Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars

Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars

Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars

Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars

Synopsis

At the outbreak of the First World War, an entire generation of young men charged into battle for what they believed was a glorious cause. Over the next four years, that cause claimed the lives of some 13 million soldiers--more than twice the number killed in all the major wars from 1790 to 1914. But despite this devastating toll, the memory fostered by the belligerents was not of the grim reality of its trench warfare and battlefield carnage. Instead, the nations that fought commemorated the war's sacredness and the martyrdom of those who had died for the greater glory of the fatherland. The sanctification of war is the subject of this pioneering work by well-known European historian George L. Mosse. Fallen Soldiers offers a profound analysis of what he calls the Myth of the War Experience--a vision of war that masks its horror, consecrates its memory, and ultimately justifies its purpose. Beginning with the Napoleonic wars, Mosse traces the origins of this myth and its symbols, and examines the role of war volunteers in creating and perpetuating it. His book is likely to become one of the classic studies of modern war and the complex, often disturbing nature of human perception and memory.

Excerpt

Much has been written about the "generation of 1914," the young men who joined the armies at the outbreak of the First World War with enthusiasm and high hopes. They were conscripted in France and Germany, though there were many volunteers among them who joined up before they were called. However, whether young men in 1914 were conscripted or volunteered, most of them in their enthusiasm stood in the tradition of earlier volunteers. The motives we have discussed before were operative once more: patriotism, the search for a purpose in life, love of adventure, and ideals of masculinity. Yet among these themes which run throughout the history of volunteers we find specific emphases which were either not present earlier or not so strongly expressed as in 1914. Through their writings the volunteers of 1914 determined many of the myths which would emerge from the war, and therefore their state of mind and reasons for enlistment are of special importance.

The rush to the colors of this generation has been ascribed to the fact that they no longer knew the reality of war; the FrancoPrussian War was fought long before and had been a short war in any, case, an easy triumph for Germany over France. Perhaps this was one of the reasons why these recruits believed that the war . . .

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