As the son of a Second World War combat veteran, there is something about November 11th that resonates deep within me. That day brings into sharp relief the sacrifices made by the veterans of the First World War. For that reason, while scanning my library a few days ago, I resolved to read an eyewitness account of the war --- from the German side.
For the author, Ernst Jünger (1895-1998), the war was a long one, spanning from 1915 to 1918. During those years, he saw a considerable amount of action, which is detailed in this book. From the Champagne, the Somme, Arras, Flanders, Cambrai, and back to Flanders for the great Ludendorff offensives of 1918, Jünger proved himself a resourceful officer and a soldier who did not shrink back from any assignment he was given. (For his service, he was awarded Imperial Germany's highest award for bravery, the Ordre Pour le Mérite - better known as the "Blue Max.")
Jünger's story is somewhat analogous to Remarque's 'All Quiet on the Western Front'. But unlike Paul Baumer, Ernst Jünger's story is not anti-war. For him, the war is the defining event of his life. The bonds formed between him and his men in the squalor of the trenches are symbolic of the sacredness of the values of Duty, Honor, Country.
Jünger also expresses his admiration for the British soldier, whom he fought against on the Somme, at Cambrai, and in Flanders. Furthermore, the vignettes he provides of life in the areas behind the front in France where his unit was occasionally billeted are stark and perceptive. They show that, in some cases, the Germans were able to establish cordial relations with the civilian population, whom Jünger recognized as the ones who suffered the most from the effects of the war.
This year marks the second year since 1918 that there are no living veterans of the First World War to observe the day on which it was ended. "The Storm of Steel" is one of those war memoirs that helps the reader to connect vicariously with a generation whose sacrifices from 1914 to 1918 helped re-define the way in which we see ourselves and the world in which we live.