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First World War (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge)

The picture acts as a drop cap for the text. Purple letter F 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'

The First World War was the origin of the Lost Generation but, in many respects, also of the lively and hopeful Twenties. 
Great numbers of young people participated in the war, witnessing unthinkable destruction. This originated their disillusionment with life and the future but also drove them to live as fully as possible. 

Before the Great War

The Lost Generation was born between 1883 and 1900. In the Western World, and especially in Europe, this meant that they were born in a world that had been at peace for almost a century. 
Europeans had come to take peacetime for granted, and their children had been educated in such a world. Wars happened far away, to other people. And even if a war were to break out in Europe, they expected it to be a ‘fair’ war, like it has always been. A war that would allow men to prove their worth in action of valour and bravery, where two opponents that knew and respected each other as opponents would measure their worth. 

In a world that hadn’t known a real war for a couple of generations, a conflict was perceived as healthy, an event that would shake the stagnant status quo, and finally, the opportunity to ‘act as men’. 
It is well-known that everybody thought the war breaking out in August would be over by Christmas. 

But they didn’t know what the new industrial war was going to be. A new experience nobody ever expected. A waking hell that would last almost five years. Five years of death and destruction. 

A black-and-white photo from the battlefields of the Great War. A group of wounded soldiers walk on a dirt road. They have bandages on their heads and arms, and some of them sustain each other.
First World War (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge) – The First World War was the origin of the Lost Generation but, in many respects, also of the lively and hopeful #1920s #WWI #history Share on X

What WWI truly was

Pinterest Pin. The title reads, "The Lost Generation—First World War." The black-and-white picture shows a group of soldiers of the Great War gathered in a trench.

WWI was the first war that operated on the potential of machines rather than men. The logic of the machine was at the base of the tactics and the strategies. 

These machines were the result of a fervent century of discoveries and inventions, some of which had never been put into actual function before. 
Only experimented in factories, usually as prototypes, when employed on the battlefields these machines revealed a destructive power nobody expected, and nobody knew how to handle. 
They turned trench warfare (which had existed for over a century) into a butchering field. 

The wounds these new machines caused were horrifying and unseen. Surgery and medicine greatly advanced on the battlefields. This means that more soldiers survived their wounds, but the wounds they survived were more terrible than any war would have caused before. The emotional damage was also deeper and more common than in any previous war. 
This was a war that, with its newness, swept away a way of life that had lasted over a century – and had probably outlasted itself. 

The world before the war had artificially stalled change for fear that any change would have disrupted the delicate peace balance they had created. And when the change finally caught up with them, manifesting in the ‘unexpected’ war, it had a terrible deflagration. 
The world that existed after WWI was unthinkably new. 

Post WWI worlds

The youth who survived the war – and, let’s not forget, the pandemic on its tail – had to face this new, unexpected world. 
Here resides the origin of the dichotomy these young people expressed. 

On the one hand, there was a sense of relief and happiness in being alive and having the opportunity to live in a world that was vastly different from the one they came from. Many people experienced a lot more opportunities in this new world that cared little about the social rules of the past and were eager to find their own rules. 

On the other hand, even young people weren’t prepared for this new world. Educated in the world before the war, young people knew the old values, the old social mores, the old expectations. And while they felt they were obsolete and not fitting for them, they didn’t know where to find new ones. 
They were acutely aware that their fathers’ values no longer had any power. What had been important in that world had been wiped away by the brutality and horror of WWI. Whatever their fathers had preached to them had been belied by industrial warfare and its horrors. These youths felt they had been lied to, and they felt bitter about it, yet the war had sacked so much out of them that nothing remained to build something new. 

WWI had both destroyed what they knew and created what they embraced. Yet they didn’t really know how to navigate the world they were living in. 


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 – Post-war Societies
Family Search – The Lost Generation: Who They Are and Why They’re “Lost”


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".

10 Comments

  • Ronel Janse van Vuuren
    Posted April 6, 2024 at 13:35

    I think, even today, people believe that war is something that happens in another country. Until it happens to them. Scary.

    Ronel visiting for F: My Languishing TBR: F
    Gorgon

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 11, 2024 at 19:12

      That’s true. Even when the war is really quite near. Ukraine is not so very far from Italy, where I live. It’s almost surreal to think about it.

  • Viktor Steiner
    Posted April 6, 2024 at 20:32

    I had never really thought about the huge change that war machinery made on the battlefield and, in consequence, on the way survivors saw life very differently, rejecting traditional values but not knowing with what to replace them.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 11, 2024 at 19:15

      I remember someone saying that people entered the Great War on horse and came out of it in an airplane. That’s the spectrum of the change. I think it’s very difficult for us to realise the impact of those changes. I almost understand why people thought the end of the world must be near.

  • martine
    Posted April 7, 2024 at 17:11

    What a fascinating thread you have for your challenge, I will pop back and read some more.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 11, 2024 at 19:16

      Hi, Martine. So happy you enjoy my challenge 🙂

  • D.A.Cairns
    Posted April 7, 2024 at 20:19

    Excellent little piece. This is my first visit (working through he A to Z list) but I’ll be back. In Australia, we are approaching ANZAC Day which is perhaps our most important national holiday. It commemorates the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915. It was our worst military disaster.
    https://dacairns.com.au/blog/f/a-to-z-blogging-challenge-f

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 11, 2024 at 19:19

      I know about the ANZAC and the Battle of Gallipoli, but never really looked into it. I’ll need to do it, one day 🙂

  • Birgit
    Posted April 8, 2024 at 01:30

    This war was vicious and the youth became so disfigured physically, emotionally and mentally.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 11, 2024 at 19:24

      That’s very true. But to be honest, nobody ever fathomed in the least what was going to happen.

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