November 23, 2010
Growing up in Hell
Ernst Jüger was a German soldier during World War I that wrote down his experiences that he and his men encountered over the course of the war. Throughout the book Jüger makes references to the perceptions he has of himself, his men, and the enemy as the conditions of war rumble down, causing increasingly dire circumstances. As Jüger tells his tale, the reader begins to notice a growth in Jüger as a person due to the tragedies that befall him and the men around him. Jüger goes from a young man seeking glory, seeing as war is something to be proud of to him, to being a hardened veteran who has seen the ...view middle of the document...
” However this uneasy calmness he felt when mortars were shelling him would soon change when received his first wound of the war shortly after that experience. As he was on his way back to Germany by way of hospital train, Jüger began to realize the impact that this war would have both on himself and the people he began to become brothers with “for the first time I sensed that this war was more than just a great adventure.”
After Jüger returned to the front, recovered from his wound, the enemy seems more like a friend as he explains “Here you sometimes get personally acquainted with your opposite numbers;” The opposing sides even tend to have conversations with one another and learn to recognize each other by coughs or other sounds made. While this “friendliness” happens the opposing side is still the enemy and Jüger takes some pleasure in emptying a magazine of ammunition in their direction. At another point though Jüger describes “We did, though, say much to one another that betokened and almost sportsmanlike admiration for the other, and I’m sure we should have liked to exchange mementoes.” What is taken away from this encounter with the enemy is not the sense of war that is present today. In this tale at that moment in time, war seems to the reader as a game played by gentleman and the deaths do not seem to take hold on those around based on the candidness that the killing of a fellow soldier is talked about. Jüger himself says “Throughout the war, it was always my endeavour to view my opponent without animus, and to form an opinion of him as a man on the basis of the courage he showed.” To that end he also describes that he never had any “mean thoughts” towards the enemy and felt responsible for the prisoner’s safety when they took them.
Something not described in great detail throughout the book is how Jüger handles the great stresses he is put through. Obviously he wrote down events that had transpired as the book is proof of that but other than that he found ways to cope with the horrors. Since the soldiers spent a great deal of time in trenches, to pass the time and to break up the monotony, they would read newspapers, talk or play games. Jüger describes a game he made up using unexploded shells they would collect and shoot at. When not in trenches but in villages, although still under mortar fire, the men would relax in the empty houses of former citizens and pay no heed to mortars outside. In the French villages that the Germans occupied they were welcomed at times when they were coming back for rest after a successful campaign, “We had a friendly welcome and good accommodation from the villagers…” As World War I dragged on, Jüger became desensitized to the shellings and gunfire. Becoming so used to war, Jüger even sleeps through British mortar attacks and at one point, being so sure of British incompetence, sunbaths outside, “In the afternoons, we mocked the British gunners by lying out on a tarpaulin and doing some sunbathing.”...