USM Open Source History Text: The World at War: World History 1914-1945

Ernst Jünger

The final literary-artistic figure we will take a quick look at is the German writer Ernst Jünger. Jünger was a soldier during the war, injured multiple times but never seriously. He emerged from the war, like many other soldiers, believing that he had gone through a truly singular transformative experience. While many others reflected on their experienced and became deeply against warfare in general and specifically against the actions of the political and military leadership of the First World War, Jünger became convinced that the war had been a trial by fire, that it was a process to weed out the weak from the strong, the effeminate from the manly. For Jünger, the very fact that the war was horrific, brutal, and physically and mentally exhausting meant that a new type of warrior (and a new type of human being) was necessary to fight it. Technology, from its machine guns to artillery, from its barbed wire to its tanks, only increased for him the essential nobility of warfare. Jünger captured this spirit in his essays, memoirs, poems and novels after returning home to Germany. He became an advocate for German re-militarization and renewed aggression – and justified this on the aesthetic level as sublime. For Jünger, modern technological warfare was the only way to purge the culture of its flaws and weakness.

Jünger’s art, like Woolf’s and Dali’s, was reacting to the war – albeit from a completely different vantage point. All three, in can be said, believed that in one way or another the “West” or European society had lost its way. Woolf and Dali maintained that the West had committed collective suicide in war, which showed the bankruptcy of the prewar social order. Jünger believed that the West had attempted to purge itself by war of its essential weakness. For the first two, war was a pathology. For Jünger, war a necessity.

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