists came to power, he lost his job and became unemployed. But instead of loitering around, he used the time to catch up on his Abitur at the age of almost 31 and then start studying “apolitical” natural sciences. But he had to quit for financial reasons. A second degree, which he started after a period of working, this time with the aim of becoming an engineer, he had to abandon in 1939 when he was drafted into the Wehrmacht.

He did military service for five and a half years, but “only” made it to the rank of first lieutenant in the reserve – he cannot have been a particularly enthusiastic soldier. Immediately after the end of the Third Reich, he became involved in trade unions again and advocated not allowing another partisan split in the workers' organizations.

Politically, he went to the CDU and belonged to the left wing. In 1949, Konrad Adenauer offered him to become the first federal minister of labour, but Blank gave up in favor of Anton Storch, who was 13 years his senior. So he was available when the chancellor was looking for an assertive man for rearmament.

But the three tasks were too much even for him. It is true that Blank managed to lay the foundations of the Bundeswehr. In 1955 he also officially became the first Minister of Defense in the Federal Republic. However, the chancellor no longer believed that he would be able to create a convincing structure after the reorganization: in the course of the cabinet reshuffle in October 1956, Blank lost his office; his critic Franz Josef Strauss came up. But the now former minister was by no means broken: "Theodor Blank proved to be a good loser," wrote WELT on October 17, 1956.

Especially since he was promoted back to the cabinet in 1957, succeeding Anton Storch in the Federal Ministry of Labor. Here he fulfilled his function competently and calmly, also not in the public eye - and was able to follow how Strauss was wearing himself out in the constant clinch with the magazine "Spiegel" and finally had to resign in November 1962. Blank, on the other hand, remained in office until 1965. He also remained a member of the Bundestag until a few months before his untimely death in September 1972.

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