European Homefront During the First World War

World War 1, also known as the Great War has brought many devastation across Europe. One of the major reasons that differentiated the World War 1 from previous wars is that the Great War was the first Total Warfare. Total Warfare means that every part of the nation contributes to the war by either actually fighting or producing military goods. Thus, homefronts were created in which civilians took part in the war as well. European civilians during the time of war were first filled with enthusiasm and excitement about the war which soon were bombarded with the reality of war, changing to reactionary movements against the war, for a peaceful nation.

When the war broke out, European civilians, especially nationalists, thought that by participating in a war, a nation could strengthen it power; they supported and cheered for the new war. Bertrand Russell’s autobiography states that “the day war was declared… men and women were delighted at the prospect of war”. This shows that indeed, many people generalized as “average men and women” cheered at the declaration of the World War. Stefan Zweig’s autobiography too states that people cheered for the war, but in more excited tone. Zweig states that “All differences of class, rank, and language were flooded over at that moment by the rushing feeling of fraternity”. This shows that simultaneously in Britain, Austria and presumably other European countries, the idea of nationalism toward its own country burst into the streets which resulted in open celebration of the war. Additional document which could deliver a personal idea and pride for the country in participating in the war would strengthen the argument. The two documents mentioned above are observations made by two different individuals in two distinct nations. However, they both rather give an objective view on the cheering crowd than their opinions about the war itself. To expand the claim about the relationship between the civilian perspective of the war and nationalism, a personal idea regarding the perspectives of the war prior to its intensification can be used.

However, as the war continued for unexpectedly long time with much more devastation than anticipated, formally cheerful crowd disappeared to thin air. One limitations that Zweig and Russell’s autobiography have is that it only illustrates the people’s support for war only at the beginning of it. Very different from the former documents them, Rosa Luxemburg describes that “the scene has changed fundamentally”. In contrast with the “cheering crowds” and the “rushing feeling of fraternity”, Luxemburg describes that the war has indeed changed “cities [into] ruins; villages [into] cemeteries; countries [into] deserts…” She continues to say that “there are food riots in Venice, in Lisbon… plague in Russia”. These devastating descriptions of the war contrasts the formerly described scenes of pride, showing the disastrous reality that the Europeans civilians had to live during the times of War. Additionally, given that Luxemburg is a woman Socialist who wrote a book called ‘The War and the Workers” during the period of war shows that there may have been similar socialists who thought that the continuation of war was absurd and that indeed acted in defense of their beliefs. The letter sent from the governor of the department of the Isere to the minister of the interior of France formally lists out the grievances and complaints that the peasants of the following district had with war. The letter reads that the workers “are upset about the duration of the struggle, impatient with the increasing cost of living”. The document being a letter by a governmental official to another governmental official shows that the grievances and the complaints made by the peasants were officially and formally formulated. This shows that the tragic situation that the peasants are in is not lighthearted but indeed serious. These two key devastations in Europe is well illustrated by Anna Eisenmenger, a typical Austrian middle class woman, in her Diary. She describes that “we house wives have… grown accustomed to standing in ques… to being obliged to go home with empty hands and still emptier stomachs”. This quote shows that a typical house wife during the World War 1 waited in line to presumably get a ration or buy daily groceries. However, the starving does not end. Eisenmenger continues to describe that “it happens more and more frequently that… tired women who have been waiting for hours collapses from exhaustion”. To the civilians and to women in specific, the everlasting war has brought eternal starving and discomfort which eventually ended in fainting and probably even death. These descriptions are generalized by the author to the whole population of women in Austria. This perspective is significant since generalizing the situation to a bigger population conveys that most of the people in Austria during that period of time went through the similar tragedy in their lives. To enhance the argument regarding the European devastation in the homefront, specific statistical data may be used. A factual statistical data that encompasses the economic losses as well civilian casualties will solidify the argument, not relying entirely on subjective observations.

The devastation that civilians had to suffer urged numerous people to react accordingly to the global war. Returning back to the Letter from the governor of the department of Isere, the governor mentions that these devastations led to peasants “increasingly taken in by the propagandists of the united Social Party” to react against the war-supporting governments. Vladimir Lenin, the communist Leader wrote in his “The Call to Power” that “the government is tottering” due to the World War 1 and that the only way of “salvation” is through the communist revolution. This shows that radical political interest groups such as the communist party has turned their backs from the war-supporting governments toward peaceful communist government. In the context of devastation in European homefront, the peasants who also opposed war would have easily joined the communist party to revolt against the government. The massive joining of the peasants through individual interest would have increased the magnitude of the revolution. Him being the leader of the Russian Revolution and the communist society in general, his anti-World-War ideas would have been imposed on other numerous communists in and out Russia. This shows that the anti-World-War ideals did not only reside within Russia but also with other countries where communist parties did exist. In addition, the plots of the violent revolution that Lenin dreamt of is illustrated briefly in the meeting of the Russian tsar’s Council of Ministers in 1915. The Council of Ministers say that the past revolution in Moscow of 1915 “ended in bloodshed” where several gun shots at the protestors ended up with several casualties. However, the Ministers also say that the firing was necessary. This shows that the protestors too would have shown violence in their process of demonstrating. Also, the second route in which the revolutionaries revolted was by getting excited by “the speeches in the Duma… newspaper stories… and rumors of disorder in the rear”: media. This shows that the revolution if happens will include both violence and media. However, violent protest and revolutions were not the sole reaction to the homefront devastation. The Food Production Department poster created around 1918 urges the customers to buy canned food rather than “perishable produce” for the perishable produce will rot and be wasted in some point in time. The inventions that account for the discomforts that the civilians back in the homefront had to endure show that suppliers and consumers, the market, have reacted to create different demands and supplies and live within the discomfort rather than to change reality. To enrich the argument regarding the non-violent means of reaction to the devastation at homefront, several diaries like accounts of civilians in the homefront who have changed their lifestyle due to the war can be used to model the civilians’ reaction towards the Great War.

To conclude, civilians of the European homefront during the First World War were first filled with enthusiasm and excitement about the war and its benefits in terms of nationalism. However, when they realized the devastation that the war can bring, the civilians realized the reality of the war. This motivated the civilians to react to the war, both violently and non-violently.


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