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Age Of Anxiety, A Few Small Errors

7356 words - 30 pages

At its start, the Great War of 1914-1918 was a popular war. The war was even blessed by those thinkers and artists who were non-violent by nature. The war, many people sincerely believed, would be quick and glorious. The war soon gave way to bitter disillusionment. This bitterness is illustrated in the film Paths of Glory (1957) as well as in Erich Marie Remarque's novel, All Quiet on the Western Front (1929). The stupidity of the war became apparent to all those men who fought for their nation. On the home front, of course, the story was a bit different. But when soldiers, lucky enough to still be alive returned home, it was to a land which knew nothing of the Somme or Verdun. "A land fit ...view middle of the document...

It was the Big Lie. There was no tangible enemy, except the one the popular press could fashion. The soldier looked across the parapet and saw himself. The insanity of it all! This partially explains the Christmas truce. Or the scene at the end of Paths of Glory: as the young German girl sings, the French soldiers join in, tears in their eyes. A bond is created between the soldiers who fought the war, a bond the General Staff could neither understand nor accept. No, the war was insanity, irrationality and the triumph of unreason in a world taught that reason was the guide to the good life. What had happened? Soon the soldiers began to despise the people back home. They had no idea what the war was like. They knitted socks and sang patriotic songs. They were the "little fat men," as George Orwell was to call them. Men who made decisions carried out by wooden headed generals. The soldiers were drawn closer to one another by the common bond of experience. They were closer in spirit to the enemy than to those they left behind. "The immediate reaction of the poets who fought in the war was cynicism," wrote Stephen Spender in The Struggle of the Modern (1963):The war dramatized for them the contrast between the still-idealistic young, living and dying on the unalteringly horrible stage-set of the Western front, with the complacency of the old at home, the staff officers behind the lines. In England there was violent anti-German feeling; but for the poet-soldiers the men in the trenches on both sides seemed united in pacific feelings and hatred of those at home who had sent them out to kill each other.There's no doubt about it: war was horror, terror and futility. The romance of war had been taken out of warfare forever. The 19th century ideals of warfare -- Napoleonic ideals -- were no match for the new weapons of destruction which the Second Industrial Revolution had helped to make a reality. Technology was supposed to be the servant of mankind -- liberation would result from more technology. What World War One showed was how quickly this new technology could be put to use. In the end, it was the European idea of progress which became the victim of "improved technology." The rules of warfare had changed -- and with this change the 20th century plunged into what one historian has called, "the age of total war." Immediately following the end of the war, one of France's literary giants called attention to the very clear fact that a crisis had now overtaken the European mind in the 20th century. Paul Valéry (1871-1945) brooded on both the greatness and decline of Europe in his essay THE CRISIS OF THE MIND (1919). Of the greatness of Europe, Valéry had no doubt. Europe was "the elect portion of the terrestrial globe, the pearl of the sphere, the brain of a vast body." Europe's superiority, according to Valéry, rested on a combination of various qualities -- imagination and rigorous logic, skepticism and mysticism, and above all,...

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