Cover image for Fallen soldiers : reshaping the memory of the World Wars
Fallen soldiers : reshaping the memory of the World Wars
Mosse, George L. (George Lachmann), 1918-1999.
Publication Information:
New York : Oxford University Press, 1990.
Physical Description:
vi, 264 pages : illustrations ; 21 cm
Reading Level:
1490 Lexile.
Format :


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U22.3 .M63 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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At the outbreak of the First World War, an entire generation of young men charged into battle for what they believed was a glorious cause. Over the next four years, that cause claimed the lives of some 13 million soldiers--more than twice the number killed in all the major wars from 1790 to 1914. But despite this devastating toll, the memory fostered by the belligerents was not of the grim reality of its trench warfare and battlefield carnage. Instead, the nations that fought commemorated the war's sacredness and the martyrdom of those who had died for the greater glory of the fatherland.
The sanctification of war is the subject of this pioneering work by well-known European historian George L. Mosse. Fallen Soldiers offers a profound analysis of what he calls the Myth of the War Experience--a vision of war that masks its horror, consecrates its memory, and ultimately justifies its purpose. Beginning with the Napoleonic wars, Mosse traces the origins of this myth and its symbols, and examines the role of war volunteers in creating and perpetuating it. His book is likely to become one of the classic studies of modern war and the complex, often disturbing nature of human perception and memory.

Author Notes

About the Author:

George L. Mosse is Bascom-Weinstein Professor of History, Emeritus, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and Koebner Professor of History, Emeritus, at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His previous books include The Crisis of German Ideology, Nazi Culture, The Nationalization of the Masses, Nationality and Sexuality, and Toward the Final Solution.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

World War I is the focus of Mosse's study of the "myth of the war experience"--a term coined by the author to capture the habit of regarding war ex post facto as a meaningful and sacred event for all those who participated in it. Mosse theorizes that this myth arose as a reaction to the mass encounter with death that characterized the fighting on the Western Front and in Russia from 1914-18. In the years that followed, he tells us, veterans sought to come to terms with their experiences by masking and legitimizing the horrifying reality of the war. The societies in which they lived followed suit, and further obscured the true nature of the war by trivializing it through movies, popular theater, and battlefield tourism. As one might expect, the myth took deepest root in Germany, where it fueled the nationalistic fervor that gave us Nazism and, ultimately, a second world war far more destructive than the first. Well argued and absorbing. Notes; to be indexed. --Steve Weingartner

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this absorbing, beautifully written study, the author traces the emergence of the ``myth of the war experience'' with its emphasis on glory rather than horror, showing how societies in the West came to rely on it, especially after the carnage of WW I, to make ``an inherently unpalatable past acceptable.'' Mosse argues that the commemoration of the dead of WW I in Germany, Britain, Italy and the U.S. was analogous to the construction of a national church with its own saints, martyrs and places of worship--a heritage for the next generation to emulate. In popular culture the war was sentimentalized, trivialized and domesticated in an attempt to render it commonplace instead of colossal and frightening. The cult of the fallen soldier declined in WW II and lost most of its appeal in the face of the nuclear threat. In the author's view, the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., is a monument to the death of the ``myth of the war experience.'' Mosse is an emeritus professor of history affiliated with both Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the University of Wisconsin. Illustrations. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This review of the cultural and political impact of World War I complements Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory ( LJ 7/75) by tracing primarily the German experience. Mosse draws less upon literature than Fussell did but explores such sources as war monument and cemetery design and popular cultural items to build his thesis. He holds that the ``Myth of the War Experience,'' largely created by intelligent volunteers, coupled with the ``cult of the Fallen Soldier'' added to the rise in nationalist feelings after the war, leading to the re-ignition of conflict as World War II. The book will most interest scholars and informed readers, but the chapter on trivialization of war will appeal to postcard and toy soldier collectors. A fascinating book. Recommended.--George H. Siehl, Library of Congress (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Mosse describes and analyzes the process by which mass death in war was made acceptable in modern times. The celebration, commemoration, and mythologizing of the war experience was neither necessary nor possible before the advent of citizen armies in the era of the French Revolution and Napoleonic wars. Formerly, only generals, kings, and statesmen had been memorialized; their armies of paid mercenaries, the unlamented dregs of society, remained anonymous. But through the 19th century, common citizens were called upon to give up their lives in battle and a new conception of the war experience was devised to make this palatable. The "nationalization of death," as Mosse calls it, was accomplished in song and literature, in historical monuments, and in new sorts of cemeteries that deemphasized the personal agonies of dying in favor of a remote, collective, and natural process. Public education and the graphic arts also contributed to the manufacturing of potent new and revamped symbols. Neither the carnage of WW I nor the stark realities of WW II have sufficed to explode the myth of the war experience. It continues to perpetuate the values of war. This worthwhile essay is accessible to readers at all levels. -R. S. Levy, University of Illinois at Chicago

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. v
Chapter 1 Introduction: a Different Kind of Warp. 3
Part I The Foundationsp. 13
Chapter 2 Volunteers in Warp. 15
Chapter 3 Building the Myth: Tangible Symbols of Deathp. 34
Part II The First World Warp. 51
Chapter 4 Youth and the War Experiencep. 53
Chapter 5 The Cult of the Fallen Soldierp. 70
Chapter 6 The Appropriation of Naturep. 107
Chapter 7 Process of Trivializationp. 126
Part III The Postwar Agep. 157
Chapter 8 The Brutalization of German Politicsp. 159
Chapter 9 Building on Warp. 182
Chapter 10 The Second World War, the Myth, and the Postwar Generationp. 201
Notesp. 227
Indexp. 252