FALLEN SOLDIERS: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars by George L. Mosse

FALLEN SOLDIERS: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars

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A genuinely original and deeply disturbing study of how Western peoples and their governments have romanticized, even sanctified, wartime casualties. While he briefly reviews memorial practices in the US as well as Europe during the 19th century, Mosse (Masses and Man, Toward the Final Solution, et al.) concentrates on the WW I era, when combatants first encountered the grim reality of mass fatalities. During and after the murderous conflict, he shows, bloodied but unbowed Germany accorded its fallen soldiers a mythic stature that drew much of the sting from their deaths. To condition public remembrance of war as a glorious, not horrific, event, political leaders appropriated powerful symbols from religion and nature. The siting of monuments and graves in sylvan settings, for instance, gave survivors not only places of worship but also martyrs for the civic faith of nationalism. By contrast, the author asserts, unvanquished (albeit battle-scarred) countries like England and France had an easier transition from war to peace. In consequence, the victors' shrines tended to honor rather than exalt lost warriors, and militarism did not brutalize their political institutions. Nor was the consensus recollection of war reshaped by a process of trivialization whose Germanic manifestations ranged from mouth organs resembling U-boats and paperweights fashioned from artillery shells through Hindenburg pillows. The devastating setback endured by the Third Reich in WW II, Mosse notes, put paid to any possible emergence of a stab-in-the-back legend based on a supposedly undefeated army. In addition, he points out, the Allies did not grant their sometime foe permission to build new war memorials until 1952. In the UK, moreover, the National Land Fund became the principal tribute to the country's war dead, further damping any impulse to engage in commemorations that could perpetuate martial cults. A unique brief that, for all its narrow focus, affords a perceptive, thought-provoking, and cautionary appreciation of the wartime experience. The text has a wealth of ad-rem illustrations, including reproductions of contemporary postcards, home-front posters, and outlandish bric-a-brac, plus photos of military cemeteries and monuments.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1990
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press