April 3, 2012
Decade of Decision
Writing from vastly different perspectives, Earnest Jünger’s Storm of Steel and Robert Graves’s Good-bye to All That provide vivid and comprehensive accounts of the horrific carnage of the Great War. Predominantly using recounted memories and ghastly imagery, these autobiographical works display the nightmare of mechanized warfare to the general public. Although these memoires come from different sides of the conflict, they share certain similarities and differences. But despite the similarities and differences of their respective memoires and the overall outcome of the war, Jünger is the victor of the internal struggle while Graves finds himself on the opposing end.
Upon the outbreak of World War I, men across the world rushed to enlistment offices to join the front lines. Both Graves and Jünger came from respectful families and thus both enjoyed a life free from despair before the war. Despite having to what many would call an adequate lifestyle, both Jünger and Graves used the military as a means to escape home. For Graves, fleeing to the front line was a way to leave home and the expectations set by others; “A day or two later I decided to enlist. In the first place, though the papers predicted only a very short war – over by Christmas at the outside – I hoped that it might last long enough to delay my going to Oxford in October, which I dreaded” (Graves, 67). Rather than continue to explore his education, Graves decided to leave his structured lifestyle and experience combat first hand. Jünger does not wait for the outbreak of war to enlist; in 1913 he joined the French Foreign Legion to fulfill his lust for combat and to serve his country. Despite originating from different nations, both Jünger and Graves experience the war with the same preamble, running from home. Although Graves and Jünger fought on opposite ends of the conflict, they share numerous common experiences of the horrors of war. Both Jünger and Graves gruesomely portray the sights, sounds, and smells of the battlefield in such a vivid and unsettling manner, that readers can not help but let their minds formulate an image to accompany the words. Jünger states, “Next to the entrance one man lay on his belly in a shredded uniform; his head was off, and the blood had flowed into a puddle. When an ambulanceman turned him over to check for valuables, I saw as in a nightmare that his thumb was still hanging from the remains of his arm” (Jünger, 135). Sights such as these are enough to drive a man into a sea of horror. It is for this reason that many men, suffered from emotional trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder. Graves experienced similar moments throughout his war, “[Corpses] continued to swell until the wall of the stomach collapsed, either naturally or when punctured by a bullet; a disgusting smell would float across” (Graves, 163). The imagery produced in the written works prove that both men have seen the horrors of war and as a result, experienced a similar sense of mental stress.
War hardens a man; he becomes immune to pain and the tragedies unfolding around him. Despite being toughened by the war, both men had to deal with the sorrow of losing someone close. Robert Graves lost his close friend, David Thomas. Although selfish by nature, Graves suffered from the loss of his fallen comrade; “I felt David’s death worse than any other since I had been in France…. I just felt empty and lost” (Graves, 197). This passage illuminates the idea that no matter how hard soldiers have become, there is still a human side to these warriors. Graves was deeply affected by the loss throughout the entirety of the war. On the German side, Jünger too experienced the death of someone close. In passing, Jünger learns about the death of his brother, “Out of the blue, … I learned that he’d taken part in the night attack, and had been reported missing. He was the