War Remains: Mediations of Suffering and Death in the Era of the World Wars

War Remains: Mediations of Suffering and Death in the Era of the World Wars


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What remains after war? In the world wars more than 120 million people died an untimely or violent death. The terrible experience of mass death remained seared into the cultural narrative for years. The cultural output repeated, reinforced, or renegotiated people’s beliefs about war and suffering, turning trauma into something that could be situated within the conventions of public display.

In War Remains, an interdisciplinary group of researchers offer an innovative approach to the media history, arguing for the importance of media forms and specificity for remembering and sensing war. They point out how the conflicts of the past are indeed conflicts of the present: the impact of the of world war era is resounding in the mediation of contemporary conflicts, the media dependence, and the myriad ways war remains with us today.

The authors present analyses from media forms such as literary fiction, newspapers, radio, film, comic books, and weekly magazines between the 1910s and the 1970s. They apply perspectives from history, human rights studies, media history, journalism, film studies, comparative literature, publishing studies, and rhetoric.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9789188168818
Publisher: Nordic Academic Press
Publication date: 08/31/2018
Edition description: None
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.75(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Marie Cronqvist is an Associate Professor in History and Senior Lecturer in Journalism and Media History at the Department of Communication and Media at Lund University, Sweden. Lina Sturfelt is a PhD in History and Senior Lecturer in Human Rights Studies at the Department of History, Lund University, Sweden.

Read an Excerpt



A media history of war remains

Marie Cronqvist & Lina Sturfelt

Once there was a shock that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail. It keeps us inside. It makes the TV pictures snowy. It settles in cold drops on the telephone wires.

Tomas Tranströmer, 'After a death' (1966)

What remains with us after somebody's death? In a poem from 1966, the Swedish poet and future Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer reflected on the 'long, shimmering comet tail' that the shock leaves behind, and which 'keeps us inside'. Death has a comet tail, a tendency to remain with us, sometimes for a very long time. Tranströmer also uses references to different media — the television, the telephone wire — to enforce the image of how communication is somehow broken or challenged. To communicate the meaning of death is not only a complex and challenging enterprise, it is also largely dependent on the materialities of media.

This book is about the mediations and sense-making narratives of war deaths and suffering. In the first half of the twentieth century, more than 120 million people died an untimely or violent death — on the battlefield, in concentration camps, through fierce air strikes, or as casualties of the many severe epidemics and hardships that followed on the heels of war. The experiences and narratives of war that flowed through the different media of the time were often focused on the emotional, the personal, the everyday, and the subjective. War, shock, and trauma also lived on in the stories, sometimes to a remarkable extent, once the years of conflict were replaced by peace and prosperity. The displaced remains of bodies and the reminiscences of personal or collective suffering lingered on as sad mementos in the culture of the everyday. They settled 'in cold drops on the telephone wires'.

The experience of twentieth-century warfare not only flowed through different media of the time, however. Its legacy is still very much with us today, framing our understanding of war, conflict, and suffering. In this way, the findings in this book are not merely about past events, but also about the present and the future. Stories of death are always more about the living than the dead. Through mediated memories, we are immersed in the struggle to make sense of our troubled past, and the remaining narratives and images of death and suffering are transmitted and echoed in our understanding of contemporary conflicts.

In this volume, we present a collection of long-lived media representations and narratives. The fact that they were anchored in various media forms has determined our unwavering focus on a range of media, which all communicated the realities of war. Our thesis is that in the period roughly covering the 1910s to the 1970s, diverse forms of cultural production — newspapers, film, television, and radio, but also commemorative rituals, fiction, music, comic books, and monuments — repeated, reinforced, or renegotiated people's beliefs about war experiences, turning the terror and trauma of war into stories that could be situated within the conventions of public display.

Mediations of war, suffering, and death are at the heart of the book, but we also go beyond the study of mere representation to ground our analysis in both genre and media form. The contributors represent a variety of scholarly fields — history, human rights studies, media history, film studies, cultural studies, comparative literature, publishing studies, and rhetoric — and the primary sources analysed in the chapters range from antiwar fiction in the First World War, interwar and post-war reportage, radio war correspondence, and film documentaries in the aftermath of the Second World War, to Cold War comic books and men's magazines. By drawing on a diverse range of sources and empirical examples, we set out to compare different forms of media and expression over an extended period. With the varied cases represented here, we want to demonstrate that the horror of war is hard to conceive of but through its mediations.

This edited volume is inspired by different vibrant research fields, each of them rich in scope. Those we have singled out as particularly important are discussed in this introduction: the cultural history of war, and sensing and mediating war. We cannot hope to cover these fields in their entirety, of course, nor would we claim that they are unrelated, or by placing an emphasis on these two particular questions that we mean to ignore the obviously relevant field of historical memory studies. Quite the contrary, as will become apparent, memory is a crucial dimension, and we owe a debt of thanks to seminal works on the memory of the world wars in several European countries. Yet to this vast and thoroughly researched field of war and cultural memory, our contribution is to add an interdisciplinary discussion that focuses more specifically on media specificity and the history of human sensation.

The cultural history of war

In recent decades, the cultural history of war has become one of the most dynamic and inventive fields of historical scholarship. Cultural historians have appropriated the theme of war, broadening the often static and narrow view of war and militarism that long characterized military history. Scholars such as Joanna Bourke, Jay Winter, Omer Bartov, Stéphane Audoin-Rouzeau, and Annette Becker have substantially changed our understanding of the history of war and violence in the twentieth century by offering new perspectives. Today, the cultural history of war and warfare has developed into a vast and truly interdisciplinary field, drawing insights and methods from disciplines as diverse as anthropology, literary and visual studies, media studies, memory studies, and lately archaeology and cultural geography.

Suffice to say, the present volume is very much part of this new tradition, and we are all in some way indebted to the cultural approaches to the study of war represented by series such as Studies in the Social and Cultural History of Modern Warfare (Cambridge University Press), which focuses on 'the social and cultural history of armed conflict, and the impact of military events on social and cultural history' from the 1850s to the present day, and the Cultural History of Modern War (Manchester University Press) — associated with the Cultural History of War Group at the Centre for the Cultural History of War at Manchester University — which 'interrogates the divisions between war and society, war and peace, allies and enemies, heroes and villains ... maintaining a focus on the cultural meanings of the myriad practices of modern war'. Another constant source of inspiration has been the work of the Group for War and Culture Studies based at the University of Westminster since 1995, and their important publication War and Culture Studies (2007–), an interdisciplinary journal that 'emphasises cultural histories and cultural production as significant forces that have shaped experiences, representations and memories of war', with a specific focus on the relationship between war and culture in the modern era.

Like the contributions to the present volume, much of this research is preoccupied with the lasting cultural impact of the world wars or the era of total war. Following Nicholas J. Saunders and Paul Cornish, we would argue that 'the industrialized nature of twentieth-century war was a unique cultural phenomenon, in possession of a material and psychological intensity that embodies the extremes of human behaviour, from total economic mobilization to the unbearable sadness of individual loss'. It has profoundly shaped the ways conflicts are imagined and remembered, and framed the language we use to describe traumatic memories. However, counter to the overwhelmingly British, German, and French cultural histories of war, we offer new and detailed empirical analyses of hitherto under-researched or overlooked primary sources for this particular period. Some of the chapters examine Swedish examples of mediated experiences and memories of death and suffering by using findings that are unfamiliar to international audiences. Still, it should be noted that all the chapters even so deal with European or Western narratives of war and suffering.

While total war scarred entire societies — and all media obviously played an important role in totalizing war as a common experience and in blurring the lines between 'front' and 'home front', 'civilian' and 'combatant'— it is important to bear in mind that the way war is mediated is also shaped by social institutions and social experience, reflecting a 'politics of the senses'. As Christine Sylvester has pointed out, the question of who is seen and heard in the media, whose stories are told, does matter. In the present volume, we hold to a broad concept of war and what counts as 'war experience', paying special attention to both civilian testimonies and the representations and mediations of women and children (in the chapters by Qvarnström, Sturfelt, Skoog, Bergström, and Cronqvist), and to the soldiers' stories and the more traditional battlefield narratives (Kärrholm and Saarenmaa).

Another lasting response to the traumas of total war has been the rise of human rights as law, politics, and rhetoric. The link between the world wars, the Holocaust, and human rights is often taken for granted rather than scrutinized, but as Åsa Bergström and Lina Sturfelt show in their chapters, 'the age of catastrophe' also resulted in new kinds of humanitarian reporting, which served as an emotive and ritual response to the disasters of war. Their contributions call for the interdisciplinary field of human rights studies to pay closer attention to historical context, but above all to pay greater heed to recent developments in media studies and theory. In which ways has the history of human rights and humanitarianism been entangled in the history and memory of the world wars and its mediations? What narrative forms and specific media have favoured such a development?

Sensing and mediating war

In the cultural study of war and violence, the examination of human experience and emotion has played an important part. Over the past decade, there have been attempts to rethink the genealogy and ontology of war by factoring in the sensory dimension. Feminist international relations scholars in particular have argued for an understanding of war as experienced and sensed. This shift requires us to place the body at the centre of any war analysis in order to understand both the social institutions and individual experiences of war. In the end, as Sylvester writes, war is experienced through the body, both physically and emotionally, which is why Kevin McSorley argues that the body should be central to our thinking about war, recognizing 'the countless affective, sensory and embodied ways through which war lives and breeds'. Critical of most of the conventional 'body-absent' war scholarship, and indeed the Clausewitzian paradigm that war is just politics by any other means, McSorley instead suggests that we should explore war as 'politics incarnate, politics written on and experienced through the thinking, feeling bodies of men and women'. This entails an explicit focus on war's many sensory practices, and the ways in which war is prepared, enacted, and reproduced in embodied action, suffering, and memory. As McSorley notes, 'an analytical focus upon the body tends to render any clear demarcations of war zones and times problematic, emphasizing instead the enactment and reproduction of war through affective dispositions, corporeal careers, embodied suffering and somatic memories that endure across time and place'. In a recent example, which like us concentrates on the world war era and on war's material and affective remains, Modern conflict and the senses (2017) investigates 'the sensual worlds created by modern war, focusing on the sensorial responses embodied in and provoked by the materiality of conflict and its aftermath'.

The present collection of chapters also takes the line that 'the nodal role of the body as a trans-disciplinary means of analysis and understanding' war and its human consequences is the way forward, albeit with a nod to the embodied, sensory experiences of different media, such as radio (Skoog) or comic books (Kärrholm). In war stories, the dead or deformed body was frequently used to invite the reader, viewer, or listener to reflect on the meaning of war, often combined with an anti-war message or the issue of responsibility (Qvarnström, Sturfelt, and Kärrholm). Others also used the body of the reporter as a medium to convey certain emotional responses to the suffering of war (Sturfelt). While some media, such as men's magazines, stressed information, the broad picture, and engagement as a 'male' way of taking pleasure in war (Saarenmaa), humanitarian reporting might emphasize empathy and compassion (Sturfelt), and short stories, literary reportages in the weekly magazines, or comic books might concentrate on the horror and outrage of war (Qvarnström, Cronqvist, and Kärrholm).

Another choice we have made, which resonates with the wider research on war and culture, is to give priority to the visual. Despite the media forms analysed here we have all found that sight was very much the privileged sense when it came to narrating and remembering the emotional and sensory experiences of twentieth-century warfare. The many testimonies are all in some way focused on the visual, on 'seeing' suffering, either literally or metaphorically. Practices of looking and the importance of the visual in connection with violence and war are something that have been thoroughly investigated by a number of media scholars in recent years, highlighting the role of a variety of media in challenging or reinforcing war experiences. Not least, analyses of the role of photojournalism have raised the question of possible 'compassion fatigue' in the Western media and the chances of instilling a new ethical sensibility for what Lilie Chouliaraki calls 'distant sufferers'. Also, as Ekaterina Balabanova and Katy Parry rightly point out in their introduction to a special issue on communicating war in the Journal of War and Culture Studies, there is a need to further explore the visual construction of war narratives in media forms, because in moving away from the traditional focus on news to concentrate on other forms of popular culture, visual culture, or activist media, we can at last investigate 'how alternative media forms and actors are able to challenge preconceptions of legitimate voices in the "storytelling" of war experiences.' This invites us to consider which representations and forms of remembrance become dominant, and which are contested, adjusted, or resisted. These dimensions are discussed in several of the chapters in this book (Sturfelt, Skoog, Kärrholm, and Saarenmaa).

This also taps into the broader discussion about the role of the media in the processes of commemorating war and suffering. The memory dimension runs through all the chapters in this volume, and some (Skoog, Cronqvist, and Saarenmaa) have chosen to foreground the issue. Alongside the broad research field of collective or cultural memory, there is now a new, vibrant field directly concerned with media and memory, including, for example, journalism, film, and digital media. Some of its scholars, indeed, have focused specifically on the memory of violence and war in recent times. Nevertheless, there seems to be a peculiar lack of connection here between historical studies and media studies of memory. In media studies, the focus is more often than not on aspects of digital memory in the new media age, sometimes to the neglect of the long historical tradition of memory studies, while the mere concept of media or the mediation of memory remains heavily under-theorized by historians. This book is an effort to bridge the gap between the two research fields, converging on the interdisciplinary field of media history.

In contrast to these earlier monodisciplinary studies of memory, then, we present a selection of cases, all of which highlight media specificity and the importance of media forms to the portrayal of war, suffering, and death, as well as the manifestations of war memories. It has been important for us to identify the various strands of narrative or storytelling that a specific medium lends itself to — be it the comic book, the documentary film, the reportage, the photograph, the musical work, the monument, or any other form of cultural production. Which war narratives are unique to which medium, and how can a historically sensitive analysis take such media specificity into account? In their plea for a 'media-conscious narratology', Marie-Laure Ryan and Jan-Noël Thon argue that media forms are key in the construction of narratives, for they affect their content, presentation, and reception. This leads us to the important issues of how the inherent characteristics of a medium shape the narrative, and how narratives change and produce new meanings in the process of migrating to another medium. In her chapter, Sofi Qvarnström probes the issue of media specificity. What are the possibilities and limitations of a given medium? And what happens to war narratives as they cross from one medium to another?


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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements 7

1 Introduction Marie Cronqvist Lina Sturfelt 9

2 Regarding the pain of mothers Sofi Qvarnström 29

3 Visualizing war victims Lina Sturfelt 53

4 A sensory experience Kristin Skoog 87

5 A means to an end Åsa Bergström 111

6 Journalism after mass death Marie Cronqvist 137

7 Framing the waste of war Sara Kärrholm 157

8 Circulating Nazi imagery Laura Saarenmaa 189

9 Postscript Marie Cronqvist Lina Sturfelt 215

About the authors 219

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