The year is 1920 in the former German Reich. Germany has lost. Lost not just the war, but also her young men, her soldiers, her pride. Europe lay in ruins. The new Weimar Republic is unstable and lacks the lustre of the former Reich. People are asking, “Why did we fight? Why did our sons die? Why?”. A former soldier answers their cry. In Ernst Jünger’s book, “Storm of Steel” Jünger describes through the retelling of his experiences in the first world war why his people sacrificed and why Germany’s sons didn’t die in vain.
In the beginning of the book, Jünger portrays himself as a new soldier aching for battle. At first he doesn’t get war, only manual labour. When Jünger does finally get war it frightens him. However, after the first scenes of death and destruction Jünger becomes numb to the carnage around him. War has hardened him against emotions towards another man, yet he continues to fight.
To Jünger, “[…] not one of that countless number who fell in our attacks fell for nothing. Each one fulfilled his own resolve.” This resolve in Jünger’s eye was the love for one’s nation; the love for one’s Vaterland. When one thinks about it every soldier in world war one was fighting for something greater than himself. The French were fighting to protect their borders from the German invaders who wished to destroy the French countryside. The British were fighting to protect the neutrality of a smaller state and to declare to the entire world that they were still the greatest empire on the earth. Jünger’s people were fighting to prove that their nation had a right to exist; that they were no longer the weak divided nation of years past, but a united people striving for one great cause. According to Jünger all nations were fighting for their Vaterland.
When I think about Jünger looking out on the devastated French countryside I do not picture him feeling sad or burdened. I feel Jünger feeling proud of what his countrymen had done. They held the French and British off for many years. Nations feared them. Because of their great work Germany would never be forgotten. He and his fellow comrades had left their mark on the world. To Jünger, even in defeat, the Vaterland lived.
On page 317 Jünger says, “When once it is no longer possible to understand how a man gives his life for his country […] then all is over […] the Fatherland is dead.” Jünger knew that if Germany was to rise to greatness again a love for the Vaterland must be passed on to the new generation. I don’t think Jünger would look favourably on the new Republic of Germany formed in Weimar. Jünger would look disgracefully at its lack of ceremony and glory. Jünger would be waiting for the next great thing to come out of Germany. In this context Jünger might look at the war as a unifying cause. Through this war Germany was united. Maybe to him Germany hadn’t really lost the war, but had gained from it. On page 319 Jünger say, “Now [the battles] are over, and already we see once more in the dim light of the future the tumult of fresh ones[…] Those of the youth of this land […] will not shrink from them[…]” if they have a love for the Vaterland. In Jünger’s eyes Germany was now united for the future.
If only Jünger knew what was coming. Germany was united for the future. The Weimar Republic would fail because of the nationalistic feelings of a great number of the German population. World war one was not the ending for the German Vaterland, but only the beginning as Jünger had seen it.
Jünger says on page 319, “We stand for what will be and for what has been. Though force without and barbarity within conglomerate in sombre clouds, yet so long as the blade of a sword will strike a spark in the night may it be said: Germany lives and Germany shall never go under!” Statements and feelings like these are what made the Weimar Republic fail. Germans did not want to feel like losers. They wanted to feel strong and import as they had under the German Reich. Germans knew that the war was not completely their fault. They knew that the blame for the war was on every nations shoulders. Being forced to admit to a crime they had not committed was eating at the German soul.
The lacklustre of the republic was not the only thing eating at the German Vaterland. The failing economy caused impart by war payments to the “winners” of the war made Germany look weak. The thought of loosing the colonies which they loved so dear and had paid so heavily for made Germans sick. The restraint of having only 100,000 troops to protect a large nation surrounded by enemies gave the Germans fear. The mockings and cries of superiority from other nations angered the Germans. In just a few short years the German Reich had fallen from a world class empire on the verge of competing with the greatest to a fledgling nation with a failing economy and no military might. Because of their great love of nation the German people could not let their nation, and along with it, their Vaterland die. Something had to be done to save their nation.
In a way I think Jünger was predicting world war two in his book. He seems to know that the German spirit has not been defeated, but strengthened. Jünger sees that the German peoples have been brought together during this war in a way which otherwise could never have been accomplished and are now truly a nation, a united people. I think maybe Jünger is looking into the future trying to see the Germany of the future, a Germany which still does not exist. Maybe this Germany never will exist, but still in the hearts of young German patriots all over this globe the true Germany, the Vaterland, will someday rise from the ashes, shame, and destruction of the past and become a shining beacon to the world.
The 1920’s were an age of confusion and openness. No one knew where he was going or what he needed. In Germany I think that the feelings of the twenties were caused by a search in the people to find their Vaterland. As can be seen from the aftermath of world war two, I think the German people finally found it. Through heartache and pain, death and destruction, right and wrong, the German people stand by their Vaterland. This is what Jünger’s book portrays.
Ernst Jünger wrote his book “Storm of Steel” only as a commentary on his experiences in the first world war; however, his book ended up being much more than that. Contained within the pages of his book was the Vaterland, the being which kept him going through all of those cold wet nights in the trenches. To me the “Storm of Steel” is a testament to the undying soul of the German people and their undying love for their nation. I believe that if we all look inside of ourselves we can find the Vaterland, too. When we find the Vaterland then we will really know where we come from and where we belong.