Arts & Entertainment

Grand old warrior

An interesting article on Ernst Junger.

By Nigel Jones, The Critic

In 1983 I was writing my first book The War Walk, a travelogue about World War One, when I read an article by Bruce Chatwin in the New York Review of Books detailing his encounter with the “controversial” German writer Ernst Jünger, the last surviving major literary figure from that distant conflict.

Naturally, I had heard of Jünger, and had read the first and best-known of his 50 books, Storm of Steel (1920), a classic account of his experiences on the Western Front, during which he had been wounded multiple times and survived to win the German equivalent of the VC.

Storm of Steel is the literary antidote to his compatriot Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and the pacifist memoirs of Siegfried Sassoon and Robert Graves, since it does not denounce war as futile folly but rather celebrates it as a natural, elemental phenomenon in which Jünger felt quite at home. He describes his wounds and the random slaughter, killing the enemy with his own hands, with an icy, detached precision that would become the hallmark of all his work.

After the war, Jünger became the intellectual bard of the Freikorps, the brutal ex-soldiers who had crushed communist revolution in postwar Germany and waged war on the Bolsheviks in the Baltic and Silesia. In books and articles he eulogised these freebooting stormtroopers as “swift as greyhounds, tough as leather and hard as Krupps steel”. Since I intended to write their history in my second book, Hitler’s Heralds, I decided to follow Chatwin’s footsteps and meet the man myself.


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