THE last survivor of the German plot to kill Nazi leader Adolf Hitler during the Second World says Germany's modern-day army is too "gentle" and needs to toughen up.
Ewald von Kleist, 88, was a member of the officer group behind Klaus von Stauffenberg, who tried but failed to kill the dictator with a bomb on 20 July, 1944.
He also predicted that, one day, another Hitler would come to power - although not in Germany - who would want, like the original, to take the world down with him.
In an interview with German magazine Der Spiegel he said there was too much "gentleness" in the training of the modern Bundeswehr which deprived recruits of the killer instinct in combat.
"Things are more difficult for them when push comes to shove. If possible, a soldier should be placed in a situation where he can handle the horrible things he's likely to experience," he said.
Nato allies have long bemoaned the calibre of German troops and weapons when fighting alongside them in Afghanistan. Mr Kleist accepted this was a by-product of the anti-militarism in society following two world wars.
He said: "Because of our past, we have a completely different attitude toward soldiers. In some cases, this goes too far in the other direction.
"I believe that society in general does not sufficiently support the Bundeswehr, which also happens to be their Bundeswehr and is partially responsible for our peace and prosperity. In this respect, society isn't behaving very well at the moment."
He said it was time for soldiers to think less and obey more: "We want the thinking soldier, which is in principle OK. But if you rely too heavily on thinking soldiers, the soldiers end up having problems. When he approaches his evil enemy and is thinking too much, he'll say: 'OK, the closer I get, the more dangerous it gets!' This isn't necessarily helpful."
But he also said it was "idiotic" to talk about heroism and dying for one's country, adding; "As a soldier, you do have to be brave so you can overcome your fear."
He said he had to overcome his own fears when enmeshed in the conspiracy to kill Hitler.
"I think fear is very reasonable; fear extends life. But sometimes, when it's absolutely necessary, you have to overcome fear," he said. "I remember we were supposed to show Hitler new uniforms tried out on the front. I was the company leader. I wanted to take along a mine or plastic explosives in my briefcase, which I planned to detonate when standing next to Hitler."
That presentation was cancelled. Later Von Stauffenberg placed a bomb in a briefcase at Hitler's Wolf's Lair HQ which killed several of his aides but left him wounded but alive.
Of his prediction of another Hitler coming to power, he said; "One of the last things Hitler said was: 'We will slam the door shut behind us with a loud bang.'"
"He wasn't able to do it at the time, but who can say whether an Iranian leader won't feel the same way some day? Or look at Pakistan: What happens if there is regime change and the Islamists get their hands on nuclear bombs? There will be another Hitler some day."
The Fuhrer's revenge
ADOLF Hitler exacted a terrible revenge on the Stauffenberg plotters; many of them were strangled slowly on meat hooks with piano wire, their death throes filmed for the Nazi Fuhrer to watch in his private cinema at his Berghof mountain home in Bavaria.
Mr Kleist, who fought as an officer on the Russian front, was imprisoned for a while in a concentration camp because of his involvement in the conspiracy, known as "Operation Valkyrie", but managed to secure his release and eventually escape to Italy. The plot inspired the 2008 Tom Cruise film Valkyrie.