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The First World War
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longmanshortOffline
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PostPosted: 17-08-2005 23:14    Post subject: WW1: the first apocalyptic war? Reply with quote

The magazine I produce is going to include a retrospective on the Great War and how it was the first truly apocalyptic war ...

But we've run into a little brick wall as far as research is concerned Sad

We KNOW many people thought the slaughter in France and Belgium was part of the End Times, but we can't find them! Does anyone have any books or links that may contain quotes, letters or anything from people during that period which expresses their fear that it really WAS the war to end all wars?

I believe the Jehovah's Witnesses made two separate predictions of The End around this time, but are unsurprising coy about talking about it. Beyond the fact we *know* they made these predictions, there is precious little detail and this is one element we'd like to explore.

Would greatly appreciate any help ...

Cheers

LMS
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LeaferneOffline
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PostPosted: 18-08-2005 03:33    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yeats:

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


Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
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,
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,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Am curious as to what makes the Great War the "first" apocalyptic war (she said, typing with one hand and digging into the filing cabinet with the other Wink ).
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mossy_slothOffline
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PostPosted: 18-08-2005 04:15    Post subject: Reply with quote

lol! Tempted to agree with you Leaferne!

The idea is an old one, and there have been many moments in (Jewish especially) history that have been thought to be the eschaton.

There was a thread somewhere about Bar Kochba, the "son of the star" and the second Jewish revolt against Rome in the mid second century AD: this is an example of a moment when people feared (or hoped?) that the end of days had (finally?) come. Ancient literature shows a tension regarding the fatc that the end had not come yet...ata number of junctures...the idea that WWI was the "first" war to suggest that the end was upon us (them) doesn't do justice to the ancient tradition, or to ancient history!

Sorry, LMS! I understand you are looking at it from a different perspective, but ancient apocalyptic literature is a specific interest of mine.
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LeaferneOffline
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PostPosted: 18-08-2005 04:43    Post subject: Reply with quote

Somewhere 'round here I have a conference paper I wrote which gives an outline of apocalyptic historiography--that wasn't the main thrust of the paper (which dealt, broadly speaking, with religion and politics in the English Civil War) but it made the rest of it coherent. Wink (yes, boys and girls, Leaferne used to be really, really smart once)

Dammit--somewhere I had a book about WWI propaganda, and I think my former roommate scarpered off to Australia with my copy of Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory; you could do worse than start there. (Fussell, not Australia) Modris Eksteins' Rites of Spring devotes a few pages to Charles Lindbergh as the new Christ of the age, which may or may not be a help but fits with the general eschataological theme.

Edited to add:

Quote:
Winter, Jay, SITES OF MEMORY, SITES OF MOURNING: THE GREAT WAR IN EUROPEAN CULTURAL HISTORY (Cambridge: 1995). Explores "... the search for solace amongst the bewildered 'communities of the bereaved' after the Great War". Includes chapters entitled "The apocalyptic imagination in war literature" and "War poetry, romanticism, and the return of the sacred".


Source
more info here

I suspect the easiest way to come at this would be through literature although I can dig up some historiography if need be.

Further edited to remove unwonted snottiness. The mag looks very interesting!
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LeaferneOffline
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PostPosted: 18-08-2005 05:12    Post subject: Re: WW1: the first apocalyptic war? Reply with quote

longmanshort wrote:
I believe the Jehovah's Witnesses made two separate predictions of The End around this time, but are unsurprising coy about talking about it. Beyond the fact we *know* they made these predictions, there is precious little detail and this is one element we'd like to explore.


D'yer mean this?

link
another link

Dunno where you could find a Watchtower from 1914. This page might be useful, and this one looks good too (check the footnotes). Ditto this'n.
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Jerry_BOffline
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PostPosted: 18-08-2005 08:58    Post subject: Reply with quote

I guess it depends if the article wants to focus on the literature side of things, or more widespread popular media of the time.

I too find it curious that World War 1 should be considered the 'first apocalyptic war'.
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longmanshortOffline
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PostPosted: 18-08-2005 13:52    Post subject: Reply with quote

Heh, thanks for the fantastic replies everyone!

The reason we've pegged it as the first 'apocalyptic' war is because of several reasons (some of which are based on our own assumptions):

* it was the first war to truly be a 'world' war i.e. it involved pretty much most of the major nations, and also sucked in countries from corners of the world that had never before been involved in such a European war.
* such numbers of troops had never been deployed in such a way before
* such sustained and total slaughter over such a period had never been seen before
* the weapons of war had never been deployed in such numbers and with such devastating effects
* in literature, the sight of this blighted landscape must have inspired people to think in apocalyptic terms.
* brought the bomber, the tank, the widespread use of gas, targetting of civilian targets away from the main theatre, submarine warfare etc etc etc

So that's why, really. I appreciate there were other wars that people thought of as apocalyptic but I think we can agree that the Great War certainly earned its name!
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longmanshortOffline
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PostPosted: 18-08-2005 13:52    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jerry_B wrote:
I guess it depends if the article wants to focus on the literature side of things, or more widespread popular media of the time.


Little bit of both Wink
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Jerry_BOffline
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PostPosted: 18-08-2005 15:24    Post subject: Reply with quote

IMHO, if you can demonstrate that the belief that WW1 was considered at the time as an apocalyptic war, and that this was widespread, then I think you may have a case. However, as other major wars in Europe may have also had the same moniker applied - and perhaps lets not forget the Crusades - you may be stretching things a bit unless WW1 was really seen as part of the 'End Times' etc.. IIRC, Napoleon was portrayed by some as the Antichrist, but I don't think the same was said of any leading figure from the WW1 period (correct me if I'm wrong).

I guess it boils down to whether the belief was there that this was an apocalyptic war and that this belief was widespread. If it was instead confined to groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses, then one wonders if this had any wider impact on society at large at the time. In the UK, there were various panics about the Germans before and during the war, but I don't recall any that were based on some sort of religious slant.
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longmanshortOffline
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PostPosted: 19-08-2005 14:14    Post subject: Reply with quote

Jerry_B wrote:
IMHO, if you can demonstrate that the belief that WW1 was considered at the time as an apocalyptic war, and that this was widespread, then I think you may have a case.


And that's the purpose of the feature - for all the reasons above, it looks apocalyptic, so we're asking was it? Smile
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Jerry_BOffline
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PostPosted: 19-08-2005 15:07    Post subject: Reply with quote

Ah - so on what do you base the words 'We KNOW many people thought the slaughter in France and Belgium was part of the End Times'?

That makes it seem that you have some basic stuff from those times that supports that - or is it more a case of, nowadays, we may tend to view the scale of the war was apocalyptic, but did people think so at the time?, etc..

There's a pretty big difference between the two. I was just wondering where you got the idea from enough to 'know'.
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longmanshortOffline
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PostPosted: 19-08-2005 15:22    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, mainly because I've read about it in the past and, on my old computer, had a whole series of websites that discussed or mentioned such things ... and then it was stolen and I've never been able to find them again ...
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tedmoleOffline
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PostPosted: 20-08-2005 19:04    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
IMHO, if you can demonstrate that the belief that WW1 was considered at the time as an apocalyptic war, and that this was widespread, then I think you may have a case. However, as other major wars in Europe may have also had the same moniker applied - and perhaps lets not forget the Crusades - you may be stretching things a bit unless WW1 was really seen as part of the 'End Times' etc.. IIRC, Napoleon was portrayed by some as the Antichrist, but I don't think the same was said of any leading figure from the WW1 period (correct me if I'm wrong).


Sorry, but I feel that I have to take umbrage at your classification of the 'Crusades' as an 'apocalyptic war'. For one thing, these were a series of seperate invasions by a variety of different nations, originally formed by the Pope, ostensibly as a holy pilgrimage in order to safeguard Byzantium (the final resting place of the Roman Empire), but in reality was a pretty straight-faced attempt at a land grab for the area surrounding Jerusalem. Essentially this was entirely testament to the powers of the Catholic church and its dogmatic interpretation of the New Testament ("Thou shalt not kill"), and the various feudal kings eager to get hold of rich and properous foreign lands. Now, this might well be argued to have some sort of apocalyptic overtones, yet for the soldiers of both side it was seen as being a glorious holy war - one where they were bringing about peace and enlightenment to a world dominated by heathen savages - surely the exact opposite of the classical apocalypse? Also, as you have categorised your response to that of the 'Crusades' in totalality (there were more than six seperate attempts at securing the 'Holy Land' over a period of more than 200 years), and this conflict eventually almost became a civil one, where the dogma of religion had been stripped away to reveal the ugly financial cincerns beneath. Certainly not what is being talked about when the term 'apocalypse' is bandied about on this thread, one thinks.

Also, your assertion that previous wars were considered apocalyptic is also being somewhat pedantic: I'd say it was pretty obvious to everyone here that what longmanshort was saying is that the 1914-18 war is one that has coloured both our views of war and of the end of the world (either consciously or unconsciously) during that time and ever since. Considering the amount of literature, films, music and other media that have expanded upon this subject, I find it slightly galling that you would imagine that just a few Jehovah's Witnesses would have considered this as being the collapse of (Western) society, which in actual fact it very nearly was. Though many wars had been fought using sophisticated technology, this was the first prolonged war on mainland Europe in which these weapons had a direct and sustained effect. Gas and explosivess were dropped on civillian populations for the first times, whilst tanks ploughed up the fields of the Somme and Ypres. This was the death of the great 'Machine Age', which radically changed man's inter-relationship with the very mechanisms he was coming to rely upon to an ever greater extent, creating the beginnings of the Surrealist, Art Nouveu and later Art Deco movements as a response. And of course there's all the bloody war poetry of Thomas Hardy, Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, E. E. Cummings, Siegfried Sassoon, et al.

Also, just to correct you when you're wrong, but picturing Napoleon as the 'Antichrist' (a much misunderstood term anyway)was hardly unique - in the Regency period, political cartoons would often portray government and regal figures as being in someway satanic or sinful. Various leaders and generals of all sides during WW1 were mocked in such a way, including figures such as Lord Kitchener and General Hindenburg. In the run up to the General Election in 1997, the Conservative party ran a campaign featuring a picture of Tony Blair's eyes, suitably doctored to give him a 'devilish' look - does this mean that this was somehow an 'apocalyptic' General Election, or that people at the time viewed it as such?
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Jerry_BOffline
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PostPosted: 21-08-2005 12:04    Post subject: Reply with quote

ted - first of all, what I posted above were merely suggestions. The point of what I've said is to question whether the First World War was portayed in any widespread sense as being an apocalyptic war at that time. If so, I find that very interesting. Whether, as a conflict, it came to represent a sort of apocalypse to later generations is a different matter.
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tedmoleOffline
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PostPosted: 21-08-2005 18:23    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think we're talking slightly at cross purposes here: what I'm suggesting is, that even if people didn't consciously claim the First World War to be an 'apocalyptic' war at the time (which many more would, thanks to greater media reportage and the bombing of civillian populations), if we examine the culture that arose in the wake of the 'Great War' as a result, in a number of different societies, we can see it as being subconciously viewed as the end of the world.
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