Alan Kramer: His new book is about the birth of a killing culture (WW I)

Historians in the News

'Who, after all, speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?" Hitler supposedly said on Aug. 22, 1939, as he prepared his henchmen for the savagery of race war and the slaughter of the Jews of Europe. In many ways, this link between the genocide of the Armenians by the Ottoman Empire in 1915 and the genocide of the Jews by the Nazis from 1941 to 1945 brings together the elements of Alan Kramer's important book, "Dynamic of Destruction: Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War." Kramer believes the two world wars may be regarded as a single four-decade trauma, and he argues that World War I was considerably more than simply a new industrial form of warfare that brutalized the modern world.

Destruction, Kramer says, became a deliberate policy in many, perhaps all, of the combatant countries. This made possible not only conscious hooliganism against great cultural monuments (like churches) but also the creation of an actual culture of violence. Kramer, an associate professor of history at Trinity College, Dublin, believes that as the fighting intensified, the combatants embraced the annihilation of soldiers and civilians as a military and political policy.

"The thesis," he writes, "is that there was a 'dynamic of destruction' which produced the most extensive cultural devastation and mass killing in Europe since the Thirty Years War." An admirable work of analysis and narrative, Kramer's book shows that this killing culture was hardly inevitable. Although there were many reasons for the dynamic of destruction to be found in the peculiarities of the different political cultures, ultimately, he declares, the orders were given by men, mainly military men....

comments powered by Disqus