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A soldier (according to the pay he receives) is an armed member of an army or the armed forces of a country, from the general to the men , although the use of language has long been restricted to the latter. Soldiers should be distinguished from mercenaries who are not members of regular armies, military officials , and members of paramilitary groups , militants and partisans (see also guerrillas ).

Soldiers have a rank that regulates their position and their powers within the armed forces. After the branch of service , a distinction as infantrymen and artillerymen . Recruiting and engaging soldiers for arms service is known as recruiting or drafting.

Word origin

The word “soldier” came into use for the first time in the 16th century, borrowed from Italian “soldato” meaning “warrior, henchman”, again from Middle Latin soldarius with the same meaning. The origin of the words "Soldat" and "Sold" is the name of the Roman gold coin Solidus - a noun from the Latin adjective " solidus " meaning "solid, massive, solid".

The synonyms of the loan word “soldier” are of even older origin: “Warrior” and “Fighter” are already used for Middle High German . In contrast, the term “militia officer” did not originate until the 17th century from the Latin “miles” “soldier”, the meaning of which differs in the area of ​​the former Soviet Union because it denotes a police officer there .

Word usage

Male and female soldiers

The term "soldier" is often used in German as a generic masculine for men and women alike. Legislation or formal salutations usually use the terms “female soldiers” and “soldier (s)”.

Country-specific names

In Austria soldier is the general term for those in the armed forces are under arms. In Switzerland he is often referred to as a member of the army ( AdA ). In the land forces of the NVA , soldier was also the lowest team rank .

"Soldiers" in the broader sense

In addition to its military meaning, the term is used as a metaphor for a number of "combative" activities. Because of his loyalty to his party, an appropriate member is named as a party soldier .


"Warrior" is on the one hand an outdated term for soldiers and mercenaries , on the other hand a term for fighters in tribal societies who gather for individual campaigns and usually receive no pay but a share of the booty.


The occupation of the soldier changed in Europe with the rise of standing armies . Former armies were put together for the respective war campaign, with nobles and their entourage being obliged to achieve military success through feudal following structures and after the campaign was over pursued other activities. With the advent of money business people down from "violence entrepreneurs" (after was Elwert ) recruited ( soldiers , lansquenet ).

In Europe, own armies were often literally devastating for the civilian population of a country ( Hundred Years War , Thirty Years War ). Regardless of whether an enemy or a friendly army moved through the country, the soldiers' “pay” often only consisted of what was to be taken from the country and its inhabitants. It was up to the military leaders where and how they arranged the payment of their troops .

Soldiers initially felt only bound to their commander , who often gave the respective unit his name. It was only with the transition from the absolutist to the national idea of ​​the state that the image of the soldier who was now committed to his nation also changed.

The armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany , the Bundeswehr , understand their soldiers as “ citizens in uniform ” to make it clear that, unlike in earlier German armies, the soldier should remain involved in civil society , but with certain privileges and duties.

The United Nations peacekeeping forces , the so-called “blue helmets” or “blue helmet soldiers”, have been deployed in numerous conflict regions since 1948 . In 1988 they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their contribution to world peace .


As a defender within the framework of his army, the soldier is first and foremost a guarantor of the external sovereignty of his country, through the latent threat to repay a restriction of sovereignty through the annihilation of people and their material livelihoods.

On the other hand, the soldier as an attacker is often only the means to the end of aggressive powers to attack other countries, to conquer them and / or to enrich themselves with the local resources.

In the event of war, the scope of duties of the soldier and his army is very broad. Depending on the situation, the following things are urgent:

  • Investigate the enemy
  • Assessment of the situation
  • Occupy tactical, strategic or economically important points
  • Securing the position as well as securing the hinterland and the supply lines
  • Incapacitate enemy soldiers

Legal basis and status (Germany)

Soldiers are in a public service and loyalty relationship that is aimed at ensuring the permanent readiness for defense against attacks from outside. Despite numerous parallels with civil servants (e.g. salary according to the Federal Salary Act ), they form a separate status group like the judges . The basic civil rights can be restricted due to the official necessity of soldiers of the Bundeswehr according to Art. 17a GG . The legal status and official duties of the soldier are regulated in the Soldiers Act (SG). According to Article 37, Paragraph 1, No. 1 SG, "only those who are German within the meaning of Article 116 of the Basic Law (GG) may be appointed to the employment relationship of a professional soldier or a temporary soldier [...] ."

job profile

An Aragonese soldier of the 14th century (historical illustration)

Soldiers form the regular armed forces of a state . They therefore fulfill the orders all over the world which are given to them by the sovereign . The soldiers are expected to have intercultural competence in an international environment.

Soldiers are often transferred to other locations in Germany and abroad during their careers - even in peacetime. This presents the families with the challenge of reconciling acquaintances and friends, the spouse's occupation and the children's school career with the changes in their place of work.

In some cases, soldiers are also confronted with a negative attitude towards the military, which represents an additional burden both inside and outside the service.

Compared to the rest of the population, the special physical demands of the soldier's profession result in early retirement .

In addition to general military skills, the demands placed on soldiers during operations (both peacekeeping and war ) include specialist knowledge from almost all civil professions (for example from the professions of aircraft mechanic, office clerk, paramedic, carpenter , mechatronics technician and many more) and common fields of study (e.g. computer science, mechanical engineering, pedagogy and many more). Many armies therefore train the required professions themselves or carry out academic training at the armed forces' own universities (e.g. universities of the Bundeswehr ) and military academies (e.g. Westpoint ).

For regular soldiers who are not appointed as professional soldiers, this offers the advantage of recognized training that facilitates entry into civilian professional life.

Ethical and social aspects of being a soldier

The best-known ideological background for the manifestation of soldierhood is militarism . The most important and civilized philosophical legitimation in the so-called West is the philosophy of Kant , which he published in 1795 in his book On Eternal Peace .

The statement " Soldiers are murderers " originally came from Kurt Tucholsky in the magazine Die Weltbühne . It was used as a battle slogan in the controversy surrounding the establishment of the Bundeswehr in post-war Germany, without giving it a legally verifiable basis. With the means of verbal accusation, the dispute was rather about political freedom of expression on the one hand and the claim to legal and political correctness .

Status of the Soldier in Modern War

About the status of the soldiers (as command receiver , hero , deserter , coward , deserter ...) The question will decide after the date of filing and actually existing state of the soldier as a subject or object . The study of this question is a scientific subject of sociology . The answer to the question concerns above all the issues of social and historical, but also the legal assessment of the soldier and his actions.

Whether soldiers are socially recognized as subjects depends on various factors and perspectives. A common social perception describes them as unwilling recipients of orders and thus as objects and not as subjects who are assigned to reflect on the situation and act independently. On the one hand, those “who not only carry out their orders as is expected, but do more than their superiors expect from them” and “(w) hen this unexpected or extraordinary effort is welcomed by the superiors at least in retrospect receive a pronounced subject status then these soldiers are commonly referred to as heroes ”. On the other hand, a special subject status is assigned to those who refuse or defy commands. This last group includes deserters, deserters, mutineers and strikers . The question “whether they carry out the orders given to them or refuse them” plays a decisive role here . From a sociological point of view, soldiers remain subjects “because they are capable of intentional action as body-bound beings open to injury.” According to Warburg, this does not exclude “that they are subject to compulsion”, but this does not mean “that they become mere tools in their hands Become a manager. "

The question of subjectivity in military research also determines the extent to which soldiers can be replaced by technology. Soldiers are considered to be "poorly designed" for warfare . With the aim of increasing the effectiveness of their units, many advanced military powers are currently endeavoring to “implement network-centric warfare , also known as NCW ( network-centric warfare )”. In these modern military strategies, despite the soldiers being bound by orders, attempts are made “to make greater use of the soldiers 'individual decision-making and action competencies” by attempting “to use certain aspects of the soldiers' subjectivity to make the units more effective”. In these strategies, the authors of which, like David S. Alberts, align themselves with the rationalization processes of the New Economy ( lean production , just in time and other corporate concepts) or with the subjectification concepts of industrial sociology , “the subjectivity of soldiers is seen as an indispensable resource of effectiveness” .

The attempts of military research to orientate themselves on subjectification concepts from economics, however, do not answer the question of whether soldiers are actually recognized as subjects by the military. So sociologists make the recognition of the subject status of the soldier by the military dependent on the question “whether it (the military) forces the soldiers against their will to risk life and limb. If soldiers are denied the right to physical and mental integrity, they are deprived of a basic human right and attempts are made to reduce them to objects ”. (Warburg) This question about the subject status of soldiers against the background of restricted human rights finds importance in the discussion of whether deserters should be granted a right to asylum.

The status of the soldier is facing new challenges due to increasing mechanization and automation . Autonomous combat systems such as drones or robots may in the future get by without human final decision, whereby the fundamental question arises of the calculability of a military advantage or the mapping of international humanitarian law in technical systems. It is questionable whether human understanding, situational awareness, and intuition can ever be replaced, or whether this is even desirable. At the same time, there is a problem with regard to responsibility and shared responsibility, since it is not clear whether the failures of autonomous systems can be attributed to the developers, programmers, or military leaders. Whether soldiers will continue to be the focus of attention in view of the increasing depersonalization of the battlefield, as required by the fields of internal leadership , must also be re-questioned.


  • Wolfgang von Groote (ed.): Great soldiers of European history . Athenäum-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main a. a. 1961.

Web links

Wiktionary: Soldier  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Meyer's Large Conversational Lexicon . 6th edition. Bibliographisches Institut, Leipzig / Vienna 1909 ( [accessed on June 19, 2019] lexicon entry “Soldat”).
  2. ^ Soldat and Sold , Duden online
  3. See Krieger , Duden online
  4. Jens Warburg (2009): Soldier Subjects and Desertion . In: jour fixe initiative berlin (ed.) Krieg. Münster, 2009. page 131
  5. a b c d e f Jens Warburg (2009), page 152
  6. ^ Jens Warburg (2009), page 134
  7. ^ Jens Warburg (2009), p. 136
  8. Cf. Marcel Bohnert : Guardian from the air. Drones as patrons of German ground troops in Afghanistan . In: Uwe Hartmann and Claus von Rosen (eds.): Yearbook Inner Guidance 2014. Drones, robots and cyborgs. The soldier in the face of new military technologies. Carola Hartmann Miles-Verlag , Berlin 2014, p. 29ff.