Academic journal article German Quarterly

The First World War as a Clash of Cultures

Academic journal article German Quarterly

The First World War as a Clash of Cultures

Article excerpt

Bridgham, Fred, ed. The First World War as a Clash of Cultures. Rochester: Camden House, 2007. 334 pp. $80.00 hardcover.

This volume consists of ten stylish and informative essays of varying scope and depth on a period of great, if poisonous, cultural ferment, carefully edited by Fred Bridgham. The title indicates the polemical direction of the book. We have heard of the First World War as driven by competing economic interests and again as a sort of "Betriebsunfall" in a mechanical process arising from "an unbroken [German] conservative and nationalist tradition" (1-2). The view of this book on the Great War is different and amounts to an exponential heightening of the power of culture (and of the work that cultural studies can do), for here the war is seen as a "Kulturkampf." The subject of these essays is less the cultural memory of this historical catastrophe than the culture of war mongering, the literature of antagonism that sounded the drumbeat accompanying the entry of Great Britain and Germany into a war of mutual destruction.

The long, learned introductory essay by Bridgham is as fair-minded as it is dense with detail. The convolutions of relationship in paragraphs that contain the names of a dozen different authors and books can make for strenuous guesswork - or surprise. But out of (occasional) gneiss one plucks the flower illumination, viz. a keener understanding of the twists and turns of minds bent on justifying a rival's destruction, especially marked by the drumbeat of German fury, based on its alleged ¿Ian vital, at an unmerited English claim of national superiority.

The authors gathered together in this volume are UK Germanists of distinction. Iain Boyd Whyte contributes a capacious piece on "Anglo-German Conflict in Popular Fiction 1870-1914," quoting H.G. Wells in 1914, who offers an implicit justification of this book's project: "All the realities of this war are things of the mind. This is a conflict of cultures and nothing else in the world" (44). Whyte 's essay discusses, as a typical case, the wavering views of Ford Madox Ford (Huef fer), eminent author of The Good Soldier: passionately pro-German in 191 1 and fiercely critical in 1915. As Whyte and several of the other contributors show, a good deal of German war propaganda attempted to distinguish between an "authentic" England, "which we love and have learnt to admire," and the new nation of petty Händler stigmatized by Werner Sombart. Here, Whyte points up the knee-jerk, dismal "link between English capitalism and Jewishness [as] a recurring feature in anti-English propaganda in Germany" (87). Another sort of fiction evokes cross-Channel marriage as the solution to the conflict; a fine exemplar is supplied rightly - and surprisingly - by E. M. Forster's Howard's End (though it is somewhat early, published in 1910). In the end, White concludes that of the two types of popular novel he considers, "the invasion novels actually encouraged the war psychosis on both sides of the Channel, " whereas "there is little evidence that the novels of reconciliation [through marriage] had any effect as an antidote" (93).

Helena Ragg-Kirkby's sprightly piece "Perversion and Pestilence: D. H. Lawrence and the Germans" gives usa predictable view of Lawrence's ambivalence, married as he was to the cousin of the German ace Baron Manfred von Richthofen. …

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