When we think of war we can only think of misery, degradation and death, but with war sometimes comes advancement and innovation. I have been told multiple times by my university professors that war is a great stimulant to science and new investigations, since scientists try to develop new technology so that they defeat the enemy. In this article I have decided to mainly focus on this aspect of war, as a stimulant to science and as an inspiration to the arts, for practical reasons I have decided to restrict myself to the first great war of Europe.
First of all we have to consider that the psychological cosmos of the 20th century was powered by speed and technological advancement. In 1830 the first passenger train run between Liverpool and Manchester. In 1898, motor vehicles were first allowed to public roads. Industrialization led to the migration from the rural country to the big city in search of a better future. Nonetheless, women’s circumstances degraded, because men were considered as the “bread-winners” of the household. Most people were though literate, since education vastly expanded. With all the technological advances, people had a burden of time punctuality, of consumerism. All over Europe, art and literature was mobilized to capture national themes. In university we also call this time the time of the birth of the -ism movements, because notions like nationalism, capitalism, socialism, anarchism, imperialism etc., were put forward.
A series of unfortunate events led to the assassination of the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary Archduke Francis-Ferdinand of Austria-Este while he was paying an official visit to the city of Sarajevo. Within four weeks the whole of Europe was in a diplomatic impasse. On the first of August, Germany declared war on Russia, and on the third of August on France. When Germany’s troops had crossed the Belgian frontier while attempting to attack France, the British government joined the dispute.
Unfortunately, I am in measure only to discuss the impact the war had on British writers, since I had had a course mainly focusing on the subject last year. The war theme had a great impact to authors like Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, Virginia Woolf , D.H Lawrence, thus we can find many poems, novels, letters that contain some sort of information about the war. One example is the poem The Soldier by the young poet Rupert Brooke.
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
Given the circumstances, the first world war was disastrous. For the first time people were faced with the reality of violence that only war can cause. It is said that in the battlefields many soldiers suffered injuries that were never witnessed before. The artillery used often caused terrible wounds to the human bodies leading to disfigurement, loss of limbs and excess bleeding. The medical field had to develop some technics in order to assure the safety and care of the wounded soldiers. “It was Capt. Oswald Robertson of the U.S. Army Medical Officer Reserve Corps who showed in 1917 that blood could be donated in advance and stored using sodium citrate as an anticoagulant. The British-born American is credited with developing the first blood bank and a mobile one at that.” This innovation lead to a broader understanding of blood transfusions and its benefits. Another advance in medicine is the portable X-Ray machine, which was invented by Marie Curie. The doctors also confronted to facial disfigurements and amputations had to develop the prostheses, which would allow to the soldiers to go back to the front or just back to civilian life. It also helped to the advancement of aesthetic surgery, which is also so widespread today. Even though it was not perfect, it was still an improvement, since the person was not to be faced with the terror of war. In the field of psychology and psychiatry we can also find many innovations, since the soldiers experienced post-traumatic stress disorder though back then it was called shell shock. The main difference between the two, is that shell shock is resolved over time, the soldiers who experienced it were able to go back to their everyday life without fear for their life.
All in all, war is tragedy. If we could only try to solve problems without all the killings and destruction, maybe Earth could be a finer place to live on. We can see the mistakes of the past and try not to repeat them, and better learn for our common welfare. Even nowadays, when we are confronted to the brutality and viciousness of warfare, we should be able to see potential and amelioration. Maybe there is innovation and technological advances that come hand in hand with war, and surely these advances are important today, but still, knowing that it came from the suffering of other human beings strikes me. In literature too, even though there is only one movement that saw some interest in war, and that was Futurism…