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Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars

Fallen Soldiers: Reshaping the Memory of the World Wars [Kindle Edition]

George L. Mosse
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Product Description

Product Description

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 of the war was not, predominantly, of the grim reality of its trench warfare and battlefield carnage. What was most remembered by the war's participants was its sacredness and the martyrdom of those who had died for the greater glory of the fatherland.
War, and the sanctification of it, 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. But it was not until World War I, when Europeans confronted mass death on an unprecedented scale, that the myth gained its widest currency. Indeed, as Mosse makes clear, the need to find a higher meaning in the war became a national obsession. Focusing on Germany, with examples from England, France, and Italy, Mosse demonstrates how these nations--through memorials, monuments, and military cemeteries honoring the dead as martyrs--glorified the war and fostered a popular acceptance of it. He shows how the war was further promoted through a process of trivialization in which war toys and souvenirs, as well as postcards like those picturing the Easter Bunny on the Western Front, softened the war's image in the public mind.
The Great War ended in 1918, but the Myth of the War Experience continued, achieving its most ruthless political effect in Germany in the interwar years. There the glorified notion of war played into the militant politics of the Nazi party, fueling the belligerent nationalism that led to World War II. But that cataclysm would ultimately shatter the myth, and in exploring the postwar years, Mosse reveals the extent to which the view of death in war, and war in general, was finally changed. In so doing, he completes what is likely to become one of the classic studies of modern war and the complex, often disturbing nature of human perception and memory.

About the Author

George L. Mosse is Bascom-Weinstein Professor of History, Emeritus, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and Koebner Professor of History, Emeritus, at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His previous books include The Crisis of German Ideology, Nazi Culture, The Nationalization of the Masses, Nationality and Sexuality, and Toward the Final Solution.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2604 KB
  • Print Length: 273 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0195071395
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (15 Mar 1990)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007NI9NYQ
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #560,369 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly and for general interest 24 Feb 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I used this book repeatedly while writing my MA thesis. So I can honestly say it's a useful academic reference if you're looking into the way we remember the fallen. I particularly used the excellent sections on the myth of the unknown soldier. Having said that, it's not a difficult read and if you have more than a passing interest in war and its representation, you're sure to find lots of interest here. My one reservation is that more (and better quality) illustrations would have been good.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The democratization of the dead soldier 21 Jun 2009
By Harry Eagar - Published on
Until late in the 19th century, the idea of burying soldiers killed in battle was a novelty, although only the tsar of Russia thought to sell the bones of his soldiers for fertilizer.

But earlier, starting with the first citizen armies since the rabble of the Middle Ages, which raised up themselves to defend the French Revolution, a new attitude began to grow, inevitable with the democratization of warfare. The result, like a rocket arching up and crashing down far off, is examined in George Mosse's "Fallen Soldiers."

To an American, used to veterans' cemeteries and memorials to war dead in every town, the fact that these didn't exist 200 years ago comes as a surprise.

Before that time there were battle monuments to defunct kings and generals, but the body of the common soldier, even as late as the Battle of Waterloo in western Europe and much later farther east, was left to dogs and crows to dispose of.

Slowly, a new sensibility grew up, spurred on by the existence of something new, the volunteer. The age of mass slaughter also introduced the concept of fighting for a belief. Such men, some of them articulate representatives of the middle class, could not be left for crows. Thus was created a Myth of the War Experience, compounded of feelings of camaraderie, nationalism, sometimes religion and masculinity. Mosse does not mention also sentimentality, but that too had its impact. (In this respect, the novelist Norah Lofts, in her biography of Emma Hamilton, has the arresting picture of Nelson's captains weeping as they carried her body to the grave. There never were tougher men, but they were romantics, too. It is impossible to imagine such an event at any earlier time.)

Along the way, Mosse, who held professorships in Madison and Jerusalem, retrieves the fascinating history of the invention of the modern cemetery (in America), tin soldiers and postcards. All were brought into the service of the Myth of War Experience, which separated the fighting soldier from the rest of his country.

The peak of the sentiment came in World War I and after, as Europe had to learn how to deal with battle deaths in unprecedented numbers. However, Mosse is not merely interested in relating a new way of treating the dead -- though he does not make the point, during the same 19th century the chances of a poor civilian's ending up in an anonymous grave decreased also. He is more interested in the Myth of War Experience as it related to nationalism and the brutalization of postwar politics, especially in Germany.

The Myth had a lot to do with the willingness of Europeans to refight the Great War, but the outcome of that event killed off the Myth. Mosse is not persuaded that it could never be revived, but at least when "Fallen Soldiers" was published in 1990, it seemed dead everywhere except in Russia.

Since then, we have perhaps seen a small-scale recrudescence of it in the Balkans.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dulce et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori? 20 Jan 2011
By A Certain Bibliophile - Published on
This book, one of the best and most insightful I have read in a long time, rests at a cross-section between art, culture, sociology, and memory. At 225 pages, it is both extremely short, and yet scholarly, well-argued, timely, and convincing.

Does the sudden emergence of trench warfare in any way transmute the ways in which we walk about and experience war? Did the shift from monarchy to burgeoning nation-states during this time period change soldierly ideological motivations in wanting to engage in warfare? Why did separate cemeteries appear for soldiers, completely unheard of before the nineteenth century, suddenly start appearing in France and Germany? These questions form a group of concerns the book discusses, yet Mosse manages to touch on a number of other topics, as well.

About 600,000 soldiers died during the American Civil War, while just two generations later in World War I, almost 9 million perished. Mosse argues that facts like this, along with the horrors of trench warfare, gave rise to a construction of civic religion centered around remembrance and a search for human meaning as a way to cope with heretofore unknown amounts of barbarism. This remembrance, along with the various ways of glorifying and sanctifying battle that would arise, Mosse refers collectively to as the "Myth of the War Experience."

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, the constitution of many armies gradually shifted from conscripted poverty-ridden peasants to bourgeois, well-educated professional soldiers, who envisioned themselves fighting for Aufbruch (a nascent national-democratic spirit). Suddenly, going off to war was no cause for angst and concern, but rather a chance to fight for the fatherland, and an opportunity to get to see new and exotic places (see the work of soldier-poets like Lord Byron and Theodor Korner). Aesthetic representations of triumph were built from both classical pagan imagery and Protestant piety, which were used to create "communities of the dead" (military cemeteries) where soldiers could rest pure, away from mere civilians.

Mosse claims that culture and art, too, have a definite place in shaping the ideology of the Myth of the War Experience. The Italian Futurists (like Marinetti) and German Expressionists added to the Myth Experience a sense of camaraderie to war in which a "new man" would be created, forming a society free of hypocrisy and tyranny (highly ironic, as Marinetti is perhaps best remembered for his flirtations with fascism). Youth now symbolized manhood, virility, and pure energy. Death was no long an unfortunate loss, but a sacrifice and a chance for eternal resurrection (again, that Christian imagery) for a glorious cause.

A retroactive Romanticism was also invoked, full of its images of bucolic hills and untainted, rural countryside, and used to symbolize purity away from an ill, noxious city (the literature of the nineteenth century is replete with metaphors of the city as rotten and diseased). Movies touting the moral virtues of mountain climbing as a "manly" conquering of nature filled the screens, effectively masking the dangers of death and destruction while at the same time shoring up ideas that were attractive to far right political elements, like adventure, domination, and conquest.

The Myth's appearance in popular culture was perhaps inevitable, but had a most interesting result: the "process of trivialization." There are several photos in the book depicting the war as a humorous, quaint, distant affair. There is a German postcard of a rabbit laying eggs with the caption "Frohliche Ostern" (Happy Easter), one from Au Bon Marche showing two little girls stomping all over a helpless German toy soldier, and perhaps most disturbingly, a father cradling his baby boy and looking aside admiring another of his boys with the caption "The New Conscripts." Some artists, including the German Rudolf Grossmanns, made a career producing nothing but kitsch showing heroic boys yearning for the joys of the battlefield. Closely related to trivialization is the brutalization of political discourse in which themes and tropes of militarism and aggression gave additional emphasis to notions of manliness, a trend which continued until World War II.

But around this time, these ideological means started to outgrow their political and historical usefulness. After German defeat in the First World War, it could be effectively argued that the courageous Germans had not actually lost the war, they just hadn't yet won. But after losing another World War, the Myth was too tendentious and suspicious to garner populist support for the political right. Thus the fiery rhetoric of manliness and sacrifice in the name of one's country saw its last days.

For anyone convinced that "ideology" is just a word used in the ivory towers of academia, or that popular culture doesn't drastically affect the way we perceive and experience some of the most fundamental aspects of our world, this book will forever change your mind. It is most highly recommended for anyone interested in the history of war memorials, changing perceptions of war and the soldier, and the politics of the interwar years.
0 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars my review 10 May 2013
By Isabel - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
this book was recommended to me and found out it was not an enjoyable read for me. Long-winded and boring.
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