Outbreak of the war
End of the war

The War as a ‘Technoromantic Adventure’

Karl Kraus has given an apt summary of the way in which mechanized warfare provided new conditions for the demonstration of heroic forms of behaviour and the loss of manly and militaristic attitudes. He describes the First World War as a ‘technoromantic adventure’, in which courage has become entangled with technology and confrontations on the basis of muscle power have become obsolete.

The fate of soldiers is decided by the ‘chance of being hit by a mine, a bomb or a torpedo’. Although the old military concept of honour has lost much of its meaning in ‘chlorious’ confrontations and it is only a matter of ‘the effectiveness of each side’s chemistry’, the old ideology which has still not been shaken off glorifies traditional values and ideals of masculinity such as a colourful uniform ‘and the duty to place one’s hand against one’s forehead when a superior comes into view’. Kraus makes fun of the way in which the ‘immortal’ ideology still invokes the ‘confrontations on the basis of muscle power’ and attempts to find a place for discipline and honour and a game played with medieval rules in the midst of ‘filth and misery’.

Irrespective of the way in which warfare has become mechanized, the heroic and martial ideal of masculinity is still taken up not only in propaganda and the legend-forming reports of those involved in the war but also in art and literature. In line with Karl Kraus’s diagnosis Austrian literature presents ‘technoromantic adventures’. On the one hand these are intensified into aggressive nationalism, as in Bodo Kaltenboeck’s Armee im Schatten (Army in the Shadow) (1932) and various representations of the battles on the Isonzo front, while on the other they present a nostalgically emotional story in which the experience of war is reduced to seducing women and making use of symbols and rituals.

In Alexander Lernet-Holenia’s novel Die Standarte (The Standard) (1934), one of the best known examples of military nostalgia, the splendour of the officer’s former code of honour is rehabilitated as ‘the Habsburg myth’, as Claudio Magris calls it. The narrative is centred on an officer loyal to the emperor who guards the standard even when there is a mutiny in the regiment, the army disbands itself and the Habsburg monarchy comes to an end: ‘But in the end I would touch the brocade as if I was touching the locks of a bride’s hair … .’ When he flees to Vienna he is accompanied by a woman who, as it were, competes with the flag. In the end he throws the standard into the fire and returns to his partner, who remains as his only support in the ruins of a world which he considered to be indestructible. The gallant officer with his loyalty to the emperor wavers between the conquest of women and the eroticism of the flag. Lernet-Holenia creates a type of masculinity rooted in the aristocracy and the cavalry which does not represent an aggressive form of virility and does not really correspond to the qualities of the tough warrior. In his wartime universe it is the woman who eventually conquers a prominent place for herself, but after the war the former officer cannot completely surrender to the civilian way of family and married life. He finds friends in the male social network of veterans and keeps up his search for his military past and representations of it.

Translation: Leigh Bailey


Eicher, Thomas: Das Heimkehrermotiv in Lernet-Holenias „Standarte“. Zu einem literarischen Topos der Zwischenkriegszeit, in: Eicher, Thomas/Gruber, Bettina (Hrsg.): Alexander Lernet-Holenia. Poesie auf dem Boulevard, Köln/Weimar/Wien 1999, 113-130

Theel, Robert: „Die Maschine hat den Helden getötet“. Beobachtungen zu direkten und indirekten Verwendungen des Mentalitätsbegriffs in fiktionalen und essayistischen Texten vor und während des 1. Weltkrieges im Hinblick auf den Heroismusbegriff (Nowak, Soyka, Kraus, Unruh, Marinetti, Rilke), in: Krieg und Literatur/War and Literature 9 (1993), 97-118

Contents related to this chapter


  • Aspect

    War and art

    Many artists, intellectuals and writers welcomed the outbreak of the First World War. They saw it not as an apocalypse but as the opportunity for a change for the better. As such they joined in the patriotic fervour of the first weeks and months of the war. What motivated them not only to devote their artistic energies to the fatherland but also to take an active part in the fighting? How were anti-war sentiments articulated by artists? What other forms of relationship were there between art and warfare during and after the First World War?

Persons, Objects & Events

  • Object

    The role of the intellectual in the war

    The year 1914 brought about an incisive change in their private and professional lives of many intellectuals. Formerly international intellectual and artist circles collapsed, many intellectuals entered the war, voluntarily or not, and many of them failed to return.

  • Object

    Mechanical warfare

    In the years and decades before the First World War there were many innovations in arms technology with the result that the entire war machinery and with it the strategic and tactical considerations had to be fundamentally rethought. The artillery, with its powerful arsenal of guns, mortars and howitzers, epitomised the dominance of “fire power”. It was the prototype of industrialised mechanical and mass warfare and responsible for a larger number of casualties than any other type of weapon.

  • Object


    All Quiet on the Western Front was released in 1930. It was the film of Erich Maria Remarque’s novel of the same name about the experiences of a soldier during the First World War. Remarque’s book and the film adaptation are classic anti-war statements. Alongside the patriotic, glorified heroic epics and “authentic” documentation of service for the fatherland, this was just one way in which the First World War was portrayed in literature and films – a medium that had come into being only twenty years before the outbreak of war.


  • Development

    Gender roles: change/no change?

    It is a widely held view that the First World War revolutionised the traditional roles of men and women in society. Photos of tram conductresses, female coach drivers and postwomen would appear to confirm this, as does the assumption by women of the traditional male role as providers for the family. But did things change that much, and what was left of the supposed changes after 1918?