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Monika Szczepaniak (Bydgoszcz)

"Morden haben sie uns geschickt".
Soldiers, Women and the Problem of Guilt in Literary Texts on the First World War

"Morden haben sie uns geschickt". Soldiers, Women and the Problem of Guilt in Literary Texts on the First World War
The subject of this paper is the question of guilt and responsibility with respect to the gender order as an idealized construction and changing system in the literature on the First World War. The role of women on the home front, their functions and duties, and their successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses, appear frequently as a topic of reflection and discussions among soldiers in literary works. Based on selected Austrian and Polish literary texts, the article argues that a pronounced tendency to evaluate femininity in general, and individual women in particular, is an integral part of European military masculinity – occurring even in works that express ideas of pacifism. In the opinion of the soldiers, women should function as bastions of predetermined emotions, occupying spaces attributed to them, but at the same time reaching beyond these spaces into the male sphere of the frontline to reinforce a warrior's fighting spirit. The male perspective gains the power to interpret not only the war, but also gender images.

1 The deceived soldier

The poem O zwiedzionym żołnierzu (1919) (About a Deceived Soldier) by the Polish writer Kornel Makuszyński describes a remarkable constellation of realising desire in wartime, which reveals male fantasies and dreams, as well as disappointments and disillusionments: "There once was a soldier/ who had two mistresses – one for evenings,/ another for mornings" (Makuszyński 2012: 28).1 He betrayed both of the mistresses by looking for a third lover, because he had time at noon. However, at the moment of military mobilisation, the soldier mistook one "sweetheart" for the other, causing a surprise combined with irritation – he found the shoes of an infantryman by the first mistresses' door, and of an artillerist by the other. Both mistresses tried to blame the soldier for coming at the wrong time. The protagonist of the story – unhappy and highly dissatisfied – is confronted with the necessity to change his mind: "He thought that he had deceived the maids,/ and he has been deceived instead" (Makuszyński 2012: 30).2

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There is no other alternative for the soldier twofold crossed in love, but to leave both women, to go into combat and to kill the enemies. Participation in the war seems to be the most reasonable solution to this problem of love by providing opportunities to demonstrate martial masculinity and to enjoy high social esteem.

In various narratives of war, women are often "participants in shaming men to try to goad them into fighting wars" (Goldstein 2001: 272). However, in the poem by Kornel Makuszyński, the motivation of the soldier for the fight is only implicitly considered to be influenced by women. In addition, the story illustrates female aspiration for sexual liberation, which appears as a behaviour falling out of the bounds of traditional sex and gender ideals. As soon as a woman's desire becomes uncontrollable, the soldier decides to turn down a role in the theatre of love in favour of a role in the theatre of war. Therefore, the final scene shows a figuration, which is typical for the construction of gender orders in wartime: the feminisation of love and the masculinisation of combat. Particularly in the context of the First World War, men and women were expected to be involved in the service to the nation on the front lines in the heat of the battle and, respectively, in the home sphere far from the combat area. The behaviour of women had become increasingly nationalized and politicized in the beginning of the war:

The idea that wartime sacrifices should be borne with pride and that loss had to be endured with silent grace was thus deeply imbedded in German, but also in British, French, Italian, Australian, and US war culture. In Germany, this moral code was constantly reinforced by the army, the churches, the media, and also by leading members of the women's movement (Siebrecht 2014: 155).

Large-scale propaganda idealized the figure of the loyal woman supporting the fighting man and providing him with psychological support, help and care, or even a kind of comradeship3. "The good woman showed her commitment to comrades on the front by remaining sexually abstinent" (Crouthamel 2014: 24). However, the ideal warrior "was abstinent, self-sacrificing, and emotionally fixated on his loved ones in Germany", as Jason Crouthamel (2014: 39) points out. At a symbolic level, the dichotomous concept of the complementary gender-spaces – the masculine frontline (war) and the feminine home front (peace) – became highly attractive and at the same time enforced the gendering of individual war experience4. On one hand it emphasized enormous expectations upon able-bodied men to serve in the army, and on the other hand it emphasized the importance of female sacrifice to maintain domestic life. However, at the same time, the war disrupted the dichotomous gender system by providing opportunities for women to enter spheres defined as exclusively male.5

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Not only the homecomings of soldiers after the war caused conflicts, irritation and even violence because of the altered gender relations, but also during the war the issue became an important subject of reflection and discussion, especially for the soldiers themselves, who felt threatened by the ‘spectre' of women's emancipation ‘haunting' Europe. For men returning after the end of the war, the new reality was quite disappointing. They felt betrayed by the independent-minded women, who abandoned their traditional roles. However, as historians have demonstrated, the war did not challenge the established gender order, signifying merely a temporary relocation of female labour.6

The subject of this paper is the question of guilt and responsibility with respect to the gender order as an idealized construction and as a system that was altered during the war. The role of women on the home front, their functions and duties, and their successes and failures, strengths and weaknesses, appear frequently as a topic of reflection and discussions among soldiers in literary works on the First World War. Based on selected examples, the article argues that a pronounced tendency to evaluate femininity in general, and individual women in particular, is an integral part of masculinity – especially a conservative core of the construction of military masculinity, occurring even in works which express ideas of pacifism. In the opinion of the soldiers, women should function as bastions of predetermined emotions, occupying spaces attributed to them, but at the same time reaching beyond these spaces into the male sphere of the frontline to reinforce a warrior's fighting spirit. From this perspective, soldiers present themselves as guardians of the reliable organizing principle: "Normal life becomes feminized and combat masculinized" (Goldstein 2001: 301). Nevertheless, according to the separate-sphere ideology and its constructions of masculinity and femininity, the feminization should be conditioned by male priorities and interests, it should be adapted to the gendered organisational structure, to the "Logik, die der Vorstellungswelt des Krieges entsprang" (Daniel 2004: 117). The male investment in restoring gender differences towards the end of the war can be interpreted as a highly political act of fixing women in a subordinate position and strengthening male power in peacetime. As Maren Lickhardt points out: "Im Wesentlichen hat der Erste Weltkrieg den Geschlechterdiskurs insofern geprägt, als er die männliche Beobachterperspektive auf beide Geschlechter zementiert hat" (Lickhardt 2014: 427).

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2 Marching off to death

The opening story of Andreas Latzko's Menschen im Krieg (1917) (Men in War), which deals with the Isonzo7 frontline of the First World War is entitled Der Abmarsch (Off to War) and depicts a community of victims: wounded soldiers in a war hospital in a small Austrian town, hoping for a leave of absence (Heimurlaub), dreaming of peace and comfort. Crippled and condemned to immobility, passivity and weakness, the men exhibit conditions that had been culturally connoted as ‘female':

Seit die Männer hockend, kriechend, hungernd, Monat auf Monat den eigenen Tod austragen, wie Frauen ihre Kinder, – seit Dulden und Warten, passives sich Abfinden mit Gefahr und Schmerz das Geschlecht gewechselt, fühlen die Frauen sich stark, und selbst in ihrer Lüsternheit glimmt noch ein wenig von der neuen Leidenschaft des Bemutterns (Latzko 1918a: 18).

Fortunately, the passion for mothering is represented by the nurses that work in the hospital and nurture sick and wounded men, who are accustomed to repressing weakness.

The central character of the novella is a lieutenant of the Landsturm, in civil life a well-known composer, suffering from severe shell shock after being a witness of the horrible death of his comrade. The military nurse asks the officers what had been their most awful experience on the front. For the composer, it was the marching off, because of the women who let it happen. The broken warrior, speaking hastily with a vibrating voice and twitching body, expresses an accusation against women: "Waren alle fesch, wie wir abmarschiert sind" (Latzko 1918a: 25). In the opinion of the insane officer, women had no problem saying goodbye to their husbands and boyfriends departing for the front. The well-known pictures of the moment: gestures of farewell, flowers, blessings, strong affections and tears are transformed in a radical accusation.8 In his narration, the ideologically legitimised female virtues from the beginning of the war (dash, pluck, bravery, restraint, patriotism) turn into shameful vices, especially considering that women presented masculine qualities, as if they were simply going off to manoeuvres. Following the "fashion" of the day, they rejected cowards and decided to love only heroes: "Jetzt sind Helden modern. Die fesche Frau Dill hat einen Helden haben wollen zu ihrem neuen Hut, hehe. Darum hat der arme Dill sein Gehirn hinaustragen müssen" (Latzko 1918a: 28). Whereas previous to the war, when men were expected to be gentle and considerate, in 1914 the "fashion" changed abruptly and within the new style of masculinity soft men were no longer desirable9.

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The evidence presented in the speech of the wounded soldier confirms common images of women, but also establishes a new surprising knowledge that seems to be important to the community of victims, which states that women follow the latest fashion, have a kind of herd instinct, are vulnerable to contemporary ideologies and styles of masculinity, and most notably, are cruel:

Daß die Frauen grausam sind, das war die Überraschung! Daß sie lachen können und Rosen werfen, daß sie ihre Männer hergeben, ihre Buben, die sie tausendmal ins Bett gelegt, tausendmal zugedeckt, gestreichelt, aus sich selbst aufgebaut haben, das war die Überraschung! Daß sie uns hergegeben haben – daß sie uns geschickt haben, geschickt! Weil jede sich geniert hätt' ohne einen Helden dazustehen; das war die größte Enttäuschung, mein Lieber (Latzko 1918a: 30)10.

Instead of their willingness to sacrifice their husbands and sons, they should have said in advance that they would find it disgusting to live, as well as to go to bed, with someone who shot and bayoneted human beings. In the opinion of the soldier it was far more important for the women to be in fashion than to protect or even to rescue their men: "Nicht eine hat gekämpft, nicht eine hat uns verteidigt. (…) Morden haben sie uns geschickt, sterben haben sie uns geschickt, für ihre Eitelkeit" (Latzko 1918a: 33). According to the sick man, expressing his critical opinion on the femininity model that he experienced in wartime, women are solely able to commit themselves for the sake of obtaining the right to vote and not for the sake of their husbands. Andrew Barker draws attention to the traces of Weininger as possible underlying ideology, which was very influential for Austrian writers: "Not for the first time in Austrian letters of the early twentieth century, the voice of Otto Weininger can be heard in the composer's dismissal of women as vain, sexually-motivated creatures of fashion devoid of ethical fibre" (Barker 1996: 105).

Contradictory to the patriotic discourse and construction of the very emotional experience of the "spirit of 1914" (Augusterlebnis), the one-sided statement of the disenchanted soldier focuses on female guilt and takes into consideration only the responsibility of women, without any reflection on male enthusiasm, or the spirit creating a powerful sense of patriotic community (Verhey 2006)11. Moreover, he ignores the politicians, the industrialists, as well as military officers who had decisive influence on the war and military masculinity, and leaves unconsidered his own illusions, mistakes, and vulnerabilities. Men are the main victims of wars, the potential or real losers, extremely exposed to being killed or wounded, but they are also prospective perpetrators of violence (Dittmer 2010: 95).

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The misrepresentation or omission of the male involvement in legitimated violence during wartime ("society gives blessing to the act of killing in war" (Goldstein 2001: 302)), and especially the problem of his individual responsibility as a perpetrator, can be interpreted as a creation of distinct gender politics, inclusive preparation for the future in the broader sense of male assumptions, concerns and fears as well as attempts to construct a feminine sphere to be preserved from war.12 Speaking from the position of victim, which connotes rather a ‘female' status in society and culture, he considers himself an accuser and judge, superior to women, whose attitude appears to him remarkably elusive and should be assessed as a moral failure.

The explanation by Andreas Latzko from 1918 leaves no doubt about the question of women in war. The approaching end of the war and the homecoming of veterans, longing for love, empathy, warmth, tenderness, "bis zum Erbrechen gesättigt mit kriegerischen Tugenden" (Latzko 1918b: 5), must be accompanied by restoration of the soft-hearted pre-war femininity:

Wo aber sind die Frauen, die wirklich unberührt geblieben sind? Die unerschöpfliches Entzücken sein werden dem Manne, eben weil sie anders sind, als er werden mußte? Wo sind die Mütter und Hausfrauen, die um den verwilderten und Verrohten den Frieden neu aufbauen können aus dem Vorrat, den sie in sich erhalten? Erwartet den Heimkehrenden, Schwergeprüften nicht als letzte, ärgste Enttäuschung ein Weib, das er nicht wiedererkennt, weil es ihn mehr an den Kameraden im Schützengraben erinnert, als an das Bild, das er, all die Jahre hindurch, als teuerste Erinnerung gehütet und gehegt, wie ein Amulett, liebevoll angehaucht und täglich blankgeputzt hatte?... (Latzko 1918b: 5-6)13.

In light of this argument, femininity appears to be an unalterable construction permanently insensitive to influences and conflicts, whereas masculinity can be connected to modern concepts and ideologies, can change and can be affected by crises. "Women collectively, then, serve as a kind of metaphysical sanctuary for traumatized soldiers, a counterweight to hellish war" (Goldstein 2001: 304).

3 To love everyone

To be at odds with women, not with himself, is characteristic for a soldier's attitude in the novella by the Polish writer Eugeniusz Małaczewski14 A Tale about Makologwa (Powiastka o Makolągwie) from the collection The Horse on the Hill (Koń na wzgórzu, 1921).

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Lieutenant Wojnar's discussion with Miss Jane, a member of "The Polish Women's Society" and Samaritan nurse from "The White Cross", providing vital aid to sick and wounded soldiers, focuses on relationships between women and soldiers, especially on the level of women's commitment to improve the situation of Polish soldiers on the front. Of particular importance for men in combat is the nurturing feminine sphere represented by their actual mothers as well as mother-like figures – nurses, sweethearts, wives, and activists who support war through various forms of psychological, and material contributions, and help soldiers endure extreme conditions in the trenches. The soldier expresses a critical view of the current state of affairs and diagnoses insufficient mobilisation of women for the concept, which could be called "social motherliness" (soziale Mütterlichkeit) (Hämmerle et al. 2014 : 14) – female involvement in war welfare. In Lieutenant Wojnar's opinion, Polish women at home not only have little idea of the horrors experienced at the front, but they also do not know individual soldiers with their specific characteristics: "Believe me, even though all these soldiers look the same in their grey uniforms, every one of them is a very special individual" (Małaczewski 2002: 49)15. To be a loyal and enthusiastic patriot and adorer of militarism, to love all soldiers as a homogenous collective, to admire military symbols and uniforms, to encourage men, who seek ways to escape military service through malingering – these arguments are not strong enough to convince the man who presents martial behaviour. During the conversation, he recognizes the erotic appeal of the woman; moreover, he "was in danger of succumbing to Miss Jane's charms" (Małaczewski 2002: 51)16 by speaking about the physical and emotional needs of the soldiers. He demands not to remain at the level of ideas, but to practise goodness and love, taking individual soldiers' needs into account.

One of the significant components of gender relations is competitiveness. Masculinity is inherently relational and "does not exist except in contrast with ‘femininity'" (Connell 2005: 68). Hegemony, subordination and marginalisation are core components of the construction of military masculinity and are familiar to individual soldiers. Nevertheless, one of the aspects of the complaint against the Polish "ladies, young and not so young, single or married" (Małaczewski 2002: 51)17 is the discovery that they prefer cavalrymen to infantrymen, as well as to artillerymen, as if women were not entitled to create any alternative prestige hierarchies among soldiers. In his opinion, women are gifted with the sense of beauty and only guided by aesthetic criteria: "But to be one of the lucky few, you need an elegant uniform, riding boots and breeches, clinking spurs… the ordinary infantryman is just a waif" (Małaczewski 2001: 51)18.

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In contrast, the lieutenant feels he is competent to compare and evaluate women; therefore, he concludes that in the First World War, British and French soldiers were provided with much more welfare than the Polish soldiers – each of them are "adopted" and in touch with two or three women writing to them and sending them "rather more than one cake at Christmas" (Małaczewski 2002: 51)19. Similarly, each Polish woman should "adopt" one soldier and look after him: "(…) so that when he's fighting, he knows he is doing so not for some theoretical entity but for the sake of a country which is showing concern for him, like a mother for her child" (Małaczewski 2002: 52)20. What is missing is an organised concept of transfer of love and care, which are considered to be feminine domain, to the anonymous soldier on the front, possibly in the form of packages as personal support known as "love gifts" (Liebesgaben)21 in Germany. A relevant point of the soldier's speech is the stressing of the sacrifice of the frontline community and of defending women against the Russian oppressors: "(…) you ladies are spared the lot of your unfortunate Russian sisters and are not being herded into barracks somewhere to serve the needs of drunken Bolshevik soldiery" (Małaczewski 2002: 52)22, "(…) your husbands, brothers and lovers who have not been called up or who have dodged their way out of military service can live peacefully, make money and pretend to be contributing to the rebuilding of the country" (Małaczewski 2001: 52)23. In his hierarchy, the soldier has a privileged position compared to civilian roles, which are connected to the field of female competencies and play a minor role in the process of building an independent Polish state.

The response of Miss Jane presents the female perspective and highlights several activities within organising war assistance that take entire days, such as collecting donations for the front or for war invalids, preparing food and clothing, and many other similar tasks: "We toil like the oxen in the fields" (Małaczewski 2002: 53)24. She explains to him the phenomenon of "two fronts", whereby the Warsaw front is much more demanding and requires a considerable amount of time and energy, as well as emotions. The commitment of women, however, does not receive appropriate attention and recognition. Consequently, the man generalises women and mentions the all-embracing female love of soldiers en masse several times (Małaczewski 2002: 54)25, which is attributed as "sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal."26 What is really needed is individual love for each soldier as a particular human being. Interestingly, the sociologist Jens Warburg focuses on the figure of the soldier not only as a passive tool in the hands of military institutions with their disciplinary power, but also on the subjectivity of soldiers in wartimes. To some extent his perspective incorporates aspects of independent acting, decision-making, responsibility as well as perpetration.27

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However, in the narration of the soldier, these problems are completely ignored, even if he tells an individual story of the soldier Makologwa, who is obviously involved in war violence and whose attitude is much more problematic than the heroic narration suggests. In the opinion of the soldier, who tells the Makologwa story, this story should be promoted as an example of bravery and sacrifice made not by the famous and celebrated soldiers of the Polish Legions, occupying a privileged place in the pantheon of national gender myths, but by the rather unknown soldiers of the Polish military formations in Russia (Murmansk). From their own perspective, their combat deserves to be considered as a part of the national mission, playing an important role within the politics of masculinity as well as in the remembrance discourses in the post-war period. Repeatedly, the confrontation with women creates the impression that women are not actually the subject of reflection, but rather men and their rivalries. It has more to do with actual ideologies of masculinity as well as with male fantasies and anxieties than with the situation of women, whose commitment, from the male perspective, has to be excluded from the post-war-memory. Indeed, the commitment of women was neither recognized nor appreciated in public discourse.

The creation of the new welfare with individual love could be interpreted as a desired mobilisation of women, as well as an act of appropriation of feminine potentials by Polish soldiers. They defined themselves as a community of men who represent a stateless nation hoping for an independent Poland to be built during the First World War28. In the long struggle for national independence, women followed the ideal of the self-sacrificing "Matka Polka" (Polish Mother)29 raising their sons to fight, as well as maintaining the Polish language and culture. The First World War was the next opportunity to engage in the struggle of the independent state and to support the soldiers morally and emotionally. This is the subject of the male value judgements in several literary texts, whose protagonists refer to women as a collective, as well as individuals. Women have to revise their knowledge of war and masculinity and to consider the conditions of the modern mass war with its technological advancements. This is what the soldiers demand in the novel Uśmiechy wojny (1927) (Smiles of War) by Tadeusz Dąbrowski, in which at the same time the following judgement of Polish literature sentimentalising the war30 is expressed:

They still didn't understand that the setting had completely changed and that they have to change their costumes according to the circumstances. They thought that it is a next episode of the war flirtation. Polish novelists familiarised the ladies and girls with the notion that the war is reduced to sabre and love (Dąbrowski 1927: 82)31

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In the novel Generał Barcz (1922) (General Barcz) by Juliusz Kaden-Bandrowski, two soldiers, including the eponymous character, complain about women in the aftermath of the war: "And both agreed that there is no gratification in this country, no award for great deeds or lofty words, because everybody is followed everywhere by the patriarchal virtue – after battle, women go to trace their lost children instead of embracing heroes" (Kaden-Bandrowski 1923: 66)32.

4 Robbed of his dignity

Reflecting on women's mobilization for war, Susan Grayzel summarises:

One of the more visible alterations in women's lives during the war came with their entrance into a wide range of occupations, some of which had been the exclusive domain of men. (…) Women not only entered wartime factories, but also banks and places of business and government as clerks, typists, and secretaries. They were found running trams and buses, delivering milk, and even joining newly-created armed forces' auxiliaries and becoming police officers (Grayzel 2014).

One of these visible professions, occupied by women and associated with their emancipation or even commanding role was the tram conductress, according to Joseph Roth (1919) "eine Improvisation der großen Zeit", which was going to disappear from the public space: "wird Zange und Diensttasche abtun und reuig heimkehren zur Küchenschürze und Kochlöffel". For returning veterans, frequently disillusioned or traumatized by the war experience, ‘home' appeared to be a precarious and chaotic landscape, particularly in view of the fact that their wives were ‘absent', not available, transformed into independent-minded women who had abandoned their traditional roles. The problem of disappointing homecomings has found its way into literature depicting veterans confronted with difficulties to arrange their lives in peacetime. The story Rückkehr (1918) (Homecoming) by Alfred Polgar, depicts a homecoming prisoner who was a tram conductor before the war and regarded the job as an exhausting labour: "Es war Müh' und Plage, freilich. Aber der Abendfrieden im Lehnstuhl hatte dafür seinen Wohlgeschmack. Man war zwölf Stunden Sklave draußen, aber dann zwölf Stunden Herr daheim" (Polgar 2003: 66). Now, his wife is a tram conductor and works ten hours a day, perfectly performing the role, which provoked men's views regarding female labour as a kind of shocking sensation. The veteran has to experience the disorder of his pre-war-universe:

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Aber was er nicht verstand, war, daß ihm plötzlich so schien, als wäre der Fußboden wie Teig, und er könne keinen Schritt auf ihm gehen, ohne einzusinken. Vor dem Bett standen die Pantoffel: Zeichen seiner Hausvaterwürde und seines heiligen Ruherechts (Polgar 2003: 67).

She is extremely exhausted and cannot concentrate on his story of being a victim in Siberia.

His response to the gender trouble is a growing malaise and the reflection:

Man hatte ihn bestohlen, während er in Gefangenschaft war. Man hatte ihm seine Würde gestohlen. Seine Manns-Besonderheit. Seine Arbeits-Krone. Eine Dornenkrone zwar, aber immerhin eine Krone. Sein Königtum war abgeschafft. Wie das russische. Er hatte kein Recht mehr, Unterwürfigkeit, Pantoffel, andächtige Blicke, eine wohlgestopfte Pfeife, Achtung, einen Krug Bier zu fordern. Sein Kapital an Geltung war abhanden gekommen. Es zinste nicht mehr Respekt und Ehrfurcht. Sein Herrentum, ihm wie ein unsichtbares, Dienste forderndes Priesterkleid umgehangen, hing jetzt um die Schultern der Frau (Polgar 2003: 67-68).

The loss of visibility as a man of power and prestige is very difficult to accept; therefore, the former soldier feels sick with apprehension and homesickness, as so often in Siberia33. Facing the altered gender order and his subordinated social as well as symbolic position, the veteran has no idea how to persevere (durchhalten) at this front and becomes nostalgic for his male comrades instead. The reestablishment of the traditional division of social labour as an essential precondition for a veteran's greater satisfaction is not in sight. The activity of women in the public sphere appears to be threatening, whereas the community of soldiers is an object of homesickness, as though this community could be sufficiently emotionally fulfilling.

John Bogdan from the novella Heimkehr (Home Again) by Andreas Latzko, published in the aforementioned collection Men in War, is also ‘robbed of his dignity'. His homecoming from the frontline by Kielce to his home in Hungary is distinctly marked by his disfigured face after a serious injury on the battlefield. The reconstruction of the face (operated on seventeen times) does not alter the fact that he is no longer the handsome man, who had always been liked: at school, in the workplace, in the barracks. On his return, he is confronted with the community of the village as well as with his bride Marcsa as a disfigured creature – permanently disabled, helpless, a lost man, asking the question whether his face was one of a human being. Similar to the soldier in Alfred Polgar's novella Homecoming, the overwhelming feeling of the homecoming man is a great longing for the world of war, specifically for the hospital, which he had left a few hours before.

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Nobody there was revolted by the sight of his mutilated face, instead he was perceived as a kind of ‘celebrity' – capable of going back to work: "Ein Auge, und ein bißl zerkratztes Gesicht, das war doch nichts gegen ein Holzbein, einen lahmen Arm oder eine durchschossene Lunge (…)" (Latzko 1918c: 174).

Despite the expectation of being admired in his village, John's neighbour does not recognise him, and his bride is not proud of his having been mutilated in the service of his fatherland. His experiences at home are disillusionment, hostility, and mortification. Embittered and cast down, he discovers that Marcsa is working in the munitions factory (in the estate which had been his workplace before the war), and that she was unfaithful to him. While indulging in his memories of the war, as well as his martial attitude as a cold-blooded killer, John goes to the castle, meets Marcsa, and asks about their common future. In the opinion of his bride, the disabled soldier has no position or social status in society yet and has no other choice than to resort to violence and kill the rival – exactly as he had learned by experience in battle. However, somebody, probably Marcsa, then kills the veteran and murderer John with a blow from behind. The victim of the war is confronted with the experience of insecurity, isolation and social exclusion immediately before his death. As a result, the victim becomes a perpetrator of violence in the civil circumstances, provoking his outbreak of aggression as an expression of the militarized masculinity in crisis. The woman has considerably contributed to the escalation of the crisis, because she has rejected the caring and nurturing role, which is commonly taken for granted by the homecoming soldiers, in the sense of the historical observation: "Man hielt es für durchaus natürlich, daß Frauen, ihr Leben lang an verstümmelte Männer gekettet, sich zu einem opferreichen und entsagungsvollen Leben bereitfinden würden" (Hirschfeld / Gaspar o. J.: 345).

Narrative fiction on the First World War reflects upon aspects of changed gender dynamics in the war as well as post-war society. Soldiers are often depicted as conservative figures, providing well-defined scripts for women to perform, mobilising them for their "return from the war" – the metaphorical homecoming to the framework of "emphasized femininity" which is oriented to accommodating the interests and desires of men (Connell 1987: 187). The boundary between the front and home is not exactly a part of the reality, but the analysed texts show that it exists in the imagination of the soldiers confronted with conflicting discourses and involved in the task of aggressive killing. Indeed, the patriarchal order remained intact after 1918 and the discussion of the emancipation of women has, to a great extent, been replaced by the rhetoric of masculinity in crisis. The failure of the romantic ideal of heroic masculinity contrasted with the apparent visibility of women in the public sphere, and these circumstances proved to be important for the politics of gender in the post-war period.

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The commitment and suffering of women in wartime was overshadowed by the story of soldiers' sacrifice. In spite of the oppressive male role in the war, from the perspective of the soldiers, warrior myths were still an important part of the politics of masculinity, whereas women were expected to ‘step out' from the framework of the war (including their role as breadwinner) and come back to the homogenous femininity located in the domestic sphere. This is one of the many constellations that illustrate a vital cultural paradigm: the necessary connection between the making of masculinity and the subordination of women.


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Fell, Alison S. / Sharp, Ingrid S. (eds.) (2007): The women's movement in wartime. International perspectives 1914-1919. Basingstoke/ New York.

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Fergusson, Niall (1999): Der falsche Krieg. Der Erste Weltkrieg und das 20. Jahrhundert. Aus dem Englischen von Klaus Kochmann. Stuttgart.

Goldstein, Joshua S. (2001): War and Gender. How Gender Shapes the War and Vice Versa. Cambridge 2001.

Goll, Claire (1980): Die Frauen erwachen. Novelle. Gisela Brinker-Gabler (ed.): Frauen gegen den Krieg. Frankfurt a. M., 58-63.

Grayzel, Susan R. (2014): Women's Mobilization for War. Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, Bill Nasson (eds.): 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, issued by Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin 2014-10-08. DOI: 10.15463/ie1418.10231.

Hämmerle, Christa / Überegger, Oswald / Bader Zaar, Brigitta (2014): Introduction: Women's and Gender History of the First World War – Topics, Concepts, Perspectives. Christa Hämmerle, Oswald Überegger, Brigitta Bader Zaar (eds.): Gender and the First World War. New York, 1-15.

Hämmerle, Christa (2012): Der Erste Weltkrieg aus frauen- und geschlechtergeschichtlicher Perspektive. Forschungsthemen und -desiderate in Österreich. Österreich in Geschichte und Literatur 3, 218-230.

Hämmerle, Christa (2014): Heimat/ Front. Geschlechtergeschichten des Ersten Weltkrieges in Österreich-Ungarn. Wien.

Hirschfeld, Magnus / Gaspar, Andreas (eds.) (o. J.): Sittengeschichte des Ersten Weltkrieges. Hanau, Nachdruck der 2. Neubearbeiteten Auflage.

Kaden-Bandrowski, Juliusz (1923): Generał Barcz. Powieść. Warszawa.

Latzel, Klaus (2004): Liebesgaben. Gerhard Hirschfeld, Gerd Krumeich, Irina Renz (eds.): Enzyklopädie Erster Weltkrieg. Paderborn, 679-680.

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Latzko, Andreas (1918a): Der Abmarsch. Andreas Latzko: Menschen im Krieg. Zürich, 7-36.

Latzko, Andreas (1918b): Frauen im Krieg. Geleitworte zur Internationalen Frauenkonferenz für Völkerverständigung in Bern. Zürich.

Latzko, Andreas (1918c): Heimkehr. Andreas Latzko: Menschen im Krieg. Zürich, 169-200.

Lickhardt, Maren (2014): Kriegsfolgen und Neuorientierung: Geld und Geschlecht. Niels Werber, Stefan Kaufmann, Lars Koch (eds.): Erster Weltkrieg. Kulturwissenschaftliches Handbuch. Stuttgart/ Weimar, 419-422.

Lipp, Anne (2003): Meinungslenkung im Krieg. Kriegserfahrungen deutscher Soldaten und ihre Deutung 1914-1918. Göttingen.

Makuszyński, Kornel (2012): O zwiedzionym żołnierzu. Kornel Makuszyński: "Bo Polska zapamięta najdroższe swe chłopięta!" Wiersze i piosenki żołnierskie 1919-1920, opracował Andrzej Krzysztof Kunert. Łomianki, 28-30.

Małaczewski, Eugeniusz (2002): A Tale about Makologwa. Eugeniusz Małaczewski: The Horse on the Hill. Translated by Mieczyslaw Wasilewski. Łomianki, 49-61.

Moser, Maria Katharina (2005): Frauen – die paradigmatischen Opfer in Kriegssituationen? Konstruktionen von Geschlecht, Viktimisierung und Krieg. Joachim Becker, Gerald Hödl, Peter Steyrer (eds.): Krieg an den Rändern. Von Sarajewo bis Kuito. Wien, 108-123.

Polgar, Alfred (2003): Rückkehr. Alfred Polgar: Kleine Schriften. Band 1: Musterung. Ed. Marcel Reich-Ranicki. Reinbek bei Hamburg, 65-68.

Roth, Joseph (1919): Abschied von der Schaffnerin. "Der neue Tag", 19.10.1919.

Sharp, Ingrid (2014): "A foolish dream of sisterhood". Anti-Pacifist Debates in the German Women's Movement, 1914-1919. Christa Hämmerle, Oswald Überegger, Brigitta Bader Zaar (eds.): Gender and the First World War. New York, 195-213.

Siebrecht, Claudia (2014): The Female Mourner. Gender and the Moral Economy of Grief During the First World War. Christa Hämmerle, Oswald Überegger, Brigitta Bader Zaar (eds.): Gender and the First World War. New York, 144-162.

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Unruh, Fritz von (1918): Ein Geschlecht. Tragödie. Berlin.

Verhey, Jeffrey (2006): The spirit of 1914. Militarism, myth and mobilization in Germany. Cambridge/ New York.

Warburg, Jens (2010): Paradoxe Anforderungen an soldatische Subjekte avancierter Streitkräfte im (Kriegs-)Einsatz. Maja Apelt (ed.): Forschungsthema: Militär. Militärische Organisationen im Spannungsfeld von Krieg, Gesellschaft und soldatischen Subjekten. Wiesbaden, 245-270.


1 "Był raz sobie żołnierz,/ Co miał dwie kochanki,/ Jedną na wieczory,/ Drugą na poranki." All quotations translated by the author M.S. unless stated otherwise.

2 "Myślał, że on zwodził,/ A zwodziły dziewki."

3 Indeed, the majority of organized women in combat nations supported the war policies as well as the soldiers. As Ingrid Sharp points out: "The fundamental paradox facing the organized women's movements in wartime was how they could justify activities that would release more men to fight and be injured or killed" (Ingrid Sharp 2014: 197).

4 On the discursive polarisation of the frontline and home front see Lipp 2003: 279-306.

5 The subject has been extensively researched, see the volume by Christa Hämmerle, Oswald Überegger and Brigitta Bader Zaar from a comparative perspective (Hämmerle et al. 2014) and from the perspective of Austrian history (Hämmerle 2012).

6 See Daniel 2004 ("Die weibliche Erwerbstätigkeit kehrte quantitativ und qualitativ weitgehend zum Vorkriegsstand zurück" (132)).

7 Latzko was called up in 1914 and served as an officer on the Italian front. Due to his illness, he was released from military service in 1916 and moved to Davos.

8 In the pacifistic novella Die Frauen erwachen (Women wake up, 1918) by Claire Goll, the wife of a homecoming cripple characterizes him as a murderer, but she also reflects on the problem of female guilt: "Warum hatte sie ihm nicht früher gezeigt, daß es Frauen und Mütter gibt? War er den schuldig an seiner Tat? Warum hatte sie ihn gehen lassen? Warum hatten sich nicht alle Frauen vor die Züge geworfen? Warum hatten sie den Männern zugejubelt und ihnen Blumen in ihre Gewehre gesteckt?" (Goll 1980, 62). The artificial hand of her husband – for him a representation of war and masculinity, and a kind of trophy – points at her in an accusing manner, which results in her committing suicide.

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9 "Und auf einmal, weil die Mode gewechselt hat, wollen sie Mörder haben." (Latzko 1918a: 29).

10 Some literary texts present men expressing their criticism on the attitudes of women in August 1914. In Ein Geschlecht (A Family, 1918) by Fritz Unruh, the oldest son says to his mother: "Euch klag ich an, die Ihr uns morden hießt!" (Unruh 1918: 53).

11 The commitment of women in national war efforts has been addressed in research on the First World War. The pressure of British women can serve as an example because they fit young men who were not in uniforms with white feathers – the badge of a coward (Fergusson 1999: 240). Even leading suffragettes accepted the necessity to support the German "male nation" and to "serve" as workers in munitions factories (240). See also Fell / Sharp (2007).

12 As Maria Katharina Moser points out, the reality is quite different from the ideal gender order: "Sowohl männlich konnotierte Aktivität und weiblich konnotierte Passivität als auch männlich konnotierte Rationalität und weiblich konnotierte Fürsorglichkeit werden weniger entlang des Geschlechts organisiert, sondern in die verschiedenen Rollenbilder auf männlicher bzw. weiblicher Seite als handlungsleitende Motive eingebaut." (Moser 2005: 114) In this sense, Ute Daniel describes the contradictory development from gender order or the allegedly stabilizing impact of the gender-specific construction of war to gender trouble: "Es stand in einem eigentümlichen Spannungsverhältnis zur stabilisierenden Wirkung der geschlechtsspezifischen Kriegsdeutung, daß die symbolisch überhöhte komplementäre Geschlechterordnung mehr und mehr zu einer Unordnung zu werden schien." (Daniel 2004: 122).

13 Presenting advice to the Women's Conference, Latzko also mentioned the guilt of men marching off to war, highly motivated last but not least by their longing for power.

14 The author participated in the First World War as a volunteer in the Russian army and as an officer of Polish military formations in Russia (i.a. in Murmansk 1918-19). On Polish national units in Russia, see Brudek (2014).

15 "Niech mi pani wierzy, że co legun – to inna perła ludzka, w szarą jednakość oprawiona."

16 "(…) na wdzięki pani Niuty patrzył (…) wzrokiem kolorowego ludożercy". This English translation is less harsh as the original Polish text.

17 "(…) polskie matrony, panie, paniutki, panienki i panieneczki".

18 "Lecz aby się stać tym wybrańcem, trzeba mieć wspaniały na całą pierś rabat, żółty lub czerwony, ustryczkować się fantastyczną etykietą, melodyjnie grać w ostrogi… Zaś szary piechur to sierota".

19 "(…) więcej, niż jeden piernik rocznie".

20 "(…) niech wie, że się bije nie o jakąś mitycznie doskonałą Polskę, która będzie kiedyś, lecz – o Polskę, która już jest, a umie swojego żołnierza kochać czynnie, jak matka i czuwać nad nim sercem siostrzanem".

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21 The packages contained knitted items, chocolate, tobacco, and dried fruit. In a wider sense, the term Liebesgaben referred to the involvement of the German female population in a comprehensive system of wartime welfare (the "army of love" supporting the "army of weapons") (Latzel 2004: 679).

22 "(…) nie jesteście rekwirowane dla koszar pijanego żołdactwa, jak wasze nieszczęsne siostry w Rosji".

23 "(…) wasi mężowie, bracia i narzeczeni, którzy są wolni od wojska lub się od niego wykręcają, – mogą wegetować spokojnie, robić interesy, udawać budowniczych Polski".

24 "Pracujemy, jak woły robocze".

25 "(…) ta wasza hurtowna miłość".

26 Transl. M.S. The translation "it's simply a lot of hot air" (Małaczewski 2002: 54) ignores the biblical context suggested in the original version.

27 "Soldaten als Handelnde, als Subjekte zu betrachten, heißt, dass sie auch als Personen wahrgenommen werden können, die einen zurechenbaren und damit verantwortlichen Anteil am Kriegsgeschehen haben. Das wiederum bedeutet, dass sie auch als Täter ins Blickfeld geraten" (Warburg 2010: 246-247).

28 The Polish territories had been partitioned between the Russian Empire, Prussia and Austria-Hungary. Poland regained independence as a result of the First World War.

29 The ideal of the Polish Mother dated back to the time before the war and was linked to the liberation ideology. The domestic sphere, especially the manor house, was expected to be a patriotic and Catholic space of Polishness.

30 The masculine experience of the war can be called "technical adventure". However, the Polish sentimental narrative of war seems to correspond to the formula of "romantic adventure" with "pretty boys" who enthusiastically follow the "she war" (wojenka) with the face of seductive beautiful woman.

31 "One nie rozumiały jeszcze, że sceneria się zmieniła całkowicie i że należało stosownie do tego zmienić kostiumy. Myślały, że to jest jeszcze dalszy ciąg wojennego flirtu. Powieściopisarze polscy przyzwyczaili damy i panienki do tej myśli, że na wojnie jest tylko szabelka i miłość."

32 "I obaj się zgodzili, że niemasz nagrody w tym kraju ani za wielkie czyny, ani za wzniosłe słowa, patryarchalna bowiem cnota drepcze wszystkim wszędzie po piętach – niewiasty po bitwie dzieci jadą szukać, zamiast bohaterów tulić (…)."

33 "Und es ward ihm, wie oft in Sibirien, übel vor Bangigkeit und Heimweh" (Polgar 2003: 68).

This article was prepared within the research project No. 2013/09/B/HS2/02077 funded by Narodowe Centrum Nauki (National Science Centre Poland).