|Ernst Jünger Wearing the Pour le Mérite
By Henry G. Gole
Remarque's powerful naturalistic prose in All Quiet has shaped our picture of life in the trenches as no other single book has. The impasse on the Western Front finally proved mass frontal assaults to be a purposeless waste of life. Attacks by hundreds of thousands of men, supported by preparatory fires of millions of artillery rounds, produced tens of thousands of casualties — but not only among the defending force. . .
Ernst Jünger's Storm of Steel (1929) provides us a striking contrast to Remarque's pacifism, but he too is convinced that the front experience permanently separated the front soldier from the others. Jünger was one of the most highly decorated German soldiers of the Great War and one of the most often wounded [14 times]. His combat record was so impressive that he was handpicked to organize and lead elite troops whose mission was to infiltrate enemy front lines using techniques requiring extraordinarily brave and tough men. The infiltration teams, called Sturm (storm) — or Kampfgruppen (assault groups), relied on stealth to penetrate enemy lines, followed by shock action with individual weapons. The idea was to cause confusion and disorganization among defenders that would create openings for exploitation. Jünger led such assault teams and claimed to love it!
After the war Jünger observed the same chaos described by Remarque but came to different conclusions. Passive acceptance of the alienation of the veteran was not in Jünger's nature. He was convinced that a new man was born in the trenches, a man who would lead. Breast-beating and lamentations about unhappy circumstances simply would not do. The decisiveness of the assault team leader, his courage, and leadership, had a new objective — veterans led by such men would reshape the political world.
It is this mode of thought that is captured so well in Robert G. Waite's The Vanguard of Nazism (1952), a book about the adventurous souls whose answer to profound problems was movement and action. The collection of bold men who comprised the Freikorps (free corps) and veterans' associations organized along military lines consisted of veterans, boys who hadn't had their war, nationalists shamed by the Treaty of Versailles, royalists longing for the good old days of Wilhelmine Germany, those who had nowhere else to go, and those disenchanted with Germany's experiment with democracy. These men craved leadership, clear objectives, and a way out of Germany's many problems. Germany had not been prepared for the republic thrust upon it. Paramilitary action in the streets passed for political activity.
Source: "The Great War a Literary Perspective," Parameters, Summer 1987