6 December 2012
World War I’s impact on European society would probably come as a shock to society from the prewar era. Rather than revert to old normalcy, societal ideals changed. Young people craved a newness that could not be found by returning to prewar customs. They wanted to move on and quickly. Every aspect of society began to transform, from political beliefs to literature and morality to clothing style and even architecture. In Modris Eksteins’ Rites of Spring and Jay Winter’s Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning, the authors discuss how the Great War required all people to reevaluate what was important in their lives. Although Winter made valid points, especially about mourning, Eksteins’ Rites of Spring properly explains how the trench warfare experience so drastically transformed the mindset of postwar Europe. The changes of society were of more importance than the continuities of prewar Europe. According to Winter, the mourning process is a key factor in society’s ability to move forward. Each country felt the need to commemorate the Great War with memorials, monuments and museums. Winter believed that people felt “the need to express the indebtedness of the living to the fallen” (Winter 86). People believed they owed the lost soldiers something; these men had protected them and their country and paid the ultimate price. Winter’s use of the word “indebtedness” emphasizes the fact that these mourners can never truly repay the soldiers who gave their lives. Those men are gone forever, while the rest of society can live on. The problem was that society felt stuck, and with a strong grip on the past. Winter highlights this idea of immobility when he says, “the harsh history of life and death in wartime is frozen in public monuments throughout Europe and beyond” (Winter 78). Wartime monuments surround society everywhere, and therefore society can never truly escape them. That specific history is “frozen” in time. The word frozen is defined as, “to become fixed, stuck, or attached” as well as “to stop functioning properly” and “to become motionless or immobile” (the free dictionary). The word frozen is also associated with winter, [the season] where nature becomes lifeless and the world is cold and dark. Society is stuck and cannot move past the death from war. The author further explains, “For anyone living in Europe, these ‘documents’ are part of the landscape. To find them one must simply look around” (79). He incorrectly concludes that society is entrapped in the outcome of the Great War and unable to properly bereave, as they feel indebted to the men who sacrificed their lives. In Rites of Spring, Eksteins correctly counters that society is able to both bereave and to move on. He opens part nine of the book with a series of quotes that make this clear. As we see in the first quote, by Harry Crosby, “We who have known war must never forget war. And that is why I have a picture of a soldier’s corpse nailed to the door of my library” (Eksteins 275). This quote shows bereavement, while the next quote by José Germain in 1923, shows society attempting to move forward. It says, “Let us in turn be the spring, which brings green new life to the gray terrain of death, and with the blood we gave for justice let us, after sleepless nights full of horror, give rise to new days of beauty” (Eksteins 275). This is about empowerment, not regret or guilt. It is also about renewal and life looking forward. With the combination of these two quotations, Eksteins suggests the idea that remembering the war should not bring on remorse. Instead, the war should empower and inspire society to move on and forward. People were fragile minded, but each country would find its way to rejuvenate, renew, and to grow. Another ramification of postwar society’s “craving for newness’ was political change (Eksteins 257). Eksteins states, “Wilson, Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Orlando,...
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