A year after President Reagan's controversial visit to the Bitburg cemetery, where a group of Nazi SS troops are buried among other German soldiers, West Germany is still wrestling with the emotional enigma of how to honor the country's war dead.
The anger and embarrassment over the Bitburg controversy, which spoiled plans to celebrate four decades of reconciliation between wartime foes now united in the western alliance, spurred West Germany's political parties to seek the creation of a war memorial where foreign dignitaries could lay a wreath without provoking protests or passions from the dark past.
The new war monument is intended to serve as a lodestone for solemn reflection in this small capital, which until now could only offer visiting heads of state an unimpressive stop before a simple cross, located in a drab suburban cemetery, that bears the inscription: "For the victims of war and reign of terror."
But the project, which was initially seen as an attempt to forge a desirable national consensus over the historical burdens of the Nazi era, has foundered because of intense partisan bickering over what the monument should represent and whom it should actually commemorate.
In a recent parliamentary debate over the matter, members of Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Party insisted that the memorial should have a national focus, dedicated to all Germans either executed as enemies of the Third Reich or killed in battle as soldiers dragooned into Hitler's megalomanic war.
Alfred Dregger, the leader of the Christian Democratic legislative group, argued that it was too difficult and painful to debate the distinctions between German "perpetrators and victims" of the Nazi regime. He was backed up by the Volksbund, a private association that cares for German war cemeteries. It advocated a massive peace memorial the size of six football fields to honor, above all, "the German soldier."
The opposition Social Democrats, however, warned that equating German troops with millions of Jews and other minorities slaughtered by the Nazis would again unleash the explosive passions witnessed last year during the Bitburg controversy.
The Social Democrats concurred that a distinguished war memorial was welcome but rather one that honored victims of Naziism from all nationalities. Some of them suggested a vast mosaic floor with only a crown of thorns in the middle.
Regardless of the eventual design, the purpose of the monument "should not be honor but a sign of remembrance, mourning and admonition about the future," said Peter Conradi, a Social Democratic legislator.
Horst Ehmke, the party's deputy parliamentary leader, chastized the governing coalition for suggesting a purely German memorial, which he said could cause a dreadful impression abroad, with its haunting, nationalistic overtones.
Ehmke stressed that the debate over a monument involved nothing less than "political self-understanding and coming to terms with the past" by the entire country.
Members of the iconoclastic Greens Party contended that people who were serious about denouncing the insanity of war required no national memorial. They urged that the notion of a single monument be abolished and that former concentration camp sites scattered around the country stand as stark regional testaments to the horrors of war.
Some prominent German historians also have joined the debate, largely supporting the view that the proposed war memorial should serve as a vital symbol bridging the past with West Germany's postwar success as a stable and prosperous democracy.
"What is at stake here is the inner continuity of the German republic and its calculability in foreign politics," wrote Michael Stuermer, a conservative historian and occasional adviser to Kohl, in a commentary for the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper.
"The search for the lost history is not just an abstract striving for knowledge; it is morally legitimate and politically necessary. In a land without memory, anything could be possible," Stuermer wrote.