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Europe (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge)

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Many similarities and yet many differences exist between the Lost Generation’s experiences in America and Europe. Although several artistic movements were very relevant to this group, in Europe, the “Generation of the Trenches” included the entire population rather than just an artistic movement. 

The Great War gave birth to a Lost Generation both in Europe and the United States, the major global areas involved in the war. 
But because of the location of the war—of the actual battlefields, and therefore the destruction and its aftermath—the experience of the Lost Generation was different in expression, if not in essence, on the two shores of the Atlantic. 

First of all, its definition. 
The Lost Generation in America mainly refers to a group of intellectuals – especially novelists – who were involved in WWI. 
The Lost Generation in Europe refers to the entire generation born at the end of the 1800s and who were, therefore, old enough to take part in the war. There is no distincion here. The term doesn’t specifically refer to art but to all the people of that age. Lost Generation is more often referred to and was indeed particularly prominent in Great Britain, but every combatant country had its own. 

The Generation of the Trenches: The Lost Generation of Europe

Pinterest Pin. The title reads, "The Lost Generation—Europe." The black-and-white picture shows an urban scene of 1920s Berlin, with the electric lights shining in the night and a crowd of people silhouetted against them.

People from every European country joined the war, and the aftermath of the war affected the lives and minds of the people of all these countries. 
Although not all young people in the 1920s participated in the war, most felt the blow. It was inescapable. 

The destruction of the old values was common in all European countries. Empires didn’t exist anymore when the war ended. The political assets of entire parts of Europe had totally changed, and a lot of people who belonged to one nation before the war belonged to another after the war. 
The sheer number of damaged people (soldiers, officers, doctors, nurses) made this generation lost. 

In addition to this, the feeling of being lost was general. 

  1. A staggering number of young men had lost their lives on the battlefields, and more had lost the possibility of a fulfilling life because of the damage (sometimes physical, sometimes mental and emotional) they had suffered. 
  2. Veterans (soldiers, officers, doctors, nurses, etc.) had lost the ability to express what they felt and lived in isolation as they tried to cope with their feelings on their own. 
  3. Many young women become very young widows of single mothers who often couldn’t remarry simply because there were not enough young men anymore. Not all of them took the new role of family head as an opportunity. 
  4. In many communities, most of the young male component had been lost to war. 

Hard as it was for their communities, the confusion was particularly hard for the young people who had never found their roots in a solid value system. What value system was passed on to them was hopelessly shaken by the war. 
To this disorientation, European youth answered with two main reactions, both extreme, because extremism was the expression of their desperation: violence and art. 

The Lost Generation and violence

The picture of two young disabled soldiers from the Great War. One of them is seated in a wheelchair, he's missing both his legs. The other stands beside him, leaning on crutches, one of his legs missing. But they both smile at the camera, the standing soldier tipping his cap in salute.

Finding themselves in a mechanised war in their prime taught these young people that violence was an acceptable means of coping with life. 

For the Generation of the Trenches, as the Lost Generation is also known in Europe, violence remained acceptable even when the war was over. 
The ideal of the fighting warrior as an epitome of healthy masculinity re-emerged after the war, expressing itself in congregations like paramilitary groups and athletic teams that promoted action, strength and imposing oneself as the best, as a manifestation of beauty and success. 

Though stylised for the peacetime reality, fighting, and therefore a certain form of violence and imposition, became the new values that revealed a man’s worth. 
Not all men adhered to this view, after all, the war had given breath a new understanding of masculinity, but for some, this was indeed an answer to their fear and confusion. 

Europe (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge) – In Europe, the "Generation of the Trenches" included the entire population rather than just an artistic movement #WWI #history Share on X

The Lost Generation and the Artistic Vanguards in Europe

On the other side of the spectrum, people harshly criticised violence. The violence of war in primis, then violence of every kind. 
Pacifism started to become a thing. While before and during WWI, pacifism was considered akin to cowardice, after the war, the concept started to morph and become more acceptable. 

The artistic vanguards played an essential role in this.
Post-WWI Europe was a particularly fertile ground for artistic vanguards, most of whom were critical of war. 
Vanguards like Expressionism, Dadaism, and Surrealism gave strong, even horrific, expressions of what war was really like away from the government glorification. 

What is interesting is that often, a form or another of violence was also integral to these movements. Many of these vanguards used extremism to express their message because it was through extremism that they tried to shake people’s sleepy consciences. In this way, violence even filtered into the discourse around peace. 


RESOURCES

Enzo Travero, A ferro e fuoco. La guerra civile europea (1914-1945), Il Mulino, Bologna, 2008


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

  • Lisa
    Posted April 5, 2024 at 17:46

    I was unaware of the term “Lost Generation” before now. I see how “lost” can be literal, the deaths of so many, and “lost” as in a feeling of being at sea, unsure what is next.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 10, 2024 at 20:31

      It’s a perfect definition, don’t you find?

  • Mystee Ryann
    Posted April 6, 2024 at 03:21

    Oh I remember hearing about this before so many available interpretations for the word “lost”
    https://amomentwithmystee.blogspot.com/search/label/A%20to%20Z%20Challenge%202024?max-results=5

  • Ronel Janse van Vuuren
    Posted April 6, 2024 at 13:32

    It’s quite grim.

    Ronel visiting for E: My Languishing TBR: E
    Gargoyles

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 10, 2024 at 20:34

      I think it truly was. It’s kind of difficult to really understand. Maybe they were right thinking that nobody could understand if they hadn’t been there.

  • Vince Rockston
    Posted April 7, 2024 at 06:42

    It’s salutary to realise the long-term effects of war on the whole of society. “Violence was an acceptable means of coping with life. – Pacifism started to become a thing.”

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 10, 2024 at 20:35

      WWI still casts its shadows (in good and bad) on us. We often forget it (or don’t know about ti at all). That’s my feeling. WWI is more relevant to us today than we think.

  • Birgit
    Posted April 8, 2024 at 01:14

    This generation was stunned by what they experienced and brought out many artistic forays from Hemingway to the artists of the day.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 10, 2024 at 20:42

      Art in all its form was a very important ‘byproduct’ of the Great War. I will address this in future posts 😉

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