Nov 13 2013

Storm of Steel

Published by at 9:44 pm under Book Reviews,Ernst Jünger,WWI

Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger

Storm of Steel by Ernst Jünger

I’ve been reading Ernst Jünger’s book Storm of Steel, about his experiences in WWI. Jünger fought for the Germans, so this is a bit of a different perspective than the usual. It is also one of the most harrowing accounts of war I’ve ever read – almost to the point of absurdity.

The book is littered with passages like “so and so was walking along and had his throat taken out by shrapnel. Then there was a gas attack.  The rains came, but these caused the walls of the trench to disintegrate, revealing the bodies that had been buried in them the summer before…”

Here’s a fascinating story about a fellow soldier named Eisen:

Eisen was no taller, but plump, and having grown up in the warmer climes of Portugal as the son of an emigrant, he was perpetually shivering. That was why he swore by a large red-chequered handkerchief that he tied around his helmet, knotted under his chin, claiming it kept his head warm. Also, he liked going around festooned with weapons – apart from his rifle, from which he was inseparable, he wore numerous daggers, pistols, hand-grenades and a torch tucked into his belt. Encountering him in the trench was like suddenly coming upon an Armenian or somesuch. For a while he used to carry hand-grenades loose in his pockets as well, till that habit gave him a very nasty turn, which he related to us one evening. He had been digging around in his pocket, trying to pull out his pipe, when it got caught in the loop of a hand-grenade and accidentally pulled it off. He was startled by the sudden unmistakable little click, which usually serves as the introduction to a soft hiss, lasting for three seconds, while the priming explosive burns. In his appalled efforts to pull the thing out and hurl it away from him, he had got so tangled up in his trouser pocket that it would have long since blown him to smithereens, had it not been that, by a fairy-tale stroke of luck, this particular hand-grenade had been a dud. Half paralysed and sweating with fear, he saw himself, after all, restored to life.

It was only temporary, though, because a few months later he too died in the battle at Langemarck.

I’ve never been in combat. I have no concept of what it must be like.  I’m sure, 100 years (almost) after Jünger wrote this, much has changed.  I also suspect much has not.

Perhaps the old cliche “war is hell” is appropriate, in the sheer insanity of it all. I honestly cannot imagine or comprehend.


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