The First World War and the Myth of the Young Man's War in Western Europe

TitleThe First World War and the Myth of the Young Man's War in Western Europe
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsBrian, Amanda M.
JournalLiterature & History
Date Published11/2018

During and after the First World War, authors in several of the main belligerent nations presented the war as a young man's war. The young man's war proved to be a powerful trope, and a myth emerged about the typical trench soldier as handsome, white, and eighteen. In this article, the author examines literature about the Great War across several nations – primarily Germany, Great Britain, and France – to demonstrate how and why youth became embedded in the collective memory and representation of the war. She argues, in part, that notions of youth in the early twentieth century allowed participating nations to emphasise innocence and tragedy, claiming the moral high ground in the process. As a result, it is now difficult to accurately depict the First World War soldiers as fathers as well as sons, husbands as well as fiancés, men with careers as well as boys fresh from school. The article argues that the generation of 1914 must be conceived more broadly, which would disallow easy teleologies to later tragic events in the 1930s.

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