What kind of people don't need companionship

First World War

Jason Crouthamel

To person

Ph. D., born 1970; Associate Professor of History at the Department of History, Grand Valley State University, 1 Campus Drive, 49401 Allendale, MI 49401 / USA. [email protected]

A hundred years after the First World War began, there is still much to be researched into the complex social and cultural implications of this catastrophe. In recent years historians have turned their attention to the effects of war on ideals of masculinity and femininity, particularly how ordinary men and women perceived their roles in the face of traumatic violence, and gender (gender as opposed to biological Gender). [1]

The war provoked a crisis of masculinity as the reality of dehumanizing, industrialized violence in the trenches challenged 19th-century notions of the "heroic" patriotic defender of the nation. [2] On the one hand, the war reinforced these ideals of masculinity, as many veterans and civil authorities celebrated a militarized, martial masculinity and the experience of "camaraderie". [3] The propaganda in the German Empire promoted an image of the disciplined warrior with nerves of steel, who was able to control his emotions and desires while at the same time putting all his energy into the service of the fatherland. However, more complex interpretations of masculinity and the psychological and emotional effects of war are greatly simplified in this view. [4] How did ordinary soldiers define "masculinity"? How has traumatic violence affected the gender identities and sexual behavior of men?

The central argument of this article is that German soldiers, in an effort to survive the trauma of modern warfare, actively negotiated, affirmed, and subverted the prevailing male ideals. While some soldiers adopted the martial image of masculinity, they simultaneously experimented with emotions and behaviors that were perceived as a threat to the dominant ideal of masculinity. This included desires for love and intimacy as a counterbalance to the violence of war, experimenting with homosocial and homosexual connections and violating gender norms in the form of crossdressing (here: wearing women's clothes) and fantasies of being a woman. Many men accepted these "deviant" or "effeminate" behaviors, at least in the temporary world of the front, or even considered them necessary to survive the mass violence. They incorporated feelings of love and care into their ideas of camaraderie. [5]

Reconstructing common soldiers' perceptions of masculinity is challenging for historians. However, there are a number of sources, including trench newspapers, letters, and veteran articles in gay emancipation newspapers, that provide a glimpse into the complex ideas of masculinity and the effects of frontline experiences on different groups. These sources indicate that the war spawned different interpretations of the male ideal and shaped a wide range of forms of lust, love, and sexuality. Indeed, in the 19th and 20th centuries, war was the "school of masculinity," as historians have noted, but different things were taught there. [6]

Image of the warrior and psychological trauma

The dominant male ideals placed particular emphasis on harshness and the control of one's emotions, and German military leaders as well as civil organizations tried to strengthen the image of the heterosexual and self-sacrificing warrior who is fully focused on defending the nation. This image of the tough front line soldier became ubiquitous in the popular media, and it was a cornerstone of postwar myths of the harsh "new man" created by the horrors of war. [7] In the German Reich, young men were indoctrinated to keep "effeminate" emotions such as love and compassion under control while they sacrificed themselves as warriors for the fatherland. [8] Doctors, teachers, and politicians supported this notion of "masculinity," which was defined as opposed to "degenerate" groups, including sexually permissive men, homosexuals, and other "deviants" who, it was argued, were too hedonistic and too concerned with are self-employed to devote themselves to the nation. [9]

The stresses of war and the separation from home challenged this idealized image of the man. The historian Dagmar Herzog points out that soldiers "(experienced) consensual pleasures made possible by anonymity and mass mobility in times of war" and that total war gave men the opportunity to express sexual desires outside of traditional social structures and " Monitoring mechanisms ". [10] From the army's point of view, the most serious social and sexual danger posed by the depravity of the war was the epidemic spread of sexually transmitted diseases. The propaganda spread by the military and civil authorities celebrated the image of the sexually chaste soldier loyal to the woman who stayed at home. At the same time, however, the army carefully steered a system of brothels behind the front lines to deal with the problem of millions of sexually frustrated men. [11] In a letter dated March 1915 to the State Secretary of the Interior Ministry, Reich Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg expressed his concern about the spread of venereal diseases at the front and called for energetic intervention by the state and the army, through sexual education, distribution of condoms and medical care Controls of prostitutes. [12]

The rationing of sex by the military drew the ire of Christian virtue guards on the home front, where coalitions of religious, business, and political leaders warned that if men continue to relieve their stresses with permissive sex, national degeneration will threaten national degeneration. [13] Dr. Aufhauser, clergyman and member of a Christian association for the promotion of morality, argued in the "Allgemeine Rundschau" that sexual abstinence should be the duty of all soldiers. Men at the front, he argued, were heroes if they controlled themselves and remained "pure and flawless" only to be dedicated to their families and the nation. He called for the military-run brothels to be closed and to replace them with Christian reading groups and lemonade. [14]

The stress of modern war led to psychological collapse for many men. Mental trauma like the "grenade shock" (shell shock) marked the collapse of the male ideal of self-control. Visions of "heroic sacrifices" and hardened, spiritually empowered warriors were soon supplanted by the brutal reality of trench warfare. Surviving under shell fire for days, buried alive and witnessing the horrific violence generated by machine guns and explosives created an almost otherworldly atmosphere at the front. Symptoms of psychological breakdown broke out in the form of tics and tremors, paralysis, uncontrollable shaking, and nightmares.

Medical historian Elaine Showalter, in her analysis of the famous cases of British officers Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, has shown that for men who, through their socialization, had learned to control their emotional vulnerability under stress, "shell shock" was the only option to escape unbearable reality. Showalter identifies at least two main patterns of emotional responses to psychological stress: the outburst of violent feelings of love for other men and, most commonly, "fears about masculinity" that ultimately led to breakdown: "If it was essential to manhood not to complain, so was shell shock the body language of the male complaint, a camouflaged male protest, not only against the war, but against the conception of masculinity itself. "[15]

In Germany, the physical symptoms of mental trauma were dubbed "war neurosis" or "war hysteria", reflecting the prevailing medical perception of these men as effeminate "hysterics" because they collapsed in the face of the ultimate test of manhood. Doctors were under pressure to get a grip on what they saw as an epidemic problem of "hysterical men" because by the end of the war, more than 600,000 men in the regular and reserve forces had been diagnosed with a whole range of different nervous disorders. [16] The aim of treatment was to restore masculinity. Psychiatrists prophesied that men without discipline and fear of punishment would fall into the "pension neurosis", a cycle of dependence on social benefits, and would give up their traditionally male roles as workers and soldiers. [17] Men suffering from myriad symptoms of traumatic neuroses sharply contradicted the doctors and constructed their own theories about the causes and meaning of "war hysteria". They argued that the doctors were the real hysterics because they supported the war while normal men collapsed under the strain. [18]