‘The Great War: Western Front’ Gives World War 1 a Total War Treatment

The trenches of the Western Front in the First World War are among the most indelible and enduring scenes in the historical imagination. Even if you know next to nothing about the war, you probably get the same set of images that I do when I hear phrases like “no man’s land” or “The Somme.” Muddy trenches, barren moonscapes of shell-scarred earth, men being cut down in rows by machine gun fire, or choking on poison gas. American schoolchildren used to be taught “In Flanders Fields” in elementary school; by middle school there would be a unit on All Quiet on the Western Front. Via poetry especially, the war looms large in any survey of English literature, which forms the subject of literary historian Paul Fussell’s The Great War and Modern Memory. Writing back in 1975 he argued that the trenches had not just defined the the war’s legacy, but had also reshaped how subsequent generations of English-speakers engaged with the world. Fussell wrote: “…there seems to be one dominating form of modern understanding; that it is essentially ironic, and that it originates largely in the application of mind and memory to the events of the Great War.” 

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/7kxp3g/the-great-war-western-front-gives-world-war-1-a-total-war-treatment