“A lot of Germans think of us as murderers. They hate us,” he told me at a gathering of German combat veterans in Potsdam. “And those that don’t hate us couldn’t care less about us.”…

There is no Veterans Day here to honor soldiers like Alex, and veterans aren’t celebrated at sporting events or other public occasions as they are in the United States and other European countries. The memorials erected in recent years to remember Germans who died in foreign wars are not prominently displayed, like those for American soldiers on the Mall in Washington, but rather hidden on a barren side street near the defense ministry and behind fences on a military base south of the capital. Few politicians speak openly about Germany’s combat veterans, and the Bundeswehr does not recognize those who fought abroad as a distinct group. Even the term veteran remains tainted by associations with the Nazis.

This is not just a linguistic or administrative problem for Germany. Under pressure from the United States, Berlin has promised to invest more in its underfunded military, boost the size of its shrunken army, and assume a larger international-security role, commensurate with its economic might. But with polls showing trust in the Bundeswehr at an all-time low, those efforts are unlikely to succeed unless measures are also taken to change how German society views the military. A central part of that challenge is reassessing how the country treats its growing cohort of combat veterans.