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German Soldiers and the Horror of War: Fear of Death and the Joy of Killing in 1870 and 1914

Hewitson, M; (2016) German Soldiers and the Horror of War: Fear of Death and the Joy of Killing in 1870 and 1914. History , 101 (346) pp. 396-424. 10.1111/1468-229X.12234. Green open access

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Abstract

This chapter investigates the relationship between the legitimization of acts of aggression in wars and the outlawing of violence at home. It focuses on soldiers' responses to violence during the transition from nineteenth century warfare to total war, which relied not only on mass conscription but also on the mobilization of civilians. In the ‘wars of the masses’ of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century – the Franco-German War (1870-71) and the First World War (1914-18) – large numbers of individuals were required to kill on behalf of the state. For 'more developed industrial states', this was the point at which, as Norbert Elias recognized, ‘the gradient between pacification within the state and the threat between states is often especially steep.’ Soldiers were thus caught between a taboo on aggression and killing in civilian life, and the encouragement and rewarding of violence during wartime. The article points to important similarities between combatants’ responses in 1870 and 1914 whilst also accepting that the inhibition of aggression had become more pronounced by 1914, despite more widespread expressions of national feeling, which served to legitimize the violent actions of conscript soldiers. At the same time, the reversal of civilized norms took place quickly during modern wars and with lasting effects during peacetime. Under certain conditions, acts of violence, the prohibition of which was supposedly necessary for the very existence of civilized societies, were rapidly accepted as a part of warfare and seem subsequently to have been accepted by sections of civil society.

Type: Article
Title: German Soldiers and the Horror of War: Fear of Death and the Joy of Killing in 1870 and 1914
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1111/1468-229X.12234
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1468-229X.12234
Language: English
Additional information: This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Hewitson, M; (2016) German Soldiers and the Horror of War: Fear of Death and the Joy of Killing in 1870 and 1914. History: the journal of the Historical Association , 101 (346) pp. 396-424. 10.1111/1468-229X.12234, which has been published in final form at http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/1468-229X.12234. This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Self-Archiving.
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > SELCS
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1476595
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