Dynamic of Destruction: Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War

TitleDynamic of Destruction: Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication2007
AuthorsKramer, Alan
Number of Pages434
PublisherOxford University Press

On 25 August 1914, in the Belgian university town of Louvain, the nature of modern European war took a terrible new turn. German occupying troops torched the medieval town, slaughtered hundreds of civilians, and deliberately destroyed their entire cultural heritage, including the world-famous university library. The international community reacted in horror—"Holocaust of Louvain" proclaimed the Daily Mail—and the behaviour of the Germans at Louvain came to be seen as heralding a different style of war—a more total war, in which enemy civilians and their entire culture were now "legitimate" targets. Yet the destruction at Louvain was simply one symbolic moment in a wider wave of cultural destruction and mass killing that swept the world at this time—from the Balkans in 1912, via the Western Front, Turkey, Italy, and eastern Europe, to the seven-year catastrophe of war and revolution in Russia. Using a wide range of examples and eye-witness accounts from across Europe, award-winning historian Alan Kramer paints a picture of an entire continent plunging into a chilling new world of mass mobilization, total warfare, and the celebration of nationalist or ethnic violence—often directed expressly at the enemy's civilian population.

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