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The Great War
Prologue Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Timeline Maps & Battles The Shaping of the 21st Century Historians
Historians OverviewPaul Fussell

The Heroic Connotation of War
Paul Fussell
"Except for the American Civil War, which contained most of the disillusions that the Great War revealed, war still had a heroic and noble connotation.

"And to discover that it was not heroic and noble was an immense cultural shock, not just to those who fought, but to those who watched them fight from various home countries.

"Heroism doesn't matter when you're not fighting hand-to-hand.

"An illustration I'm fond of using is that the artillery shell doesn't know whether you are brave or cowardly when it hits you, so it doesn't matter anymore whether you're brave or cowardly. The whole concept of heroism disappears, because you can easily be killed whether you're a coward or a hero.

"During the Great War, most of the time, the armies were separated by a mile or two. That's just industrial murder. Eventually everybody finally caught on to that. And that made the whole proceeding something to which words like 'glorious' and 'gallantry' and 'heroic' could no longer be applied. And that, of course, generated this immense post-war literature of disillusion, including military memoirs and things like T.S. Eliot's Wasteland and James Joyce's Ulysses, and the whole package of 1920s and 1930s culture and art."

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