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Contrary Experiences [GER]

The First World War began with enthusiastic flag-waving, aggressive propaganda and poets who glorified the conflict with the abstract ideal of dying for one's patria. Mingled with the conviction of the enemy's war guilt and the belief in the justice of the own cause, these things formed a psychological amalgamation which caused a total blindness to what modern mass warfare would really mean. Only those in the eye of the storm soon came to regard the conduct of their political leaders and military commanders as a universal failure in leadership and responsibility. The soldiers who wrote about their bleak war experience produced a Literature of Disillusion. Borne out of the blood and corrugated soil of the Western Front it expressed the front-fighter's estrangement from those who did not live through the war's horrors, while it evoked the solid bond between those who did, a bond that even embraced the enemy. But how in particular did the British soldier view his German opponent and what kind of experiences shaped his views? And how is the attitude to the foe processed in the Literature of the Western Front? "Contrary Experiences" explores many examples of Great War writing that give an answer to these questions and assesses them against the background of both the anti-German propaganda of the Home Front and the psychological requirements of trench warfare. The findings not only demonstrate that the Great War, despite its unprecedented horrors, still offered room for moral behaviour. They also prove Wilfred Owen's contention that 'the poetry is in the pity'.
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