Dynamic of Destruction: Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War

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Dynamic of Destruction: Culture and Mass Killing in the First World War

By Alan Kramer
Oxford University Press, 2007
446 pp. $34.00

For atrocities to happen, perpetrators must first think atrocious thoughts. Kramer's book considers the source of the atrocious thoughts leading up to and into World War I among both military and cultural theorists. As it is the world war that followed that is best known for its atrocities, it is sobering to be reminded of the horrors of this one, even away from the trenches. Kramer starts with the burning of the ancient library of Louvain, Belgium, by invading German troops in a murderous frenzy and uses this event to pose the question of how terrible, destructive urges can grip whole societies in times of war. Looking at the origins of the war, he covers familiar ground from a new angle, subjecting Austro-Hungarian as well as German attitudes to searching scrutiny. Once wars come to be about nationality and ethnicity, and civilians are seen as legitimate targets, the dynamic of destruction takes over. The consequences are revealed in some compelling memoirs and photos. Kramer packs a lot in, so the book requires careful reading, but his material is as fascinating as it is depressing.

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