Storm of Steel

Penguin Books

~500 words


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My thoughts on Ernst Jünger’s 1920 Great War memoir Storm of Steel, where we learn that war is a bloody great laugh if you’re lucky enough to get through it.

Nothing was left in his voice but equanimity, apathy; fire had burned everything else out of it. It’s men like that you need for fighting.

Ernst Jünger, Storm of Steel

Storm of Steel is something like a non-fiction counterpart to Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. The 1920 memoirs of German Army officer Ernst Jünger’s Western Front experiences in the Great War, Storm of Steel begins with Jünger’s first taste of combat to the fourteenth and final wound he received three years later.

In contrast to All Quiet on the Western Front, Jünger spends Storm of Steel having what can only be described as a gay old time. This is in sharp contrast to just about everybody he meets who gets a name, of whom very few make it more than a couple pages before they’re struck down. One of the most disturbing instances is an officer he storms a trench system with, who rounds a corner ahead of Jünger and is simply never seen again.

Jünger also seems to have some sort of guardian angel looking out for him, considering those fourteen wounds include a bullet grazing his head and being shot in the goddamn chest. The guy lived to 102 years old. Maybe he could have done with sharing some of that luck with his fellow soldiers.

There are moments of poetic beauty in the book, as well as unmitigated horror. Never have I read so vivid a description of being in the midst of a shelling attack, the jagged shards of metal slamming without reason or prediction into the trench posts around Jünger. There are also tense though beautiful descriptions of the morning light dawning over the lines of Pickelhauben and bayonets in the prelude to an assault, and powerfully disorientating passages that take place in the chaos shortly after.

I also suspect that Jünger may not have been fully right in the head, such as when he talks paternalistically about his British, who is a British soldier he shot dead not a page ago. However, as much as Jünger may quite rightly be accused of glorifying combat, he does seem like an alright sort to be up against:

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. I would always try and seek him out in combat and kill him, and I expected nothing else from him. But never did I entertain mean thoughts of him. When prisoners fell into my hands, later on, I felt responsible for their safety, and would always do everything in my power for them.

Ernst Jünger