Fine Arts in the Modern World: LA_104_

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Total War, Totalitarianism, and the Arts ca. 1900–1950

Chapter

34

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“Where is God now?” Elie Wiesel

Figure 34.1 SERGEI M. EISENSTEIN, The Battleship Potemkin, 1925. Film stills from Act IV, “The Odessa Steps Massacre.”

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L O O K I N G A H E A D

Total Wars

CHAPTER 34 Total War, Totalitarianism, and the Arts 405

405Volume2

Two fundamentally related calamities afflicted the twentieth

century: total war and totalitarian dictatorship. The consequences

of both were so great that the world has still not recovered from

them. Total war and totalitarianism, facilitated by sophisticated

military technology and electronic forms of mass communication,

caused the twentieth century to be the bloodiest in world history.

Unlike the Black Death, the Lisbon earthquake, and other natural

disasters the wars and totalitarian regimes of the Modern Era

were perpetrated on human beings by human beings. These

human-made disasters not only challenged the belief that

technology would improve the quality of human life, they seemed

to validate Freud’s theory that mortals are driven by base instincts

and the dark forces of self-destruction.

The two world wars of the twentieth century provide the

context for the arts of this era. Many writers, painters, and

composers responded directly with visceral antiwar statements.

Others, acknowledging the requirements of totalitarian regimes,

those of Hitler in Germany, Stalin in Russia, and Mao in China,

produced works that responded to the revolutionary ideologies of

the state. Photography and film—media that appealed directly to

the masses—became important wartime vehicles, functioning

both as propaganda and as documentary evidence of brutality and

despair. The era inspired two of the twentieth century’s leading

artists to produce landmark Modernist works: T. S. Eliot’s The

Waste Land and Pablo Picasso’s Guernica.

In the West, the end of the nineteenth century was a time of relative peace and optimistic faith in the progress of humankind. Throughout the world, however, sharp con- trasts existed between rich and poor, and between techno- logically backward and technologically advanced nations. As the more powerful states jockeyed for political and eco- nomic primacy, and as Europe and the United States con- tinued to build their industrial and military strength, few anticipated the possibility of widespread armed conflict. In 1914, however, that possibility became a reality with the outbreak of the first of two world wars. World War I, the first total war in world history, ended forever the so-called “age of innocence.” And by the end of World War II in 1945, nothing would ever seem certain again.

The Great War of 1914, as World War I was called, and World War II, which followed in 1939, are called “total” not only because they involved more nations than

had ever before been engaged in armed combat, but because they killed—along with military personnel— large numbers of civilians. Further, they were total in the sense that they were fought with a “no holds barred” atti- tude—all methods of destruction were utilized in the name of conquest.

The weapons of advanced technology made warfare more impersonal and more devastating than ever before. World War I combatants used machine guns, heavy artillery, hand grenades, poison gas, flame throwers, armored tanks, submarines, dirigibles (airships), and air- planes. From their open cockpits, pilots fired on enemy air- craft, while on land soldiers fought from lines of trenches dug deep into the ground. The rapid-firing, fully automat- ic machine gun alone caused almost 80 percent of the casu- alties. The cost of four years of war was approximately $350 billion, and the death tolls were staggering. In all, seventy million armed men fought in World War I, and more than eight million of them died. In World War II, airplanes and aerial bombs (including, ultimately, the atomic bomb) played major roles; war costs tripled those of World War I, and casualties among the Allied forces alone rose to over eighteen million people.

The underlying cause of both wars was aggressive rivalry between European powers. During the nineteenth century, nationalism and industrialism had facilitated militant competition for colonies throughout the world (see chapter 30); the armed forces became the embodiment of a nation’s sovereign spirit and the primary tool for imperialism. National leaders fiercely defended the notion that military might was the best safeguard of peace: “Si vis pacem, para bellum”—“if you want peace, prepare for war,” they argued. Nations believed their safety lay in defensive alliances. They joined with their ideological or geographic neighbors to create a system of alliances that, by the early twentieth century, divided Europe into two potentially hostile camps, each equipped to mobilize their armies if threatened.

World War I The circumstances that led to World War I involved the increasingly visible efforts of Austria-Hungary and Germany to dominate vast portions of Eastern Europe. Germany, having risen to power during the nineteenth century, rivaled all other European nations in industrial might. By the early twentieth century, German efforts to colonize markets for trade took the form of militant imperialism in Eastern Europe. In July of 1914, Austria- Hungary, seeking to expand Austrian territory to the south, used the political assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand (heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary) as a pretext to declare war on Serbia. Almost immediately, two opposing alliances came into confrontation: the Central Powers of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and the Ottoman Empire versus the Allied forces of Serbia, Belgium, France, Great Britain, and Russia. Clearly, the policy of peace through military strength had not prevented war but actu- ally encouraged it.

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World War I Literature

*

*

*

*

SPAIN (neutral)

PO RT

U G

AL

FRANCE

CORSICA

SARDINIA

BELGIUM

GREAT BRITAIN

SWITZERLAND (neutral)

GERMANY

NETHERLANDS (neutral)

ITALY

SICILY

GREECE

ALBANIA (neutral)

MONTENEGRO

EGYPT (associated with Allied powers)

SERBIA

AUSTRIA-HUNGARY

BULGARIA

ROMANIA

OTTOMAN EMPIRE

UKRAINE

CYPRUS

POLAND

DENMARK (neutral)

NORWAY (neutral) SWEDEN

(neutral)

FINLAND

R U S S I A

AT L A N T I C

O C E A N

BALTIC SEA

NORTH SEA

M E D I T E R R A N E A N S E A

B L A C K S E A

Br iti

sh b

lo ck

ad e

Western front

German penetration of Russia 1918

Russian front 1917

Russian front

1914–15

Balkan front 1916

Gallipoli 1915–16

Caporetto 1917

Tannenberg 1914

Jutland 1916

Seine

Loire R

hi ne

Elbe

Oder

Danu be

D on

Kiel Canal

Paris

London

Munich

Berlin

Prague

Rome

Sarajevo

Vienna

Bucharest

Constantinople

Warsaw Brest Litovsk

Riga

Petrograd

Moscow

Key

Allied powers

Central powers Occupied by central powers at their height

Front line Major battle *

N

E W

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0 500 miles

500 kilometers0

Seine M arne

Somme

Lys

Paris

FRANCE

Somme 1916 St.-Quentin *

*

*

*

Ypres 1914, 1915, 1917

Antwerp

Brussels

BELGIUM

Reims Verdun

1916 Marne 1914, 1918

0 50 m

50 km 0

The Western Front Trench line 1914 Hindenburg line 1917 at end of German retreat Allied line 1918

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At the beginning of the war, the Central Powers won early victories in Belgium and Poland, but the Allies stopped the German advance at the First Battle of the Marne in September of 1914 (Map 34.1). The opposing armies settled down to warfare along the western front—a solid line of two opposing trenches that stretched 500 miles from the English Channel to the Swiss border. At the same time, on the eastern front, Russian armies lost over a million men in combat against the combined German and Austrian forces. In the early years of the war, the United States remained neutral, but when German submarines began sinking unarmed passenger ships in 1917, the American president Woodrow Wilson opted to aid the Allies in order to “make the world safe for democ- racy.” Fortified by American supplies and troops, the Allies moved toward victory. In November 1918, the fighting ended with an armistice.

World War I Poetry Writers responded to the war with sentiments ranging from buoyant idealism and militant patriotism to frustration and despair. The most enduring literature of the era, however, expressed the bitter anguish of the war experience itself. The poetry of the young British officer Wilfred Owen (1893–1918) reflects the sense of cynicism and futility that was voiced toward the end of the war. Owen viewed war as a senseless waste of human resources and a barbaric form of human behavior. His poems, which question the meaning of wartime heroism, unmask “the old Lie” that it is “fitting and proper to die for one’s country.” The poet was killed in combat at the age of twenty-five, just one week before the armistice was signed.

Map 34.1 World War I, 1914–1918.

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READING 34.2

Q It has been said that Eliot favored “biblical rhythms.” Do you detect any in this excerpt? What effects do they achieve?

READING 34.1

Q Why does the poet try to reconcile the technology of modern war with traditional ideals of patriotism?

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CHAPTER 34 Total War, Totalitarianism, and the Arts 407

From Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922)

V. What the Thunder Said

After the torchlight red on sweaty faces After the frosty silence in the gardens After the agony in stony places The shouting and the crying Prison and palace and reverberation Of thunder of spring over distant mountains He who was living is now dead We who were living are now dying With a little patience

Here is no water but only rock Rock and no water and the sandy road The road winding above among the mountains Which are mountains of rock without water If there were water we should stop and drink Amongst the rock one cannot stop or think Sweat is dry and feet are in the sand If there were only water amongst the rock Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit Here one can neither stand nor lie nor sit There is not even silence in the mountains But dry sterile thunder without rain There is not even solitude in the mountains But red sullen faces sneer and snarl From doors of mudcracked houses

If there were water And no rock If there were rock And also water And water A spring A pool among the rock If there were the sound of water only Not the cicada And dry grass singing But sound of water over a rock Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees Drip drop drip drop drop drop drop But there is no water

. . . . . . . . . .

Eliot’s contemporary and one of the greatest lyricists of the century, William Butler Yeats (1865–1939), responded to the violence of World War I and to the prevailing mood of unrest in his native Ireland with the apocalyptic poem “The Second Coming.” The title of the poem alludes both to the long-awaited Second Coming of Jesus and to the nameless force that, in Yeats’ view, threatened to enthrall the world in darkness.

Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est”1 (1918)

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 1 Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs, And towards our distant rest began to trudge. Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots, 5 But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind; Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines2 that drop behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time, 10 But someone still was yelling out and stumbling And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.— Dim through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight 15 He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace Behind the wagon that we flung him in, And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin, 20 If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs Bitter as the cud Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,— My friend, you would not tell with such high zest 25 To children ardent for some desperate glory, The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.

Other poets viewed the war as symbolic of a dying Western civilization. The poet T. S. Eliot, whom we met in chapter 32, summed up this view in his classic poem The Waste Land (1922). This requiem for a dry and sterile cul- ture is structured like a collection of individual poems, each narrated by a different speaker at a different time, but all evoking the themes of loss and hope for redemption. Incorporating quotations in Greek, Italian, German, and Sanskrit, the poem makes reference to Classical and Celtic mythology, the Bible, Saint Augustine, Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Whitman, Wagner, the Hindu Upanishads, the sermons of the Buddha, James Frazer’s The Golden Bough (see chapter 31), and other canonic works. The inclusion of such references, while indicative of Eliot’s eru- dition, required that the poet himself append footnotes to the text. The Waste Land became the single most influen- tial poem in early modern literature. Its incantatory rhythms and profound allusions established the idiom of modern poetry as compressed, complex, and serious.

1 “It is fitting and proper to die for one’s country.” A line from “Ode III” by the Roman poet Horace (see chapter 6).

2 Gas shells.

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READING 34.3

Q Is the Second Coming Yeats describes one of deliverance or destruction?

READING 34.4

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Yeats’ “The Second Coming” (1921)

Turning and turning in the widening gyre1 1 The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere 5 The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. 10 The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi2

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, 15 Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again; but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, 20 And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

World War I Fiction World War I also inspired some of this century’s most outstanding fiction—much of it written by men who had engaged in field combat. The American Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961) immortalized the Allied offensive in Italy in A Farewell to Arms (1929). The novel, whose title reflects the desperate hope that World War I would be “the war to end all wars,” is a study in disillusionment and a testament to the futility of armed combat. Hemingway’s prose is char- acterized by understatement and journalistic succinctness. His profound respect for physical and emotional courage, apparent in all his novels, was forged on the battlefields of the war, which he observed firsthand.

Armed conflict had a similar influence on the life and work of the novelist Erich Maria Remarque (1898–1970). Remarque, a German soldier who was wounded in combat several times, brought first-hand experience of World War I to his book All Quiet on the Western Front. Perhaps the finest war novel of the twentieth century, it portrays with horrifying clarity the brutal realities of trench warfare and poison gas, two of the most chilling features of the war. Remarque tells the story in first-person, present-tense narrative, a style that compels the reader to share the

apprehension of the protagonist. Over one million copies of Remarque’s novel were sold in Germany during the year of its publication, and similar success greeted it in trans- lation and in its three movie versions. In 1939, however, the Nazi regime in Germany condemned Remarque’s out- spoken antimilitarism by publicly burning his books and depriving him of German citizenship. Shortly thereafter, Remarque moved to the United States, where he became an American citizen.

From Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (1929)

An indigent looking wood receives us. We pass by the soup- 1 kitchens. Under cover of the wood we climb out. The lorries turn back. They are to collect us again in the morning, before dawn.

Mist and the smoke of guns lie breast-high over the fields. The moon is shining. Along the road troops file. Their helmets gleam softly in the moonlight. The heads and the rifles stand out above the white mist, nodding heads, rocking carriers of guns.

Farther on the mist ends. Here the heads become figures; 10 coats, trousers, and boots appear out of the mist as from a milky pool. They become a column. The column marches on, straight ahead, the figures resolve themselves into a block, individuals are no longer recognizable, the dark wedge presses onward, fantastically topped by the heads and weapons floating off on the milky pool. A column—not men at all.

Guns and munition wagons are moving along a crossroad. The backs of the horses shine in the moonlight, their movements are beautiful, they toss their heads, and their eyes gleam. The guns and the wagons float before the dim 20 background of the moonlit landscape, the riders in their steel helmets resemble knights of a forgotten time; it is strangely beautiful and arresting.

We push on to the pioneer dump. Some of us load our shoulders with pointed and twisted iron stakes; others thrust smooth iron rods through rolls of wire and go off with them. The burdens are awkward and heavy.

The ground becomes more broken. From ahead come warnings: “Look out, deep shell-holes on the left”—“Mind, trenches”— — — 30

Our eyes peer out, our feet and our sticks feel in front of us before they take the weight of the body. Suddenly the line halts; I bump my face against the roll of wire carried by the man in front and curse.

There are some shell-smashed lorries in the road. Another order: “Cigarettes and pipes out.” We are getting near the line.

In the meantime it has become pitch dark. We skirt a small wood and then have the front-line immediately before us.

An uncertain, red glow spreads along the skyline from one end to the other. It is in perpetual movement, punctuated with 40 the bursts of flame from the muzzles of the batteries. Balls of light rise up high above it, silver and red spheres which explode and rain down in showers of red, white, and green stars. French rockets go up, which unfold a silk parachute to the air and drift slowly down. They light up everything as

1 A circular course traced by the upward sweep of a falcon. The image reflects Yeats’ cyclical view of history.

2 World Spirit, similar to the Jungian Great Memory of shared archetypal images.

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CHAPTER 34 Total War, Totalitarianism, and the Arts 409

sleeve is torn away by a splinter. I shut my fist. No pain. Still that does not reassure me: wounds don’t hurt till afterwards. I feel the arm all over. It is grazed but sound. Now a crack on the skull, I begin to lose consciousness. Like lightning the thought comes to me: Don’t faint, sink down in the black broth and immediately come up the top again. A splinter slashes into my helmet, but has travelled so far that it does not go through. I 110 wipe the mud out of my eyes. A hole is torn up in front of me. Shells hardly ever land in the same hole twice, I’ll get into it. With one bound I fling myself down and lie on the earth as flat as a fish; there it whistles again, quickly I crouch together, claw for cover, feel something on the left, shove in beside it, it gives way, I groan, the earth leaps, the blast thunders in my ears, I creep under the yielding thing, cover myself with it, draw it over me, it is wood, cloth, cover, cover, miserable cover against the whizzing splinters.

I open my eyes—my fingers grasp a sleeve, an arm. A 120 wounded man? I yell to him—no answer—a dead man. My hand gropes farther, splinters of wood—now I remember again that we are lying in the graveyard.

But the shelling is stronger than everything. It wipes out the sensibilities, I merely crawl still deeper into the coffin, it should protect me, and especially as Death himself lies in it too.

Before me gapes the shell-hole. I grasp it with my eyes as with fists. With one leap I must be in it. There, I get a smack in the face, a hand clamps on to my shoulder—has the dead man waked up?—The hand shakes me, I turn my head, in the 130 second of light I stare into the face of Katczinsky, he has his mouth wide open and is yelling. I hear nothing, he rattles me, comes nearer, in a momentary lull his voice reaches me: “Gas—Gaas—Gaaas—Pass it on.”

I grab for my gas-mask. Some distance from me there lies someone. I think of nothing but this: That fellow there must know: Gaaas—Gaaas— — —

I call, I lean toward him, I swipe at him with the satchel, he doesn’t see—once again, again—he merely ducks—it’s a recruit—I look at Kat desperately, he has his mask ready—I 140 pull out mine too, my helmet falls to one side, it slips over my face, I reach the man, his satchel is on the side nearest me, I seize the mask, pull it over his head, he understands, I let go and with a jump drop back into the shell-hole.

The dull thud of the gas-shells mingles with the crashes of the high explosives. A bell sounds between the explosions, gongs, and metal clappers warning everyone—Gas—Gas— Gaas.

Someone plumps down behind me, another. I wipe the goggles of my mask clear of the moist breath. It is Kat, Kropp, 150 and someone else. All four of us lie there in heavy, watchful suspense and breathe as lightly as possible.

These first minutes with the mask decide between life and death: is it tightly woven? I remember the awful sights in the hospital: the gas patients who in day-long suffocation cough their burnt lungs up in clots.

Cautiously, the mouth applied to the valve, I breathe. The gas still creeps over the ground and sinks into all hollows. Like a big, soft jelly-fish it floats into our shell-hole and lolls there obscenely. I nudge Kat, it is better to crawl out and lie on top 160 than to stay here where the gas collects most. But we don’t get

bright as day, their light shines on us and we see our shadows sharply outlined on the ground. They hover for the space of a minute before they burn out. Immediately fresh ones shoot up to the sky, and again, green, red, and blue stars.

“Bombardment,” says Kat. 50 The thunder of the guns swells to a single heavy roar and

then breaks up again into separate explosions. The dry bursts of the machine-guns rattle. Above us the air teems with invisible swift movements, with howls, piping, and hisses. They are the smaller shells;—and amongst them, booming through the night like an organ, go the great coal-boxes and the heavies. They have a hoarse, distant bellow like a rutting stag and make their way high above the howl and whistle of the smaller shells. It reminds me of flocks of wild geese when I hear them. Last autumn the wild geese flew day after day 60 across the path of the shells.

The searchlights begin to sweep the dark sky. They slide along it like gigantic tapering rulers. One of them pauses, and quivers a little. Immediately a second is beside him, a black insect is caught between them and tries to escape—the airman. He hesitates, is blinded and falls. . . .

We go back. It is time we returned to the lorries. The sky is become a bit brighter. Three o’clock in the morning. The breeze is fresh and cool, the pale hour makes our faces look grey.

We trudge onward in single file through the trenches and 70 shell-holes and come again to the zone of mist. Katczinsky is restive, that’s a bad sign.

“What’s up, Kat?” says Kropp. “I wish I were back home.” Home—he means the huts. “It won’t last much longer, Kat.” He is nervous. “I don’t know, I don’t know— — —” We come to the communication-trench and then to the open

fields. The little wood reappears; we know every foot of ground here. There’s the cemetery with the mounds and the black crosses. 80

That moment it breaks out behind us, swells, roars, and thunders. We duck down—a cloud of flame shoots up a hundred yards ahead of us.

The next minute under a second explosion part of the wood rises slowly in the air, three or four trees sail up and then crash to pieces. The shells begin to hiss like safety-valves—heavy fire— — —

“Take cover!” yells somebody—“Cover!” The fields are flat, the wood is too distant and dangerous—

the only cover is the graveyard and the mounds. We stumble 90 across in the dark and as though spirited away every man lies glued behind a mound.

Not a moment too soon. The dark goes mad. It heaves and raves. Darkness blacker than the night rushes on us with giant strides, over us and away. The flames of the explosions light up the graveyard.

There is no escape anywhere. By the light of the shells I try to get a view of the fields. They are a surging sea, daggers of flame from the explosions leap up like fountains. It is impossible for anyone to break through it. 100

The wood vanishes, it is pounded, crushed, torn to pieces. We must stay here in the graveyard.

The earth bursts before us. It rains clods. I feel a smack. My

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Q What elements contribute to a sense of the macabre in this piece?

Q How does Remarque achieve cinematic momentum?

World War I Art

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with Iran, received renewed international attention during the widely televised Gulf War of 1991, when images of both soldiers and civilians donning gas masks were a common, if appalling, sight.

Grosz The art of George Grosz (1893–1959) was unique in its imaginative blend of social criticism and biting satire. Discharged from the army in 1916 after a brief experience at the front, Grosz mocked the German military and its corrupt and mindless bureaucracy in sketchy, brittle com- positions filled with pungent caricatures. For example, the wartime pen and ink drawing, Fit for Active Service (Figure 34.3), shows a fat German army doctor pronouncing a skeletal cadaver “O.K.,” hence, fit to serve in combat. Here, Grosz …