on 7 September 2003
This is a much needed new translation of one of the finest military memoirs ever written. The original has long been recognised as essential reading to anybody with an interest in world war one but has been quite hard to find due to being long out of print, and the original translation left much to be desired. This book is very direct with no attempt to analyse or judge the wider war, it is a simple account of the experiences of one junior officer in the German army and is full of the excitement, danger and tragedy of his war years. For many people used to the British war poets and the "lions led by donkeys" school of world war one this book will be a new and provocative experience as Junger saw the war as one of the greatest experiences of his life and makes no apologies for his feelings. Whether one agrees with or disagrees with his view there can be no doubt he represents a long ignored voice yet a voice which represents more men than we would like to admit. Essential reading.
on 17 November 2010
Very graphic, fast pacing, the images it evokes are disturbing, and yet you just can't put down the book. The way he describes an artillery barrage, and its effects, it's almost surrealist, you can see a surrealist painting in the images he writes. It's hard to write a review without mentioning specific episodes, and mentioning specific episodes will be a spoiler for some. I'll just say that it is a very visual and fluid writing style, and definitively a masterpiece, besides, several other reviewers managed to write about the book much better than i'll be able to - i just finished reading it and i'm still in shock. About the author's role, or his work's role in Nazi Germany, well, if you're interested in reading this book then hopefully you're an adult and can make the distinction between the merit of a person's work (or the lack of it) and his political and ideological inclinations, or the (mis)appropriation of someone's work for the same reasons.
And i still can't believe someone gave 2 stars to this book. What next? 1 star to Eric Maria Remarque's "All Quiet on the Western Front" because he was German?
on 4 January 2014
Ernst Junger's Storm of Steel is a classic first-hand account of the First World War. Junger joined the 73rd Hanoverian Infantry Regiment of the German Army on the first day of the war in 1914. He spent the majority of the war facing British opposition and was involved in almost every major offensive on the Western Front. Junger was the youngest receiver of Germany's highest military honour, the Pour Le Merite, and was wounded fourteen times "leaving out trifles like such as ricochets and grazes".
Storm of Steel was written from diaries Junger kept during the war. This explains the book's rigid chronology with emphasis on locations, people and events. Junger paints a vivid, uncensored and, at times, glorified picture of war. He does not mourn lost comrades or show contempt for his foe. It is as brutal as it is honest. But this is the book's merit. Storm of Steel's uncensored perspective of war means the book offers observations other first hand accounts do not. The extreme violence Junger portrays can be shocking but his writing is objective, insightful and brings the realities of war to life.
Storm of Steel is not just a classic piece of literature. It is also a necessary component in First World War historiography. Other memoirs published in the 1920's, such Robert Graves' Goodbye To All That and Erich Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, have pacifist undertones and view the war as a barbaric and unjustifiable waste of life. But Junger provides `the alternative view' that war could be exhilarating and even enjoyable.
Junger is a soldier dedicated toGermany's cause with unquestioned devotion. He views soldiering as a noble and honourable profession. He is prepared to fight and die for Germany. But towards to end of the war Junger becomes more weary and fatalistic as Germany's struggle becomes more desperate.
All in all, Storm of Steel is a literary classic that offers perspectives other accounts do not. Junger is honest about the brutality and devastation inflicted on the conflicts victims. But Junger's exhilaration and honesty is also a source of humanity in a conflict where humanity rarely existed.
on 16 March 2013
"Storm of Steel" is a first-hand account of the First World War by Ernst Jünger, a soldier and an officer of the German army. Participant of most of the famous Battles on the Western Front and an eyewitness of all the new deadly inventions of modern warfare, this true story shows the sharpest end of the First World War: trench warfare by storm troopers.
Jünger's simple writing style and use of words (similar to Remarque's "All quiet on the western front"- ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT) increases the impact of the story and scenes. On one hand it is very descriptive, yet on the other hand it leaves the reader enough room for his own imagination. In addition, the actual story is engrossing with the writer participating in famous battles, leading long forgotten skirmishes, being exposed to danger constantly and having numerous brushes with death. As a result, "Storm of Steel" is a raw eyewitness account of one of the great tragedies of the twentieth century as well as a timeless masterpiece from a literary point of view. It left me in shock and awe from page one and will stay with me for a long time.
Unfortunately, the book and its writer have been politicized in the twentieth century and as a result "Storm of Steel" has not always had the recognition it deserves. To be clear this book has not been written to be an anti-war statement. This is the story of a young man who saw the war as a great existential adventure, or as Jünger states himself, "men of quality emphasized the savagery of war and transfigured it at the same time: an objective relish of danger". Highly recommended.
on 21 October 2013
Widely acclaimed as being one of the greatest books to come out of World War One, Ernst Jünger's 'Storm of Steel' is essential reading for anyone interested in The First World War and especially for those wanting to gain an understanding of the conflict from a German soldier's point of view. Later in his life Jünger became a highly controversial figure and this book in particular [which is his account of his time as a German soldier fighting on the Western Front] is often seen as glorifying war. However, having spent the last few evenings reading the book, I have to say that I didn't come away with that impression of it at all.
First and foremost this is a war diary and a very interesting one at that. It is a soldier's record of his experiences in combat and therefore the focus is solely on the where, when and what happened and not on the why. Personally I found Jünger's blow-by-blow account to be a fantastic read but I can understand that the lack of any attempt to morally justify his actions, or consider the wider consequences of them, is what has given this book such a bad press over the years. It is also devoid of the sense of guilt and mawkishness which modern readers of WW1 literature have come to expect. Michael Hofmann, the man responsible for this excellent new translation of Storm of Steel, explores these issues in his detailed introduction to the book.
From his writing Jünger comes across as an intelligent and obviously brave man and throughout the book he makes some matter-of-fact but still profound observations about the nature of warfare and its effect on the men who fight it. There's also plenty of trench humour which helps to take the sting out of the often horrific events unfolding around him.
What made this book an especially worthwhile read for me though was something I unexpectedly came across about halfway through. In the chapter "Langemark" Jünger explains how, from late July until early August 1917, him and his men were in Flanders defending fortified positions located on the eastern side of a stretch of an overflowing stream called the Steenbach. This was of particular interest to me because my great-grandfather, Frederick, was deployed on the same stretch of front at almost exactly the same time as Jünger. In fact he was killed in an early morning assault across the Steenbach on 11 August 1917 about a week after Jünger and his troops had pulled out. I therefore found Jünger's description of the appalling state of the battlefield around that time particularly interesting as it has given me a greater insight into the conditions in which my great-grandfather fought and died.
on 22 November 2012
The title above is not from this book or by Ernst Junger, it was said by another young German lieutenant just as the war was starting, but I think it gives a flavour of how many on both sides felt at the time. The thing with Junger's book is that it was published a decade before equivalent British works and has an immediacy and lack of distance from the event, not to say a a different perspective that makes it difficult to put them alongside each other. It has also had a number of revisions that have toned down some of the vehemence and rhetoric, which having reached a more international audience he perhaps wanted to temper. His account does not revel in war and blood although it is described in graphic detail:
'Your teeth are grinding on the fuse-pin of the hand-grenade. The encounter will be short and murderous. You tremble with two contradictory impulses: the heightened awareness of the huntsman, and the terror of the quarry. You are a world to yourself, saturated with the appalling aura of the savage landscape.'
There is next to no political reflection in the book, details of home leave are perfunctory, only his relationship with a wounded younger brother and friends he loses have a shortened sense of intimacy. Dedication to his country and friends is infinite. There is little room for doubt about the war, it's nature or it's purpose. It is for modern tastes unsettling. He often has the eyes and tone of the warrior rather than the soldier. But the book has an unflinching honesty about both the pain and suffering he both inflicts and receives:
'The defile and the land behind was strewn with German dead, the field ahead with British. Arms and legs and heads stuck out of the slopes; in front of our holes were severed limbs and bodies, some of which had had coats or tarpaulins thrown over them, to save us the sight of the disfigured faces. In spite of the heat no one thought of covering the bodies with earth.'
The language is stark sometimes devoid of emotion, sometimes intensely personal. This, after an artillery shell has killed a large number of Junger's men waiting to go forward:
'Half an hour ago at the head of a full battle-strength company, I was now wandering around a labyrinth of trenches with a few, completely demoralized men. One baby-faced fellow, who was mocked a few days ago by his comrades, and on exercises had wept under the weight of the big munitions boxes, was now loyally carrying them on our heavy way, having picked them up unasked in the crater. Seeing that did for me. I threw myself to the ground, and sobbed hysterically, while my men stood grimly about.'
In another encounter he describes his abject panic as he is pursued by artillery fire through the trees. There is some very dark humour, being shelled on the latrine or a soldier with a stammer being shot because he could not say the pass word.
Wounded numerous times, his survival in this gripping account is a miracle, I suspect many others viewed their own survival in the same way. He has few regrets. His Blue Max could not have been earned in a much harder way.
A brilliant and deeply thought provoking account of conflict and combat.
on 28 June 2014
There have been comparisons made between “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque and “Storm of Steel”: which of these two books could really claim the title of being the best book to come out of the First World War? I think the books are different in two respects – the former is a moral indictment of the war, and the futility of it – the second concerns a man's attempt to push himself not only up to his limits, but beyond them. Only occasionally does one get the impression that the loss of life is senseless, although in later years Jünger was to speak about Germany's "ideology of war" as a "catastrophic mistake".
What makes this book such a magnificent read is the use of his language, and the translator, Michael Hofmann, has done a quite extraordinary job in this respect. The descriptions of the most horrific moments in battle, set against the times when there is a welcome relief from it, provide lines sometimes of unforgettable beauty. Take, for instance, his feelings the night before one of the greatest battles in La Somme. “On many a day of wrath we had fought on one and the same battlefield, and today once more the sun, now low in the Western sky, was to gild the blood of all, or nearly all”. This type of language to make poetic what was something absolutely horrific, is a thread running throughout the whole of the book. The same language can lead the reader through scenes of unimaginable suffering, while at the same time being uplifted by descriptions of moments when the smallest compensation is found in a dry dug-out, or an unexpected change in a monotonous diet. The sights and sounds of battle, are so brilliantly described, a sound-track could not do a better job of understanding what it was like to live through such terrifying ordeals. However, despite such terrible events, a sense of humour also runs through the book : I liked the description of cucumber being described as vegetarian sausage, or when, running out of cartridges, a fleeing "Tommie" is pelted with earth clods. What was so amazing about Ernst Jünger, is that he seemed to have retained his sanity, and well beyond, dying at the age of 102. With his outstanding intellect, he tried to to rationalise war, placing the blame on neither one nor the other side. He became friends with eminent authors, and was admired by heads of state. However, another person, whose political ideology, coupled with the identical battle experience to that of Jünger, and who, also, received the Iron Cross for his bravery, was not to forgive his victors so easily. Just twenty-five years later he was to lead the world into another cataclysmic conflict. By that time Junger had had enough of fighting on the battlefields, and was given work as an administrative officer in Paris. This book is a fine legacy to a quite exceptional person.
Junger's reputation has gone before him, on account of his alleged dalliances with the Nazis in the 1930s. Don't let any of that put you off. If you are interested in the Great War, then it is a must-read.
The book - or least this edition of it - is no fascist screed. But neither is it a pacifist tome. He does not glorify war but neither does he disparage it. It is a matter-of-fact memoir of a man who spent the best part of four years on the front and experienced a gamut of emotions, boredom, terror and exultation, grief, elation. The author was wounded several times, twice seriously. His final wound in the closing weeks of the conflict ended his participation in the war. But had the war lasted beyond November 1918, he would undoubtedly have gone straight back to the front.
He clearly enjoyed many aspects of his experience. Because the narrative is free of introspection he offers no clue as to his motivations, personal or political, other than the sense of a consummate professional who is simply doing his job. There is an absence of preaching or moralising - for or against the war. He makes little reference to his family (aside from his brother, who also fought). The account focusses on trying to record as much experience as honestly as possible. The merit of this is that it gives a convincing account of life on the front line, without hyperbole or histrionics (incidentally, most of his fallen comrades are killed by artillery, or in small-scale trench raids; the massed frontal assault against enemy lines, the stereotypical perception of trench warfare, he experiences only once, in 1918).
The narrative is not overwrought or crass - the prose is terse and economical but the horrors of war are not dimmed thereby. But clearly there was more to his experiences than horror and he is capable of exquisite sensitivity on occasion, like his reminiscence of the dead British boy solider, who appeared in his dreams after the war. The state `takes away our responsibility but not our remorse'. Another occasion he spares a British officer's life after the latter shows him a picture of his family on a terrace. Nonetheless, he kills enemy warriors without much expression of compunction but with no great malice either. It was nothing personal.
Our perceptions of the Great War have to some extent been shaped by authors like Sassoon and Owen. Their literary qualities are not in doubt. But whether their reported perceptions of the conflict were typical of the average fighting man is a moot point (to know this for sure, we would have to have access to millions of memoirs). One assumes that plenty of men, on all sides of the conflict, like Junger, fought and killed and then when it was all over went back to civvy street and got on with their lives, without plunging into nihilism or extremism or even suffering crippling long-term trauma. How typical was Junger's experience? It is certainly a question worth asking.
on 3 June 2010
Apart from Goodbye to All That (Penguin Modern Classics) I hadn't read any eyewitness-accounts of the First World War (though some historical books on the subject), and even this one I stumbled across quite by accident. I cannot claim to be a passionate reader on the subject, let alone an expert. But still, somehow, this book had me by the throat from page one. Looking back, I think it is the strange mix of detachment and involvement in the writing that makes this so powerful a book.
On the one hand, Jünger describes his experiences in the trenches in a very detached, unemotional matter. Events, even of the most gruesome sort, are described 'as he witnessed them' as if he was there as a neutral, impartial observer instead of a participant. The very first sentence of the book is typical: 'The train stopped at Bazancourt, a small town in Champagne, and we got out.'. But then again, in the stories about dozens of attacks, counter-attacks and nightly patrols, one can feel the Jünger's fascination with the sheer immensity and impact of all-out, total war. Rarely if ever is this motivated by patriotism, in fact there's hardly any motivation at all: the how and the what of being in the trenches for four years are there, but there is no attempt to consider the why. There is no hatred towards the French or the British for being French or British, they are quite simply 'the enemy' and that suffices for the warrior in Jünger.
And an awesome warrior he must have been, the youngest ever recipient of 'pour le Mérite' (the Kingdom of Prussia's highest military order until the end of the First World War). But here again, he does not revel in this, he does not glorify it, he just describes what he does. And he is definitely not 'a moron with lots of courage'. On the contrary, in between the scenes of brutal and merciless fighting, Jünger describes in the same economical manner how he feels and does so with astonishing honesty and powerful imagery, as when he describes waiting for an impending attack as 'a scene that grips the spirit like some terrible silent ceremonial that portends human sacrifice'.
The dedication of Jünger's memoir is 'To the fallen', and if only for the millions of those we should all read this book and never forget.
Strange, reading this, then realising he's talking about shooting Great Grandad across the trench lines. If he had succeeded this review would not have been written. G Grandad was never enthused with Germany or Germans. He would have chased me out of the house, if I ever had the temerity to show him this.
A Junger beacon, this made his name and was a set book on the Nasty curriculum - quite why I am not sure - perhaps it shows a Spartan ideal. Beloved by the Far Right, because it seemingly made war cosy and righteous. Junger was initially a fellow traveler and wrote for Beobachter, but became more complicated as time progressed, moving further away. He became friend with Eric Muhsam - who also produced texts, except he was an anarchistic jewish radical. The Nasties beat Eric to death and were gong to shoot Ernst in 1940 after he produced "The Marble Cliffs."
Junger changed this books tone according to the zeitgeist. Originally published for veterans of the Hanoverian Regiment, after the war as solace, it is derived from his war diaries. Later it gained a mass audience in the 1920's, as a rework, full of blood and guts, replete with thunder, detailing the murder of British Tommies and Frenchies. The opposite of the pacifism of Remarque, Barbusse, Trumbo and Hasek.
Its popularity grew, finally translated abroad, striking a chord with the sons of WW1 war veterans on the receiving end of PTSD fists and tongues. He then rewrote it, to take out the Sven Hassel machine rage, directed against the British, making it much softer.
A bible which National Socialists still clasped to their bosoms as they lionised war once again goosestepping across Europe in the 1930's, but Ernst had left them behind. Grandad x2 helped put a stop to them shuffling into the UK. In the end neither would have liked me reading this.
After the war Junger was persona non grata because of his close association with Adolf. He was deemed a pariah of sorts. But Junger plugged away with his writings and was eventually canonised as the elderly often are, if they keep going long enough.
This version is less blood thirsty and more descriptive than previous. It has more emotional connection than, the autistic prose of the 1920's. If you want to see a dissection of the man Junger, along with his compatriots, read Klaus Theweleit's "Male Fantasies Volumes 1 and 2. Klaus researching his dad hit a rich vein of unearthing autistic killing machines, brutalised as children, given a gun at 17 and told to go and kill some foreigners. Sounds familiar?
"Storm and Steel" provides a brutal spartan insight from one German embroiled in the war machine. He and "they" come over as human beings, slowly sinking into a psychological morass, where it all bleeds away into the chalk faced dirt. It resonates with the writings of Mishima, as a form of psychological elucidation.
The war is happening to me, but I am someone else who is experiencing this as a form of dream, and sooner or later I will wake up. Except of course, the war was real and the person who was Junger. He became pushed further and further into his psychological interior. Gradually, over his lifetime he emerged from his shell shock. This book explains his inner psychological retreat, the war he inhabited was pure hell, atrocity after atrocity, so much of it, it becomes mundane, an expectation.
No wonder the veterans kept quiet, horror could never be described like it is in this book. This is why it is a master piece, it captures the war better than Sassoon, Owen, Brooke and countless others, because you feel his disassociation, a slide into utter meaninglessness.
This is the most emotionally honest, bleakest book, about WW1. It sits alongside Dalton Trumbo, Hasek, Remarque, Celine, Barbusse as a huge gaping wound, never completely healed, all those decades ago. It still ripples through the generations and this hit me with the force of a hammer cracking the skull.
This is not a Boy's Own Empire book, knocked out en masse in the 50's, to try and turn us into glorious cannon fodder. Filled with the nonsense about righteous deaths, fighting for freedom, love of the country, all types of pseudo mumbo jumbo spewed from people's lips. Talk ejected without thought, brainwashing. Now there's no real need, phoney wars are fought with computers and professionals, just join the TA.
Junger descrbes its inception, the belief that erodes into nihilism. Wounded before he saw an enemy soldier, spending more recuperating, fixated with a return. Meanwhile the people at the beginning slowly disappear at various French/Belgian towns. The descriptions of the dead, dying and moldering all abound. Talking to someone one minute, turn around, and he's there with the top of his head missing with blood gushing out. How do you return from that?
Junger becomes addicted to the excitement, the opposite of civil mundanity, it transforms him irrevocably, as he finds a meaning in the brutality. To some extent he was suicidal but one of the few who desired death to emerge the other side and live.
But his experiences; he cannot shake them off, and this is where it becomes frightening, as he shapes himself within the brutal world.
This book, when originally published, was a stir of the patriotic loins. Refined into something more palatable, it is an autistic journey through hell, there is little more brutal than this book you will ever be read unless 120 Days, Juliette or Barbusse are your benchmark. It is an ultimate in human deprivation, after he eradicated his sub Nietzschean moralising.