As we mark the hundredth anniversary of the end of the First World War, it is clear that the moral wounds it inflicted on Western culture have not healed. Recent incidents, such as the rejection of Remembrance Day poppies by Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU), or Southampton University Students’ Union’s (SUSU) threat to paint over a mural dedicated to war heroes, are symptomatic of the sense of malaise and confusion regarding the memorialisation of the First World War.
In a sense, however, this hostility towards the memorialisation of the war, as an expression of antagonism towards a cultural legacy, has its roots in the First World War itself. Because although it was principally a military conflict, it also served as a catalyst for the emergence of a powerful mood of alienation from the values and cultural practices of the past.
This should not be underestimated. The Great War, as it was then called, fundamentally undermined the cultural continuity of the West. Disconnected from the past, Western societies found it difficult to develop a compelling narrative with which to socialise young people. As a result, the phenomenon known today as the ‘generation gap’ acquired a powerful significance — precisely because it was not simply a generational gap. Rather, it was a cultural gap that opened up between the post- and pre-war eras which, in the decades to follow, was experienced through generational tensions as the problem of identity.
Read the whole thing. In his 2011 book, The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism, Theodore Dalrymple explored how the meaning of World War One morphed among European intellectuals from the late 1910s to the 1920s:
At least to the victors, the war did not seem self-evidently senseless, and disillusionment was not immediate. The war memorials to be found everywhere in France are tributes to loss, but not to meaninglessness. The soldiers really did die for France, or so almost everyone supposed; in Britain, my next-door neighbor, who collects coins and medals, showed me some First World War service medals for those who survived the war, with an athletic (and naked) young man upon a horse, wielding a sword as if he were a latter-day St. George about to slay a dragon. One of the medals bore the inscription “The War to Save Civilization.” I doubt that these medals were greeted solely by hollow laughter; for one thing, they would hardly have been preserved so carefully if they had been. And browsing in a bookshop recently, I found a book published in 1918 with the title The Romance of War Inventions. It was an attempt to interest boys in science by explaining how shells, mortars, tanks, and so forth had been developed and how they worked. By the time of its publication, millions had already been killed, and surely no one in Britain could by that time not have known someone who had been killed or at least someone whose child or brother or parent had been killed. It seems to me unlikely that such a publication would have seen the light of day in an atmosphere of generalized cynicism about the war.
“The version of the First World War that is now almost universally accepted as ‘true’ is that of the disillusioned writers, male and female, of the late 1920s and 1930s. The war, according this version, was about nothing at all and was caused by blundering politicians, prolonged by stupid generals and lauded by patriotic fools,” Dalrymple adds.
And as Jonah Goldberg wrote in Liberal Fascism, World War I created the modern socialist world:
World War I gave birth to all the horrors of the twentieth century. A host of banshees were let loose upon the western world, shattering old dogmas of religion, democracy, capitalism, monarchy, and mankind’s rule in the world. The war fueled widespread hatred, suspicion and paranoia toward elites and established institutions. For belligerents on both sides, economic planning lent political and intellectual credibility to state-directed war socialism. And of course, it led to the enthronement of revolutionaries throughout Europe: Lenin in Russia, Mussolini in Italy, and Hitler in Germany.
Related: New Full-Length Trailer for Peter Jackson’s WWI documentary, They Shall Not Grow Old, which will be shown in US theaters on December 17th and the 27th before being released on video on demand, and presumably Blu-Ray and DVD:
The behind the scenes video makes the film look truly intriguing.
DONALD TRUMP AND THE ONGOING CULTURE WAR. In America, remember, class warfare is fought as cultural warfare.