By the end of the war at the latest, the consequences of the years of fighting had become evident to everyone. The war invalids had to be integrated into post-war society. Films also began to show the war-wounded victims, but there was still no end to the hero worship. Almost no family had come out of the war unscathed, and they wanted at least to ensure that their lost relatives were seen as heroes. One-sided war films in the interwar years were very popular as a result, and anti-war films were not well received at all.
The evident enthusiasm for the war soon gave way to an awareness of the sobering experiences at the front. Of the 65 million soldiers mobilized during the First World War, 8.5 million, including 1.8 million Germans, 1.7 million Russians, 1.4 million French, and 1.2 million members of the Austro-Hungarian army, died. The death of soldiers fighting for Austria-Hungary was also ignored from the outset, and the wounded were asked not to make a public display of their injuries.
By the end of the war, however, none of this could be ignored any longer. There were 21 million wounded – including almost 4 million from the Danube Monarchy – who for decades presented a challenge to the post-war societies and also made the consequences of the four-year slaughter evident to all. The idyllic world of war was also over. The film Parade of Austrian War Invalids in the First World War (A c. 1918) shows touching pictures of wounded soldiers in Vienna. But it also raises questions. Some men cannot have been in the fighting because they were too old, and these are the soldiers wearing the ‘Franz Joseph beard’. Is this a criticism of the rulers who caused the conflict or do they symbolize the end of an era?
It soon became evident that for many people the war and its heroes were untouchable. Between the wars soldierly virtues were glorified and appeals were made to patriotism. War games and uniforms were popular subjects of German-language film production in the 1930s – a new expression of the incisive militarization of society. Parades of old comrades and ritual commemoration of the heroes of the First World War were part of the self-dramatization of Austro-Fascism.
Particular attention was paid to inculcating a military attitude in the young. In the new history books, values like ‘leadership’, ‘heroism’, ‘resistance’, ‘sacrifice and devotion’ were particularly emphasized. The idealized attitude to the military by the young was reinforced by war films. The German Ufa-Filmgesellschaft under the direction of the conservative and German National industrialist Alfred Hugenberg specialized in the production of heroic war dramas. Films like Dawn (D 1933), Refugees (D 1933) or Militiaman Bruggler (D 1936) are full of unconditional bravery, soldierly comradeship and a vague death mystique. Protests by Social Democrats and Communists against these cinematic advertisement for ‘imperialist aggression’ fell on deaf ears. The right, conservative and German National parties, by contrast, described the films as having a ‘morally instructive character’.
Films dealing with the war from a comical or pacifist point of view gave rise to heated discussion, affrays and prohibitions. Czechoslovakian films in particular not only failed to glorify the Habsburg Monarchy but also featured grotesque and clown-like members of the former Austro-Hungarian army. For the Austrian authorities and military associations, films like Der falsche Feldmarschall (D/CSR 1930) or His Majesty’s Adjutant (CSR 1933) were a thorn in the eye. Although farces like these were popular, organized protests in front of cinemas meant that some comedies critical of Austria-Hungary were banned.
The anti-war film All Quiet on the Western Front (USA 1930) also caused tumult. Even before it came out, Christian Socialist member of parliament and future federal chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg declared that prohibition of the film was a question of ‘moral, patriotic and national decency’. Performances in Vienna were accompanied by damage to property and injuries. Windows were broken, trams damaged, stink bombs thrown and shots fired. On 8 January 1931 the Vienna police ultimately banned further performances of the film. They didn’t wish questions to be asked about the meaningfulness of the First World War and the loss or ‘heroic death’ of family members.
Translation: Nick Somers
Leidinger, Hannes/Moritz, Verena/Moser, Karin: Österreich Box 1: 1896–1918. Das Ende der Donaumonarchie, Wien 2010
Moritz, Verena: Krieg, in: Moritz, Verena/Moser, Karin/Leidinger, Hannes: Kampfzone Kino. Film in Österreich 1918–1938, Wien 2008, 255-276
Moser, Karin: Der „gute“ Film, in: Moritz, Verena/Moser, Karin/Leidinger, Hannes: Kampfzone Kino. Film in Österreich 1918–1938, Wien 2008, 350-386