This week we are reading about the history of World War I and its aftermath. The first discussion prompt this week asks you to think about the debacle of World War I, or “The Great War”, as it was called, from the perspective of what we know about the great devastation and the tragic outcome of that war. The assumption of the so-called “civilized world” (Europeans and Americans) at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries was that the world was increasingly becoming a better place due progress in science, technology, industry, and education, and enlightened politics, and therefore, war would no longer be a necessary evil for this advanced society. When World War I broke out, leaders of most countries who participated in the war thought that it would be a short war, or a “War to End All Wars.”Contrary to the expectations of the civilized world, however, The Great War turned out to be the most devastating event in the history of human civilization, shattering the belief widely held since The Enlightenment that reason, education, and scientific progress could bring about a more enlightened world. Instead, the progress that was achieved by science and technology came in the form of “terrifying new weapons” that were capable of destroying human life on a mass scale that had never been contemplated before. The Great War turned into a long, agonizing ordeal at the end of which there were “almost 10 million killed, and 21 million wounded among military personnel from the participating armies, and nearly 7 million civilians killed” (Bahm, Enright, & van Tuyll, 2011). Instead of bringing about a society of a higher order, the war ended in a pervasive sense of disillusionment with social and scientific progress and the destruction of the traditional institutions that had provided the foundation of Western civilization. The idea that human reason was a powerful tool that could bring control to nature and society gave way to the terrifying recognition that human beings were fundamentally irrational, and that their advances in science and technology had culminated in their ability to destroy themselves. Progress in science, technology, and industry, as it was manifested in World War I, became a “symbol of utter pointlessness” (Bahm, Enright, & van Tuyll, 2011).
For this week’s discussion forum, you will read selected chapters from Erich Maria Remarque’s novel about World War I, All Quiet on the Western Front, available in ebrary. In the preface to All Quiet on the Western Front, Remarque says “This book is to be neither an accusation nor a confession, and least of all an adventure, for death is not an adventure to those who stand face to face with it. It will try simply to tell of a generation of men who, even though they may have escaped its shells, were destroyed by the way.” Throughout his novel, Remarque emphasizes the way that war transformed its participants and made it impossible for them to return to normal life. Hence historian Modris Eksteins argues that “All Quiet is more a comment on the postwar mind, on the postwar view of the war, than an attempt to reconstruct the reality of the trench experience” (see his essay “Memory” in Critical Insights: All Quiet on the Western Front, p.142, available in Ashhord’s library, through the “Literary Reference Center”). In other words, the novel is about how the memory of war haunts ex-soldiers, but it is also about how the memory of war haunts
the broader society.
For this week’s discussion, you will write the theme of the war’s effect on soldiers and on society as a whole. You are also being asked to think about the concept that we have been reading about since Week 1 that human reason can lift civilization up to higher levels and that advancements in science and technology, or “progress”, is inherently a good thing. Was this widely held belief overly optimistic? Was it naïve? (These may be 2 different things.) Or, despite the events of World War I, is this belief still fundamentally true? Ask yourselves why the most educated and evolved societies in human history did not anticipate that all their advancements would result in the terrible tragedy of World War I. How could it be that these same educated and evolved societies could commit atrocities against their fellow human beings on a scale that had never been witnessed before? Are human beings fundamentally susceptible to education and improvement, or are we basically savage brutes driven by primitive desires underneath the veneer of civilization? What role did optimism and naivete about WWI affect soldiers before and during the war and how did it affect their identity afterwards?
Please respond to the following questions:
1. What exactly does war do to soldiers, as Remarque portrays it? What role do war memories play in constructing soldiers’ post-war identities?
2. What role does optimism and naivete play in the formation of the soldiers’ pre-war identity and their subsequent transformation following their real experience of war?
3. Expand your discussion to society in general. How does a culture’s war memories affect collective identity?
In your responses to this discussion post must be 650 or more, you can allow your mind to grapple freely with these profound questions, but make sure that you support your claims with evidence from the material you are required to read for this week – either history or literature – and/or from other scholarly sources. There is no requirement for this question about how many scholarly sources you need to use. Remember, as always, to cite your references properly, using APA format.
Must use APA format and PLAGIARISM will not receive payment. Late work will not receive payment.