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Violence (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge)

The picture acts as a drop cap for the text. Purple letter V with a laurel wreath, representing the A to Z Challenge blogging event. Text below the logo says 'Blogging from A to Z April Challenge' and 'a-to-zchallenge.com'

Post-war societies were inclined to suffer violence rather than suppress or avoid it. Made up of great numbers of former soldiers, these societies accepted their martial behaviours as a form of healthy masculinity rather than something unnatural. 

The societies that came out of the Great War – though this is especially true for the combatant nations, which all were part of the Western society – were constituted in prevalence by ex-soldiers and former participants in the war. The younger generation, in particular, had come of age during these terrible years of death and suffering. While on the one end, they were very aware of human vulnerabilities, both physical and emotional, they were also accustomed to violence as a way of life. 

Pinterst pin. The title reads, "The Lost Generation—Violence." The black-and-white picture shows the memorial to the Great War fallen in the city of Trieste. The group statue on top of the column shows the soldiers as classic warriors.

In the unstable time after the war, a few important things happened:

  1. Youth became its own social sector. While before the Great War, people moved from childhood directly to adulthood once they started shouldering adult responsibilities, in post-war society, youthfulness became that state ‘of grace’ in which a person was not a child anymore but was not yet required to be an adult. It was a time of passage when people learned and experimented to become more experienced adults. 
    It was precisely after the war that sociologist Karl Mannheim proposed a new definition of generation: no more just a demographic fact linked to the date of birth, but rather a social and cultural definition. A generation was a group of people who all experienced a defining historical and cultural event that determined their personality. 
    The Lost Generation was the first to be defined by this new idea, and the event that impacted them was, of course, the Great War. 
  2. This generation of youths had come of age during those bloodshed years and had been moulded by the war experience. On this rested their restlessness, their rebellion, their disillusionment and, therefore, their decadence and their hedonism.
    Their societies tried to defend themselves against the implied criticism this generation addressed them with by offering an alternative identity: that of the soldier as a hero
    In many nations, the hero—this figure that had been seriously questioned by industrial warfare—was proposed after the war as the most beautiful incarnation of the new generation. He – this model did rest heavily on gender – became the hero of his nation as he stepped into the soldier, the warrior, and at length became the very personification of his nation. 
    While the damaged soldiers is the new identity that emerges from the reality of the trenches, the national hero is the identity that all nations build for propaganda, during the war years, and for ‘defence’ after the war. 
  3. By this path, the young male becomes the model of all combatant nations. He becomes a symbol of strength, courage, virility, energy, and action, but also beauty, nobility, and idealism. 
    Pressed during the war, these warrior traits remained the definition of healthy masculinity after the war. Presented as positive, they define the ideal of the warrior, the soldier who defends his land and his people, and as such are directly or indirectly linked to violence, war, and killing. 
The black-and-white picture shows a group of Freikorps paramilitary soldiers in WWI uniforms in a Berlin street in the early 1920s.

In post-war societies, then, a dichotomy arose between this male ideal that ultimately referred to pre-war masculinity and the new damaged masculinity that emerged from the trenches. 
The damaged masculinity was highly problematic and hard to accept both by the people who embodied it and by the community around them. 
These ex-soldiers had a hard time coming to terms with their own fragilities, which they perceived as weak because this was how their society considered it. Besides, because their friends and families very often could not understand his feelings, damaged soldiers often self-censored their feelings and tried to cope with them by themselves.

Those same communities and society praised the unfaltering hero of the nation, the one who took up a weapon without hesitation and sought to kill as many enemies as possible. Nobody tried to hide or censor this identity.
In the years after the war, when veterans were so numerous and many were young and didn’t have any other meaningful experience than war, fighting, prowess and, therefore, violence became part of a positive male identity. 

Because the fighting hero and all his characteristics were positive ideals, everything that was ‘other’ became negative. Weakness, both physical and emotional and mental, cowardice, disharmony, hugliness, intellectualism, excessive nervousness, and non-conformal behaviours became the characteristics of the opposite of the fighting hero—of feminized males who were not able to be true men. 
This included pacifists, intellectuals, artists, and by extension, from a certain point onward, also homosexuals, Jews, foreigners, and believers in different religions. 
By the new paradigm, it was ok to combat them with violence. 

Violence (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge) Post-war societies were inclined to suffer violence rather than suppress or avoid it. Martial behaviours were considered healthy masculinity #WWI #History Share on X

The Lost Generation and the ideal of the fighting hero

The Lost Generation, who was the main protagonist of this ‘hero operation’, was indeed ambivalent towards it. 

Because of their disillusionment, hedonism, and rebellion, many members of this generation, particularly the artists, were eventually deemed ‘degenerate’. There was something off about them. 

Bizarrily, for the same reason, the Lost Generation also adhered to this ideal. Scared by women social advancements and new roles, disillusioned by history and uncertain about their future, many of these young men found comfort and security in the hero identity. 


RESOURCES

Enzo Travero, A ferro e fuoco. La guerra civile europea (1914-1945), Il Mulino, Bologna, 2008 (Fire and Blood: The European Civil War, 1914-1945, Verso Publishers, 2016)

International Encyclopedia of the First World War – Masculinities


Horizontal banner for the book "The Great War". On the left-hand side is the photo of a group of soldiers standing in a WWI trench. A Yellow button reads, "Go to Shop". On the right-hand side is a picture of a stake of two books, of which only the spine is visible, and the cover of a book standing upright, with the same group of soldiers standing in the trench. The stake of books stands against an olive green background. A big title in yellow reads "The Great War", and a smaller text reads "The updated ebook".

7 Comments

  • Anne E.G. Nydam
    Posted April 26, 2024 at 01:14

    Hm, I never thought about how WWI played into a culture of toxic masculinity. Interesting.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 29, 2024 at 12:25

      And I’m fascinated with the connection with women’s changing social role.
      When I wrote the series about Film Noir, which was connected to WWII, I discovered something similar was happening at that time too. Women’s social role was changing, and the men who felt vulnerable after another war, where subconsciously scared of women’s new ‘power’. Thus the famme fatale was born.

  • Vince Rockston
    Posted April 26, 2024 at 16:54

    Another very perceptive insight. Thanks.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 29, 2024 at 12:42

      Thanks, Vince. Happy you find it interesting 🙂

  • Debbie
    Posted April 26, 2024 at 18:45

    Definitely a generation I am pleased to not have been a part of,
    Debbie
    #AtoZChallenge

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 29, 2024 at 12:42

      I agree. It must have been exceptionally hard.

  • Ronel Janse van Vuuren
    Posted May 14, 2024 at 13:28

    So much here that explores the how’s and why’s of society even today…

    Ronel visiting for V: My Languishing TBR: V
    Cyclops

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