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3 The Impact of World War I The continuity of government, culture, and institutions in much of Europe was shattered by the impact of World War I, which ended the century-long peace that, with a few exceptions, had existed since the close of the Napoleonic wars in 1815. Its destructiveness not only cost ten million military lives but also swept away all the principal governments and dynasties of central and eastern Europe, opening the twentieth-century era of mass political violence and revolution . The basic habits of politics were altered, as the secular trend toward liberal democracy and greater representative government was challenged and in some areas reversed. Tbe consequence was a brutalization of political life which made the recourse to political violence seem natural and even normal. The impact on culture and social psychology was equally profound, as the trend toward optimism and faith in progress characteristic of the preceding century and a half was increasingly questioned and often rejected. The war had a major emancipatory effect as well. Though all the modern movements toward emancipation-whether national, social, cultural, or sexual-had begun to take shape well before the war, the change and destruction wrought by the conflict gave them all greater impulse and momentum. The war was initially greeted with enthusiasm, at least in some of the larger cities of the main belligerents, and it was welcomed at least as much by intellectuals as among ordinary citizens.I Nowhere was this so much the case as in Germany. There the war was hailed as revolution and as liberation, a rebellion against stultifying conditions and the domination of Western culture by France and Britain, providing the chance for the full affirmation of Germany and German culture for the first time. This is not to say that the German I. The best brief survey of this phenomenon and its connections with the fin de siecle cultural crisis is R. N. Stromberg. Redemption by War: The Intellectuals alld 1914 (Lincoln. 1982). 71 72 PART I: HISTORY government was any more responsible for the conflict than its counterparts in Austria, Russia, or Serbia, but simply to underscore the more expectant attitude unleashed in Germany. Many historians have dwelt on the paradox of early twentieth-century Germany, which in many ways had become not merely the newest but also the most modern and successful power in Europe. During the past two generations Germany had led in such diverse areas as education, university achievement, industry, science, technology, and urban landscape and architectural development . To fearful French commentators Germany had stood as the epitome of the modern and of "practical reason," for centuries the special domain of the West. At the same time, spokesmen for German interests in politics and in culture often expressed a sense of frustration and lack of fulfillment, a need to achieve a decisive new breakthrough. Modris Eksteins has developed the argument that "Germany, more extensively than any other country, represented the aspirations of a national avant-garde." 2 For Germans more than any of the other principal belligerents, nationalism took the form of a mystic sense of revolt against and liberation from the existing order; it did not inspire a social revolution but gave rise to military hegemony and new cultural forms. Thus it is probably not an exaggeration to say that increasingly the old German cultural emphasis on Innerlichkeit (inwardness, or depth) gave way to a subjective nationalist fantasy, a special mission against philistine bourgeois Western culture as well as against its imperialist dominance. It may well be that, as Eksteins says, this had the effect ofbroadening the fixation on narcissism and fantasy-before the war pri- . marily the province of the avant-garde-to embrace nationalist culture itself. The war could thus be a liberation and a creation, and a means through death of achieving a higher life based on a superior German culture. All the powers followed militarist policies, and all broke various rules of conduct and committed atrocities, but from the beginning the key initiatives in the war came from Germany. The escalations of weaponry and tactics-poison gas, flamethrowers, aerial bombing of cities, unrestricted submarine warfare -were German enterprises. Relatively harsher occupation policies were also carried out, the more noticeable in German policy since only Germany conquered foreign territories in the first two years of the war.3 All these things elicited the greater shock because of the apparent success achieved during the nineteenth century in establishing more civilized regulations for international disputes...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780299148737
Related ISBN
9780299148744
MARC Record
OCLC
45733847
Launched on MUSE
2012-06-26
Language
English
Open Access
No
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